I’m honored to feature an interview with Mr. Il Sung Na. I first became familiar with his work when I read his debut picture book, The Book of Sleep, and used it for research for a children’s article I was writing about animals’ sleep behavior. Then last month a writer friend’s tweet led me to a book review about another book of his, Hide & Seek, June 2012. I discovered he lives in Seoul also, and so I contacted him for an interview. Il Sung is the author/illustrator of TEN picture books. (Click on the pictures to enlarge)
Tina: How did you get into writing?
Il Sung: I did not intend to be a writer and I am not a writer. When I was in the university, I was not very good at writing. I was rather keen to learn ‘illustrating’. I personally enjoy books that have a simple text but images tell a story more than a text. So that applies on my works, too. I always try to keep a message to tell, even though my stories are so simple.
Tina: How long have you been a writer/illustrator?
Il Sung: I started my career as an author/illustrator right after my graduation at Kingston University in UK in 2006. I was lucky to have my first book published right away. So I have been an author/illustrator for seven years now.
Tina: Where do you get your ideas?
Il Sung: I get most of my ideas from real life or my experiences. For instance, I got an idea of ZZzzz:A Book of Sleep when I lay down on a bed to sleep one day. I suddenly wondered how do animals sleep? Then I got up and wrote down two words, ‘sleep and animals’, on a piece of paper. Then I researched how animals sleep in many ways. When I woke up the next day, I was getting into the fact there were so many different ways to sleep! I wanted to make this into a story.
Another one of my books, Brrr:A Book of Winter, also started the same way. At that time, I was struggling to get ideas for a new book right after I moved to Seoul from London. It was a freezing cold day. I put on several layers of warm sweaters and jumpers. And the thing popped in my head as I look up at the sky through the window in my studio, ‘how do animals live or survive during this cold winter?’
I knew a few animals that migrate and hibernate, but I was sure there were a lot more and felt it could be a book! That’s how I started Brrr:A Book of Winter.
If you observe things around you and throw questions to yourself ‘how or why’, then you can start to find there are so many things that you want to tell a story to other people.
Keep your eyes and ears wide open! And you have to know well what you are doing and telling, because you are the person who knows your story very well but no one else.
Tina: Do you have an agent? If so, how did you acquire your agent?
Il Sung: I had a couple of agents when I was in London, but they did not get me a job. So I left them when the contract expired after a year. I had been doing all my own since 2008, but recently I have an agent again. [but not for books] They approached me via email, and we had a proper good conversation for a future vision. So they are now acting as an agent for all other commissioning except a book commissioning.
Tina: How did you make your first sale?
Il Sung: Yes! Always the debut book is important! I was lucky to meet people at the graduation exhibition, and one of them wanted to have another meeting with me after the show. And the meeting went well as they wanted to make a book with me. That was the moment that I will remember for a long time. Luckily, my first book got many people’s attention, and I made another book contract with the publisher.
Tina: What’s your studio like?
Il Sung: My studio has very ordinary look as it is a place that I share with a couple of designer and illustrator. But I’m always thinking about having my own studio.
Tina: Are you involved with any professional writing groups?
Il Sung: None! I wish I could join some professionals as a group. This is very isolated job as I need to do everything by myself.
Tina: Can you share a piece with us and how you created it?
Il Sung: I write down several words first, and think and think again if it could be a good idea and not too cliché. After careful considerations I transform those words to a few sentences. It could be a beginning, ending or a rough storyline. Best thing is I make notes as many as I could on my sketchbook and come back later to see if I am still interested in those ideas.
For me, there are a lot of writing and researching before I make it as an image. Sometimes I make a doodling at the same time, but it only comes when I have rough ideas about an image. It could be a character, one of the images in a story, just one little drawing about a story or even it has nothing to do with a story but doodlings.
Tina: What are you working on now, if you can share?
Il Sung: I am working on a new title with a Korean publisher. It is about a little boy who doesn’t want to go to bed. He has many reasons why he doesn’t want to sleep! And I will work with a US publisher this year! The story is not done yet; it is still progressing.
His list of books:
1. ZZzzz:A Book of Sleep (2007)
2. The Thingamabob (2008)
3. Teacup in a Storm (2009)
4. Brrr:A Book of Winer (2010)
5. Hide and Seek (2011)
6. Shhh:A Book of Babies (2013)
They were published in UK with Meadowside Children’s Book Publisher and ‘A Book of Babies’ is about to published in this month in UK. They are the titles in UK and some of the US editions have different titles. And I have some more books which were published in Korea.
I only have Korean titles, so I will try to translate it to English.
7. 황금강의 왕 (The King of the Golden River, 2009)
8. 누구일까? (Who is it?, 2011)
9. 하늘을 나는 물고기 (The flying fish, 2012)
10. 거인의 정원 (The Selfish Giant, 2012)
Thank you so much, Il Sung, for sharing your path to publication.
His web site: http://www.ilsungna.com/