Ep 129 How did Candice Fox co-write with James Patterson? Meet Giuseppe Poli, IT guy by day, children’s book illustrator by night.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 129 of So you want to be a writer: Discover celebrities reading audiobooks, why you should write a “zero draft”, and how to sell 100 million copies of your book. Find out how Australian crime writer Candice Fox ended up co-writing with James Patterson. Meet Giuseppe Poli, IT guy by day, children’s book illustrator by night. Plus, how to recover after receiving some bad feedback, and much more.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Review of the Week
From Rachel A.W. from Australia:

This podcast has been a brilliant way to engage with a writing community. As a working mum, I’ve found it difficult to find the time to attend writing groups or seminars, so this podcast has been wonderful for me. Valerie and Allison speak about things I want to know about as an aspiring writer. I have particularly enjoyed the ‘Murder and Mayhem’ pop up podcast interviews with authors and feel very privileged to be able to listen to these authors so easily. The podcast also gives me hope that getting published might even be possible. Thank you.

Thanks Rachel!

Show Notes

Stars of the spoken word: Meet the audiobook narrators who are quietly saving book publishing

The Zero Draft: How To Beat Writer’s Block

How Do You Sell 100 Million Copies of a Book?

Writer in Residence

Candice Fox
meetup-candicefoxCandice Fox is the bestselling crime and thriller writer behind the novel Hades, which won the Ned Kelly Award in 2014. Other works include Eden and Fall. She has recently co-authored two books with James Patterson Black and Blue and Never Never.

Candice has two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. Her Honours degree is in Creative Writing, and she holds a Masters in Writing, Editing and Publishing.

Candice is passionate about the genre of crime writing. Growing up in a large, eccentric family from Sydney’s western suburbs, Candice is the daughter of a parole officer at one of Sydney’s biggest prisons and an enthusiastic foster-carer. She spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers.

Website
Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder
Random House on Twitter

Illustrator in Residence

Giuseppe Poli

poli-illustratorAfter a long meandering journey trying to find a creative pursuit, Giuseppe Poli eventually discovered children’s picture books.

He learnt from Philip Blythe, illustrator of Pole to Pole – Philip taught him how to illustrate children’s books at the Arts Academy where he finished as a leading Graduate.

It was at a Children’s Picture book workshop taught by Virginia Lowe and Peter Carnavas where he got his first lead into publishing and where his current incredible adventure began.

Books Giuseppe has illustrated include Oliver’s GrumblesFearless with Dad, and Hootie the Cutie.
Giuseppe’s website

Platform Building Tip

How to get your mojo back after bad feedback?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

WIN this “60 Minutes” memoir

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript – Candice Fox

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Candice.

Candice

Thanks so much for having me, yeah.

Valerie

Now we first chatted to you on the podcast back in episode 48, which was a while back now, and at the time you had released Hades and you were only just about to release Eden, the fantastic follow-up. And then after that you released Fall, also fantastic. But, you’ve been a busy girl.

Candice

I sure have. That feels like a million years ago when that was released.

Valerie

It feels like a million years ago. Yeah, but it wasn’t that long ago, but so much has happened then, including a collaboration with James Patterson you’ve released
Never Never and it is going gangbusters. I see it in bus shelters, I see posters everywhere. I see it at the front of bookshops. I see it everywhere. And I thought, “Well, we need to have a catch up with Candice to find out how all of this happened, what’s happened since we last spoke…” well, as I’ve said you’ve released Fall and the whole three books have done really, really well. You’ve won the Ned Kelly Award twice already.

Candice

Yeah! Yeah, yeah.

Valerie

You’ve just gone nuts. But, tell us in the first instance, let’s just get down to it, how did the collaboration with James Patterson happen?

Candice

Well, I actually got an invitation in the mail to go to a cocktail party that was celebrating a few things. He collaborated on young adult novel with Ed Chatteron, one of our Aussie authors. And then also he was releasing Private Sydney with Catherine Fox, so I was just going to attend a cocktail party, but I cheekily said to my agent, “I’m a Patterson fan from way back. You watch, I’m going to go and collaborate with him. I’m going to corner him at the cocktail party and make him collaborate with me,” and she thought that was hilarious, because, you know, it’s been a few years, but my confidence has sort of soared with the awards and things like this.

