Today's Q&A is with Christina Booth, a children's writer and illustrator, who will be appearing at the festival.
1. What is your latest published book? Tell us a little about it.
My latest book is called Welcome Home. It is a story about a boy and a whale. Inspired by an event that happened in my home state of Tasmania, the story follows a whale as she swims into a river and tells her stories to a young boy. The stories are both joyful and sad. The young boy learns of the history of whaling and why the whales were driven away. He wonders if he can make amends for the past and encourage her to stay. 'Sorry,' he tells her but she swims away. Then in the early dawn people gather on the shore and watch as she swims and plays in the water, but not on her own.
I have always wanted to write a book that looks at the issue of whaling. It is a gruesome and violent topic and quite political and very difficult to approach appropriately in a book for young children. When a southern right whale swam into Hobart's Derwent River and had a calf, the first born in what was once a thriving whale nursery in nearly 200 years I knew I had a story. I have approached the effects of whaling from a historical perspective and asked myself, how did the whale know it was safe to come back? Do whales tell their children stories like we do? Can a whale forgive us? I like to start my story writing with a question.
2. What research did you have to do for it? Is research different for illustrators? If so, in what way?
I researched information about southern right whales and the history of whaling during the early European settlement of Australia and New Zealand. I watched a lot of documentaries, read books including journal entries of whalers from the time and looked at a lot of pictures of whales. I collected as many images of whales as I could and researched about their behaviour and anatomy. I visited a few museums and researched quite a bit online.
My research is very much the same as an illustrator as it is for my writing though I do have to collect and study a lot of visual aspects, not just to have descriptions right in words but to have certain important aspects correct in my illustrations. If you understand the anatomy of the animal you are drawing and painting, even if you are simplifying it or morphing it in some way then you will capture the essence of what makes that animal unique. A lot of my illustration research is spent doing studies and sketches of animals to learn how to make them move and sit, stand etc, in certain environments and situations. I am inspired by the way Beatrix Potter studied to draw her animal characters. She drew them anatomically correct and then she dressed them. My whales aren't dressed though!!
3. What is your best time of day for illustrating? Why is that?
I have a crazy life, lots of people coming and going in my house which is where my studio is. I find that once I have settled into the studio and focused then any time is the best time. Sometimes I go up to turn off computers for the night and find myself distracted and working again. It puts me into a time bubble and before I know it everyone else has gone to sleep and hours can pass by. Because I am a mum the best time to work is any time I can grab to do so.
4. What is the strangest question you've ever been asked by a child reader? How did you respond?
Not many odd ones but one child wanted to know what language we spoke in Tasmania. I answered with a question that had the group chatting for a bit about what they thought (they were quite young and lived on what I affectionately call the 'Big Island').
5. What do you like most about literary festivals?
I love festivals, the word itself engages the essence of fun and celebration. I love literary festivals because they celebrate what I love to do and offer the opportunity for everyone to engage with the idea of using words and pictures to tell stories. We hear from the great writers and also from the potentially great and we learn from each other. Humans are naturally designed to tell stories and to gather together so when I attend a writing festival I feel very at home and love listening, telling and doing. I love having the chance to meet new people, my audience (they are not a figment of my imagination, hooray) and to share any skills I have with others and learn new ones as well. I love to learn.