MEET AURA PARKER – AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR
Aura Parker’s illustrations and writing always bring joy and I have so enjoyed following her journey in the kidlit space since ‘Twig’ – full review here. There’s a gentle, playful and lovely flow to all her illustrations and the detail is just fascinating! Aura’s work inspires curiosity in nature and a connection to the world around us. We took some time from Aura’s busy schedule to discuss her new book ‘Meerkat Christmas’ and the inspiration and love for the animal kingdom in her work and why she wishes for more courage in the world.
Q+A – all the things on stick insects!
Your first book, ‘Twig’ (2016) was so enjoyed by myself and my children that my youngest daughter mounted a campaign for stick insects of her own – so you are responsible for the stick insects that now live with me! What on earth was it that made you think – ‘stick insects would make an awesome book character?’
Ha! Firstly, I would like to make a public apology to you, Megan, and all the other parents who have found themselves committing to pet stick insects, ALL because of me and TWIG. I should also apologise to all the librarians who have invited me to speak – only to end up with stick insects on the loose in the library! Yes, they CAN fly and believe me, they DO! I have had a lot of fun with them, though. GO CHICKPEA! I LOVE IT THAT YOU HAVE PET STICK INSECTS!! They will surely be blessed with an abundance of eggs and live for many, many generations! (Sorry again, Megan!)
Twig was my first picture book as writer and illustrator and the character, Heidi is still quite close to my heart. A stick insect who doesn’t understand the power of her amazing camouflage makes a great metaphor for yearning for connection and feeling unseen. I think the story strikes a chord as we all have to cope with being the new person at some stage in our lives. Heidi is a tentative one, she has to come out of her comfort zone (the twigs) so she can make friends. Looking at children’s expressions when I’m reading; ‘One, two, three. One, two, three. Why won’t someone play with me?’ I see them wide eyed, holding their breath – relating to Heidi feeling disheartened, with her droopy posture and the lonely white space around her. I was shy when I was little and always felt safer hanging around in the background and the story is quite personal to me. I also wrote it at a time of my life where my children were very young and we would go on little adventures in the bush near our house looking closely at nature, so that’s woven in there too.
Since ‘Twig’ I have avidly followed your bookish journey and have noticed that your books span the animal kingdom. You obviously have a natural curiosity and love for animals – what is it about them that makes them good book characters?
I draw endless inspiration from nature but, I think of my anthropomorphised characters as children, particularly the meerkats pups, they tumble and play like little kids and can occasionally be seen wearing outfits! My Glow Worms too, are little children who are overtired and can’t switch off their lights.
Can you tell us about your latest book, ‘Meerkat Christmas’?
Well, someone might have a bit of a meerkat obsession. HOW CUTE ARE THEY? Seriously! (Don’t worry, Megan you can’t keep them as pets so I think you are pretty safe this time!) Meerkat Splash, from 2019 was my first meerkat book which is a rhyming, bath time book so following on from that story the meerkats are back for Meerkat Christmas. It’s a counting book and they play a climbing game, but who makes them crash? It is joyful, Christmassy cuteness! My meerkat books are all about colours and fun with just enough alliteration, rhyme and repetition to make it catchy, but not drive you crazy to read over and over. Designed to be read aloud, with words carefully chosen to give kids an uplifting reading experience to help make future readers and learners by equipping them with language to explore the world when the time comes for it to open up.
I can remember being very small, cuddled up and entranced by a voice reading just for me. Story time is a time to be captivated by the sweet sounds of the language and soaring joy the suspense of a good story can bring. My books feature imaginary worlds based on relatable early childhood experiences such as bath time, bedtime and playtime, adding just the right amount of drama and pace for a little one, without talking down to them. I want the child to be drawn into the book, not out, because when text and image are of quality and cadence it enchants you, and leaves you wanting more!
You produce fabulous creative downloadable activities for many of your books, is art and play something that you see as going hand in hand with reading your books? (you can find Aura’s activities here https://www.illustrated.com.au/activities)
Absolutely. Thank you, yes, I want the stories to be memorable and inspire imagination and creative play. My stories have led to some great craft, especially Twig! Kids everywhere have made Twiggy creations and it’s delightful to see. I also have some lovely Meerkat Christmas craft ideas too. There is so much you can do to extend the books.
As well as children finding joy through your books, what subtle messages do you hope your books convey?
A love of nature and looking closely at things. The Silly Seabed Song is a feast of colour inspired by the beauty of our fragile natural world, the Great Barrier Reef drawn through the filter of my imagination and illustration style. I also hope the stories encourage respect for our environment and celebrate the biodiversity we have left, which is in peril and encourage kids to investigate and appreciate the natural world.