She said, “Oh yeah, you’re going to collaborate with James Patterson now…” because when I met my agent I was just about in tears about my first book not being released  On the Isle of Man, my first publishing contract was with an independent publisher On the Isle of Man and my dreams were so small, you know?

And then so I went to this cocktail party and he was there and everybody was just freaking out, you know? Having celebrity moments. As soon as he walked in everyone was like, “Oh my god, there he is! Look!” You know? And just panicking and pretending not to notice him in this sort of thing, and then he gave a speech.

I was standing in the corner and I sort of thought, “He’s never going to get shown over here.” He had sort of like an entourage of people all around him and then he was being introduced to some very important booksellers and publishers and things. And I thought, “He’s never going to get over here to this dark corner of the room.”

So, I just had to push my way through. I just went over there and I was like, “Excuse me, excuse me.”

Valerie

Oh my goodness.

Candice

Yeah, I know. And I could feel all of these people in the room sort of looking at me as if to say, “Who is that girl and what is she doing barging over there?”

So, I just had like a little chat with him. I just said, “I’ve loved your work for my whole life.” I started reading him when I was very young, inappropriately young, this kind of fiction.

Valerie

Oh wow.

Candice

Yeah! I told him, “Oh my god. I read Kiss the Girls when I was 12 and I absolutely loved it.”

Valerie

Oh my god.

Candice

He said, “Oh my god, that’s really inappropriate.”

But, I mean I started reading true crime at age 7. I got into big trouble because I went to school and I told all of my friends what I had been reading about, so my mum took all of the true crimes from the shelf that I could reach in her bedroom and she put them up at the top of the shelf, but she left all of the James Patterson’s down there. So… I was quite happy to read those. But, I didn’t want to make him feel old either. So, I just sort of said, you know, “Love your work and just wanted to say ‘hello’…” and then I sort of got out there really quickly before I said anything stupid or if there was an awkward silence or something.

So, by the time somebody said something to him and by the time he turned around I was gone and it was perfect because it’s like a mystery, you know? “Where did she go?”

And then my publisher gave him a copy of Hades and he read it on the plane home and just loved it.

Valerie

Wow.

Candice

Yeah. So, from there…

Valerie

Did you talk about the fact that you were writing crime as well when you were talking to him?

Candice

Yeah, I mentioned it briefly and I sort of said that I was writing something set in Cannes and he talked about how he doesn’t really mind where it’s set, it’s the characters that are very important to him. I didn’t want to sort of sound like I was big noting, because obviously I couldn’t compare. I think Fall was about to come out, so I had two books down, so I felt very much, “OK, I’m mature.”

So, I just wandered away, but he really loved Hades and wanted to bounce some ideas around with me. It wasn’t set… when I got the call from my publisher saying, “Would you like to collaborate with James Patterson.

Valerie

How did you react?

Candice

I was very cheeky with her too. I said, “You know, I’m going to have to think about it. Give me a week.” You know? No, I was like, “Ah! My god!!” And she was sort of like that too, because she was like, “Oh my god!!” Because she had hoped that she could wrangle him in for another book.

So, he wanted to bounce some ideas around with me. I was very entrepreneurial. I threw some ideas around that I knew would be good for a series, in case he wanted to do more than one book with me.

Valerie

Yes, yes.

Candice

So, we just had some emails back and forth, throwing the ideas around. And then it was sort of official after that.

Valerie

So, did you come up with the ideas? Did you come up with the plot and everything? How did it work on a practical level collaborating on this book together?

Candice

It was a very messy process in the beginning because I think he was trying to sound me out as to whether or not I had characters and ideas outside the Bennett Archer series, because I only had a couple of books out.

So, it was just a conversation to begin with. He sort of said, “Oh, what I’m thinking is strong male protagonist. And an Australian setting that isn’t necessarily like a metropolitan city.” He wanted something very grassy-roots Aussie.

