Sunday, March 20, 2011

Elizabeth Alger: artist, writer, RA fan (and so much more)!


I am very excited to have a published author / illustrator on my blog. Thank you Lizzy,  for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself. 

Firstly, I’m a country gal – but only since December. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, I thought I’d remain in the city/suburbs forever. But I was persuaded out into the rural outskirts five years ago and liked it so much that now I’ve made the big move out into real country. It’s heavenly out here amongst the rolling green hills of Gippsland. I live here with my sister and brother-in-law (that might sound weird, but there are two houses on the property) and our ‘family’ of seven horses, a pet Brahman bull, two dogs, a cat, a rooster and three hens. Almost all of our babies were saved from starvation, neglect or the knackery – my sister and I can’t resist rescuing mistreated animals and our family is sure to get bigger now that we’ve got more space.

I’ve been a horse rider since the age of nine and have owned, and adored, some wonderful horses. Unlike most horse-owners, I’ve never sold a horse, instead keeping them all into old age. My most loved was my perfect thoroughbred mare, Saldana – she carried me to many successes in show-jumping competitions.

My other big ‘hobby’ is sailing tall ships – I’ve sailed in eight different vessels and have crossed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in the world’s two biggest sailing ships – both of them Russian. When there aren’t any ships around (which is most of the time), I’ll happily ‘mess about’ in little boats.

Please tell us something about your sailing adventures!  Have these experiences inspired you to write or to illustrate anything?

The Kruzenshtern is one of the great loves of my life. I’ve made three voyages in her: Puerto Rico to Bermuda to New York, Liverpool to Bremerhaven, and Fremantle to Durban to Cape Town. That last voyage involved a Force 11 gale off the Cape of Good Hope - a terrifying, mind-blowing, exhilarating experience. This beautiful ship was built in Germany in 1926 (her name then was Padua) - she was the last big engineless cargo-carrier ever built.  

This ship is Sedov, the largest traditionally rigged sailing ship in the world (three metres longer than Kruzenshtern). I sailed in her across the Atlantic, from Tenerife to Puerto Rico. She was also built in Germany in the 1920s, as the Magdalene Vinnen. Both of these ships are now owned by the Russian Ministery of Fishing and crewed by Russian cadets (all male... so that was interesting...)

The tall ships I’ve sailed in inspired enough drawings, etchings and paintings for two exhibitions of maritime work - both pretty successful as I sold almost everything. They also inspired me into public speaking - which still amazes me as I am normally a very shy person. It’s surprising how a great passion and enthusiasm can override nerves! For over thirteen years I spoke about my tall-ship experiences for hundreds of clubs/groups/fundraisers all round Melbourne - these engagements only stopped when I moved into the country and changed my phone number.

It sounds like you have a wonderful life! How do you have time to make a living? Please tell us something about your career and how you came to it. 

I don’t have time to make a living! Which explains why I’m always struggling to make ends meet. working freelance is probably not a good idea for someone as perpetually undisciplined and disorganised as I am.

When I am working, I’m a children’s book illustrator - I’ve worked for all of the major publishing houses in Australia. I loved drawing as a kid and being reasonably good at it, completed an art and design course at uni and ended up where most of my fellow students did - working in advertising. I eventually went freelance and, in a particularly stupid move, dropped all my commercial clients to concentrate on book illustration. Though I knew there was no money in publishing, I chose to do work I enjoy. Well... I have enjoyed much of it, but there are not enough good picture books published for children (especially in Australia with its small population) to keep illustrators in work. The ‘bread-and-butter’ work for us is in illustrating school text books and readers - and that work can be quite dull.

What are some of your favourite books / works of art and did they influence you in any way?

I read the classics almost entirely these days - Austen, Gaskell, Dickens, Trollope and especially Joseph Conrad. But the books that have influenced me the most are the fantasies I read as a kid and a teenager - Alan Garner’s books, as well as Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, and Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Earthsea’ series. These books kindled my imagination and inspired me to pick up pencils, paintbrushes, biros... anything with which I could put my imaginings onto paper.

Another book that made a deep impression on me as a teenager was Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. It began my lifelong passion for history - and led me to wonderful tours of Britain (hunting down sites connected with Richard III), and eventually to ocean crossings in the last of the great ‘windjammers’ of the 19th-20th centuries.

 Which of your published works are you the most proud of?  Please tell us why.  
written & illustrated by Lizzy

Getting rather tired of illustrating other people’s books, I decided to write my own some years ago. It was a true story, based on a wonderful pony I owned at the time, and it was titled ‘Bertie at the Horse Show’. I sent it to only one publisher - Penguin - and they snapped it up straight away. It was published with my full-colour illustrations and with not a single word changed from the original text I had sent them. It was all so easy! Unfortunately I didn’t follow it up with another... but I have written a 160,000 word novel - which I am also quite proud of. It’s a fantasy - and the hero is a knight in armour who  - surprise, surprise - resembles a certain TDH actor that many of us are very fond of...

