Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Apparently when I was a baby I slept in a cardboard box in our Kombi van. I now live in Orange, about four hours west of Sydney.
Where did you go to school?
I went to James Sheahan Catholic High School in Orange.
Did you have a nickname?
A rather mean boy gave me a nickname when I was at school, but I can’t repeat it.
What were you like in school?
I seem to remember being fairly quiet and shy, and I most definitely worked too hard. I suspect I was actually quite boring!
What is the naughtiest thing you did?
I didn’t do anything naughty… except I once tied my brother to the back fence, and another time fed him a mixture of sugar and chilli powder.
What was your favourite book growing up?
I have lots of favourite picture books from childhood. The House That Beebo Built
was special because we would read it when we visited my grandparents. I also loved Could Be Worse
and Where the Wild Things Are
Who is your favourite children’s author?
I think it would have to be Roald Dahl. Great to read as a kid, and even better when you’re an adult!
What is your favourite food/colour/movie?
Really good Thai food; the colour red; and Amelie
Who inspired you to illustrate?
I don’t know that there is any one person who inspired me, more a collection of experiences and influences. My mum was always very encouraging when my brother and I were growing up, so that we felt we could be anything we wanted to be. She is a painter and so was her father, so our house was full of paintings. Illustrators who inspired me greatly when I first started illustrating were Lisbeth Zwerger and Armin Greder.
How did you get started?
I sent some work to Scholastic Press and the editor apparently ran around looking for a text for me to illustrate. When she couldn’t find one that was already written she approached John Heffernan to write a story for me to illustrate. And that was Two Summers
How old were you at that stage?
I was 27 when Two Summers
Why did you want to be an illustrator?
I always loved to draw and telling stories through drawings was what came naturally to me. I made little illustrated books throughout my childhood and even as a teenager. I remember making a book for a friend about us travelling to the moon in his parents’ Volvo. As an adult, all the jobs I tried left me feeling unfulfilled and I became desperate to do something creative of my own. So I set out to become an illustrator and lo and behold—I did!
How do you think up ideas?
Strangely enough I find it hard to start drawing. Making notes is much easier, so I write copious notes until I’ve got my head around a book. Then I reluctantly start to draw.
Do you have a special place where you illustrate?
I like sitting on the couch at night drawing in a sketch book, but most of my work is done in my studio in the backyard. It’s a space that is just mine, where I can forget the washing-up and any other responsibilities, and just relax. And then remind myself I have to work…
What is the best thing about being an illustrator?
There are MANY good things. Hearing stories of how your books have encouraged a child to read is definitely the best thing. Second to that would have to be seeing your books travel the world—they’ve gone further than I expect I ever will!
Have you had any funny or embarrassing moment as an illustrator?
Once, I went to a bookshop to sign some of their copies of Two Summers
. I’d never done a book signing before and assumed that because I was an illustrator I had to draw a picture as well as sign my name. I decided to try drawing a sheep with a biro, which is all I had, and instead drew something like a deformed black pig. I just put it on the bottom of the pile and quickly ran out.
What do you do when you are not illustrating?
It seems as though when I’m not working, all I do is wash up, and attempt to clear the dining room table and pick dandelion leaves for my daughter’s rabbit, and then wash up again. Occasionally I practise the cello. I started learning to play the cello last year. It’s extremely hard. When not doing any of these things, my daughter and I like to visit my parents’ farm and swim in the dam or go bushwalking.
What would you have chosen to be if you were not an illustrator?
If I HAD to choose something else, I’d have liked to sing in a blues or jazz band.
Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?
Maybe Cezanne or Matisse. I suspect I’d be too nervous and wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say. This happened when I met Roddy Doyle.