I came across these sketches in an old visual diary. They are circa 1995 and were my doodles of some of the people who attended a hui for Writer’s and Illustrators of Children’s Books. It was my first time venturing into the world of kid’s lit- not that I hadn’t illustrated anything back then; indeed I had around 8 books to my credit at that stage. But as a commercial illustrator for advertising and design, children’s books were just a poorly paid hobby that I indulged in from time to time- mostly for the joy of seeing my name immortalized in print (you ever see the artists name on a yoghurt pot beside the fruit illustrations?) Curious about this fringe arm of my occupation, I chose to immerse myself in a weekend full of people dedicated to this bizarre obsession that earned so little money- just for the hell of it and to get away from the demands of a family for a few days.
The hui, initially hosted by Joy Cowley in her Marlborough Sounds home was held at Wellington’s Capital House in Melrose, not far from the zoo. Lions roared eerily at night; the sounds carried up to the conference venue and sent a delicious shiver down the creative spine. So too did the talk. Some of it meant little to me ‘moral rights, global rights, authors fund…’ I barely looked at my contracts when I signed to do a bunch of pics for a book. I was only interested in when the advance would be paid; I obviously had plenty to learn.
I met the famous writers of books my children had read; Joy Cowley, Margaret Mahy, Tessa Duder to name drop just a few. I met illustrators whose worked I admired; Martin Baynton, Robin Belton; Trevor Pye...
I met writers and illustrators I didn’t yet know would become best selling authors, mentors and friends. I ate, I drank, I used my brand new mobile phone inexpertly and inappropriately (oh we’ve all come along way when it comes to turning the thing onto silent and let it go to message haven’t we?)
I fell back in love with Wellington which, when I had left it for Christchurch in 1981, had seemed sad and half torn down, bereft of decent bars and prospects. After the hui, I went back sulkily to Christchurch, determined to return to Wellington to live someday. I also went back in-love with the world of Children’s Books. We moved to the capital city a year later. Since then, I’ve done an MA in creative writing, illustrated a heap more books, toured schools with the Storylines Festival and NZ Book Council, written three novels, been an NZPost Book Awards Judge and Convener of the Wellington Children’s Book Association for the past two years. Wow- amazing what a weekend can inspire eh?
So it seems appropriate, given my fascination, that I am on a committee of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians working hard to bring a full scale Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s conference back to Capital House in September 18th, 19th and 20th of this year. Keep an eye out on the WCBA blog for more details to be released as soon as we have confirmed our speakers and workshops. In the meantime, see if you can guess who my sketches are of. Of course I know- just seeing if you do!