So, I started thinking about ways that we could contain the suspect. I sort of thought, “If it’s going to be in the outback it’s going to have to be a small town,” or something like that.

I threw around some very strange ideas. I said, “Maybe…” because I was in the Navy for a couple of years, I said, “What if we set it on a navy ship? You know, there’s a murder on a ship and they’ve got to solve it before the ship gets back to Sydney and the suspect gets off board?” That sort of thing.

So, my concern really was containing the suspects.

And then I suggested FIFO mines, and he really liked that. So, and then I was trying to get him into a series, so I said, “What if the protagonist has a… the B plot is the protagonist has like a loved one or a husband or wife or something that’s been arrested for a terrible crime.” And then he said, “That would be awesome. What if we change it to a female protagonist and it’s like her brother.” You know? And that sort of thing. So, it was just sort of a conversation.

So, from there he likes to work in outlines, really long, explicit outlines. So, we did sort of a mini outline of about 4,000 words.

Valerie

Of the whole book?

Candice

Yeah, of the whole thing. So, we had like A Plot, you know, the FIFO mines situation, who’s been murdered out there, who’s actually doing it. And then we had the B plot of Harry’s brother having been arrested, what was actual crime there and how is she dealing with that emotionally. We had to sort of think about her character a bit, because he’s so character-centric. So he said, “I wonder if she could be some kind of athlete or ex-athlete,” and I was actually taking boxing classes at the time, so I was like, “Well, I know a lot about boxing.” Yeah, I’ve been a boxer from way back. I started boxing in probably about 2003, so I knew a lot about it anyway.

Yeah, and I had done running in Fall as well. I’m a runner as well, but I had written a lot about running and I didn’t want to get a reputation as ‘that running chick.’

Valerie

Yeah.

Candice

You know? Yeah, so we did a larger outline, I think it was 13,000 words for
Never Never, which was huge.

Valerie

Wow.

Candice

Yeah. Every single chapter and what happens in every single chapter, and then there was obviously rearrangement of that sort of thing for tension.

Valerie

Yes.

Candice

And my instinct as a writer is to have my characters pausing and remembering a lot. You’ll notice that across the Bennett Archer series that they reflect on their childhoods and things a lot. And he was like, “No, no, we don’t have time for that.”

Valerie

Right.

Candice

Because he’s all about the tension and the page-turning. We ended up with 116 chapters and every single one of those 116 chapter ended with something explicitly at stake, and that’s just his style. That’s how his books work, so I had to adapt to that style.

Valerie

So, basically you came to an agreement on a long outline, after which you were left to your own devices to write the whole thing?

Candice
Yeah, it wasn’t even that formal. I mean sort of powered out on it for a while, and then I got busy with my own novels for the year and appearances and things that I was doing. So, I kicked it back over to his people for a look in at it, and then he came back with all of these suggestions and written bits and things.

It was very messy, but it seemed to work because we’re both very good communicators so we kept in touch the whole time.

Valerie

Great.

Candice

I mean if you’re both writers then you can sort of say things, and you understand, you know you can sort of say, “Should we kill this guy or not?”

Valerie

Yeah. And you know why.

Candice
“It would be a really good death,” you know? Or this sort of thing like I wanted to chop someone’s leg off and he was like, “No, no, no we’re going to need that guy to do some running and jumping up on things, so you better not chop his leg off.”

Valerie

Wonderful. And so you have also co-written a prequel novella, Black and Blue, but also you’re writing the sequel. So, your efforts have paid off in trying to think up an idea that would go into a series.

Candice

Yeah.

Valerie

So where are you at with that? Are you finished writing it? Are you writing it? What’s happening?

Candice

Yeah, I’m actually writing two book twos at the moment. It’s really weird. Last year I wrote Crimson Lake of my own, which comes out in February. And my publishers and my British publishers have been so excited about it. They want another one of those.

And so James and I writing Never Never two, or whatever that will end up being called. The titles are the very last thing that you do.

Valerie

Yes.

Candice

So, I’m writing two sequels at the moment, which is interesting.

Valerie

Yeah, right.

