authors, interviews

The Gift: An interview with Michael Speechley

Michael SpeechleyMEET THE AUTHOR

Michael Speechley has been a graphic designer and high school art teacher in WA.
His first picture book, The All New Must Have Orange 430, explores themes of consumerism and the environment. It was shortlisted for Book of the Year, CBCA awards, 2019. His second picture book, The Gift, deals with kindness and the joy of giving.

The house across the road looks abandoned, but Rosie knows someone lives there. She decides to give her mystery neighbour a gift – something different, something unusual, something surprising. Something her mum would have been proud of.

We’re thrilled to welcome Michael Speechley to Alphabet Soup today.

What are your favourite illustrating tools?

The All New Must Have Orange 430 by Michael Speechley

I’m pretty basic here. My first book, The All New Must Have Orange 430 was just a bunch of sketches from my A4 sketchpad that I photocopied onto brown paper, then splashed on a bit of white gouache for some highlights.

My second book, The Gift, was drawn with an ordinary black pen, but I used a special paper called drafting film (it looks like thick tracing paper). This paper allowed me to scratch and scrape into the black pen lines, making the drawings look a bit vintage and old. It was fun, and I could scratch away my mistakes. I could also draw my images on paper first, fix up any mistakes, then literally trace over them because the drafting paper is see through. Good trick hey! Then I scanned in my images and added colour in Photoshop.

Your illustrations are very detailed – how long does it take you to create one double page spread?

The Gift by Michael Speechley

They are very detailed, but I kind of cheat! Not in a bad way though. Sometimes it is easier for me to create lots of individual drawings, then put them all together in Photoshop. The trick with Photoshop is that I don’t want to make it look like I’ve used it, but if you use it well, it can make a single, very complicated looking image, but one that is actually made up of lots of little individual drawings. The big garden image in The Gift probably has more than a hundred little drawings in its construction, and some images in The All New Must Have Orange 430 might be made up of about 50 drawings. I could draw them as one image if I wanted to, but I don’t need to and it’s actually better not to in some ways. Even using Photoshop at the end, the whole process of drawing and putting them together on the computer can take a couple of months.

Writing text: Pen and paper? Or typing straight into the computer?
I scribble anything down onto anything I can find; it could be a scrap of paper, a napkin, a post-it note, but usually into my current A4 sketchpad. I have about 12 of them now, and all of my terrible early sketches and story ideas are in them. When I feel as if the story is basically laid out and will fit roughly inside the 32-page limit, I start sketching and drawing my page compositions. These are super rough, but they give me an idea about how much text I have to play with and the type of image that would suit. It’s the hardest bit, but I like this challenge; to-ing and fro-ing between words and images. Sometimes I can remove words because the image says it all anyway, and sometimes I can add words to make things clearer. It’s a juggling act, it can be very difficult, but it’s so much fun, especially when you solve these puzzles.

Which comes first – illustration or text?
I always start with text. The story is so important. I’m a real observer, it’s an artist thing I guess. While I’m drawing in cafes, I sometimes listen to conversations about what people believe to be important. I don’t mean to be a sticky-beak, but you can’t help it when you are drawing. Sometimes they talk about getting new houses, renovating kitchens, higher paid jobs, fancy holidays, expensive cars and big watches. Then again, a lot of people talk about doing nice things for others, sharing some of the problems that they may be experiencing, discussing their hopes and dreams; real human things that matter. Some people want to stand out, some don’t. Personally, I think that some people can be a bit caught up with life’s trappings, but most people are really nice, and so many people come up to me and say lovely things about my drawings, ideas and books. So these all give me ideas about people and how they think.

When I write a book, I like to think that I’m not judging people with different viewpoints to the ones that I have, but I hope I can either offer an alternative way of looking at the world, or confirm their own feelings about the things that they find important and observe around them as well.

What are you working on next?
I always try and have a few ideas brewing. I have been spending some time working on an old idea lately. I have really tried to get it working, but it actually needs a full makeover, so I’ll put it away for a couple of years and let it simmer in my head. I have some new ideas and directions for it though.

So instead of spending time on that picture book, I’m developing some ideas for another picture book about a boy called Mike (not me though, it just rhymes with bike), and it’s about a boy who doesn’t have a bike. Very sad, hey? Everyone should have a bike! I also have ideas about a Bigfoot, a greedy princess, an average person, and many, many more.

The Gift by Michael SpeechleyAwesome extras:

Click here for a sneak peek at pages inside The Gift

Click here for Teachers Notes for The Gift

The All New Must Have Orange 430 by Michael SpeechleyClick here for a sneak peek at pages inside The All New Must Have Orange 430

Click here for Teachers Notes for The All New Must Have Orange 430

The All New Must Have Orange 430 and The Gift  are out now! Look for them at your nearest bookstore or library.