Marika Maijala lives and works in Helsinki as an illustrator and children’s book writer. Her debut as a children’s author, ‘Rosie’s Journey’ was nominated for the Nordic Council Children’s and Young People’s Literature Prize, and selected for the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. In 2020, Marika was nominated for the ALMA.
In this post, Marika talks about ‘Ruusun matka’ (Rosie’s Journey), her wonderfully fresh debut picturebook as an author and illustrator, published in Finland by Etana Editions. She talks openly about her intimate creation process, and the challenges of writing.
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Marika: When writing this blog post, I am completely stuck in my writing process. I am trying to write a new story, but it keeps escaping me. Actually, even this blog post makes me a bit nervous, because it is a story as well: How did the book turn out the way it did?
Rosie and the race dogs in ‘Rosie’s Journey’ (Etana Editions, 2018)
My first picturebook as an author was ‘Rosie’s Journey’. It’s the story of a race dog, who runs away from the race track to find a place where she can run the way she likes to. Now, as I am struggling with my writing, I have returned to this project often and tried to figure out how I did it. It is hard to reach, as now, looking at it after a couple years have gone by, I only remember chaos, randomness and doubt, exactly the same feelings I am having now. I think I need to go further back to see how it started.
I remember sitting in a book meeting in a publisher’s office a few years back. We were discussing a forthcoming book project. There were two stories on the table, and the publisher asked which would I rather illustrate, this other story, or this one, with two happy dogs? I remember replying immediately: “the one with happy dogs”. The other story got selected, and it turned out to be a great book, but I think that deep inside of me I only want to draw happy dogs. In the end I even made a very stupid story for myself about four dogs driving around in their car. They are happy.
So maybe that’s why the main character in my first authored book is a dog. She just appeared in my sketchbook one day. Here is the first sight of Rosie. She seems happy.
This was a new notebook – an A3 Moleskine I had bought on one Interrail trip in Italy, and I carried it all the way home through Europe; how stupid. Especially as it was still empty after two years. That was a time when I was very tired of my work. I had illustrated children’s books for over a decade, worked with wonderful writers and received nice reviews for my illustrations. But I felt I didn’t really enjoy drawing. I used computer a lot, because I didn’t trust my drawing skills. So I took out this huge notebook and started scribbling, messing around. Drawing badly. Pictures came out. They were bad, but I enjoyed making them.
Around that time, I was selected for a masterclass with some other Finnish illustrators. Our teacher was Kitty Crowther, whom we all admired very much, so this was a special weekend for all of us. January was cold that year in Helsinki, and the course took place in a spooky old house by the sea. We were running on the frozen sea and making all kinds of exercises to free our creation and find our inner stories.
That weekend, I showed my new drawings for the first time to other people and got encouraged by the feedback I received from Kitty and other illustrators. Maybe I really was going in the right direction? We still often talk about this weekend with those artists, and looking back at it now, I think it was an important turning point for many of us. For me it was.
This is one of the drawings I did on the course. I still look at it when I am having a bad day, or I feel lost. Depending on the day, I am either the lion or that person getting eaten by the lion.
More drawings of Rosie started to appear in my notebook. I dared to show them to my publishers Jenni Erkintalo and Réka Király at Etana Editions. They were also encouraging and said that there was a story building up. I think it has always been difficult for me to see value in my work and ideas; this is why having friends and colleagues whom I can trust has been so important. When I doubt, they say just go ahead. I try to do the same for them. Through this whole process I was not alone, and so many decisions concerning the images and the story we made together with Jenni, Réka as well as the editor Kirsikka Myllyrinne, who encouraged me to keep the story very simple.
Here we get to the point where I always struggle: the story. When I was forced, I was able to produce this synopsis for the book:
The story goes: First, Rosie runs at the stadium, then she runs to escape the stadium, and in the end, she runs with friends because she wants to. And at the turning point, she stops. How did this scribble grow into a picturebook with 25 spreads (normally the picturebooks I illustrate have about 12 spreads)?
I think this book grew out of drawing – the joy of drawing. In a way, this is the content of the story as well, to find your own way of being, your own expression. For Rosie it is running, maybe for me it is drawing. And when I found the enjoyment in drawing, I got enough courage to finally write the words too, which so often escape me.
And maybe, in the end, it was just about finding the right tools for drawing. I remember an exercise from Kitty’s course, in which we were drawing, eyes closed, only feeling the paper, and the pen touching the paper. I really love how the crayon feels on this particular type of paper. And funnily enough, to approach a visual task through some other sense than vision, helped me to create an image I felt was also interesting to look at.
Drawing in these notebooks was a very physical act: I filled five of them, drawing dozens and dozens of pictures. Also, scanning the images from these books required some patience as they are large, heavy and annoying to handle.
One of my crayon boxes is an old Russian box of chocolates given to me by Finnish writer Hannu Mäkelä. We have made many books together. He is also the creator of my favourite books from childhood: the ‘Herra Huu’ (Mr. Boo) series.
It is quite an exhausting method to search for the story through drawing. I guess I sort of needed to live the story myself, to know how it goes. There are a large amount of drawings that did not end up in the final book. But I think I still needed to draw them.
