February 2016 Dinner with Illustrator Judith Rossell

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‘I had a lovely evening; it was great to meet so many editors. I’ve been lucky to work with some brilliant editors and they’ve made such a difference to my work.’
Judith Rossell

Guests at the February Editors Victoria dinner were treated to a wonderful evening with illustrator and author Judith Rossell.

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Judith Rossell with one of her illustrations. Photo: Nicole Mathers

Following an early career in science, Judith started out working in books as an illustrator and is now an award-winning author. Her latest book, Withering-by-Sea: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue, has garnered high praise from readers and many awards, including the 2015 Indie Awards – Book of the Year and the 2015 Book Industry Awards – Book of the Year for Older Children.

For over 20 years, Judith has worked on a range of children's books, both picture and chapter. Talking to the assembled editors, she explained the ins and outs of an illustrator's role in bringing text to life in the form of pictures. Her early work as a freelancer included illustrating textbooks for the workplace, and greeting cards!

She has illustrated many books in the past 20 years, with her first book Return to Mazeworld reflecting her childhood love of finding hidden pictures. Her recent illustrated book, Bogtrotter, was the happy result of Judith's wonderfully evocative hairy monster – the Bogtrotter – being exactly what the author envisioned!

Moving from picture books, which tend to be shorter with a single idea as the basis for the story, to writing longer-form chapter books has been a challenge that Judith has embraced with great success. She is currently working on a second Stella Montgomery mystery.

Judith talked about her inspirations, including her rather gorgeous nephew and her great passion for Victoriana drawings and photos. This love is vividly on display in Withering-by-Sea. She also emphasised the importance, when writing for children, of writing stories that she would have enjoyed reading.

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A glimpse into Judith’s notebook. Photo: Nicole Mathers

Creatively, Judith always writes first and then draws. Interestingly, when working on other authors’ books, she has had occasions where there has been no contact with the writer – confirmation of just how accomplished an illustrator she is!

Her experiences with editors have varied greatly over the years. Some editors have been highly collaborative, particularly those who are artists or interested in art work; at other times, she will work mainly with a book designer. She has also acquired an agent for her latest book and described the benefit of having the rights to the story separated between the Australian market and the overseas market. This has enabled her to sell the rights to a US publisher; Withering-by-Sea will be launched in the US this year.

Finally Judith shared with us samples of her beautiful books and her amazing sketch pads, which are truly magnificent. Judith is mainly self-taught; she works first in pencil – black and white – then introduces colour wash as the illustrations develop.

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It was a most illuminating and wondrous evening, and gave a glimpse into a very specific area of book publishing for a very lucky Editors Victoria audience.

Sally Holdsworth
Communication subcommittee

You can find out more about Judith on her website judithrossell.com