Candice

In book one of Never Never Harry’s brother has been arrested for these serial killings, and most of the book is dealing with her shock of that, and has he really done it? And how did she not see this coming and this sort of thing. And the public outrage, obviously, because she’s a sex crimes detective and they’re sexually violent crimes.

And so in book two we start discover did her brother actually do it, and if not who did do it? And, you know, the trial is happening and that sort of stuff.

So, yeah, it’s exciting. And there are a few characters who are introduced in
Black and Blue and in Never Never who come back in Never, Never two to work with each other.

Valerie

Now you’re writing two book twos and they’re totally different from each other, they’ve got completely different plots. You’ve obviously got to tie them in with the story that happened in book one, and no doubt you’re possibly even thinking of book three. How in the world do you keep track? Do you have Post-It notes? How do you keep track of who’s doing what, where and when, and what possibly they might do in the future? Do you know what I mean?

Candice

Yeah. It’s strange. I’m not a very good sleeper for that reason. When I started collaborating with James I just pushed myself to the limit of what I could hold in my brain, because I don’t plot and I don’t use Post-It notes or that sort of thing. And so it was all swirling around in my brain and I was finding I couldn’t sleep and I was wandering around the house that night and —

Valerie

Oh boy.

Candice

I know. And then my husband ran into me in the kitchen a couple of times, thinking that I was still in bed and I absolutely scared the life out of him. He was like — after doing that about two or three times he was like, “OK, you need to start figuring out… you’re going to give me a heart attack.”

So, yeah, so I’ve been plotting a little bit more myself. And, I’m getting more frequent check-ins with my agent and my publishers and that sort of thing, because there are so many people watching what I’m doing right now. You know I’ve got my Australian publisher who’s contracted me and I’ve got my British publisher now, I’ve just got a
five-book deal in England.

Valerie

Whoo-hoo.

Candice

Yeah. And the Americans are very interested to see what I’ll come up with next. And they don’t want me to spend six to nine months writing out the bulk of a book and then for them to go, “Oh my god, we hate the idea.”

Valerie

Yeah, “Not what we want.”

Candice

Yeah. So, it’s about every 10,000 or 20,000 words now that I sort of say what I’m doing and they say, “Yeah.”

Valerie

Wow, interesting.

Candice

Yeah, it is interesting. It’s good for me because I can sort of say, “This is the crime, now who do you think has done it?” And I get all of their guesses as to who they think has done it and then I make sure that I don’t do any of those.

Yeah, because it’s obvious, right? So…

Valerie

Yes, yes.

Candice

So, it’s good. It’s interesting having all of these people onboard now to see how many people are actually involved in making a book happen…

Valerie

Yes, yes.

Candice

… at the level that I’m at right now, because I wrote Hades completely by myself…

Valerie

Yes.

Candice

… with no help, and then I consulted them a little bit, just for my own confidence on Eden. And now I’ve got all of these people watching. I mean the pressure is not lower, but it’s different.

Valerie

So, cast your mind back to when I first met you, which you had already released Hades, but you had not actually released Eden yet, it was soon to come. So, you had really one book to your name.

Candice

Yeah.

Valerie

And now the world is totally different. You’ve got this five-book deal, you’re collaborating with James. There’s interest in the UK and the US, did you, at that point when I first met you, when you had that one book, think this was going to happen? Or happen so quickly?

Candice

No. No, certainly not. I remember being absolutely terrified writing Eden, as well. And I was months behind because I’d been too afraid to ask my agent and my publisher whether or not they were going to give me another book deal or if they were even interested in a second book after Hades. And so it was about five or six months later that I said, “Do you guys want another book out of me?” And they said, “We thought you’d been writing one this whole time.”

Valerie

Oh!

Candice

Yeah, so I freaked out. You know, so I’m in contact with them almost daily.

Valerie

Right.  

Candice

Yeah, I had no idea that it was going to be like this, and I never really dreamed of it being this huge.

Valerie

That’s exciting.

Candice

It is exciting. And because I don’t have any idea of what will come next, it’s amazing and joyous every time something great does happen. Like there are TV things in the works and I’m trying to plan what I’ll do next year, in terms of touring around for the different books and that sort of stuff.

