Monday, March 05, 2012

'Do Not Forget Australia' - the backstory

Today I have a special treat for readers of this Writing for Children blog – a visit from multi-awarded author and illustrator Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretschmar as they tour blogs as part of the launch of their new book collaboration ‘Do Not Forget Australia’, which is set in the First World War ...AND some lucky visitor will receive a copy. Please post a comment to go into the draw – follow the blog to get two entries. I'll make the draw on Sunday March 11.

‘Do Not Forget Australia’ has been published this month by Walker Books Australia, ISBN: 9781921529863, as a hardback picture book you know what love and care has gone into its production. It should be available from bookstores as well as online sources – but please keep bookstores in business if you can!

Huge thanks for joining me, Sally and Sonia!

The promotional description of the story says:

‘Henri lives in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux. Billy lives in Melbourne, Australia. These two little boys, who live thousands of miles away from each other, share one story that unites Villers-Bretonneux and Melbourne in history.’

It’s visually stunning, as well as a moving and inspiring story for children, but which will be enjoyed by adults, too. Is there anything else you’d like to add, Sally - I don't want to give too much of the plot away? Do you think it will appeal to international readers, say in America?

Yes, definitely. Of course a story set in Australia and France will be most familiar to people in those countries, I think any story which tells of friendship and generosity has appeal far beyond geographic boundaries.

For librarians and parents who may buy it, what aged children do you imagine will be your main readers?

Chiefly children in primary school, though older children and adults will get a lot out of it, too. It is suitable for classroom use as well as for private reading.

I agree completely - I think it's an important story that should be read by people of all nations and all ages. You've dealt with the war element with great sensitivity, and the friendships described are truly inspirational and heart-warming.

Can you tell us a little of the writing process, please, Sally? My Grandmother’s brother died while fighting in France in WW1. Does this story have origins from your own family or someone you know, or was there something else that was a stimulus to start it?

The real stimulus to research and write this story was a photo of the school in Villiers-Bretonneux, which I saw at a parent information day when my son was heading off on a student tour there. I’d seen similar photos before but on this particular day I was struck by the strangeness of a sign, written in English, exhorting French children to not forget Australia and decided I must learn more.

In any war, there are always so many from both sides who really don’t want to kill others, but feel that they have to protect their homeland, or support their country. My uncle was a prisoner on the Burma railway, but apart from the brutality of many Japanese guards, there was another who risked his own life to bring Donald food, and I believe local villagers did the same. Though much of my story will be fiction, I’m finding it hard to write, and have made several starts over the years. Is this a story you’ve been thinking about or wanting to tell for a long time? How long did it take you?

From the day I saw the photo until publication was almost 4 and a half years. Some of this time was researching, some trying to find the right angle, some perfecting the story. Then, when the story was accepted, the editing process began and Sonia needed to time to do the illustrations. The illustrator’s role is so important and of course she can’t begin until the story is ready.

Please tell us about the research involved, too. Was there something surprising that you discovered?

I was able to find quite a lot of written information about the battle in Villers-Bretonneux, especially because I was researching in the months leading up to the 90th anniversary. I loved learning about how the people of Villers-Bretonneux have maintained links to Australia through street signs, through maintaining the war graves and through marking Anzac Day.

Before holding a copy of the book, I saw some of the completed and wonderful illustrations on your website, Sonia – and congratulations on your recent ‘Illustrator Australia Award’, and the success of your portrait in the Archibald, and more. I can’t keep up - you’ll soon have caught up with Sally. But getting back to the illustrations for this book - they’re so atmospheric, poignant and I keep finding more and more in them to look at and contemplate. How did you tackle the research? Have you visited the area in France?

Thank you! I have been quite busy - these past 12 months especially. The research that I did for this book is a combination of general sketching, imagination and trawling through many obscure websites. I found French sites dedicated to selling and/or documenting historical postcards to be particularly helpful, as is the Australian War Museum site. I also had a friend put me in contact with a local war historian. I have spent time in Paris, but , no – I have never been to Northern France, unfortunately. I spent a lot of time perusing the village via Google street view to get a sense of the place!

When I go into someone’s house for the first time, I always look at their book shelves. When I visit an illustrator, I like to see what’s on their work table. What’s on yours, Sonia? Do you have favourite colours that you blend most frequently? Favourite brushes?

Unfortunately my work table is never neat for long – it seems to collect miscellaneous bits and pieces. At the moment I'm transforming a doll for an art exhibition , so I've got synthetic hair and spare eyes and beads all over the place.

It's a lot tidier than mine! Thank you for sharing this picture - I feel I know you much better now :)

I do like experimenting and trying new things whenever I can. As for colours, I do like warm colours of reds, yellows and flesh tones (which weren't that suitable for my imaginings of devastated France – though I did try and use that palette for my warm Australian scenes). Otherwise, blue-greens are beautiful as well.

I’ve read of illustrators who have refused to work on a book because the author gave illustration suggestions, and also that illustrator George Cruickshank suggested ways that Charles Dickens might change his stories – though these ideas were largely unappreciated. In recent years it’s been normal for the author to send a manuscript to a publisher, and if everyone there likes it enough, the author gets a contract and the publisher finds and chooses an illustrator whose style they think will be most appropriate. Someone they think will be able to imagine and bring to the project what no one else could provide. The author and illustrator never talk to each other or meet ...until ...maybe an award ceremony - or, at least, sometime after the book’s finished or published. You’re talent and imagination are well recognised, but was this book created via this route or were you ever in contact? Did you get any hints or tips from each other?

