Book People: Stephen Axelsen

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Book People: Stephen Axelsen

Warning: Stephen’s ‘Ten Things’ is going to make you smile, and possibly laugh at your screen.

I first met Stephen at the StoryArts Festival Ipswich (the best children’s literature festival around – this year’s launch is September 9). Stephen has the driest and wickedest sense of humour you will ever come across, and I always love catching up with him! I did a launch for one of his books some years ago…’Piccolo and Annabelle’, and it was a most fabulous launch even if I do say so myself…there was theming galore, a pink scooter and even a beautiful angel in attendance.PudStar has a piece of Piccolo and Annabelle artwork on the wall in her bedroom, and we have a gorgeous Stephen Axelsen dog illustration in our playroom. In typical Stephen humour/style the dog is scratching fleas from its body…classy. There is no better artwork to collect than the artwork of illustrators in my opinion!

stephen axelsen

Ten Things You Need to Know About Stephen Axelsen

1. Tell us about your latest book.

It’s called The Nelly Gang and is 48 page graphic novel set in 1859 Victoria and is about about an accidental gang of children having adventures, defeating bad people and doing stuff around the goldfileds. It is due to be published in August 2013.

2. How did you get started as a writer?

As an illustrator really, and author a bit, I began entirely by accident. After finishing a kinda sorta sociology degree I was house painting a house lived in by a publisher, as it happened, for whom I made an unpublishable book, which I then toted about until getting some Blinky Bills and away I went.

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

Ooh. That’s a tough one. It depends on what point of the production cycle a project is at. I have just finished an extended period of 9-12 hour days working through the night to meet an extension of an extended deadline, which I didn’t manage to do. More typically, I start late and finish late. Nights are best for me.

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

I have four workspaces. The most patronised is the dining table. Then there is the Traditional Media studio downstairs, which is all in high piles presently due to a recent flood threat, the Digital Media studio upstairs which has the best view and pleasant cross ventilation (important in the steamy swamp within which we live) and the verandah table, lovely in spring and autumn.

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

Ask to be paid per page read. Negotiate a realistic rate with your parents, or if they baulk at the idea, your grandparents – who are usually richer and more generous. But don’t be too greedy because this is unpleasant. We tried this system with one of our children (a boy) (the younger one) (name of Harlee). It could also work for young writers. Also, you could ask your teacher/librarian for advice on what is good to read and for writing tips. These people are a wonderfully rare and wise resource.

6. Do you have a favourite book or character?

Probably Leigh Hobbs’ Old Tom for his strength of character and relaxed approach to personal hygiene.

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

My father wanted me to work in his yeast manufacturing business, so I’d probably be a maker of baker’s yeast. Or a sculptor.

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

I try not to eat while working on books due to the danger of spillage. I’d recommend eating, if you must while drawing, non-fatty dry foods, such as pretzels. Music I don’t tend to listen to much. I prefer listening to stories – audiobooks, podcasts and the like. But this is when I’m illustrating. When Self Potrait - Me as a Young Boy writing I listen only to the Inspiration Pixies (which is where you get your ideas from)

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

There is lots of me in my novels – in particular, Piccolo the sock-ironing nerd. Self potrait – Me as a boy:

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

Besides World Peace, you mean, and health and happiness for my family and friends and everyone they know? Um, personally I’d like more energy to be a better illustrator and author.

Image from 'Winning the World Cup'

Image from ‘Winning the World Cup’

Thanks Stephen!If you are doing an author study on Stephen, his website has further information about him here.

If you would like to book Stephen for your school or literature festival, his speakers agency is Speaker Ink.

To purchase some of Stephen’s work click on the titles below:

piccolo-and-annabelle ‘Piccolo and Annabelle’ (Volume One and Two bind-up) written and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen

Finalist 2004 Aurealis Awards Children’s Short Fiction and Winner 2005 Aurealis Awards Children’s Short Fiction.

Young Piccolo Grande lives alone in his fine old family home. But one fateful afternoon his neat and ordered life is turned upside down and inside out when noisy, round and red-faced Annabelle bursts into his life. She claims to be his great aunt but Piccolo recognises her for the angel she is – a Guardian Angel, sent to mind Piccolo. But where Annabelle goes, disaster soon follows, and in two shakes of a feather it is the boy who is minding the angel…

Below is an image from the book of Annabelle in all her glory!piccolo2inside2_Project_Gallery

Chapter books perfect for those starting out with independent reading – and huge boy appeal!

cocky-colin‘Cocky Colin’ written by Richard Tulloch and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen.

Colin is the bravest, cheekiest, cockiest cockroach in the world, and he’s tired of living in the dark. He wants to go where the action is! This is a ridiculously funny story – perfect for those starting out on chapter books. Cocky Colin





aussie-nibbles-winning-the-world-cup ‘Winning the World Cup’ written by David Metzenthen and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen.

Marco and his friends have come to live in Australia from all over the world. So, naturally, when they play soccer they play for the World Cup – whilst avoiding the cow as best they can. I’ve spoken before about how much I love the Aussie Nibbles series…this one is fantastic.




Squidnapped_cover_small_Project_Gallery‘Squidnapped’ written by David Metzenthen and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen

Holly Tolley finds a googly-eyed squid at the beach and calls him Mr Googly eyes.She makes him the star of her bucket and her Travelling Sea Creatures Show. Does she take him home, I wonder?





freda-the-free-range-chook‘Freda the Free-Range Chook’ written by David Metzenthen and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen

I have reviewed this one here as part of my post about fabulous chook books! Stephen draws an excellent chicken.





the-boot-thief-lge ‘The Boot Thief’ written by John Heffernan and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen

Boots are disappearing one at a time on Lucy and Jack s farm. When their dad has to wear one riding boot and one gum boot the kids think it s funny. But when one of Lucy s best riding boots go missing, they decide to unravel the mystery of who, or what, is the Boot Thief.They pick up on clues, set a trap and follow the scent to catch the thief. They discover that the thief wants the boots for a most unexpected purpose




Doing an author study? The Book People series on Australian authors and illustrators is an excellent place to start.


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  1. Margaret Hamilton on May 3, 2013 at 9:29 am

    My long association and friendship with Stephen began in the 1970s. I’m very proud to have published many books by him. Among my favourites are ‘Eucalyptus Christmas’ and Mrs Wiggins Wartymelons’. I have several pieces of his artwork in my exhibition at Pinerolo and a couple even for sale (check out the catalogue at It was an absolute pleasure to have Stephen here as one of our illustrators in residence last year, when he was working on ‘The Nelly Gang’. I can’t believe it’s finished!

  2. […] Ipswich Festival (so I have to like the setting!). You can read more about Stephen Axelsen here and read my review of ‘The Nelly Gang’ here.  I have used this book as the basis for my […]

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