Yeah, like I said, when Gabi met me an independent publisher On the Isle of Man had picked me up and he had Hades for about 18 months and then he had run out of money. I was so devastated because I had built my dream into being a superstar On the Isle of Man and having like 100 fans, you know? And I was actually going to pay him to print, like, 30 extra copies so that I could have it around my friends and family. Like, that was the extent of my dream and I was devastated that it hadn’t happened.

Valerie
But, it’s a good thing that it did happen, because then the rest is history, right?

Candice
Yeah. Well, he actually wrote to me the other day and there was a picture and he said, “I just thought I would let you know that you’ve finally made it to the Isle of Man, and Never Never was there in the bookstore,” and I thought, “Wow, what an amazing journey.”

Valerie

Wonderful. Alright, well, you’re certainly one of our favourite authors and thank you for the update. We’ll certainly check back in with you when Crimson Lake comes out. But, in the meantime, everyone should go and buy Never Never because it is certainly a page-turner you can’t put down.

Thank you so much for your time today, Candice.

Candice

Thank you so much for having me.

 

 

Interview Transcript – Guiseppe Poli

 

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Giuseppe.

Giuseppe

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Valerie.

Valerie

I’m really excited to have a chat with you. We don’t actually often talk to illustrators. But, you and I met at the recent SCBWI Conference.

Giuseppe

Yes.

Valerie

And we were just chatting and you happened to show me some of your illustrations on your phone, initially. And I just loved them.

Giuseppe

Oh, thank you.

Valerie

They just really spoke to me. I just absolutely fell in love with them. I particularly fell in love with Oliver’s Grumbles, the illustrations for Oliver’s Grumbles. And the illustration of the gorgeous owl — oh my god.

Giuseppe

Oh yes. Hootie.

Valerie

Hootie the Cutie.

Giuseppe

Yes.

Valerie

Yeah. So first of all just tell me how many children’s picture books have you illustrated now?

Giuseppe

I’ve illustrated four. My fourth one is — well, will be released early next year in March.

Valerie

Fantastic. And the most recent one was Oliver’s Grumbles?

Giuseppe

Yes.

Valerie

Which is a gorgeous book. It’s about this little boy, his grumbles are kind of his attitude to life and his negativity. I absolutely adore these illustrations.

Giuseppe

Oh, thank you.

Valerie

Absolutely adore them.

And I think you have a really interesting story, because you’re a bit like Batman.

Giuseppe

Oh, OK.

Valerie

Because by day you do something else and by night you’re an illustrator. So, can you just tell our listeners a little bit more about that, because I think that it’s really interesting that you’re becoming a full time illustrator, but you’re not full time yet. But, this is such an interesting part of your journey, step in your journey.

So, what do you do during the day?

Giuseppe

I’m an IT guy. I lead a small team of SharePoint administrators.

Valerie

Right, so that’s very different from illustrating. You’re an IT guy. You deal with computers all day. Now, when did you sort of start illustrating? Just talk us through how you got into this. How did you go from IT to this?

Giuseppe

Well, when I was at school I used to… I was really good at art and I used to make games and do all sorts of stuff for kids and had a great time doing it. When it came to thinking about what I would do at university there wasn’t any animation courses and I was in love with senior art at high school because it got into the theory and I just wanted to make stuff. So, I did a Bachelor of IT, thinking that I could get into computer games.

This was pre Toy Story, so there wasn’t really anything out there. And I loved it, but I managed to get a foot in the door at digital effects company. And, so I was working on films, digital effects with films, which was awesome, except that when I went to work all of the cool artists went to one side of the office and I went to the other side.

Valerie

Because you were more IT-focused?  

Giuseppe

Yeah, sorry, because that was the job opening that I had. That was the foot in the door.

Valerie

OK, right.

Giuseppe

And I tried to get onto the other side of the wall for a long time and I couldn’t quite make it.

And one day that career led me to a six month stint on Lord of the Rings. And that was a dream come true.

Valerie

What did you do on Lord of the Rings?

