Creative Teamwork: going on
a bear hunt

07th November

If you don’t have kids, you might not know that the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a bit of a modern classic. Yesterday, The Guardian ran a ‘making of’ piece. I came to the article thinking ‘Really? Do even children’s books get a making of these days?’ I left feeling inspired.

Basically, the author wrote the words, and kept the meaning open and ambiguous. He had a mental picture involving a kind of carnival scenario. However, the illustrator got no brief from him and had a totally different picture. When he saw the results he was nonplussed: ‘About 18 months later, I was taken into a darkened room and in the middle was a table, and on the table a pile of large homemade sheets of thick paper divided by coloured tissue. The editors peeled back the sheets, and I was stunned. First, they were such beautiful pictures. Second, I couldn’t figure out what they had to do with a bear hunt. It looked like a family having a holiday in Cornwall. If I had had any image in my mind, it was some kind of street carnival with a bloke in a bear suit. Helen’s pictures were something completely different.’

The publishers assured him the results were incredible. They believed in the creative (both sides of it). He believed in them and the illustrator. Who believed in him. And they all believed in their readers and their imaginations.

He remained unsure of what the book was: ‘The book came out and it caused a massive stir and I had to listen to people to hear why. What brilliant, clever Helen (the illustrator) and the editors “got” and had created was that special thing that picture books can do – which is to narrate different stories in print and in pictures. The family saga isn’t in the words.’

I think this is the essence of creative alchemy and creative trust – letting go, allowing your ‘one’ and the others ‘one’ to make three. It’s about trust, not control or challenge. It conjures up a trapeze act to me – where each party catches the other as a marriage of equals. It’s not about what’s happening at either end, it’s about the moment in the middle where things meet. It’s incredibly pure, rare and special. It’s also difficult and brave – but the results can be fantastic.

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