Issue 15 is out now! And we’re thrilled to feature an interview with Peter Carnavas—author-illustrator of many fabulous picture books such as The Important Things, The Great Expedition, The Children Who Loved Books, and many more. We had far too many questions (and answers) to squeeze everything into the magazine’s pages, so we are very pleased to share the full interview with you here on Soup Blog.
Where do you live?
I live in a beautiful little town called Mapleton, which is in the mountainous part of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. I’m surrounded by trees and some very talkative birds.
Where do you get your ideas?
I start writing stories about things that I care about. Sometimes this happens after reading another book, reading the newspaper or watching a good movie. The best stories seem to jump in your head when you least expect it.
What made you become a writer-illustrator?
My wife! After I had made some picture books for my family, she encouraged me to take writing and illustrating more seriously and send something to a publisher.
Was it easy to get your first book published?
I was lucky enough to get my first book accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. It did take a lot of work to put the book together before I sent it. I made a lot of mistakes before I was happy enough to send it away.
Does the story influence your choice of materials for the artwork?
I usually use watercolours with an ink outline because that is what I’m comfortable using. The story definitely influences a lot of other choices I make when illustrating, particularly the style of the characters and the colours. Some of my stories have quite serious themes so I like to balance this out by using warm colours and making the pictures a bit light and whimsical.
When you work on your books, which comes first—the artwork or the story text?
I always write the story first with the pictures swimming around my head. When the story is finished, I spend a lot of time working on the storyboard (sort of like a comic-strip version of the book) and doing pencil sketches. Finally I’ll trace the pictures and paint them.
Are you working on a book at the moment?
I’ve just finished a book of mine called The Children Who Loved Books, which is about a family that discovers they cannot live without books. I’m also illustrating a novel at the moment.
Do you have any advice for young writers and artists?
Just keep writing and illustrating. Read as much as you can and spend a lot of time looking at your favourite illustrations. It’s always good to find other people who are interested in books, too, so you have someone else to share your interest. This might be a friend from school, or perhaps someone in your family or a librarian.
What do you like to do when you are not writing or illustrating?
I love spending time with my two daughters. I like walking my dog, fishing and tramping through rainforests. I also spend a lot of time playing music. I have lots of instruments that are bursting out of the cupboard, demanding to be played.
Is your work influenced by another writer and/or illustrator in particular?
I am a big fan of many picture book artists. Some of my favourites are Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood, Bob Graham, Stephen Michael King, Quentin Blake, Nick Bland and Oliver Jeffers. Plus many more!
Today we welcome Aleesah Darlison to talk about her books, and what being a writer is like!
What do you like most about being a writer?
Sharing my stories with other people. Creating characters and scenes and settings, becoming lost in other worlds and playing make believe just to see where it can take me. And I just adore working with illustrators, having them bring my story to life in a way I never could because I can only draw stick figures.
Are there any downsides to being a writer?
Having to do everything on your own, like marketing your book, organising events and managing your money. As a writer, you’re basically running a business so you have to wear lots of different hats. It isn’t easy switching from one thing to another and it’s hard to find the time to do everything. Luckily, I don’t need much sleep and I’m super efficient!
What brought you to write your first book?
I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and I wrote lots of books (that were never published) as an adult. I would work during the day and write at night. When I decided to make writing a proper career four years ago, I chose to write for children because I had two of my own. They gave me lots of ideas for stories and I also used memories and experiences from my own childhood to write other stories.
Was it easy to get your first book published?
The first novel for children that I wrote, Rodeo Brumby, was about a brumby horse named Racer, who is captured and sold into the rodeo. I really, really loved writing that story and I still believe in it with all of my heart, but it hasn’t been taken up by a publisher yet. Maybe one day.
Since then, I have had other books accepted for publication, though. The first one to come out is Puggle’s Problem, which is a picture book. I had to do lots of drafts of the story before it was ready to be sent off to publishers. After several years and several rejections, Wombat Books, said they wanted to publish it. More redrafting followed before the book was finally ready to be printed. So, I would have to say it isn’t easy getting any book published, but it’s certainly worth all the hard work.
Of your own books, which is your favourite?
I love them all! Each one is different and special in its own right. I believe in each character and story and theme or issue that I’m writing about. Every book has a story behind it and takes a long time to make just right. Puggle’s Problem is special to me because it’s about a gorgeous puggle, a baby echidna, and it’s my first ever picture book. My series for girls aged 9+, Totally Twins, which will be out in September, is special because it’s funny and quirky. It’s illustrated, too (by Serena Geddes), so it has a little added bonus for readers. Totally Twins is about identical twins, Persephone and Portia Pinchgut. I always wanted to have an identical twin when I was a kid, so writing Totally Twins was a way for me to live out a childhood fantasy – finally!
Are you working on a book/project at the moment?
I’m working on a few new projects, including a humorous picture book about an accidentally adventurous spider named Iggy.
Did you have a favourite children’s book when you were growing up?
I read loads of books when I was a kid. I actually used to get in trouble for reading so much! My favourite books were from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Even now I’m older I read loads of kids’ books. One of my favourite authors is Victor Kelleher and one of my favourite picture book illustrators/authors is Bruce Whatley.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t be afraid to share your work with other people – how they react to your stories will teach you how to write better stories. Ask your parents to take you to see as many authors and illustrators as you can so you can learn what it’s like to be one.
I interviewed Duncan Ball for the ‘meet the author’ section in issue 2 of Alphabet Soup (due out in February 2009). When issue 1 was published I sent him a copy, so he could see what he was in for (naturally we hoped we wouldn’t get an email saying ‘I hereby remove previous consent to have interview appear in your publication. D. Ball’.)
As it happened, he must have thought AS came up to scratch – he sent a handwritten note of support and goodwill.