James Foley, author/illustrator of In the Lion, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |July 23, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

James Foley

author/illustrator of In the Lion

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, raised and schooled in Perth, Western Australia. For the first 25 or so years of my life, I lived with my family in an old house that was originally built by my great-grandparents. Four generations have lived in the house over the last 80 years. It’s also next door to the maternity hospital I was born in, so for a while I didn’t go very far in life.

I went to primary school at Our Lady of Fatima and high school at Christian Brothers College. I studied journalism, graphic design and primary teaching at Curtin University, and finally finished a degree in community psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was 12 I wanted to be a cartoonist, because I loved drawing and making up funny stories.

When I was 18 I wanted a cool car and for girls to like me. I also still wanted to be a cartoonist, but I was going to uni to study for a ‘real job’.

I turn 30 this year, and I have been a cartoonist and illustrator for a while now. I have a wonderful girlfriend. But I haven’t got a very cool car.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I needed a cool car.

Also, that being a writer/illustrator wasn’t a real job. It’s now a very real job to me!

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as an illustrator?

Can I say three creators instead?

Sunshine & Moonlight by Jan Ormerod- my first picture books. These books are completely wordless and the narratives are still so strong- they showed me how important pictures are in telling stories.

The Eleventh Hour & Animalia by Graeme Base- two books that showed me how much art and detail could be packed into books. I read these over and over.

The Lost Thing, The Rabbits and The Red Tree by Shaun Tan. These books came out when I was in my teens. They showed me the power that picture books could have.

5. Considering the innumerable avenues open to visual artists, why did you choose to illustrate books?

It’s something I always did as a child, I was always writing and illustrating my own stories. I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time. The first story I remember writing, as a first grader, was about a lion in a jungle. He’d stepped on a thorn and it was stuck in his paw. Then down the path came a podiatrist. He stopped to take the thorn out of the lion’s paw, the lion was eternally grateful, and they were best friends forever. The End. My teachers thought it was hilarious; I just thought it was perfectly reasonable, as my Dad is a podiatrist.

6. Please tell us about your latest published work…

In The Lion is my second book, and the first that I’ve both written and illustrated.

It’s a black comedy for kids.

A young boy visits the zoo with his family, only to find an enormous lion is swallowing everything and everyone it can. Only the boy has the courage to stand his ground and stop the lion.

The text is cumulative, like the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly– only in this case, it’s a lion instead of an old lady.

Click here to order In the Lion from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after viewing your work?

I hope kids will feel a little bit scared- but a fun kind of scared. And I hope they’ll get some good laughs out of trying to predict the next person or animal to be part of the lion’s dinner (as well as remembering the pattern of those already swallowed).

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of art and why?

Shaun Tan. His work is incredibly powerful, and accessible to kids as well as adults. He has raised the standard of art and narrative in picture books. He’s also very inspiring as he grew up in the same city as me, and has achieved so many amazing things in his career so far.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d like to get another book published! Aside from that… I’d like to earn a Children’s Book Council of Australia award. I’d like to direct an animated film based on one of my stories. I’d like to run workshops at national and international festivals. I’d like to use my skills to help out communities in Australia and in developing countries. I’d like to be 80 years old and still loving what I do, and enjoying the thought that my books would have impacted on the lives of kids.

10. What advice do you give aspiring illustrators?

I wish I could give a magic piece of advice that would make everything happen for aspiring illustrators… unfortunately my advice is the most pithy and simple- practice. Practice Practice Practice. But do it for the fun of it. When you enjoy it, your best work will come.

Don’t worry about developing a style (that comes by itself with experimentation), don’t worry about being ‘good enough’ (who’s to say when you’ll reach that point? Just keep having fun), don’t worry about whether it ‘looks right’ (if it looks ‘right enough’ then that’s okay). Just practice and have fun and take risks, and with a bit of luck it will work out.

James, thank you for playing.

Click here to order In the Lion from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book shop

The first thirty customers to order In the Lion will receive an awesome In the Lion bag. See the pic below.

How cool is that? Roar!

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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