Donovan Bixley talks Much Ado about Shakespeare

This week I asked Donovan Bixley a few questions about Much Ado about Shakespeare, his literary picture book, which launches on Thursday 10 March at the Auckland Pop-up Globe.

1. The world is celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare this year: was that what inspired you to create your Shakespeare book, or was it just happenstance that it fell this way?

cv_much_ado_about_shakespeareFunnily enough, I began working on Much Ado About Shakespeare almost immediately after my 2005 book, Faithfully Mozart. I had this grand idea that I was going to do illustrated biographies of my 3 favourite artists in the 3 main arts: Leonardo da Vinci in the visual arts, Mozart for music, and Shakespeare for literature. As it turned out, it was much harder to find just the right publisher who got the idea of a picture book for adults. I’m so pleased that Much Ado About Shakespeare has found a home with Upstart Press, and the 10 year delay worked out perfectly to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Interestingly, as you can imagine, the publishers and I have always had a problem with the term ‘adult’ illustrated book, or picture book for adults. For this book Upstart have invented a whole new genre – ‘the literary picture book’.

2. I know you have just returned from Taipei after launching Much Ado about Shakespeare – what was the reaction from the Asian market?

I had no expectations about the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TiBE). Shakespeare is such an English language phenomenon, that I really wondered what Asians would make of a book about his life. My Taiwanese publisher were fully behind the book, which really put me at ease. I had the great pleasure of talking on the main stage at TiBE, where I had a wonderful response from the audience who loved the fact that I had brought this historic figure to life in such an interesting and visual way. The Taiwanese have their own cultural heroes which children are forced to study at school, so they really connected with this universal issue of making these figures relevant and appealing to a modern audience. I was even asked if I could do the same for some of the Taiwanese literary icons. I was signing books for 2 and a half hours and was delivered gifts from fans – so I’m pretty sure they liked it. If the response at TiBE is anything to go by (and considering that Shakespeare is a huge part of our everyday langauage), then I think English readers are really going to love the wordplay and visual puns within the pages.

3. Have you got special materials that will go out to bookshops to help them promote Much Ado about Shakespeare, or any other publicity exercises planned within NZ for it?


Well if you mean, am I going to grow a cavalier beard and sing ‘hey nonny nonny’ in tight hose? – then no. However, Upstart have arranged a full array of publicity including TV and radio as well as a grand book launch at The Pop-Up Globe on the 10th of March. I hope to share my love of Shakespeare at some of the literary events I am attending during the year, including: The Auckland Writers Festival, The Marlborough Writers Festival, The Tauranga Arts Festival as well as various tours about the country.

4. Do you love Shakespeare and have a personal favourite play?

I don’t claim to be an expert on Shakespeare – you could spend a lifetime at university studying just one of his plays! – but I have spent time in the theatre as a poster designer, set painter and designer, as well as on stage. I think most people who’ve been involved in the theatre can’t help but love Shakespeare. My real interest though is the love of the man behind the legend. I’m interested in how great figures like Mozart and Shakespeare are so different from us, but I’m actually more interested in how they are the same as us. They laughed and cried and had money worries and personal tragedy. As an ex-teenage goth I do have a dark streak – one of my favourite lines is from Hamlet “now is the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world”. But as a children’s book creator, I think my humorous nature wins out, and my favourite play would have to be Much Ado About Nothing. I have to say that I’m thrilled that over he last 10 years, no one nabbed my great book title Much Ado About Shakespeare.

Link through for a review by Sarah Forster.