Featured Author Interviews

Tohby Riddle - Interview (October 2017)

What five words best describe you?

Curious. Playful. Silly. Serious. Mammalian.

How did you get started in this industry?

As a 20-year-old art school graduate, I thought I’d like to try doing a picture book. For vaguely strategic reasons, when I saw a job ad for a mailing clerk in a small publishing house, I applied for it. I really loved the environment there and learned a lot from just watching and listening to all the goings on.

Being a complete unknown and new to the field, I figured my only chance of illustrating a book was if I wrote the story too. So when I got a story idea I made a mock up of it and showed it to the publishing director of the company where I was mailing clerk. He read the mock up right there, in front of me, and looked up and said, “I think we’ve got a book here.”

I still had to prove I could illustrate it, by doing some samples of finished art, but at least I was at the front of the queue.

What comes first in your creative process: illustrating or writing?

Thinking, actually. Often a kind of daydreamy wondering. And then, if an idea arises, I scribble words and pictures, almost simultaneously, to tease it out into the open.

Is there any part of the creative process you don't like?

To me the creative process is a great pleasure. But some parts are fleetingly unpleasant or uncomfortable, like when you get stuck and you can’t see a solution and you wonder if the whole thing is a dud and you start feeling drowsy and distracted … That’s actually when I have to muster all my patience and determination and keep trying things. Then there’s the exhilaration you feel when you make a breakthrough and can move on.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to catch the eye of a publisher?

A personal, singular vision, well expressed, will surely catch a publisher’s eye.

What excites you about the future of children's books?

First, that there is a future despite the rise of electronic media. Then, speaking about my area: that there are seemingly endless ways to approach content for picture books – it’s a very versatile and adaptable format. You can do anything, so long as it works. (And it works best as printed media!)

What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during one of your presentations/talks?

“Do you need a license to be an author?”

If you do, I’ve been writing and illustrating unlicensed my whole career and I’ve never been caught!

What's next from Tohby Riddle?

Well, I can’t give too much away just yet, but it’s a very mysterious book set in the Australian bush.


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