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Illustrator Q&A (Diane Ewen): Coming to England by Floella Benjamin and Diane Ewen

To celebrate the publication of Coming to England: An Inspiring True Story Celebrating the Windrush Generation, a new retelling of Floella's story for younger readers, I'm delighted to welcome illustrator Diane Ewen to The Reader Teacher where she shares a Q&A with editor Grace Gleave all about illustrating this book, researching the specific details of the time period and sketching the settings of the story.


1. Did illustrating Coming to England feel like a slightly different process for you, given that it is the true life story of Dame Floella Benjamin, rather than a 'made-up' picture book story?

Illustrating Coming to England did feel different to doing a fictional picture book, in the first stages. In a fictional picture book, there is a feeling of more freedom at the very start of a project as you are creating from scratch, and anything goes, to a certain extent. However, when illustrating factual stories, you have concerns about how realistic the images will be.

When I was asked to provide character images for the whole family I was worried that Dame Floella might say, “she must be nuts! These images don't look anything like my family!” and then I worried that Dame Floella should look like she is as a grown-up, but obviously much younger. Nevertheless the characters worked out really well, and I was happy to lock down their looks really early on.

2. Did you enjoy researching the specific details that would bring the time period to life? What sort of references did you use?

I did do a fair amount of research for this book because I wanted it to be authentic to the look of the time period. I know from my own background that Caribbean women can be very colourful in their style of dress, and I wanted to reflect that. I also researched things like the British troopship HMT Empire Windrush, sailing into Tilbury docks in 1948.

I looked at pictures of people disembarking the ship to help me with how they were dressed. I also researched pictures of London housing and the underground in the 1960s. I found some really nice pictures of escalators, and found really majestic-looking ones with up-lights attached to them. For the front cover, I received pictures from Grace at Macmillan of the port at Southampton, which included the lovely building there which Dame Floella could have passed through on her journey into England.

3. There are two different settings within the story – Trinidad and London. Did you particularly enjoy illustrating a specific part? And why?

I really loved working on both sides of the story, it gave me an opportunity to change colours and add some brightness and a looser technique to the illustrations when I worked on the Caribbean setting.

4. How did you make the artwork for Coming to England? Was it all done on screen or did you sketch it out manually first?

Working on the artwork for Coming to England, I didn’t really need to change my techniques. I created the sketches first and then uploaded them digitally before embellishing them with colour. I was then able to use more paints and textures on the Trinidadian scenes which was enjoyable.

5. You use lots of patterns in the artwork, from the patterns on the tablecloths to the clothes Dame Floella and her family wear. Where did you find your inspiration for these?

I absolutely love adding patterns to my artwork if I can. I usually create them myself. It can be a simple form that I’ve made using watercolours, or a collage. For the tablecloth pattern, I used the computer freehand to generate a leafy and flowery image then experimented with different colours and hues and bingo, I have my own unique pattern.

6. Coming to England features a long journey halfway across the world. In these peculiar times where travelling is tricky, and not an option for many of us, where do you most fantasise about exploring? What did you most miss during lockdown?

Lockdown has been a really hard time for all of us. I don't think I’m a great traveller, but if I were to choose somewhere to magically beam to, I would love to explore somewhere like South America or Australia. Each location has amazing heritage and artwork.

7. Please share four picture books you'd like to recommend to readers of The Reader Teacher.

I love all types of picture books! So I have selected the following because I’ve been reading them quite recently. The Koala Who Could and The Squirrels who Squabbled – both written by Rachel Bright and illustrated by Jim Field. I love the way Rachel lays down a rhyme; it’s full of fun and the way she plays with words is fantastic! Jim Field is also amazing in both books; the illustrations are captivating and inspiring. Jim is a master of the angle and gives me something to aspire to.

I also like the work of author-illustrator Benji Davies. Both Grandpa’s Island and Grandma Bird are brilliant because they contain such vibrant colour and everything flows so nicely.

P.S. I love Never Show a T-Rex a Book, just because I’m biased.

I love so many.



Coming to England - An Inspiring True Story about the Windrush Generation by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Diane Ewen, is published by Macmillan Children's Books.

You can watch and listen to Coming to England being read by David Olusoga as CBeebies Bedtime Story on 1st October in celebration of Black History Month here:

Find out more about Baroness Benjamin on her website, follow her on twitter @FloellaBenjamin. Follow Diane Ewen on twitter @creative_dy

Floella Benjamin's childhood memoir, Coming to England, is also published by Macmillan Children's Books. 

Floella Benjamin will be a guest on this weekend's Desert Island Discs

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