It’s not often you get to interview one of your old teachers, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that Australian artist, children’s book author – and my high school art teacher – Leigh Hobbs, would be coming to town. I got in touch with Mr. Hobbs, I mean Leigh, while he was still in Melbourne to talk about the new Chinese translation of his much-loved Old Tom series. I’ll be speaking more to Leigh this afternoon at his children’s art workshop at The Bookworm.
Old Tom is messy, naughty and a little quirky. While he’s widely recognized in Australia, how do you think Chinese audiences will react to Old Tom?
I think Chinese audiences will react to Old Tom in much the same way as Australian ones do, once they “click” into my sense of humour. And, more importantly when they realise that the Old Tom books are not about a woman and her pet cat, but about the love between a mother and her son. I write the Old Tom books as if Old Tom is a naughty 7-year-old boy and Angela is the long suffering mother figure.
While the language you use in your books is quite simple, do you worry about translating the nuances of your Old Tom series into Chinese?
Well, this will depend on the translator of course but I think Chinese children will fill in the gaps, so to speak, when they read the translated text and the illustrations. Children everywhere love to laugh.
You illustrate and write your books. Do you find one artistic process more enjoyable than the other?
I think of myself primarily as an artist. I think in images, but as far as creating books goes, words soon appear – though they never mirror exactly what the picture says. It’s the combination of text and picture which makes the humor and irony in the books and, tells the reader about the true nature of the characters.
You taught art in Melbourne high schools. Are any of your characters or books inspired by children you’ve met over the years?
Many of my characters have been inspired by children I have taught, or experiences (both good and bad) in my long teaching career. Horrible Harriet is an obvious one, and all of the students in my 4F For Freaks books bring back frightening teaching memories.
Which children’s book do you always recommend?
Treasure Island – this book thrilled me as a child.
Of all of your characters, which one do you most enjoy writing or drawing?
Old Tom is the character I feel closest too – I love drawing him. I am a romantic at heart and I find the relationship between Angela and Old Tom rewarding to write about and bring to life. I think that they are quite true to life characters – well the bond between them is, and children respond to that.
Which book holds the most sentimental value to you?
My first book, Old Tom. It was a battle to get it published, a thrill to see it in the bookshops and wonderful to discover that children got pleasure from the book.
You have a love of Paris and London and have written about them in several of your books. Do you see China making an appearance in any of your future books?
I have never been to China before, so I find the prospect of my visit very exciting. I think it’s inevitable that China will make an appearance in a future book. But whether it’s Old Tom or Mr Chicken … who knows.
Finally, if you could be one character from any book, who would you like to be?
I wouldn’t want to be any of the characters in my books – they are all too strange. Having said that though, I suspect that there is more than a little bit of me in every one of my characters.
Mr. Chicken in Beijing – a kids workshop with Leigh Hobbs. RMB 20/30. Tue 7, 4.30-5pm. The Bookworm (6431 2108).
Leigh Hobbs travels to China courtesy of Penguin Books China, Daylight Publishing, Yew Chung International School Shanghai and Swimming With Stories, a children’s book festival curated by Books Illustrated and supported by the Australian Embassy Beijing, Australia-China Council, Copyright Agency Limited and Qantas.