Children's book club Q&A with Oliver Jeffers
To coincide with our September 2012 Children's Book of the Month, This Moose Belongs To Me, we invited author Oliver Jeffers to answer a selection of your questions. You asked the author and artist how much of himself is in his books, why his boy has no name, what it takes to be an artist and about the importance of friendship.
Oliver's titles include Stuck, The Hueys, The Great Paper Caper and The Incredible Book-Eating Boy. The animated short film version of his second book, Lost and Found, received over 60 awards including a BAFTA for Best Animated Short Film.
Q. Thisthreadwilloutme: My daughter Eve would like to ask Oliver what his favorite book was when he was a child.
A. Oliver Jeffers: My favourite book as a child was probably the BFG by Roald Dahl. I loved how dark, mischievous, and full of adventure it was.
Q. Lionheart: DS would like to know why the boy doesn't have a name?!
A. Oliver Jeffers: The boy doesn't have a name as it makes it easier for people to put themselves in the story. He can be any boy. Anyone reading the book can be him. His world could be anywhere. People from Mexico to Malaysia all believe the boy books are set where they live. If you don't put detail in, often people will fill it for themselves.
Q. Mahalo: Big skies, wild landscapes and animals...searching, exploring, devouring knowledge (sometimes literally). How much of you is reflected in your books?
A. Oliver Jeffers: An awful lot. To create characters and stories that connect with people, there has to be an honesty to them. The way in which I see my imaginary world is completely informed by the way in which I see the actual world and the experiences that I have collected over the years. It just comes out the way it does after it goes through a filter somewhere in my brain.
Q. DoubleYew: Who are your favourite artists / illustrators?
A. Oliver Jeffers: Right now, Kevin Waldron. Because he bought me lunch last week.
Q. Firewall: My daughter aspires to become a writer/illustrator one day, in your opinion, to become an illustrator is it something which you need to have a natural flair for or is it something that can be learnt and developed? Do you take inspiration from others to create your style or is that something one develops through practice?
A. Oliver Jeffers: It depends on the type of artist you want to be. In my opinion you do need to have natural flair and a confident vision of what you want to do. Various crafts and techniques can be picked up and perfected over years of practice, but with no one else telling you what to do, how you choose to put these crafts and techniques to use can make all the difference. As far as my inspiration, probably a bit of both. No one creates anything in a bubble, so there is no doubt that I've been inspired by things whether I've realized it or not, but much of finding your style comes from learning to see the way your hand likes to draw. That comes from practice.
Q. DowagersHump: Your books are often about friendship and how important friends are. Is this something you consciously want to write about to teach children to value their friends or is it more subconscious than that and do you know why that is? (Apologies if that is too personal a question).
A. Oliver Jeffers: Yes the boy books are about friendship. Because there is a quiet emotional sweep about these books, and friendship makes for such an interesting story structure, its a nice platform to work in. It’s not that I'm trying to consciously impart any specific lessons about the value of friendships as much as I am fascinated with how we interact with others. As I said, friendships make for interesting stories.
Q. Lilpickle08: I heard you mention that every story comes under 1 of 7 plot lines or story types (something like that?). What are they? I'm intrigued!
A. Oliver Jeffers: I've heard this a few times before. And a quick Google search tells me they are:
overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth, which sounds about right. I can certainly fit all of my books into one of these structures.
That's just the plot though. Stories come to life through setting, character development, pace, dialogue and any number of other contributing factors. Guitars only have five strings but look how many songs have been written on them.
Q. Hopezibah: We would like to know what are your favourite animals in real life and how do you decide which animals are going to feature in your story?
A. Oliver Jeffers: I'd love to see a hippo in real life. I've heard they're actually pretty mean. I also love dogs. I have a small dog that came form a shelter. No idea what breed, but we call her Scampi. I don't like mice any more, as there are a family of them living in my studio and I can't get rid of them.
I've never really thought about how I decide which animals I draw. I suppose I just start drawing and sometimes certain animals come out.
I decided a long time ago I didn't want to direct my process any more than I had to. Something was working and that was good enough for me. That still stands.
Q. Eirwen: What do you currently have in the pipeline and when will it be published ? Whatever it is, we will look forward to it! Thanks for many hours of enjoyment.
A. Oliver Jeffers: I'm currently working on a large collection of (very) short stories that appear in alphabetical order. I think it comes out next year. I recently finished the second Hueys adventure which comes out in May.
Q. Modernbear: How do you know an idea for book/story is going to work or not? Do you test drive it on anybody?
A. Oliver Jeffers: Not really. It’s just instinct. I seem to have a good sense of judgement for what will work for me. I try to satisfy my own sense of curiosity and create the sort of books I would enjoy, both as a child, and now. Lots of people seem to enjoy the way I see the world. I work with an editor, who I bounce ideas off, but if too many opinions are asked for, and then listened to, it becomes to design-by-committee and you run the risk of diluting a clarity of vision.
Last updated: about 2 months ago