Low-res Moonshine front coverIn 2015 I published my middle-grade fiction book, Moonshine, which is a great example of creative collaboration. But it took me a while to get to this point. When I first started taking my creative writing seriously in 2014, I thought in order to save costs, I would do as much as possible myself. My reasoning was: I can write children’s stories (easy!), I can illustrate (perhaps not so easy) and I can self-publish my books (once I’ve got the hang of it).

What I knew I couldn’t do was design book covers and actually, the more I looked at my own illustrations, the more it dawned on me that I did have limitations after all. Yes, I admit it, I’m not perfect. I can’t do it all. I need help.

And rather than that being something that dampened my spirits, I found the realisation quite comforting. It’s good to have a team of creative people around you to help. Enter Kirsty, my very helpful graphic designer, who is always willing to silence a child with a healthy snack so she can quickly update my website for me. (You’re a star, Kirsty!)

Enter Upwork, with its amazingly skilled and reasonably priced professionals. I’ve found great illustrators through this nifty website, including Silvia Carrus, who illustrated The Poofiest Pong, and Sarowar Hossein, who did the amazing black-and-white illustrations for Moonshine. And I’ve found two great graphic designers too, who added considerable flair to the covers of both The Poofiest Pong and Moonshine.

Low-res Chapter 1

Before: This was my humble sketch for chapter one of Moonshine.

Let me talk a little bit about how this collaboration works… With Moonshine, which tells the story of how 12-year-old Neo discovers that her Basotho pony is magical, I started out doing my own drawings. Firstly, it takes an inordinate length of time for a recovering perfectionist like me to draw. And as a work-from-home mom with two pre-schoolers, art sessions do not happen very frequently in our home.

Secondly, I don’t have the required skill level for illustrating. This is apparent when you compare several of my drawings and see how different Neo looks in every drawing. There’s a lack of consistency, a problem you wouldn’t have with a good illustrator. And thirdly, although you’re spending more money getting someone to help you, you’re also boosting the value of your product by making it look more professional and freeing yourself up to do the tasks you’re really good at, which in my case is writing.

Low-res chapter 1

And after: This is the illustration that Sarowar did. No prizes for seeing which one is better!

Sarowar, who’s based in Bangladesh, was great to work with – very happy to make changes to his drawings and receptive to ideas. His fine lines and superb use of shading capture the essence of the action and the characters. I especially liked how he conveyed the intimate bond between Neo and her pony.

The book cover was done by Mark Maquino, a graphic designer in the Phillipines. (The irony did not escape me that the author of the book was South African, the illustrator Bangladeshi, the cover designer Fillipino and the book’s protagonist from Lesotho!) Mark impressed me from the outset by his eagerness to do the job, his dedication and panache. When you see the stock image I bought and how he transformed that into the front cover, you realise there must have been some magic at work, and that is what Mark brought to the project.

I hope you’ll agree with me that the people I collaborated with in creating Moonshine really do make the book sparkle – thank you, Sarowar and Mark! And I must also give three cheers for my husband – without his support, encouragement and sage advice, I would have find this journey of self-publishing very daunting. You’re a gem, my darling.

I think as artists we rob ourselves of so much synergy when we refuse to collaborate with others. We see others as competitors, instead of people who can inspire us and help us accomplish our dreams. Helen Keller summed it up beautifully when she said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Here’s to more creative collaboration in the near future…