Children’s book author and illustrator Peter Carnavas may be the first person to visit the Fibro (for Q&A purposes) whom I’ve never actually met. Everyone else has been a friend or acquaintance, either IRL (in real life) or URL (via blogs or Twitter). In fact, I wasn’t even familiar with his work. But his very engaging publicist Sophia from New Frontier Publishing emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Peter’s new Little Treasures collection – four little books for little people.
Nope, said I, I’m not really about a review. But I did a little bit of further research, fell in love with Peter’s whimsical illustration style, and realised that I had a few questions for an author who put big issues into children’s books.
The four titles in his collection cover love, family, the environment and self-worth. Sarah must carry her heavy heart around with her. Jessica tries to make friends. Christopher’s father is absent. And there is one about the last tree in the city. I’d tell you more about that one, but Mr4 has taken a liking to it and I can’t find it. I asked him whether he liked the books that Mr Carnavas had sent him. “Yes,” he said. “I do.” “Why?” I asked, looking for pithy words of wisdom for a review. “There’s one about a tree,” he said. “I like trees.”
And, really, what better review of a children’s book?
So here he is. All the way from the Sunshine Coast where, I discovered, he lives in a Fibro! (How could I not love him?)
You take on some ‘big’ issues in your little books. Why do you choose to tackle those, rather than simply writing a story to entertain?
Peter Carnavas: “I don’t always mean to tackle big issues, but they are the sort of stories I end up writing. I think it is because I need to feel some sort of emotional connection to a story to pursue writing it. That doesn’t mean the story has to be emotional itself, but I just like the idea of readers being able to delve into themes a little, to have layers of meaning working throughout the story. Of course, I love simple, fun stories as well – Quentin Blake is probably my biggest hero and his books are usually pure fun.”
What are some of the things you have to think about when working your material into a book suitable for children?
PC: “Most of my ideas have a grown-up origin, such as a conversation I’ve had or a newspaper article I’ve read, so there is a bit of a process for me to fashion it into a children’s story. It becomes easier when I start working on the illustrations, for no matter what the theme, my pictures are usually quite light and fanciful. This helps a lot.
“There are other little techniques I use to help the story appeal to children, such as the silent animal friends popping up on every page, or adding funny little things in the background. It’s also important to cut out unnecessary words. I like to keep the text short and to the point.”
When you write your books, do you begin with words or pictures?
PC: “I start with the idea then, after thinking about it for days, weeks or months, I write the text. I like to write the whole story in one sitting – once I’ve started it, I can’t go to bed until it’s done. I then start playing around with pictures, usually working out what the characters will look like, what they wear, what sort of animal will follow them around.”
What, for you, is the best part of writing books for children? And the most difficult?
PC: “There are many good things about making books for children. I love reading the books to children at schools and getting their response. I’m always fascinated by the ideas they pick up from the stories, often things that I had never considered. On a personal note, it’s immensely satisfying coming up with an idea that I think will work, then gradually bringing the characters to life. It can feel quite powerful at times, creating my own little people with their own little triumphs and tragedies.
“The most difficult parts are the boring bits like working out money stuff, though sometimes the most challenging thing is trying to draw something the way I see it in my head. My hand doesn’t always do as it’s told and I have to reach a sort of compromise between my imagination and my ability. It always works out in the end.”
Any advice for wanna-be children’s book writers out there?
PC: “I think it’s important to get opinions of your work from people that you trust. If you are going to submit to a publisher, make sure you research the publishers well and choose one that suits the story you have written. Check out the Australian Writers’ Marketplace for details on just about everything, and join up to the weekly online newsletter, Pass It On. You can find out everything you need to know from those two sources. Finally, just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep going.”
You can find out more about Peter and his books at petercarnavas.com.
In good news, the engaging Sophia has given me two extra sets of Peter’s Little Treasures collection, featuring Sarah’s Heavy Heart, The Important Things, Last Tree In The City and Jessica’s Box, to give away. Yes, a giveaway! The excitement. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Entries close at 6pm on Tuesday November 8, and Mr4 will draw two numbers at random at 7pm (before bed) on Tuesday November 8, with the winners announced on Wednesday November 9. Oh, and please friend the Fibro if you haven’t already. Good luck!