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Book People: Robert Henderson

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A book for one? A book for two? A book for different points of view.

Recently I had the privilege of meeting a newcomer to the kidlit world, author/illustrator/designer Robert Henderson. Robert is a (self-proclaimed) prolific non-graduate from a range of prestigious Australian Universities, failing to complete courses in areas as diverse as Media Studies, English Literature, and Religion. He is also an actual graduate of Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art where he was awarded the design medal for highest achievement in the Bachelor of Design program. He currently works as Senior Communication Designer at the very brilliant social justice organisation Micah Projects, where he uses visual communication for community, not capital.

His first book is ‘I See, I See’. I absolutely love the interactive nature of this book; it is a book to be shared, discussed and shared again. It is for reading upside down and right way round – whichever ‘right way round’ is. This is a book about what we see and ‘know to be right’ about the world, but what is right and what is wrong is different for different people because we view the world through the lens of our own experiences.

‘I See, I See’ shows, so very clearly, that there are multiple ways of seeing, that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are really just about perspective and that it’s truly great to appreciate the perspective of someone else. My first reaction upon reading ‘I See, I See’ was ‘well why the heck hasn’t this been done before?!’. I am greatly looking forward to seeing more literary greatness from the perspective of Robert Henderson in his future books…get designing dude…


Click on title links or ‘Buy from Booktopia’ when shopping online in Australia to #supportaustralian. Purchase in store from your local independent bookstore where possible #supportlocal. Signed copies are available at Where the Wild Things Are, West End.

‘I See, I See’

TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ROBERT HENDERSON

1. Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is my first book and It’s called “I See, I See”. It is a picture book that is most fun to read with someone else. You can sit across from each other and read back and forth across the book, like a conversation. But what’s the conversation about?

It’s about what we see and what we “know” about the world, and how that can be different for different people. In every-day life, we often act like there are unlimited ways to be wrong, but only one way to be right. If two people look at the same thing and see opposites, surely one is wrong and one is right. Right? Sometimes that’s true. But things get a bit wobbly when two people see opposites and are both right. They see differently because of who they are, what they’ve experienced and where they’re seeing from.

If we can remember that, then it becomes easier to understand other people who think differently from us… but we still don’t have to agree with them.

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I was an early and enthusiastic reader, but it was reading Douglas Adams at about 10 that made me want to be a writer. I was, however, never very good at dealing with lots of ideas at the same time. I was good at connecting ideas, but not very good at organising the mess so it made sense. I also worried so much about words and sentences being ‘just right’ that it was very difficult to make a whole emerge from the parts.

It was only while studying design that I learned how to communicate by carving things down to a manageable size. It’s where I discovered that if something is complicated, I can simplify it, and if something seems simple, I can complicate it. I realised that design is perfectly suited to picture books because of the way it made me think, and not (only) because it made things look nice.

So, I started with ideas. Many of them. About 35 ideas, two children and several years later I finally finished something (‘I See, I See’) and submitted it to an agent for consideration. Through good luck it got read. And now here we are. I guess I’m a writer.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

Morning: Slept.
Afternoon: Slept.
Evening: Ate grass.
Night: Ate grass. Decided grass is boring. Scratched hard to reach itchy bits.

At least that would be nice, but life is a bit busier for non-wombats.

My life is mostly my work as a graphic designer and spending time with my partner and four and five-year-olds. My five-year-old usually wakes me up too early. If I manage to get up earlier than him, I can read a bit of a book, but that’s rare.

I get everyone dressed and breakfasted and then head off to work. My 15-minute drive to work is where I get most of my writing thinking done. So much so that I find it hard to keep my attention on my audio book. Then it’s my job, making websites, brochures, invitations, social media graphics, publications, infographic, reports etc.

Then home, for a bit of a play with the kids. Getting everyone dinnered, showered, teethed, bedtime storied, and bedded. Then I sleep.

Repeat.

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

My “workspace” is any time or space I can find. I mostly use a computer for writing and illustrating, so I can do it anywhere. My favourite workspace is in and around the State Library of Queensland and the Gallery of Modern Art.

Robert working (and caffeinating?) at the State Library of Qld

5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?

Write by using all the things about you that others may think of as “weaknesses” or “eccentricities”.

Do you feel like you don’t understand how others see the world? Embrace it and use it to present a unique perspective.

Do you have problems focusing or holding a lot of ideas in your head? Find a type of writing where you can go deep rather than wide, where you can craft words, sentences and ideas rather than managing complicated plots.

Do you love reading about new and interesting ideas, but are not so good at understanding them fully? Joyfully and creatively misunderstand them and use them as a leaping-off point for your own ideas.

I say all these things because they are the things I use. How are you different?

6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?

This “favourites” thing is always difficult because one likes different things for different reasons. I know I connect strongly with Kafka’s protagonists because they don’t really understand what’s going on and they get swept along in other people’s movements.

But aspirationally I love Lilith Iyapo from Octavia Butler’s ‘Xenogenesis’ novels. It’s hard to describe without explaining the story. She is strong, but not rigid. She learns to find connection with things that are so different, that others might find them frightening or grotesque. She recognises that power in relationships is complicated, but still chooses to love and survive.

7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?

I am currently a graphic designer and I would continue to be. If I was neither a designer nor a writer/illustrator, I would like to do full time dadding/housing. That is my goal, really.

8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

I don’t really have those sorts of rituals, because I never know when I will be able to write or when ideas or phrases will strike. So… unknown.

9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

Mostly people are in my writing as ideas, not characters.

10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

An understanding of our connectedness, a celebration of our difference, and a willingness to work together in whatever way our times require.


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