August 26, 2011

Interview with Children's Author/Illustrator Clare McFadden


When did you first know you wanted
to be an author/illustrator?

I think it was always something I wanted to do as a child. I clearly remember having a day in primary school when we had to come dressed up as what we'd like to be when we grew up and I came as a children's book writer and illustrator! I then drifted away from that idea. More on this in the next answer! 

What is your educational and writing background?

I studied drama at university. Through drama I got into set design because I had always loved visual arts and there was always someone needed to do the backdrops! In my early twenties, I got a studio at Metro Arts in Brisbane. My neighbours at Metro Arts would put on exhibitions and ask me to contribute something. From there, I got back into illustration which I hadn't really done in earnest since I was a child (when I was an obsessive drawer). Going even further back, I wrote and illustrated my first book in Grade Two. It was called "Shebel the Modern Witch". This witch was so modern that she rode on a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom. I clearly remember going into State Library to receive a prize for that book. It was presented by Colin Thiele which was a big thrill.

Congratulations on receiving 'The Crichton Award' for your picture book 'The Flying Orchestra'. Where did the idea come from?

Thank you. The first sentence just came to me one day as I was walking home. I know Michael Leunig has a little prayer about sitting still and letting an idea approach you like a little animal from the wild-you can't go hunting after them. It's true. Who knows where good ideas come from - they are a mystery and a blessing. 

I wanted to honour children's emotions in The Flying Orchestra. Children feel everything so deeply, and yet their emotional responses are often trivialised. My dad was just telling me the other day that when he was a little boy he remembers seeing a kangaroo hit by a car on the side of the road and being wracked with grief. It's these kind of moments that I wrote The Flying Orchestra for. 

What do you like to read?

I love reading biographies. I'm just reading Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain at   the moment. I've also just read Aunty Ruth Hegarty's "Is that you Ruthie?" about growing up in the Cherbourg Mission and Fiona Doyle's "Whispers of this Wik Woman" - every Australian should read both of these books. Another biography I read recently that I really enjoyed was Katharine Susannah Prichard's "Child of the Hurricane". Unfortunately I think it's out of print. I grew up reading Shirley Hughes, Eleanor Spence, Colin Thiele, Enid Blyton, James Aldridge. "Dogger" by  Shirley Hughes still makes me get a bit teary. 

Can you please describe a typical day?

At the moment I'm curating an exhibition for kuril dhagun at State Library of Queensland called "Flash Women". The exhibition is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander style and fashion and profiles many wonderful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from Queensland. It is a great project which I'm thoroughly enjoying.  So, I'd usually work on this, along with any other current projects. I usually spend an hour or so sitting with my note book... this can be really excruciating. I sometimes seem to write just one word an hour! Slowest writer ever! 

What are you working on at the moment?

As well as "Flash Women" I'm working on a great project called "I am here" a new performance by young and emerging artists from refugee backgrounds which has been developed by Two Thumbs Up and the Multicultural Development Association. They are amazing young people with incredible stories. This has been another project which has been a sheer joy to work on. Here is the link to a story the 7.30 Report did on  "I am here".

This month I am on the 'May Gibbs Creative Time Residency' in Melbourne. It has been so wonderful to have some time away from the usual distractions to start working on my second book in earnest. I've also been doing some children's workshops at Artplay and for Kid's Own Publishing for the Melbourne Writers Festival. 

What was the road to publication like for you? 

I was lucky to be accepted by UQP on showing them my illustrations and story. Before this I had thought I would self publish a small print run, sort of like an artist's book.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I don't know! I don't really seem to have a lot of spare time. I think I probably spend it procrastinating ... or washing up! 

What do you think is the best thing about book week? 

I have such fond memories of book week from my own childhood. It was one of the biggest events on my calendar along with Christmas and the Ekka! I remember my mum making me a great paper mache Cheshire Cat head one year for our Book Week parade at school. I had a smile on a stick to go with it.  I think the best thing about book week is the honouring and celebration of children's books-we are all transported and transformed by the power of story. 

What are you doing over book week?

Workshops at Artplay in Melbourne. We will be investigating how to draw action, or movement.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

1. Read the classics.

2. Observe everything. 

In 2010, Clare was the recipient of the Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artist’s Fellowship – enabling her to investigate international best practice methods of engaging children in the arts. This year, she was a recipient of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. The Flying Orchestra is her first book. It won the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia Crichton Award and was selected as one of the "50 Books You Can't Put Down" as part of the Australian Government's Get Reading Campaign.                                                                               


Carla said...

I love this line: Children feel everything so deeply...

It' so true! I really enjoyed this interview!


Unknown said...

Hi Carla,
Clare has expressed it beautifully, Children do feel everything so deeply.

Thanks for your lovely comments and for following my blog.