Giuseppe

I was a render wrangler. So, me and a team took care of 4,000 CPUs, essentially — well, more than 4,000 computers that created the visual effects for the movie.

Valerie

Right.

Giuseppe

So, we had to babysit that overnight pretty much, near the end of the movie. But, I was surrounded by this amazing talent and I toured the workshop and I really just wanted to cross that divide from the tech guy to the art guy.

Valerie

Yeah.

Giuseppe

But, what I found was in that industry, it was a day gig and it was more of a lifestyle thing. I didn’t know how I was going to fit my creative stuff into it.

So, I left it and got a 9:00 to 5:00 job and that’s how I got into the IT industry, thinking that I would be able to do all of this cool art stuff at night. But, you know what it’s like with a 9:00 to 5:00 job. You get home and you’re tired. It became a struggle for about eight years, I think, of just trying to force myself to be creative.

Valerie

Yep.

Giuseppe

And I’ve been thinking about it recently. I think what happened was, I come from a migrant family and our life was about struggle. We lived OK, but the mentality was you worked hard and you just really pushed through.

And I realised I was doing that to my art, because I was looking at other artists and they were kind of like frolicking and succeeding. I’m like, “How can you be so nonchalant about it? How can you just kind of wander through and succeed?”

And I realised I’m running from something.

Valerie

Yes.

Giuseppe

Maybe I should run to something.

Valerie

Right. That is — yeah.

Giuseppe

Because whilst I was working in IT you learn all of this management stuff and planning and projects. And I was applying the logical rigour of a business to my art career. And I was really going slowly.

So, what I realised is if I wanted to get into children’s books illustrating I needed to finish some work. And I never really finished anything, so I had these plans of finishing work.

Valerie

As in completing — what do you mean by ‘finishing’ work?

Giuseppe

Completing it, yes. I’d always — my whole life I’d just take it to 80 percent completion and I was too scared to finish it, because at the moment it could be amazing.

Valerie

Right, so you would draw something to 80 percent completion?

Giuseppe

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d then go, “I’ll never finish it.” It was part of I didn’t want to finish it because then I will stuff it up or there was something else to draw. Essentially I finished some work, I started selling them in the markets, my wife was a huge supporter. Then realised I was just creating product and I was losing the heart of it.

So, I thought, “What industry?” And I realised children’s picture books.

Valerie

Yeah.

Giuseppe

So I thought, and this was like late at night, “What can I do in this? I can’t go to a course because I work full time, I can’t afford a course. I can do these things.” And I finally boiled it down to, “Well, I don’t want to give up on this. And the end product is a book. And what do I need to make a book? A piece of paper and a pencil. And I’ve got one of those. And there’s no one here telling me I can’t do it.” So, I thought learning from Pixar and failing often I thought, “Let’s just do it. Let’s just start making these things.”

The big break, I did a little stint with Philip Blythe at the Arts Academy, which was awesome. But, it was like I’d go there for two hours in a week. And I ended up graduating there as one of the leading graduates on the second year. And I was like kind of amazed that I could do this work in two hours a week, but I think when you have no time you’re forced to focus.

So, my big break came when I attended a children’s book workshop with Dr. Virginia Lowe and Peter Canavas and I brought my books to that workshop. I was going to go there —

Valerie

You brought your artwork?

Giuseppe

Yeah, my artwork and my dummies, my picture book dummies that I had made. And, I went there to see if there was any more information. And I remember asking Peter at the end of it, I said, “Peter, I’ve got these books and I’ve got this portfolio… what do I do? Do I just keep working on these books? Or do I keep working on the portfolio?” And he said, “Look, I can’t promise you anything, but you know you’ve got some good stuff here and I’ll send some of your pictures to my publisher.”

And I was super thankful, Val. I didn’t want to push my way in. I was like, “Thank you so much.” And then about six months later I was, I had a meeting at work and it was for a job I applied for and I didn’t get it. And it was a job I really wanted and I remember just walking out going, “Oh man… this is…

Valerie

An IT job?

Giuseppe

Yeah, an IT job, finally an IT job that I would be interested in, like really interested in. And I didn’t get it.

