teachers' resources

Meet Ken Spillman – author of the Jake books


"Jake's Gigantic List""Ken Spillman"

Our visitor today is Ken Spillman, author of many books, including Jake’s Gigantic List and Jake’s Monster Mess. The third book in the series Jake’s Balloon Blast will be out in March 2011.

What made you become a writer?

Quite simply, a love of stories.  That developed early and by the age of 8 I was a keen writer, even during school holidays.  When I was 15, my English teacher told me to keep writing.  He forgot to tell me to stop writing, so I’m still going.  It’s all his fault.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

It was, actually, but before that I’d published a lot of short stories and poems, while having quite a few rejections as well.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I had many, including adventure stories like Robin Hood and Tom Sawyer.  But an enduring favourite was – and IS – The Little Prince.  That always gets me thinking – I can revisit it every year and learn something new!

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?

It’s very difficult not to get ideas – so the trick is to give some time to the ideas you do have.  For me, watching and listening leads to imagining, and that’s where story begins.  After that, it’s all about work.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?"Jake's Balloon Blast"

I like to read!  But I also love sports and enjoy swimming or kicking a ball around.  Travelling is also great, and recently I’ve enjoyed talking to big groups of Jake fans in Asian countries.

Are you working on a book at the moment?

I’ve always got a few books on the go.  Chris Nixon is illustrating the fourth Jake book – with a sporting theme – and I’ve written two more.  I’m also working on a picture book for Scholastic and a new series for release by Puffin India later this year.

When you are writing the Jake books, do you work closely with Chris Nixon, or do you finish the text and then leave him to do the illustrations?

I finish the story first, but since the first Jake book I’ve been able to imagine what Chris will be able to do with it as I go along.  He nailed the Jake character straight off, so I know he’s always going to really ‘get’ what I write.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

First and foremost, have fun.  What a magical thing it is to create whole worlds – with just paper and ink!  If you enjoy writing, you’ll do it often – and that’s the second thing … work!

illustrator, info, teachers' resources

“Lights out!” (Chris Nixon)

We’re into our second week of authors and illustrators visiting — they’re here to celebrate the launch of the Undercover Readers Club. Today we have illustrator Chris Nixon stopping by to tell us what he used to read under the covers after ‘lights out’. Chris Nixon is a WA artist and illustrator. Books he has illustrated include Jake’s Gigantic List, Jake’s Monster Mess and Crocodile Cake. He’s currently working on even more Jake books!

Oh the places you’ll go!

"Chris Nixon self portrait"
Chris Nixon © 2010

My Dad used to tell my brother and I stories of him and his brothers growing up, only he’d slip our names in, which we loved — and couldn’t believe there were kids doing these wonderful things … and they had the same names as us! He would tell us about all kinds of adventures living on a farm and getting into all kinds of mischief, it’s one of my favourite memories growing up.  Afterwards he’d turn the lights out, but I always wanted more and couldn’t sleep after all that excitement so I’d bring out my little nightlight and look to books to keep the adventure alive. I loved reading Dr. Suess, in particular Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who, and I always loved the other world it would take me to. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and I still love it today, it never gets old. I always wanted to be Max joining in on the wild rumpus with the wild things howling at the moon. I’d tuck under the blanket and make a tent with my knees to try to hide the light (although Mum and Dad would have been able to see it through the blanket), I didn’t care because I felt like I was off on an adventure. Occasionally I would get caught and because my brother and I shared a bunk bed in a big room we would get separated as we were always getting each other involved.

After lights out now you could still find me reading Where the Wild Things Are or some of Shaun Tan’s books, admiring his great illustrations. However if I had to pick one book to read it would be Oh, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Suess. I read this book every time I go travelling or if I’m down or any time really and it inspires me every single time. I love travel and adventure and I think of myself as a bit of explorer, I always have and always will, and the book really fires me up for more. I really like this bit:

So …

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So …  get on your way!

Lights out …

© 2010 Chris Nixon

Check out Chris Nixon’s site and his blog for more information about him, and his books!

"undercover readers logo"Alphabet Soup magazine is celebrating the launch of Undercover Readers (our new reviewers club for kids)!  If you’d like to join the Undercover Readers Club, you’ll find an information pack you can download from the Alphabet Soup website. As part of the celebrations, we have a different children’s author or illustrator visiting Soup Blog each day until 29 June 2010 to talk about what they used to read after ‘lights out’ when they were growing up. So be sure to check back tomorrow!

illustrator, info, teachers' resources

Meet the illustrator: Chris Nixon

In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine, we interview an author or an illustrator. We can’t include all their answers in the magazine (we only fit so much into two pages!) and we like to put the whole interview on Soup Blog so you don’t miss out! Issue 6 of Alphabet Soup magazine includes a Q&A with Chris Nixon.

