The Booktopia Book Guru asks
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 Belfast NI, but left there before I was one year old. I grew up in Brisbane, and went to Griffith University to do a bachelor of visual arts. I didn’t return to Belfast until I was 25.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Twelve: I wanted to be a porter in a big hotel, carrying people’s suitcases to their room. I liked the idea of being useful, and I like hotels because they are self-contained worlds where people act differently.
Eighteen: I still wanted to be a porter in a big hotel. But I decided I’d also like to be an engineer, so I went to night school and got a job in a drawing office during the day.
Thirty: I wanted to continue illustrating and designing so I could do some more travelling.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I’d always have beautiful long hair.
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?
Grimble by Clement Freud / A Boy Named Sue written by Shel Silverstein / Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens.
It’s hard to isolate all the things that one is influenced by, but I do like these three. A common thread is the determined individual. Grimble was the funniest book ever and I wish I was him. I loved the mood of the boy named Sue forever searching for the man who gave him that awful name, and the Devil getting up to no good at nightfall when everyone else is being righteous always made me feel good.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I don’t think there were many artistic avenues open to me because I can’t paint, play an instrument well or act. I can draw well enough to tell a story in pictures and that’s good for me. Growing up I looked at a lot of illustrated texts: comics, comic strip annuals, newspaper editorial illustrations, New Yorker magazine panel cartoons, Popular Mechanics magazines and much more. I have always been hooked on words and pictures, and I’m naturally drawn to them. My favourite was American MAD Magazines which I collected for years before they began publishing a local version which was just awful. I may not have understood the humour so well as a little kid, but the editorial tone was evident and the relationship between the pictures and words always fascinated me. I wanted to become a cartoonist and sit at a desk in an office building drawing and inking cartoons. Writing books was a natural progression.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Lucky is a picture book about a boy who misinterprets something his mother says and has his unrealistic expectations dashed as a result. In the process, he finds that he has other reasons to feel lucky. It’s seen from the perspective of the boy and his little brother Leo, who is the eternal optimist and the one who plants the seeds of his downfall, be it accidentally. The cover has a pineapple on the front cover which is a symbol of good fortune in China apparently. However, I didn’t know that when I did my book and the pineapple is included for a plot reason. So I see this as extra lucky.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I don’t expect anything from the reader other than the time it may take them to read the book and look at the pictures. That’s enough for me. What they make of it is for them to decide, but I suppose I hope they can appreciate someone’s point of view, and enjoy the humour.
Here are just some: Joseph Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Shel Silverstein, Peter Carey, Lauren Child, and Mark Hellinger. After reading/listening to them they make me want to have a go at writing something too.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To do one picture book per year for as long as I am able.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Just sit down and write something and don’t be afraid to make mistakes and to put them right again.
David, thank you for playing.