It’s the story of a little fir tree that finds itself unsold at Christmas time, and is rescued from the department store’s bin by a homeless boy. He plants it in a box and takes it to his shelter under a railway bridge where it creates an unexpected stir, and bit of Christmas magic
The book’s illustrator Emily Sutton talked to me about the book as well as choosing some of her own Christmas favourites.
Could you tell me how you came to illustrate the book?
My editor Caz Royds at Walker books mentioned a wonderful text by an old friend and writer Delia Huddy that she had saved away. Sadly the author had since died but Caz felt that the story was poetic and magical and that my illustrations would work very well with it. Once she had read it to me I had no hesitation in agreeing to begin.
Were there any instructions left by Delia for the illustrations?
There were no instructions for the illustrations- although as Caz knew Delia I suppose she had some insight into Delia’s aesthetic taste and perhaps this led to my being approached to work on the book.
One of the most satisfying things about working on a book is inhabiting the world within the story and this allows you to interpret the author’s words and sometimes add something of your own too.
So in the final image of the book, which has no text, I imagined that perhaps the boy might have grown up and had children of his own, and that they too could visit the tree in years to come.
Your style combines the best of classic British and American styles. Are there any particular artists you drew on for this book?
I have many artists and illustrators who have inspired me, I think for this particular book I was influenced by the American illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen and M. Sasek (creator of the ‘This Is…’ series).
I’m also very interested in British and American folk art which I think has also shaped some of the imagery.
What was your favourite Christmas story from your childhood?
Another classic Christmas book would have to be The Night before Christmas – an obvious choice but one full of magic and anticipation; it really captures the pure excitement of a child on Christmas Eve.
If you could illustrate any Christmas book what would it be?
Not exactly a Christmas story but I did absolutely love The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis and particularly the moment when Christmas finally comes to Narnia. I also remember enjoying the bbc television adaptation which was on around Christmas time so it always has a festive association for me.
Do you have a contemporary Christmas story you’re particularly fond of?
I’m a huge fan of Judith Kerr so I would have to say the new Mog book!
I love your shops. Are they based on real places and do you have any particular favourite ones at this time of year?
I always love finding and drawing beautiful shop fronts. Sadly many of them are disappearing from high streets but there are still plenty to be found, particularly in European cities so I always take my camera and sketchbook whenever I go on my travels, and these sketches inform the shops in my illustrations.
A local favourite at Christmas is Derek Fox butchers in Malton who has a fantastic Dickensian display of game and a stuffed fox in the window.
Will you feel a little more guilty than normal this year when you chuck your Christmas tree out for the binman?
Last year we got a tree with its roots still intact and planted it out in the garden so no my conscience will be clear!
The Christmas Eve Tree is published by Walker Books.