'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 24 September 2013

12 Curly Questions with author/illustrator Stephen Michael King

1. Can you tell us something hardly anyone knows about you?
I love Vegemite toast. I prefer eating chips to lollies. My preference is for dark chocolate. There’s a reason hardly anyone knows this info. It’s because it’s not that important. Still, you can send any spare chip packets or dark chocolate to my postal address. Please don’t send Vegemite toast (it turns soggy in the post).

2. Do you have a nickname?
I did when I was at school. Everyone called me Sking. I liked it. My published name, STEPHEN MICHAEL KING, always feels too long and formal. I can’t shake it now. Any ideas?

3. What is your greatest fear?
I don’t worry about snakes, dying … the pimple on my nose or any of that kind of thing. I try not to worry. Oh yes! I worry about being trapped in a cinema and having to watch a horror movie. I don’t like feeling trapped and I don’t like horror movies.

4. Can you describe your writing style for us in ten words?
Free, without expectation, un-edited, scribble, arrows, sketchy, gibberish with lyricism.

5. Can you give us five positive words that describe you as a writer and an artist?
Introspective, celebration, dancing, words, intuitive.

6. What book character would you most like to be, and why?
I’m Leaf and I’m Mutt Dog! I’m Jack and I’m Milli … Henry and Amy. I think I’d like to be my own characters. I’m not! That’s why I write. The real me is a quiet observer (who sometimes dances like a wild thing). My characters are the colourful me escaping onto the page. My characters can do anything.

7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
So many years, I can’t pick one. I don’t think I’d choose historical moments unless it was a Rolling Stones Concert or sharing a drink with Van Gogh. I’d be more interested in a sentimental journey. My mother was told that her first child might be stillborn. I would love to see my parents holding my older brother David for the first time — healthy and happy. Gosh, I wouldn’t mind seeing my young sister and myself at birth. I’d love to watch my wedding day and the day I first met my wife, and my children being born. That would be cool to see them again, and hold them, protecting. I loved that day I became a dad.

8. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?
Hearing loss will knock you around but don’t worry, you’ll be in a new school soon and school will end altogether one day. You’ll leave school with low worth and low self-esteem, but it won’t last forever. You’ll meet people who think similar to you. They’ll understand you on a deeper level. You’ll grow your hair long. You’ll fall in love and have beautiful children. Your pet dogs won’t have to live outside, they’ll be allowed on the couch and will sleep on your bed. You’ll move to the country and discover it’s full of creative people: farmers who can make anything from a piece of wire; painters living near waterfalls; sculptors living in sheds; and people who make beautiful jams and cakes.

You’ll live on an island, on a pretty hill not far from the sea. You’ll write dozens of books, illustrate a hundred more, be published in around 20 countries, win awards and travel the world, but you’ll never forget or give up the simple things. Money and status won’t seduce you as much as sharing a cup of tea on the back step, your father telling you he was proud, eating a cumquat straight off the tree, walking barefoot everywhere, listening to your wife sing and watching your children being children.

9. Who is your greatest influence?
I remember wishing I had Walt Disney for a dad. My real dad was a bit like the inventor Caractacus Potts from the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but he never made a car. I’d love to say Picasso or Da Vinci, but the artistic truth is more like Charles M. Schulz — the guy who wrote and drew Peanuts. I have to say my wife Trish. I would be blundering around without her wisdom. Her love helped me to believe in myself. There wouldn’t be one finished book on the shelf without her. She’s positively perfect in every way. Creatively, there’s a club of illustrators, painters, sculptors and writers who draw, paint, write or build in a way that isn’t wrapped in perfectionism. A squiggly line says a lot about someone. I admire all those people and their sense of freedom lives in my work.

10. What or who made you start writing and drawing?
The obvious influence is from my mum — a teacher. She always promoted my writing and told me not to worry about spelling or punctuation. 'It’s the ideas that matter!' was her war cry. Other influences are many. I loved stories. I was read to as a child. My dad used to make up stories with my brother David and myself as the main characters. I always loved looking at book illustration. I couldn’t escape books. Even when I was in my early twenties I worked in libraries. I’ve always met nice librarians. All of them helped me in some way or another. After I left the Walt Disney Studios I was offered a book illustration job. I knew straight away I would have to write if I wanted to work on beautiful books. I worked on a book idea for over a year without success, then my first book, The Man Who Loved Boxes, came to me in a dream. I committed to trusting my intuition after that.

11. What is your favourite word and why?
NO. It’s a word I should use more often. I want to paint a series of giant paintings dedicated to the word NO. My other favourite word is ZOO. I love how it looks: the sharp Z next to two beautiful round Os. I enjoyed using the word 'gibberish' earlier. I’m all over the place with words.

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A Great Day for Up by Dr Seuss should be OK for at least the next fifty years. Someone might need to read it to me for the last few.

Stephen Michael King's new book, Bella's Bad Hair Day (reviewed by KBR here), is available now in all good bookshops and online; 
Allen & Unwin, $24.99 RRP.

If you are an author or illustrator who thinks they are BRAVE enough to answer our questions, OR if there is an author or illustrator you would like to hear from, LET US KNOW! We will see if they are up to the task. 
Just email: anouskaATkids-bookreviewDOTcom