In the run up to the Bookworm Literary Festival, we’ll be profiling some of the authors who write either for children or on family/ parenting issues. First up is Graeme Base, an award-winning author and illustrator, who has been writing children’s books for over 30 years.
Where did you grow up?
I was born at a very early age in England. I recovered from this setback at the age of eight when my parents moved to Australia and I decided to tag along.
Why did you start creating books for children?
I always wanted to be an artist, ever since I was a kid. I was always drawing in the margins of my school books. Eventually I did a graphic design course then got a job in advertising. I hated it! They didn’t like me much either – I was sacked for incompetence (hard to do a good job if you have zero interest in what you are doing). I started to do freelance illustration for some publishing companies, doing pictures for other people’s texts, then decided to have a go at writing a story myself. It was a poem called My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch. It was published in 1983 and I’ve been writing and illustrating my own books ever since.
Do your own children serve as inspiration for your books?
Strange to say, not a lot. I began writing and illustrating long before I had kids and the impetus was purely my own need to create. I had ideas for pictures and I wanted to make them real. Another strange fact is that my kids have probably read fewer of my books than many of their friends – my wife and I would always read to them but it just felt weird reading them one of my own books! Occasionally I have read them a draft manuscript (the original verse version of TruckDogs for instance, before it morphed into a novel) but this was rare.
What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be an illustrator?
The Four Ps.
PASSION: you have to love what you do.
PERSPIRATION: you must be prepared to work hard to turn your ideas into reality.
PERSISTENCE: never give up; you will strike disappointments, keep going regardless.
PROVENANCE: sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time – be aware of these times and capitalize on them. Luck is part of the equation!
Can you tell me about your biggest inspirations for Eye to Eye?
When I was a child I used to imagine, like most children, that I could fly. I also remember pretending I was tiny, like an ant, or traveled to another planet, or climbed to the top of the highest mountain. These childhood memories were behind the idea for Eye to Eye. Then, a few years ago, I was lucky enough to go with my family to Antarctica. While we were there we had an amazing close-up encounter with a whale – it came right up alongside our little boat, rolled over so that its eye was right out of the water, and looked at us. This experience inspired me to create the whale painting in the book – it is my favourite image.
How does Eye to Eye stand out from the rest of your work? What aspects of it show your evolution and progression as an artist?
My early books, like Animalia and The Eleventh Hour, were packed with detail. I felt I had to fill every corner of the page with something to look. In recent years I have tried let the pictures have a greater feeling of space – more ‘filmic’ perhaps. In Eye to Eye there are some very open vistas with uncluttered horizons. I really enjoy this sense of the ‘wide blue yonder’!
What are you working on next, and why does it have you excited?
Right now I am taking a break from making books and concentrating on a toy idea I have had for many years. It is one of several ideas that I would like to try to make real. Soon I will start a new book (I have several ideas in mind) but right now I am having a great time in the workshop making wooden models and prototypes.
Can you please tell me a few anecdotal examples of parents or children who have approached you (after a book reading or an event) to tell you how their books have affected them? How is this gratifying and rewarding for you?
Ever since Animalia came out in 1986 I have been hearing how teacher and parents have used this book and others as springboards into language and other areas of learning. I never plan my books to be ‘educational’ but it is wonderful to see how people have used them in this way. These days, when I do book signings, I frequently meet young parents bringing their children to get a book signed who tell me their own parents brought them to see me when they were children themselves. It makes me feel very old (!) but also very, very lucky.
Graeme will be on the panel for Disseminating the Magic: Children’s Writing in the Digital Age, at 2pm on Saturday 12 March at Bookworm Beijing.