Author and illustrator Noriko Matsubara’s first picture book Bocchi and Pocchi: A Tale of Two Socks has recently been published as the launch title of the newly-founded publishing company Troika Books. We caught up with Noriko to discuss her writing, artwork and Japanese children’s books.
Noriko, what first gave you the idea for the Bocchi and Pocchi story? We heard that it had something to do with your grandma darning socks?
When I was a child, I used to bring holed socks to my grandma and watch her mending them. Patched up socks have character and I used to get attached to them. This childhood memory gave me the idea for the Bocchi and Pocchi story. Also, I grew up in a house where mice lived. I used to hear lots of clattering noise on the ceiling during the night and wonder what this family of mice was doing. So this memory had also contributed to the idea of the story.
Bocchi and Pocchi: A Tale of Two Socks is the launch title for the newly-founded children’s publishing company Troika Books. How does it feel to be flying the flag for the company?
I feel privileged. I’m so lucky to have been published by a small and friendly company like Troika Books. They’ve been very supportive and as a first time author, I’m glad not to be buried under many titles by established authors represented by the same publisher, which might have made it harder for Troika to give me the guidance they have. Troika Books has been an ideal publisher for me to work with and I feel honoured that my debut book is the launch title for the company.
Have you always been interested in writing and drawing for children, or has your artwork concentrated on more grown-up themes in the past?
In the past my artwork concentrated on more grown-up themes. When I was doing my MA in Fine Art, my artwork focused on issues surrounding nuclear power. I’m from the area where a nuclear waste reprocessing plant was being built nearby and its landscapes were rapidly changing. I felt compelled to face the nuclear issues through my art. But this nuclear theme started lying heavy on my mind and made me feel depressed and powerless. I felt I needed to take a break from it and create something lighter and simpler that I can feel at peace with, so I began writing and illustrating children’s book – a tale of two socks. When I was drawing these woolly socks, I often found myself smiling. Unlike the nuclear theme which focused on ‘fear’, the sock story is gentle and friendly. I thought, it is probably more important for children (and myself) to experience love and warmth through a simple life rather than being scared by big and complex issues like nuclear power at this stage. After all, nice memories in childhood may foster awareness of caring for the world.
A few years ago I was invited to attend a symposium about an initial studio plan by ACAVA (Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art). The plan was to convert empty shop and office premises into artists’ studios, a gallery and a new community arts space in the heart of Harlow. I thought this would be a fantastic idea! I was very excited to be connected to other artists as well as the public through this new artistic hub. Gatehouse Arts affordable art studios and gallery space have been up and running for the past two years, and over 30 artists have joined. I’ve been involved in a number of exhibitions since the beginning. I’m very lucky to have this studio space where I can completely devote myself to art-making.
We understand that after growing up in Japan, you studied in Canada and the UK. Which of these environments had the greatest influence upon your art?
Each location had influence on my art, but I think Canada had the greatest. I studied Visual Arts at Memorial University of Newfoundland – an area of stunning natural beauty and full of inspiration. I learnt drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography and art history there. I was able to explore various kinds of media and find out what suits my artistic expression. The tutors were all active professional artists; they gave me full individual attention and guidance, and helped me develop my art to a great extent.
Do you consciously use any Japanese influences in your art?
Not in illustration for Bocchi and Pocchi. But when I make collage, I use a traditional Japanese art form called chigiri-e, in which pictures are created from pieces of hand-torn Japanese paper called washi. But instead of traditional washi, I use newspaper.
What is your favourite character from a Japanese children’s book and could you tell us a bit about it?
A cat from the book called The Cat that Lived a Million Times. The story is about a cat that died a million times but lived again a million times. The cat has been a pet of a king, sailor, circus performer, thief, lonely old woman, little girl, etc. A million people cried when the cat died, but the cat never cried because he didn’t care. After a million times, the cat reincarnates as a stray cat. He boasts of having lived a million times and all female cats wanted be with him except for one white cat. He tries to attract the white cat that doesn’t show any interest in him and starts wanting to be with her. He proposes her and she accepts. She gives a birth to many kittens and gets old; and then she finally dies next to him. He cries for the first time; he cries a million times and at last dies next to the white cat. He was never born again after that. It’s a very unusual story. Even though the cat dies at the end, you feel happy for him.
Is there anywhere in the UK which inspires your artwork, or a favourite place you like to visit when you’re working?
Kettle’s Yard House in Cambridge. The house has artworks of my favourite artists such as Joan Miro and Ben Nicholson alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The atmosphere is so harmonious and peaceful that I could spend hours just being there. If I could work there, that would be a perfect place! But my studio is a cosy place to work too. I have painted the wall white and arranged some natural objects by the window. When the sun comes in, the space is nice and bright!
If you’d like to win a copy of Bocchi and Pocchi: A Tale of Two Socks, please email email@example.com and tell us the name of Noriko Matsubara’s favourite Japanese children’s book. Please write ‘Noriko Matsubara’ in the subject title and let us know your address in case you’re a lucky winner. The competition closes on Monday 3rd June at 5pm.
To visit Noriko’s newly-launched Bocchi and Pocchi website, please click here.