And I was flipping through my phone trying to distract myself. And there was an email from Sophia at New Frontier saying, “Hi Giuseppe, I saw a picture of an owl on your Facebook page that I really loved,” one of the first pictures that I had finished.

You kind of need those things, right?

You know, “Do you have some time to illustrate a book?” And it wasn’t like I had gone to the newsagent and bought a golden lottery ticket or a scratcher ticket, it was like I found one. It was… do you know what I mean? I was like, “Oh my god, I’m in!” You know?

Valerie

Now was she the publisher that —

Giuseppe

Did Hootie the Cutie

Valerie

No, but was she the publisher that the gentleman said he was going to —

Giuseppe

Yes.

Valerie

Yeah, OK.

Giuseppe

Yeah. So there was that personal connection. I called up Peter and I was like, “Aaahh!”

Valerie

Right.

Giuseppe

And then I guess then it was like, “OK, here’s my foot in the door. I’m going to make Hootie the Cutie amazing.”

Valerie

Yes.

Giuseppe

“This is my business card.”

Valerie

Yes, and Hootie the Cutie is adorable. I actually just want Hootie.  

Giuseppe

Yeah, yeah. I tell you what, you know when you’ve made it when a kid at school dresses up as Hootie for book…

Valerie

Oh my god.

Giuseppe

I was like, “That’s gold.”

Valerie

That is adorable.  

So, that was your break. Now, you’ve done four books since, so you’ve still got your day job and you do this when?

Giuseppe
At night. Just kind of push through it and then usually…

Valerie
But, is it tiring or is energising?

Giuseppe

That’s a really good question. It is tiring before I start and about fifteen minutes into it it’s tiring. And then you kind of get hooked and stay doing it for hours.

Valerie

Wow. OK.

Giuseppe

That start, the buildup, you know?

Valerie

Yes.

Giuseppe

Once I’ve got stuff initiated and once I do that then I’m into a rhythm, I guess because you’re chasing something and then you’re creating art. It’s a big process, but there’s always that little next step. I think — my journey for my books and the way I create art is a bit like how Oliver lives. There’s so many grumbles when I create art. There’s so many times where it’s like, “This is… I can’t do this job, this is just too hard. I’m not delivering, I’m not…” you know? It’s so much emotion — it’s such an emotional thing.

Valerie

Yeah.

Giuseppe

But, forget about the technical side, and you get to a point where you’re like, “OK, I can’t fix this picture, but can I fix that part? No. Can I fix that little part? Can I fix his face? Yeah, OK. I can fix his face.” And that’s how I always get back into my picture.

And often as soon as I start that process I’m 80 percent of the way to completion of the picture the picture is done, you know, in a couple of hours after that. And it’s amazing.

And I’m like… and I can’t see it. And then it’s just that little bit of love of yourself and giving yourself the ability to not be perfect and just try something really small and kind of claw your way back.

Valerie

Now when you are given a manuscript, because you’re given the words and it’s then up to you to come up with some amazing illustrations for every single page in the book.  

Giuseppe

Yeah.

Valerie

Presumably you’re given the manuscript in, like, a Word document or something?

Giuseppe

Yes, yes. It looks pretty unattractive.

Valerie
Exactly, so they’re just like 500 words on a page.

Giuseppe

Yep, yep.

Valerie

What do you then do? What’s the process to create this magical thing that I’m holding in my hand, for example, Oliver’s Grumbles? Because, seriously, it is magical. When you put the words and the illustrations together it’s amazing. So, what do you do, because you have to come up with such different things for every page because you can’t have the same thing, right? For the readers to stay engaged.

Giuseppe

Yeah.

Valerie

What’s the process?

Giuseppe

Well, for me, the number one thing is the heart of the story. And, it takes a while for me to get that, but I don’t really start until I find… because when I find the heart of the story, when I find the heart of the story then I can find the emotional journey that the reader is going to go on, you know? It happened at the beginning and then ‘oh no,’ then ‘oh no,’ and what do I want these pictures to… what sort of feeling do I want to create in my audience? And what sort of journey do I want to take them on?