In this case it was the Publisher, Walker Books, who contacted me after they took on Sally's manuscript – we weren't in direct contact with each other at all during the process, really – but we have since become Facebook friends! It was actually quite a trans-continental affair – Walker Books are in Sydney, Sally is in Perth, and I'm in Melbourne. (Sydney to Melbourne is about 600 miles, Melbourne to Perth about 2,000 miles) In my research, which was fairly extensive, I found out little historical details along the way that did cause the text to change slightly. I think most of the issues for the other pages were ironed out between myself and Wayne Harris, the designer, before Sally got to see anything...yes, from my perspective I think it was the team at Walker Books who gave the most “suggestions” - I'm happy to take most things on board; the only awkward ones are those made when the deadline is looming!

The input from the editor, book designer and art director have always helped make my books far better than I would have produced on my own. Everyone in the process thinks that each book they work on is ‘my book’ – including the people in production and printing, and even the sales people and publicist who will probably have had a say in its acceptance.

'Do Not Forget Australia' will be highly successful because readers will find it moving and it will be appreciated and loved by them – but I do hope it gains industry recognition for its excellence too. It must do! The last time we actually met, Sally, rather than virtually (we live about 2800 miles apart), was at the Children’s Book Council awards in Brisbane for one of your earlier books – I can’t remember which one, I believe this is your thirty third. I hope I’ll see you both at the next ceremony, and thank you so much for coming here and answering my questions. You may find there some extra ones that readers ask in the ‘comments’ over the next few days.

And please check out Sally’s and Sonia websites:

Sally Murphy:  Sonia Kretschmar: ...and their other books.

Thanks again and best wishes to you both,

Peter Taylor

PS Leave a comment or a question to enter into the draw for a copy - and tell your friends and networks about it, too. Buy a few for gifts -  it's a book that will be forever cherished.

PPS Here are Sally and Sonia's other stopovers:

1st March   -  Let's Have Words

2nd March  -  Kids Book Capers
3rd March  -  Running With Pens
4th March  -  Read and Write with Dale  
5th March  -  Karen Tyrrell
7th March  -  Spinning Pearls
8th March  -  Katwhiskers
12th March  -  Pass It On
12th March  - Kids Book Review
13th March  -  Under the Apple Tree
14th March  -  Lorraine Marwood. Words into Writing


Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Peter,
Great interview with Sally.
Loved the photo of Sonia's art studio too.
I'm enjoying following Sally and Sonia's blog tour!
Karen T:)

Kaz Delaney said...

Peter, this was one of the most interesting and well thought out interviews I've read in a long time. Congratulations and thank you.

And I could tell from their responses that Sally & Sonia enjoyed it as well.

With each stop on this tour, I learn more - this time, probably about Sonia.

And I'm with you all the way on the predicted success of this book. It has 'awards' written all over it. Sometimes you can just tell...

To Sally & Sonia? It's a fabulous tour - but remember to drink lots of water, down a few energy creating carbs - and pace yourselves where you can. LOL. Most of all, have fun.

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Many thanks for dropping by and for your kind words, Kaz and Karen.

Yes, it's great to follow the tour and learn more at each stopover. I know you have a list of other blogs hosting Sally and Sonia on your site, Karen:

I'm so looking forward to giving away a copy to someone, because I know it will be adored and cherished by the recipient, and shown to friends ...who will just have to buy a copy.

Sally_Odgers said...

What an excellent write up and interview hybrid! It's one of the best I've seen.

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

That's most kind and much appreciated, Sally - and huge congratulations on your recent acceptances. I'll be pleased to host your tours, too.

We're all friends on this blog. You're always welcome to add your
website link when you visit here. Your insights have always been a great help to me.

The same offer goes for anyone else who leaves a comment - please feel free to add any link you wish.

I'm loving this tour and discovering more at each location.

Sally Murphy said...

Thanks again Peter for having me - and I echo what others said about the effort and thought you put in to the interview. Thanks so much.

And thank you all ladies for taking the time to read and comment!

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Thank you for all that you've shared, Sally - it's been lovely to have you and Sonia here.

I'm also adding another name for the draw - Coralie Ross, a Children's Book Council (Qld) and Book Links stalwart who contacted me privately after finding it hard to post here. She told me she would love a copy of this book because an ancestor died in this battle and his name is on the monument there.

If anyone else finds posting a problem - email me and I'll always add your comment.

Dale said...

Good to hear from Sonia as well about the illustrating.

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Sorry - I couldn't spell in the last attempt to post this:

Thanks, Dale - and Kat Apel also failed to have her post recognised and sent me this, privately, of what she tried to add as a comment:

What a great post. Your rapport and interaction made for a very interesting/enlightening read. Sonia, it's not fair that your space looks so organised. I'm hoping you did a quick tidy before the photo - cause that's the only way my work space would look orderly.

Lovely that you've become friends since working together on the book. The beauty of social networking!

Many thanks, Kat - and I agree about the workspace. I'm not sure what people would read into a photo of what my studio looks like most of the time. I tidy it when the relatives or clients are coming to visit, or I've lost something important. It's not always a mess!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Peter. I would love to be the name drawn.
lou buffkin

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Thanks for visiting, Lou. I'm pleased you found something of interest - but ...da, da ...the book goes to Coralie.