I did a personal best down Courtenay Place to see Leo Timmers this morning in his event Things that go BANG! And boy, am I pleased I did. Anybody who loves good children’s books should have been there – I was disappointed to see the Hannah Playhouse only at about half its capacity. I am certain in his home in Belgium he would have filled a venue twice the size of The Embassy, as it is clear he is becoming a household name there, with two TV series’ in the works.
What an extraordinary man. He writes what he says are ‘pure picture books’, likening the concept to Hitchcock’s ‘pure cinema’. He is an illustrator first and foremost – he starts an illustration before he comes up with anything to put it in, and he makes himself conceive a new idea every day. Sometimes they become small books, often they are discarded, never to see the light of day. Other times they will resurface in his mind and he will flesh them out to show a publisher.
Timmers started out as an illustrator-for-hire, doing editorial work for newspapers and children’s magazines, before he found his own voice. He tried illustrating others work, but he didn’t enjoy it, as he didn’t have enough freedom, so he began writing his own books out of frustration, at first with little confidence (though this was resolved when his first complete book, Crow, won a major book award in Belgium). The book The Magical Life of Mr Renny I think shows how far his writing has come. His lack of confidence was partially as he is himself dyslexic – even more extraordinary.
Timmers uses animals in his work extensively, and when queried about this, he said that it is simply to help children find a point of understanding with potentially difficult themes without making these confronting. Also, he finds animals are more fun to draw than humans, and much more exciting to colour! The point at which I just wanted to hug him was when he explained BANG! to us as a pictorial metaphor for the fact that it is more fun to be together than alone.
His work, by his own admission, is driven towards a particular theme – to encourage children to find out who they are as they grow up, and be true to themselves: do difficult things that you believe in. A very admirable aim in life.
I managed to make it to the front of the signing queue, that carried on for an hour due to the care he took in illustrating each book – my lucky sons got a wonderful Mr Renny saying their names. He is a genuinely wonderful author, who cares deeply about his readers – if you have children (especially young ones), please make sure they see Timmers’ work.
I was not as familiar with the work of Aleksandra Mikeilinska and Daniel Mikieilinski, a pair of Polish artists who were here to talk about their work. I had seen H.O.U.S.E and D.E.S.I.G.N previously, as Gecko Press publications, but their other (translated) works – Maps and Mamoko were unfamiliar, and so wonderful!
Intriguingly they are not only picture book creators, but also game developers, and website creators. They straddle, easily it seems, the physical and digital worlds.
The two met at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, despite Daniel at least never wanting to be a painter – fortunately they discovered book design at the academy, and as well as doing their own work, they have also been responsible for designing books more generally. They work incredibly collaboratively, with Aleksandra being responsible for telling Daniel when he has gone off the wrong way with things…
Daniel had a lot of interesting things to say about the world of digital publishing. Namely, that paper books just don’t have much in common with e-books. Publishers simply don’t understand this, which is why we get e-book apps, he says ‘that are like the early days of computer games in the library, where you would click on an animal and it would squawk.’ Daniel is much more interested in a new format that hasn’t yet been developed yet for e-books, something between an app and a book, while being something new altogether. They are working on this themselves, and believe more game developers should also work on this – as it has the potential to be a big area of growth. The start of this can be found at babadum.com.
Other thoughts from Daniel:
Self-publishing: ‘Self-publishing is great but selling 1000 copies is not enough to influence the children of your country.’ (Poland is much larger in population than NZ)
Intellectual property: ‘Patents are destroying all that is good in the world and they should be abolished.’ (You’d be unsurprised that he is also not a fan of copyright)
Storytelling: ‘If you are a good storyteller you can influence things as you want to.’ This was the inspiration with Maumoko – which was commissioned by their publisher to be a book that the child could tell the story from, rather than the parent.
Something that the Mizieilienska/is and Timmers had in common was the fact they don’t see illustration as secondary – using the word illustration, Daniel said, implies that the story is in the text. The story is as much in the text in all of their books as it is in the words.
And this is why the joy that can be found in good children’s books is so pure.
by Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ
Thank you to the festival organisers for providing a wee festival within a festival for those of us that are admirers of children’s literature. With Leo Timmers, the Mizieilienskas and Gavin Bishop doing the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture that evening, it was a great day for the great many kiwi children’s authors who I saw milling around.