Our guest: Alex Latimer is an award-winning author and illustrator living in Cape Town, South Africa. His works include Stay! A Top Dog Story (2015, Peachtree), The Boy Who Cried Ninja (2014), and Lion vs. Rabbit (2013). Never Follow A Dinosaur is coming in September, 2016. He is published by Peachtree.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
My father’s first picture book The Expedition to the Rainbow’s Heart was published when I was two. I grew up expecting that everyone’s father wrote picture books. It didn’t seem remarkable until I was older. Recently he’s had that original book re-published and it’s still wonderful.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
George from George’s Marvellous Medicine. It’s such a great book, the kind that might not be published in this modern world of over-cautious parenting. But George is lovely; so kind and gentle, but also so human.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
It changes often, but right now it’s Jon Klassen for illustration and Roald Dahl for writing.
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Julia Donaldson (right), not only because she’s a genius writer, but because she has such contagious enthusiasm for life.
- George from George’s Marvellous Medicine.
- Muggle-wump, the monkey from The Twits.
- The duck from Emily Gravett’s The Odd Egg.
- Quentin Blake.
Story. And that means having characters that readers care about. I love illustration, but if a story is good enough it’ll carry poor pictures. It never works the other way around.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Quirky humour. I try to write stories that on one level are weird and silly and fun for kids, but then on another level are weird and silly and fun for adults too. In the opening spread of The Boy Who Cried Ninja, the main character is pictured telling all of his tall stories, and I’ve thrown in a picture of a free lunch. ‘Cos there’s no such thing. I don’t expect kids to get that, but it’s just a little nod to the parents that I’m thinking about them too. Picture books aren’t just for children.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I always want to draw and write better than I do, but there’s no point going back and looking at previous books and wondering what I could’ve improved. A book represents what I was able to produce at a certain time. So I won’t change a thing.
9. WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Finish what you start. All projects are exciting in the beginning, but they often turn a little boring when the hard work begins. Push through that. Finish it and then decide if it’s terrible. It might still be terrible when you’re done, but at least you have something to show for your efforts.
10. TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Story always comes first. I write and write until I’m happy with a story before I start the drawing process. Then it’s a matter of planning page by page. I do all of my drawing by hand, but most of my colouring on computer. I usually listen to podcasts while I draw and colour – anything from Radiotopia will do. My desk is usually a mess of paper – the image here is actually relatively neat. I’ve also recently installed a light-box into my desk, which is a wonderful addition. I use it so much more now.
Right now it’s House Held up by Trees. I bought it for myself and then my daughter saw it and wanted me to read it to her. I figured she’d be bored of it pretty soon– it’s really just about a house and the man who owns it getting older. She loved it. For months I read it every night and it never got old. I’m still not sure what the exact message is, but I’ll figure it out one day.
I’ll go back to where I started for this one. My father’s book was published thirty-four years ago without a launch or a reading or any kind of promotion. Add to this, that it was launched in South Africa (and only South Africa) during Apartheid-era sanctions – and you can begin to see that it never really stood a chance. I’m very hopeful about the re-published version, which has already sold translation rights to Japan.