I hope they inspire a love of language, designed to be read aloud they are an ode to the joy of the spoken word. I want them to be a lullaby of rhythm and beat, extended with sweet illustrations and gentle humour. I have always thought you could sing my books! They also encourage imagination, so books are food for curious minds!
Turning to practical matters now (!), what does a typical day look like for you as an author/illustrator?
Well, my days can be varied. I spend a lot of time working quietly alone, writing and drawing (actually the truth is I do a lot of admin stuff when I want to be writing and drawing), and the other part of the time presenting in front of hundreds of kids! So, my typical days are full of contrasts. I have a strong urge, and I have always had it, a craving and longing for the solitude and space to write and make things and I surprise myself with how weirdly driven I can be! I am always trying to get everything done so I can get to the magical place where there’s time to work on the exciting new idea, but I have to climb the mountain of daily tasks and sometimes I feel like I will never get there. I have some super nerdy habits that work for me though. Every morning I have a meeting with myself and write a list of things I want to achieve for the day, they might be replying to some editorial suggestions, feedback on a cover design, some roughs or a piece of final art that I am working on that needs completing so I can stay on track for my deadlines. I draw little squares on my lists and I get a lot of pleasure from ticking them off, it’s so super nerdy and satisfying! So, every day there is a new list and if I don’t finish something it goes on the next day. My second habit that serves me well is, I always go for a big walk (my Border Collie companion, Mojo makes sure this happens). The walking is great for solving something I am working on, and I often stop and write notes on my phone when I am working on a new story not to mention it helps me sleep better. The final habit is, I have an hourglass which goes for exactly an hour, which is probably why it’s called an hourglass, funnily enough! I try and pop that on when I need to focus on art or words without interruption, and (try to) put my phone and email out of sight for the whole entire hour. I can get a lot done in an hour with no interruptions. The afternoons are usually full of kids needing this and that and me hoping the dinner to magically cook itself, and sometimes it does because my family are wonderful! I often go back down and work a bit in the evenings, but I do love it.
Can you describe your workspace for us?
My workspace is in the basement, and somehow acquired the nickname of the Cheese Cave. I have a good mix of digital and traditional art supplies as I work with both, watercolour, coloured pencil, pens as well as Wacom with Photoshop. I listen to music, except when I am writing, I need the silence.
Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I say, go for it! Appreciate the time you have, use it to draw, to read and gobble up as many books as you can. Be kind to yourself! My artistic pursuits began in childhood, and I don’t think I would be doing this today if I had not drawn constantly as a kid and had my mum encourage me. I think a lot of kids stop drawing simply because they think they aren’t good enough when they actually are! Believe me, you ARE good enough. There’s a real art to staying in the playful zone and not psyching yourself out by comparing yourself to others as we can be our own worst critics.
If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
Oh, so I get to be a magical fairy and wish for world peace? That would be phenomenal, as would magically fixing the climate, and global poverty but since the problems are so overwhelming and complicated…
What I would wish for is ‘courage’. Yes, courage for all of the world, as we have all the science, all the compassion, and good kind hearts but the courage is needed to take action and get out of your comfort zone and actually make a difference. Courage to pursue the thing you desire, to speak up, find out, learn, ask questions, try all the things, persevere, fail gracefully and succeed humbly. Gosh, so much to do! But the courage is instrumental in at least starting to try to fix all the overwhelming and complicated problems.
I know I already asked for a few things but I would also grant the power of invisibility and for dinner to be magically cooked for all! TADA!
What’s up next for Aura Parker? Can you tell us about your next project?
Yes, I can share my next book is called Bowerbird Blues and it will be out in 2023 and I am excited for this one. It is a project very dear to my heart and has taken years to bring to fruition. It’s about longing and has environmental themes and of course, my favourite colour blue! I can’t wait for you all to read it and see what you think.
With this project I have been working with a mentor, the extremely talented and accomplished Bruce Whatley. I sought his critique when I was working on my final art for Bowerbird Blues as I wanted to focus on the craft of illustration and he was able to give some advice and pointers. It was great to have an experienced eye cast over it, while I was developing the art. It started as watercolour painted by hand and I have worked over it in digital as well. We talked about textures, brushes, illustration style as well as career advice as he of course understands the whole creative journey and is extremely generous. Thank you, Bruce!
Thank you for having me on the blog and supporting my stories. May the stick insects live long and prosper! Merry Christmas from me and the Meerkats!
You can find out more about Aura Parker and her work here https://www.illustrated.com.au/