Over the course of Leanne Shapton’s career she’s worked at Conde Nast, the New York Times and Saturday Night Live, as well as co-founding publishing company J&L Books. Readers might know her for her use of watercolours, with her artwork and hand-lettering appearing on several book covers including Faber & Faber’s set of Thomas Bernhard reissues. She’s also the author of several titles, including Toys Talking and Swimming Studies, which recounts her time training for the Olympic trials as a teenager. Her most recent title, Guestbook, is a fresh take on the traditional ghost story.
Here she tells CR how she ended up with so many strings to her bow, why working with Push Pin Studios’ James McMullan helped shape her career, and how the dark stories she grew up reading influenced her own narrative style.
On doing more than one thing I was very competitive with my older brother. I wanted to be as good as him at anything, and he was good at everything. So I think it’s due to him I do so many things, because he did so many things. I’m that horrible little sister that followed him around. He was incredibly good at school, drew beautifully and got good grades, and that led the teachers to think I might be smart too, and I had to prove myself. When my brother started swimming I started swimming. So it was swimming, art and academics. I’ve always thought I needed to be good at three things to keep up with my brother.