Tohby Riddle, author of Unforgotten, My Uncle’s Donkey and many more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |September 6, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Tohby Riddle

author of Unforgotten, My Uncle’s Donkey and many more

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 in Sydney and raised along the compelling but rather eerie shores of upper Middle Harbour. I think my primary school years there at a Steiner School had some bearing on my approach to ideas and creative activities. We were always making things! Soon after primary school, I moved with my family to the equally compelling inner-city Sydney of the late 70s – a wonderland, as I remember it, of crumbling Victorian buildings, shabby old picture palaces, disused warehouses and majestic industrial relics. I loved it!

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

At 12 I’d say I wanted to play test cricket for Australia. I was practising hard!

By 18 I mostly wanted to be an artist of some kind.

And by 30 it was a combination of things to do with art and ideas: author, editor, cartoonist, songwriter …

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

That anyone over thirty was really old!

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 a writer?

As a boy, Peanuts by Charles Schulz was the first thing I read over and over. It seemed to be describing my life and left a lasting effect on me. Later, it was the writing of Jack Kerouac. Woody Allen movies were the first movies I watched over and over – they revelled in life’s ambiguities. I once watched Hannah and Her Sisters three times in one night. The album My Houdini by Tactics (1981) had quite an effect on me as a teenager  – a kind of post-punk Arthur Boyd – it’s a great Australian work. Reflecting on these various obessions they were like cravings for some kind of vitamin or mineral that I seemed to really need at the time.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to create a picture book?

It was just the way the idea for Unforgotten presented itself to me. I really wanted to capture it visually, and in an extended picture book format.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Unforgotten is a 128-page picture book, with very few words and many images. Like a quiet, dreamy movie. The story develops the idea of angels (or angelic beings) wandering among us, at the edges of our perception – watching over us, comforting us. Then it follows one angel that, overcome by its work, sinks to ground and becomes visible and weak and increasingly statue-like. What will be its fate? And ultimately, who will help it?

(BBGuru: here’s a great quote from Shaun Tan –  ‘Reading this book is like being quietly ushered into another dimension by winged strangers, a place beyond the tread of normal earth-bound language. Ephemeral as a feather, timeless as a rock, and as true as both, Unforgotten is a magical experience.’ )

Click here to buy Unforgotten from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

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

I’d hope that – in a good way – a reader really feels something and thinks new thoughts.

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

Good poets. Their words have nowhere to hide. They have to be so carefully chosen for meaning, sound, appearance and endurance. And when a poet gets this right their words resonate through the ages!

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

As an artist, my goal is to go some way towards realising the potential of the medium.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write. And be yourself.

Tohby, thank you for playing.

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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, 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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