Life on and under the bridge in a sketch for ‘Rosie’s Journey’. Unpublished.
Rosie makes a leap. Unpublished.
I don’t like to put morals in my stories, because who am I to teach anyone. I would rather let people find their own meanings in the story. Maybe I am more trying to find out about things myself, I have questions in mind, not answers. And some questions get answers during the process, some don’t.
Maybe the questions in this story were: What is it to be happy? What is it to be free? What is keeping us from doing things we love? Why do we hurt, imprison and enslave each other: humans, animals? Can I do something? If I save myself, what happens to the others? What can be discussed in a children’s book?
In the story, I combined my own history and happenings during the past few years with the story of a real rescue dog, Rosie. My friend saved her from a bad place and took her to her home, where she lived peacefully with three other dogs. She was a hound dog, just like Rosie in the book, the most elegant creature I have ever seen. I thought that maybe through my experiences I was able to understand her, that there are feelings, desires, experiences, all living creatures share.
An early sketch for ‘Rosie’s Journey’.
Race depot in ‘Rosie’s Journey’.
This I try to keep in mind when I draw and write children’s books: we share so many things, even with those we think we don’t share anything with at all. In a way I want to stress that, as much as we are and will always be focused on our own little lives, and the ups and downs in them, there are millions of others doing the same thing. And these ups and downs are very precious for those experiencing them. Kindness I also like a lot.
A sketch from my Italy notebook.
I love to watch people and animals doing their things. At the stations, in malls and supermarkets. On the streets and in the parks.
The train station in ‘Rosie’s Journey’.
I love to draw so many details in my illustrations that they often almost steal the story. Or they become the story, which actually I don’t mind. Something I really was fighting against in Rosie’s story as well was its linearity, the basic narrative structure it follows. Maybe I was trying to show options of where the story could go. Or that in a way our stories depend on other stories.
Spring in the city from my second authored picturebook ‘Suden hetki’ (Etana Editions, 2020).
People and animals living their lives in ‘Joulu juksaa’ (Etana Editions, 2019), a Christmas story written by Juha Virta and illustrated by me.
For many of the ‘best’ pictures (in my opinion) in ‘Rosie’s Journey’ I don’t have different/alternate versions. The pictures came out in one moment, with no effort, no planning, no pain. I didn’t want to redraw them; they had everything I wanted in them. In a way, I had made it easy for myself, as the concept of the book is so clear: Rosie is just running through different sceneries and settings; all I needed to do was to draw them. The themes – freedom vs imprisonment – I had in my mind and they can be found in the pictures when you study them.
I said that creating the story was a challenge for me. Still, I guess I know what I like in a story. I wanted it to be a simple story. And I didn’t want there to be any big climax in the end. Rosie just finds two friends and they run together. As simply as it sometimes goes in life. But we made a little change in the way of telling things, when the dogs start to run together. Until this point, Rosie has been running alone through large panoramic scenes, in an undefined time. In this important moment, when the dogs find each other, the story time is slowed down, and cut into a sequence of images, like in a film.
Rosie, Siiri and Iida in ‘Rosie’s Journey’.
In a way ‘Rosie’s Journey’ is a classical coming-of-age story, which pictures the growth of a protagonist to selfhood. I think the story became clear to me only when I made the last image. And it really is the last one in the book (although of this portrait there are at least five different versions). Also, the text on the last page was the last thing I wrote in the book. It came after long discussions with many friends, having gone through some small hardships in life, having tried terribly hard to find the right words, and then they came, immediately when I stopped trying:‘I am Rosie’, says Rosie. — ‘Shall we run again?’
There are so many ways we can express ourselves, and no way is above or below. I guess it depends on each of us which we find most important, or dear, easy or hard. I noticed that for me, when making this book, it was important to utter words as well. At first, we had thought with the publishers that it would be a book without words. But to dare to use words, and to use my own words, felt very important to me. Maybe for me, an essential way to express my thoughts and feelings about this life is to combine words and images. A long time after finishing the book, I found this drawing in my childhood home.
“I am Marika Maijala. I am 4 years old, my sister is 7 years, and my mum 8 years.”
I tried to draw a picture of my writer’s block. I am the tall creature piling heavy stones into the hot air balloon. A little girl asks, “What are you doing?”. I am making an easy thing difficult. Instead of just letting the balloon fly, I fill it with stones. Or, maybe I am making the impossible: I’m going to fly with a balloon that really cannot fly. I guess I can choose.
Illustrations © Marika Maijala. Post edited by dPICTUS.
Buy this picturebook
Ruusun matka /
Etana Editions, Finland, 2018
Rosie is a race dog. By day she runs at the track. By night she sits in her little room. One day she doesn’t stop at the end of the track. She jumps over the fence and runs away. Rosie keeps running.
Where does she go? A sensitive portrayal of a special journey by award-winning illustrator Marika Maijala. This large-format book is Marika Maijala’s debut picturebook as both author and illustrator.
- Finnish: Etana Editions
- Swedish: Förlaget
- French: Hélium
- Spanish: SM
- Italian: Clichy
- Korean: Munhakdongne
- Chinese (Simplified): Gingko/Post Wave
- Chinese (Traditional): Pace Books