The illustration of An Extraordinary Land, with Rod Morris

If you have ever wondered how books are produced, this is your chance to find out.Rod Morris_sml

We have asked our fantastic finalists for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults all about their work, and they have been very generous in their responses.

An Extraordinary Land, by Peter Hayden, illustrated by Rod Morris (HarperCollins NZ) is a finalist in the Non-fiction category of the awards. Please check out our review.

Thank you to illustrator Rod Morris for his generous responses:

1. What was your approach to illustrating this book?
We wanted to illustrate the book using photographs rather than paintings so that we could bring a sense of ‘realism’ to the stories, several of which, although factual, had a strong sense of story to them. We live amongst such unusual native creatures (giant flightless parrots, scary ‘horned’ crickets), that it would be easy to dismiss some of them as ‘mythical’ beasts of an ‘overly creative’ writer otherwise.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating this book?An Extraordinary Land
We were very keen to illustrate the book with native animals doing ‘interesting’ things, like living in a fridge, or looking cute or scary, or only coming out after dark…we also sought to bring the past ‘to life’ with pics of skulls and bones of the actual extinct creatures the stories were about, or to show their closest living relatives, so it didn’t become too ‘museumy’. We included historical family pics of the actual kids who have done interesting things in their day, like the young Doc Orbell – who later re-discovered the takahe.

I particularly wanted to show the author, Peter Hayden, doing some of the interesting things he was writing about (like falling over a wheelbarrow in the dark, or finding a lizard in the forest at night, or contemplating NZ’s tallest native tree after a hard slog into the forest to find it.

3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writer? Do you prefer to work this way?
Each story was done in close collaboration from beginning to end- closer than many writers and illustrators in fact. Peter Hayden and I have always enjoyed working this way – brain-storming. We collaborated on many natural history TV shows together – the kid’s nature series Wildtrack in the 80’s and all the old Wild South documentaries. We wanted to do a book like we did the old shows, by once again ‘brain-storming’ a bunch of story ideas, to see what we could come up with. It was just like the old Wildtrack shows – but done with a little more ‘grey power’ now – we were so much younger once! But we proved to each other it was still possible to have a lot of fun, and we learned so much that was fresh, from some of the people Pete wrote about.

4. Can you recommend any illustrators whose work you find yourself particularly influenced by?
I am a boring wildlife photographer cv_how_tom_beat_captain_najorknow, but I have always loved the ‘whimsical’ depiction of animal characters – the work of Ernest .H. Shepard, Tove Jansson, and particularly Quentin Blake. Blake’s illustrations in How Tom beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen almost exceed Russell Hoban’s own incredible writing – who else could come up with such an engrossing ‘sneedball’, or so convincing an Aunt Fidget Wonkham Strong! In New Zealand I love David Elliot’s work, particularly his imaginative and delightful Redwall decorations.

5. What was your favourite thing to draw when you were at primary school – did you have a “party trick”?
I loved art as a kid. My favourite painting was of a black african child grasping a live chicken by the leg. The picture was of a cloud of feathers surrounding these two characters. It hung on my grandmother’s wall for a few years. I loved painting: I won a radio, an expensive book, and a Crown Lynn pottery design prize. Then I started illustrating my own early School Journal articles, like Watching Red-billed Gulls and, An Island Eaten by Rats, before I got lazy – and began to turned to photography for my stories. Maybe one untitledday I’ll come back to drawing. My party trick is a quick sketch of Donald Duck – usually for kids.

6. Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
I went to the book launch of Mona Minum and the Smell of the Sun at the Hocken, and read the book that summer. I loved Janet Frame’s writing, and David Elliot’s illustrations, it proved to me yet again, just how talented we New Zealanders are – across several generations now.

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