Chris Nixon lives in  the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is a freelancer for a design studio and has also illustrated Crocodile Cake, by Palo Morgan, and Jake’s Gigantic List, by Ken Spillman. Jake’s Monster Mess will be published in May 2010.

When did you start drawing?

My earliest memory of drawing is when I was 5 or 6 and I was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved drawing and painting animals and things outside so I started taking art classes painting in oils and sketching in charcoal and pencil. Most of the time the classes were outside so I would get to go on bushwalks and go exploring, which was great fun.

Did you have a favourite artist/illustrator as a child?

I wouldn’t say I had a favourite artist, but I did love the book Where the Wild Things Are. I loved the artwork and story then, and now Maurice Sendak is one of my favourite illustrators.

At the launch of Jake's Gigantic List, signing a copy of Crocodile Cake

What was your favourite book as a child?

Apart from Where the Wild Things Are, I loved Winnie the Pooh and all the Disney books that were adapted from films. I really liked 101 Dalmatians.

Why did you decide to become a children’s illustrator?

I was always interested in art but I

didn’t know how to turn it into a job. I studied design and illustration at university and in my last year I wrote and illustrated my own picture book. I researched a lot of kids’ books and found I really liked the characters. Up until then, I hadn’t picked up a children’s book since I was child. I really enjoyed them again and saw a good outlet for my artwork and passion for bringing good stories to life.

Was it easy to get your first job as an illustrator?

I have been very lucky and haven’t had to go looking for work; it’s always come to me. Fremantle Press saw my work at my graduate exhibition from uni and saw that I had illustrated a crocodile in one of my designs. They had a story called Crocodile Cake and needed an illustrator, and that was enough for them to pick me … very lucky! A few weeks later, I was working on my first picture book.

Do you have a preferred medium? Why?

I have found a medium that really works for me and my style and that is a blend of traditional and digital techniques. I use pencil and watercolour as an under painting and then I finish the work digitally. This allows me to make easy changes on the computer, but allows the work to have a traditional hand painted and drawn look to it.

What do you like to do when you are not working on your art?

I love being outside and traveling so I love surfing, kayaking, mountain biking and seeing as much of the world as possible. I’ve played basketball since I was 6. I also like music, film and cooking, so there is never enough time to fit it all in!

Where do you get your inspiration?

I watch a lot of films, particularly animated and kids’ films. They are like kids’ books brought to life and I always look to them for inspiration. I plan to work in the film industry one day, making movies and bringing great stories to life with my artwork.

Are you influenced by anyone’s work?

The artists working in the film industry are some of the best artists in the world, particularly the artists from Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios. I follow all their work and use it as a goal for my skill as an illustrator. In the book world, I really like Shaun Tan’s work. His career path is something I follow closely as he is also from Perth and now working as an artist making films.

Do you need to meet with the author when you are illustrating their books?

I never met the authors until the books were completed. I worked closely with the publisher to make decisions on my illustrations.

Does the story influence your choice of materials?

Absolutely. If the story is set outside with a more natural setting I will use more traditional materials like watercolour to create a more flowing illustration. If the story is more energetic and fast paced, I might use effects on the computer to make it more convincing.

How long did it take for you to illustrate Crocodile Cake and Jake’s Gigantic List?

Crocodile Cake was my first book so it took a lot longer to finish. From start to finish it took a little over a year.  Jake’s Gigantic List took about 3 months.

Are you working on illustrating a new book?

I just finished my third book, which is called Farmer Mick: Harvest Time Havoc, which is all about farming with some really fun characters including talking horses and tractors. I’m also finishing off my own book I started writing and illustrating in uni. It’s called Chasing Zach and I hope to have it finished this year.

Do you have any advice for young artists?

Find a certain artist or style, or even part of art that you really like and research it to find out what other people in the world are doing. Other than that; practice and more practice. Take a sketchbook and pencil with you in case you see something that inspires you. I have a sketchbook in my car, in my bag and next to my bed in case I dream about something really cool and I need to draw it so I don’t forget it.