In anticipation of my new book, STRANGE CREATURES, which will be released in Feb 2011, I decided to focus a few of my upcoming blog entries on the process and challenges of writing and illustrating a non-fiction historical biography.
STRANGE CREATURES is about Walter Rothschild and the museum that he created, and the bugs, butterflies and animals that he collected, starting from when he was just 7 years old! It seems logical to begin where the process begins – with the researching and gathering of information about my subject.
Very little has been written about Walter Rothschild. The challenge to bringing this character to life was to not only record the invaluable contributions to science that he made, but to honestly capture his eccentric charm and incredible will.
As an author I love the challenge of digging up interesting sources and uncovering the facts about my subject. To learn about Walter Rothschild I was able to travel to the museum that Walter created – now called The Natural History Museum at Tring — which is about an hour northwest of London. It was a fantastic adventure to travel to England. I viewed the public collection at the museum and then was fortunate enough to get an appointment with the Museum Manager and with the Director of Education. They generously opened up the world of Walter Rothschild to me.
I stepped into the museum archives, searched through old documents, photo albums, and the extensive collection that Walter left behind. I walked along the grounds of his family home, and thought about what it must have been like to be the son of a Lord, heir to a banking empire, but more interested in bugs, butterflies and the natural world.
(The two pictures above are of the Natural History Museum at Tring and the present day grounds around the former Rothschild Estate at Tring, which is now a school.)
Walter’s life was a contradiction of privilege and wealth alongside an overbearing amount of expectation that was placed on his young shoulders. And though few are alive who remembered Walter, I was even fortunate enough to speak to people who remembered family stories about him. These direct sources were invaluable in creating a story of the life of this complicated character. And since I’m also the illustrator, everything I learned and saw also went into the pictures in the book.
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