Saturday, 10 January 2015

In Memory of Vanessa Cabban • Jonathan Emmett

I have a new picture book, A Spot of Bother, coming out next month. Having a book published is usually a cause for celebration, but the publication of this particular book is tinged with sadness as it will be my last with illustrator Vanessa Cabban, who passed away shortly before Christmas.

People often assume that picture book authors and illustrators work closely together, but it’s not unusual for the author and illustrator to have no direct contact, with the book’s creation being co-ordinated by the publisher. This was the case with Bringing Down the Moon, which was the first book that Vanessa and I created together.

One of Vanessa's beautiful illustrations for Bringing Down the Moon

Vanessa and I in Amsterdam
A couple of years after Bringing Down the Moon was published, the book won the Kiekeboekprijs, a Dutch book award, and Vanessa and I went to Amsterdam to accept it. Although we’d now done a second picture book together and Vanessa was about to start illustrating a third, it was the first time we’d met or even spoken to each other. Vanessa turned out to be stylish, funny and refreshingly frank and forthright in her opinions – we spent a lot of our visit in good-natured argument! By the end of our short stay we were firm friends. We resolved to keep in touch and did so regularly through many emails and lengthy phone calls over the following years. We both shared a mischievous sense of humour and our conversations were nearly always punctuated by laughter. 

In addition to the seven books we did together, Vanessa illustrated many other picture books, written by Alan Durrant, Giles Andreae and several other authors. And she both wrote and illustrated two Bertie and Small picture books about an adventurous toddler and his toy rabbit. Vanessa had no children of her own, but was very fond of her niece and nephew and was a much-loved aunt, sister and daughter.

Vanessa artistic talents extended beyond illustration into fine art and her paintings, prints and sculptures were exhibited and sold in various galleries around the UK. She was also an accomplished knitter, posting photos of her handiwork on her "Do you mind if I knit" blog.

Two of Vanessa's sculptures.

One of the pleasures of creating a picture book with another person is that one can draw on their strengths as well as one's own. Vanessa brought her own distinctive charm, warmth and humour to all the books that we created together.

She was a good friend and a wonderful, inspiring person to work with. I will miss her dearly.

In memory of Vanessa, her family have set up a Just Giving page where you can make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation.

A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, is published by Walker Books on 5th February 2015.

Find out more about Jonathan and his books at his Scribble Street web site or his blogYou can also follow Jonathan on facebook and twitter @scribblestreet.


John Shelley said...

This is so sad, thank you for sharing Jonathan. I hadn't heard of Vanessa before, what a wonderful artist, especially those sculptures, she was so talented, such a tragic loss. My own wife was taken by the same illness, it always seems to happen to the brightest lights.

Jonathan Emmett said...

Thanks for your kind comments, John, and I'm very sorry to learn of your own loss.

malachy doyle said...

It's such a loss. Vanessa was such a beautiful illustrator (and an amazing knitter!). The world of picture books (and the world in general) is a poorer place without her.

June said...

I so wish I had known Vanessa in person.
I knew of her brilliant illustration work through her picturebooks and admired her artistic skills (and your writing skills) when I read your stories to children for story-time in the library. Only recently did I find her blog, and was again impressed by her many talents. I think we would have had many things in common if we had met... I feel loss and sadness at hearing of her passing.
Her images and creations will continue in this world to give pleasure to so many, as her legacy.

Jonathan Emmett said...

Thanks for your lovely comment, June.

Vanessa's creativity brought pleasure to many, young and old, and I'm sure it will continue to do so.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I'm lucky enough to own a pencil drawing by Vanessa. It's a lovely simple kind humorous picture of a rabbit and mole and a hedgehog, holding hands and clearly in conversation. I love it, and it hangs next to my bed. I didn't know Vanessa in person, only through her art , and now I never will. Sad, especially for those who love her.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I understand the powerful connection two people can share when creating a book together. It is unfortunate that most authors and illustrators don't get to experience this type of relationship. You are certainly blessed to have her work as a lasting memory of her spirit and your time together.


Moira Butterfield said...

What a lovely and impressive body of work to leave the world. Thank you for such a thoughtful post, Jonathan.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thank you for this moving post, Jonathan. Deepest condolences to you and all her family and friends. I never knew her but you get a feel for her warmth and humour through her illustrations. Sending out love to all who knew her. I will raise a glass to you both on February 5th.

Jonathan Emmett said...

Thanks, Clare. And thanks also to Malachy, Pippa, Michelle and Moira for their kind comments

JP said...

The news of Vanessa's death was a real shock. This is a lovely tribute. I bought a mole book from her for my the very new granddaughter which she signed with a lovely message in. Phoebe and I love reading about home being a best place. I followed Vanessa's blog right up until it closed for personal reasons so I know she was sad. It was always so bright and full of life and we often exchanged comments. You can still read it now and you will be amazed at how much she shared her life with everyone

Between Me and You said...

I bought 'Bringing Down the Moon' for my Grandaughter and we love its enchanting story and beautiful illustrations and like 'JP' above, Vanessa also signed our book and left a special message in it for my Grandaughter. We shall treasure it forever. I also recently saw Vanessa's 'Hare in the Wall' exhibit at the Scottish National Gallery and knew instantly that it was by her. She did indeed leave many beautiful memories behind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts of Vanessa. She was a lovely warm hearted person, who I knew from reading her blog. I shared some email correspondence too, as she was very responsive to others. She was very special, very talented and inspiring and so a great loss to many whose own lives she regularly cheered up. A great shock and sadness to hear of her loss. She is not forgotten.

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry to hear of Vanessa's passing. I loved her blog, her talent and her knitting. I never knew her but I found her talent amazing. Such a sad loss.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonathan, I am so very sorry and shocked to stumble across this news. As the Dutch translator of all your wonderful Mole-books (and The Pig's Knickers) I met Vanessa and you years ago in Groningen when you were rewarded with the Kiekeboe Picture Story Book Award for the first one, 'Bringing Down The Moon'. Vanessa will be in my bookshelves and in my heart with her beautiful work and lovely personality forever. I can only offer my deepest sympathy and respect to you and her family.
Warm regards, Annelies Jorna

Jonathan Emmett said...

It's lovely to hear from you, Annelies. I remember our meeting in Groningen and am still very grateful to you for helping our book to win the prize – and for all your work translating the other books that Vanessa and I created together.

Vanessa's death came as a shock to everyone that knew her, but it's comforting to know that she and her work will always have a place in your heart, as it will in mine.

Lulu said...

i was thinking of Vanessa today..i went to her blog..Glad you said sickness, not accident as people were saying..bring this sickness into the light..
i wonder how her ex husband is doing..
take care,