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“Why didn’t I have this course when I was starting out?”

By Pathways

Before the Winter Residential for Pathways I was full of nervous excitement. “What if they all hate me?” I thought. I was going to be teaching with graphic novelist Rachael Ball. “What if she hates me too?”

But I took charge of my emotions and set off for Cambridge. “Freedom,” I thought as I boarded the train away from my family.

In what seemed like weeks later I stepped out into the chilly night air and breathed in the city. I coughed and took a cab to the hotel. I was greeted by a lemon pip on the chair in my room. So, this was to be home for the next five days.

The next morning was auspicious enough. Rachael and I had coffee and laughed. We decided that the week would be a great success, and with that thought pushing us forward, we walked into the university to meet our mentees. And what a lovely and excited bunch they were. There were tall ones and short ones, smiley ones and chatty ones, and I knew in that instant that I would love each and everyone as I would my own child. They were so hungry to learn, and rather than ignore me or throw paper planes whilst my back was turned, they listened, they paid attention and they worked hard.

Illustration (c) Yasmeen Ismail
Book Bus Illustration by Yasmeen Ismail

Each day we were wowed by editors and art directors from big publishing houses. They were met with a chorus of ooh’s and aah’s from the mentees.

“Why didn’t I have this course when I was starting out?” I thought, “I would have KILLED to have done this.”

As far as I knew, no one had to kill anyone. And indeed, neither had I, and yet, there we all were.

Noticeably no one seemed to be perturbed by my constant criticisms of their work. They seemed resigned to do as they were told. They swallowed my feedback with their tears and soldiered on. “That’s not good enough,” I would bellow, “Why did you use that colour?”, and yet, they continued without complaint. “I shall have to be more brutal.”

But sure enough, toiling under my baton the mentees rose to their potential and stretched and pulled their talents until they had reached their edges.

By the end of the week, my padawans had mastered so much. All of us were exhausted, spread thin by our efforts. As I firmly gripped each shoulder and sent them into their final assessment tears would well in my eyes. These rookies, these fledgelings, swept in with the winter wind, were padawans no more. They were warriors. Watch out Children’s Publishing industry. Watch out.

Yasmeen Ismail is an award-winning author, illustrator and animator. She has written and illustrated several well-loved children’s books including multi-award winning ‘Time for Bed, Fred’ (Bloomsbury).

The Pathways Winter Residential was conducted at Cambridge School of Art , Anglia Ruskin University. It marked the start of the Pathways programme and acted as an introduction to the field of children’s illustration. It was conducted by Yasmeen Ismail (illustrator); Rachael Ball (graphic novelist); Shelley Jackson & Viola Wang (Anglia Ruskin); Emma Blackburn, Strawberrie Donnelly & Rachel McNally (Bloomsbury).