Book People: Bob Graham
“Oh. You know. Just another day on the blog”, she says calmly. “I HAVE BOB GRAHAM ON MY BLOG” is what she wants to scream from the treetops and at every dog in the city – Bob does a lovely dog story; well my dogs have always loved them anyhow and we have a few autographed by Bob to the family dogs.
When I ponder the body of work which Bob Graham has created over a (so far) 30-year career, the words that come to mind are empathy, humanity, kindness, gratitude, love, warmth and comfort. His books regularly bring me to tears – particularly ‘Let’s Get a Pup’ (review here) which seriously makes me tear up every.single.time I read it – and I would have read it well over 100 times over the years. It would be fair to say I am a Bob Graham tragic.
I sat next to Bob at a Children’s Book Council luncheon some years ago now when I was the National Vice President of the CBCA, and last year I was lucky enough to travel with mum (also a Bob Graham tragic and fellow teacher librarian) to see the Bob Graham retrospective exhibition A Bird in the Hand! at Canberra Museum & Gallery, curated by the brilliant team at Books Illustrated. On both occasions I actually managed to not gush over Bob (I know Trisha – the control I had!), it was enough to just be in his presence and hopefully soak up some of his absolute goodness. I have included some of my images from this exhibition throughout this post; for a full review of ‘A Bird in the Hand!’ see here.
I get a little shiver of delight whenever I hear a new Bob Graham book is in the pipeline, let alone when I touch a new Bob Graham book and savour every image and carefully placed word. So to actually have Bob Graham on my blog? Well it would be fair to say I have been beside myself, and telling anyone who would stand still long enough – including our poor anxiety-ridden Tyson (below). I’m sure a daily dose of Bob Graham books would be as calming and uplifting for him as his daily doggy Prozac.
You can see and purchase, many of Bob Graham’s titles here.
I have a picture book about to be published, called How the Sun Got to Coco’s House. I invariably write about matters that might take part close by to my desk but somehow this one started forming about as far from my desk as it is possible to be. I started with a drawing of a polar bear and her cubs so I found my unfolding story in a snowy northern landscape which I linked together with the low arc of a winter sun. It was somehow inevitable that it would eventually find it’s way to Coco’s window and be barging right on in.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I plan very little at all, so when I wrote and illustrated my first book Pete and Roland back in the early eighties it was only because it seemed a good idea at the time, things happening around our house which presented a little story. So I just did it! It was not with any idea of getting started as a writer or what might follow. That just happened gradually I suppose. And that continues; I have no idea when I have actually started on a story until it gradually unfolds and convinces me that I need to keep going to see how it all turns out.
3. What does a typical day look like to you?
We, (my wife Carolyn and I) have 2 dogs, Maggie 16 and Alfie 2 and a bit. They need, no, demand a walk at least twice a day and once around the block before bed. They meet other dogs and we also meet their owners up the park. We watch the dogs run around, chat a bit, usually about dogs. Maggie is an older version of “Dave” in Let’s Get a Pup. Alfie sleeps in his bed on the floor next to me and Maggie in her basket next to Carolyn. Alfie is a black cocker spaniel with white hair and black spots all over his chest. And he has the most beautiful silky ears. I have noticed that some men walk around with “worry beads” running through their fingers. But I find that in times of anxiety and any other times really that it has a beautiful and calming effect to just run my hands over Alfie’s ears, over the bump on the back of his head and over his back. And when I’m not doing that I sit at my desk and draw pictures and put words to them.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
I work at a long table in the front room of our house. The window looks out onto the street. Beside my drawing board are a number of mugs and jars holding many colour pencils, pens of all shapes and sizes, brushes and pastels. When I am working, the contents of all these containers gradually empty and are strewn all over the place. So much so i have hardly any room left to work. I try to be neat, but at times it looks to be chaos. I like the idea that something can be produced from all of this.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I’m not good on advice but if someone might want to be a writer I could suggest that they keep something from their childhood that comes pretty naturally i.e. being curious. Look out of the window, there’s a whole lot to see out there. And read a lot!
6. Do you have a favourite book or character?
No.I enjoy all sorts of books. I read novels, I love Ann Tyler’s books, love the people in them, love the way they are written. I read non fiction, just read “Joseph Anton, a memoir” by Salman Rushdie. Presently an autobiography by Willie Nelson. If a story can put me in someone else’s shoes however briefly then I am happy to go there.
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
When I was young I wanted to 1. Play short stop for the New York Yankees. 2. Be a big wave rider in Hawaii. 3. Play guitar with the Rolling Stones and 4. Have hair like Bob Dylan. I recently decided that it’s not going to happen.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
My favourite food might be some sort of Indian vegetable curry, ( I cook them often.) Favourite music? Well if I’m working on text then it’s too distracting, but when illustrating I listen to heaps of Irish music. I love the mixture of Happy ( jigs and reels,) and Sad ( airs and laments.)
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
I borrow bits of myself and pieces of other people from time to time. That’s OK, I always promise to put them back where I found them.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be? That the people that live in that world might develop the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Reading books could be a start.
You can see and purchase, many of Bob Graham’s titles here.