Q&A

Ali­son Lester, au­thor & il­lus­tra­tor ,65

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - FRONT - By Cathy Os­mond Pho­tog­ra­phy Jesse Mar­low

it’s about get­ting it right so you’re not pa­tro­n­is­ing

Af­ter three decades of writ­ing and il­lus­trat­ing hugely pop­u­lar pic­ture books, you seem busier than ever. What hap­pened? Grand­kids. I thought you were sup­posed to re­tire be­fore hav­ing grand­chil­dren! We have num­ber six com­ing in Jan­uary and num­ber seven in June – the old­est is three.

Your grand­daugh­ter Trixie was the in­spi­ra­tion for your lat­est, The Very Noisy Baby. How loud was she? You couldn’t take her to a res­tau­rant; every­one would be star­ing be­cause she’d be yelling. Not in an un­happy way… she was al­ways mak­ing strange sounds like pi­rates and chain­saws. For the book, I ended up turn­ing them into an­i­mal noises.

You’ve joked in the past that “my fam­ily all put their two bob’s worth in but they al­ways say ridicu­lous things”. Your daugh­ter Clair Hume is the pub­lisher of this book… How did that work out? Luck­ily we had my ed­i­tor as the go-be­tween – but I did get the work in on time. I’m fa­mous for be­ing re­ally late with dead­lines but with this one I was much too scared, with my daugh­ter crack­ing the whip.

Some peo­ple think it’s easy to write for chil­dren. What’s the truth? You need to “get” kids. It’s about get­ting it right so you’re not pa­tro­n­is­ing them, and be­ing en­gag­ing and in­ter­est­ing. But the trick to what sells is such a mys­tery.

You trained in Mel­bourne as an art teacher. What hap­pened? Well, I wasn’t much of a teacher! One of the rea­sons Ed­die and I got mar­ried was so I could get out of teach­ing. Af­ter we moved (to Nar Nar Goon North, West Gipp­s­land) and had our first baby, I went for an in­ter­view with chil­dren’s ed­i­tor Ros­alind Price with a folder of pretty scrappy draw­ings. She told me years later that she hadn’t liked them much at all, but she re­ally liked me and she thought she could get me to do bet­ter.

There’s now a gallery of your work in Fish Creek. It sounds like a place from one of your books. It is. All the land­scapes in books like My Farm and Magic Beach are from that area in South Gipp­s­land, so it seemed like the per­fect place.

Tell us about Magic Beach the movie… Robert Con­nolly, who made Pa­per Planes, is work­ing on it – it will be half live ac­tion, half an­i­ma­tion. It’s still a way off but I’m re­ally happy he is do­ing it; he’s got such a lovely way of look­ing at the world.

Are We There Yet? (2005) is based on a seem­ingly har­mo­nious trip around Aus­tralia with your hus­band and three chil­dren. What was it re­ally like? There cer­tainly were mo­ments along the way, but when we talk about it now we al­ways say that that trip gave us a real emo­tional glue that re­ally stuck us to­gether as a fam­ily.

As an am­bas­sador of the In­dige­nous Lit­er­acy Foun­da­tion, you spend part of ev­ery year trav­el­ling to re­mote in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties… I’ve been do­ing that sort of work since the mid-’90s, when I first vis­ited a school at Gun­bal­anya in Arn­hem Land. Af­ter that I got in­vited to lots of places, mak­ing books with both kids and adults. It’s been a beau­ti­ful job – there are kids out there who are just jump­ing out of their skins [to learn] but you just know they’re not go­ing to get the chance to live the life they should.

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