Getting something published at the moment though is horrendously hard work (and I haven’t tried very hard!)  

What kinds of things do you prefer to draw?  (I am guessing horses and sailing ships?)

 Yes, I do like drawing horses and sailing ships - but I’ll happily draw any animal. I’ve been doing a lot of commissioned pet portraits for people lately - which is a nice change from book illustration. I also love drawing people.

 How did you become a fan of Richard Armitage?

I first saw him when ‘North and South’ was shown in Australia in 2005.  It wasn’t exactly love at first sight - it took till the end of the second episode... and then I was completely gone. I bought the N&S DVDs and must have watched them every day for the next six months. It was not just that he was the perfect cravat-wearing Period drama hero - I'd also realised that, with different hair and costume, he was the fantasy hero/medieval knight that I'd had in my head for years... 

Can you tell us something about what you are working on right now. An adult fantasy novel, right?

Yes - I’ve finished my first fantasy novel with its RA inspired hero (a knight in un-shiny armour), and have started on my second which will probably turn into a trilogy. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that writing books is MUCH easier than finding someone who’ll publish them.

 RA inspired!! I am so excited!  Thank you so much for letting us know more about you.  Before I forget, which was the drawing that you sent to Richard and he mentioned in one of his letters?  He says it was a watercolour so I am thinking it is the one on the left...


mulubinba said...

Lizzie - so great to have you interviewed here by Phylly! Lovely pictures and please let us know when your adult fantasy novel is published :). I've enjoyed hearing about your work and projects - as a fellow poster on a certain Tolkien board, we have enjoyed trying to convince others of RA's talents but it's lovely to hear about your RL works as well :)

GizTheGunslinger said...

What an interesting interview! Thanks so much for it! Lizzy, you are truly the person of the most brilliant talents. I am really impressed. I wish I could read your books, especially the one about the knight in un-shiny armour ;) And I was always wondering who is the author of those wonderful drawings. Now I know :D

bccmee said...

Thanks for the lovely interview! I have long admired Lizzie's work and it's great to know more about her and see even more of her art.

Lizzy (mymaresaldana) said...

I'm feeling very deprived because I haven't been able to read all the Fanstravaganza blogs. I've had a long and ongoing succession of computer and internet problems which don't look like being resolved any time soon - I'm trying to snatch a bit of time on my sister's computer whenever she goes out.

Anyway, thanks Phylly, and thanks mulubinba, Giz and bccmee (I really enjoyed your interview bccmee!) for the nice words - I really hope you do get to read about my RA knight one day as you'll be able to picture him EXACTLY in your heads as you read. I don't think I could have written 160,000 words without such perfect inspiration.

Phylly - the drawing that Richard mentioned (24th July '06 - just after we'd all heard he was going to be Gisborne in RH) was actually the pencil one (the water-colour was done years before I ever saw RA) I didn't send it to him - someone else on C19 did - I wouldn't have dared! I didn't even know he'd seen it, so it was a surprise when I suddenly found my inbox filled with congratulatory messages. Dazedly, I made my way to raonline to read RA's latest message. He said: "Want to express my thanks to the lady who made the pencil drawing, I was extremely flattered and in a spooky way it is not a million miles away from how Gisbourne is looking...maybe he's a bit angrier and uglier but very similar!"

Traxy said...

Great interview with lots of wonderful pictures. To think there is so much talent in the RA fan community! And that it's not just a hobby but an actual career, that's fab. Thanks for sharing, both interviewer and interviewee! :)

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting & entertaining interview! Knew that part of Gippsland..with rolling hills..called the place little Switzerland. Been there several times, as I come from Melb. too. What a feat for a lady doing all those sailing around the world. (My boating is only limited at Port Philip Bay and Maribyrnong river for the yearly Melb. Cup Day if the weather is permitting). This event is also for horses.. I think the biggest race in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a big part of Melbourne's calender event every 1st Tuesday of November.

It was truly great that RA acknowledged Lizzy's gift..drawing of Guy RH. Very flattering indeed on his part. Looking forward to her forthcoming novels and very glad to have discovered this blog. I love the artistic inclination as you mentioned.

Thank you..


judiang said...

Wow, I'm behind reading here. Thanks for the lovely interview Phylly and Lizzy. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. The little Shih Tzu looked as if it would jump off the page.

Unknown said...

What a fascinating insight into a beautiful artist. I first met Elizabeth at pony club and proudly have one of her equine illustrations in my living room. I have a friend wanting an illustration of their much-loved cat and can think of no-one better than Elizabeth but I cannot seem to find her contact details. Can you please put her in touch with me Liz (nee Libby Henshall) A follow-up comment will go to my gmail address and we will be able to connect again after so many years.

thanks so much.