Why author Julia Seal loves jellyfish
Published on: 22 March 2022
Author and illustrator Julia Seal found inspiration in the ocean for her new book, Bloom - and in particular, the mysterious jellyfish! She explains how her book came to be and what we can all do to look after our planet - plus, watch her reading aloud from Bloom.
Commotion in the ocean
I’ve always been fascinated by jellyfish. One of my earliest memories is the discovery of a huge washed up jellyfish in Wales, sprawled out on the sand like a strange alien creature.
It caused quite a commotion on the beach, children gathered around, gently prodding it with a stick trying to encourage it back to life. The grown ups murmured nervously about whether it was safe to swim in the water: ‘Get back,’ they told the children, ‘it might still be able to sting!’
My mum took the obligatory jellyfish photo, making us all stick our feet in the picture for size reference. It was enormous!
These days, you’d be just as likely to see a plastic bag washed up on the beach as a jellyfish, although I don’t think it would bring in such a crowd!
Illustration: Julia Seal
More masks than jellyfish
It was in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, as I was flicking through pages full of gloomy headlines, that one phrase caught my eye: ‘More Masks than Jellyfish! Coronavirus waste ends up in the ocean’. This idea really startled me.
Although phrases such as ‘climate change’ and ‘single use plastics’ get well used, I think it was only then that I was struck by the enormous impact all this coronavirus plastic waste was going to have on the environment.
I drew a picture of a beautiful jellyfish surrounded by masks, floating eerily in the background and posted it on Instagram, along with a link to the news article. A publisher saw this and asked if there was a story to go with the image.
As an illustrator, there’s always a story behind every image I draw, even if I haven’t written it yet! I often find that the pictures come first and then the words spill out some time later. So obviously, I told the publisher, that yes, there was an incredible story behind this image… and then I quickly set to work on writing it!
I never know where my stories are going to take me. Sometimes I have ideas that brew and simmer for weeks, even years but frustratingly I can never find the right ending! However, Bloom was one of those ‘fast’ stories that I initially scribbled down within minutes.
We need to create our happy ending
An idea quickly formed of a lonely jellyfish, looking for his friends in amongst the ocean’s growing plastics, however I was rather stumped at how to give it a happy ending! An estimated 13 million tonnes of plastic waste goes into the ocean every year, with an average lifespan of 450 years – it doesn’t make for a very fairy-tale ending.
Illustration: Julia Seal
My children, like others, are very aware of environmental problems these days and I believe it’s important not to overwhelm them with gloomy facts but inform and encourage them. I started researching into jellyfish and plastic pollution but far from being lonely, I discovered that jellyfish are actually blooming at the moment and these blooms are causing huge problems around the world – over turning fishing boats and blocking up the cooling water intakes in coastal power plants in Scotland, Japan and Sweden!
I suddenly saw these jellyfish in a different light – rebellious, mischief-makers trying to disrupt the status quo and warn humans of their environmental impact. That’s when the ending of Bloom clicked into place!
I love it when writing doesn’t always take you where you think it might. It is the excitement of picking up a pen and not quite knowing how it might end.
Julia Seal and her book, Bloom
Bringing the ocean to life
As I wrote, I would scribble down sketches to accompany the words, a lot of the pages would make no sense without the illustrative explanation and I have finally learnt, after years of being told by editors, don’t write what can be shown in the images.
I create my illustrations digitally in a programme called Procreate, drawing straight onto my iPad screen - something I could only dream about in my younger graphic designer days, when I painstakingly had to use a mouse to draw one vector point at a time! Now I layer up my drawings with textures and paint effects, which makes it so much quicker. It was important that Bloom had a flowing feel as it’s set underwater, although it was a challenge not to make each page look too blue!
I hope that Bloom will spark conversations with children about biodiversity and how humans are impacting life in the oceans. But above all, I hope that following Luna’s underwater adventure will show children that, no matter how young they are, we all have a part to play in looking after our world.
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