Valerie

But how do you find that heart? Do you just think about it or go for a walk? What do you actually do to find that heart?

Giuseppe

OK, yeah. What do I do? Well, like I said with Oliver, right? When I read it there was a little boy and he’s angry, he’s angry and I’m reading this text and going, “I don’t think I can illustrate a book about a kid who’s angry for like 75 percent of it.” Like, that’s not — you know? “I can’t do that.”

And I just tried, and I’d go, “No, no, that’s not right. What about this?” And then eventually I kind of stumbled across, “OK, it’s not him that’s necessarily angry, it’s all of these things around him.” And it’s an iterative process, I guess. You just try, keep trying. And I think about the story arc. I think about what he’s got to — it’s interesting if he goes for a character change or what’s he like at the beginning? What’s he like at the end?

And I think you just kind of pick it at it bits and pieces, and eventually… sometimes you don’t get that right.

I remember doing the storyboard thinking, “Yeah, this is good. I’ve got it.” And I sent it for a review and in discussion I heard, they’re flipping the page and going, “Yeah, that’s great. Oh, I love that. Love that spread. Yeah, love that spread.” They’re walking through the book, “Love it, love it, love it. Oh…” next spread… “Oh…” next spread, “Oh… mmm…” next spread, “No. No, that’s not what we were thinking.” Next spread…

Valerie

Oh, OK.

Giuseppe

“Oh yeah, OK. Good.” And I’m like, “Ugh.” It’s such a… you’ve got to be careful not to make it an ego trip. And I don’t see it as that, it’s a team effort. So, I’m like, “OK, I’ve missed something here.”

Valerie

Yeah, right.

Giuseppe
And you know what solves it for me a lot of the times, it’s like washing dishes. I step away from the computer at like, I don’t know, ten o’clock at night after a conversation and I’m like, “I can’t… I can’t solve it right now.” I go wash some dishes and then like something happens and my mind is off it and bang. It’s, “OK, now I know what they mean.” And I get back on Messenger and I’m like, “Do you mean blah, blah, blah?” And they went, “Yes!” And I’m like, “Awesome.” And so, you know, bang, fixed it.

And apart from, like, that’s the story arc of it, that’s the feeling of it. The design of the characters, you know, you make some decisions. These grumbles needed to be like emotion. And so the number one thing for the grumbles were facial expression and prose and colour. And I didn’t want to dress them up or do them, because they’re amorphous. They don’t even keep count, they kind of grow. But, they had to be pure emotion, like the expression and everything. So, that’s what kind of designed them.

Valerie

So clever because you are illustrating emotion, but the way it’s done is absolutely adorable and clever.  

Once you get to the heart of the story do you then do sort of spread by spread and try and think, “Well, what kind of scene do I want to depict here,” or do you do it in a linear fashion? Or do you do it in — jump around? How does it work?

Giuseppe

Yeah, you jump around. So, they’ll be some images or some scenes or some spreads, like you divide the book up into the spreads. And, then you think about, you kind of start with what you’ve got and what you don’t want. So, there will be some scenes where this has to be a full page spread and it really needs to be this kind of composition.

Or… I was kind of caught up, because in Oliver the big story arc for him happens in one spread, but it happens over a long period of time. So, I needed to be able to show this period of time, but also all of the emotions that he goes through. It’s almost like a mini book in a book. And just trying to compositionally show that took a long time, but essentially you find the big beats of the story and usually they’re the full page spreads.

And then because you want some variety in the book you will spatter in some spot illustrations or a half-page illustration, but it will always be, “What’s the build up here?” So you may build up from a few spots to a half page to a big moment, like the moment when he wakes up angry, that’s a big moment, so that’s a full page spread.

And I kind of — some of those big pages I had straight away and some of those other pages you just work on and work on and they take a while.

Valerie

What’s the most challenging thing about illustrating a picture book?  

Giuseppe

It’s creating an experience in a child and leaving space. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. It’s not about… you don’t want to draw what the words say.

Valerie

Yep, yep, that’s so right.

Giuseppe

Yeah. You want to add something more to it. And that’s the most challenging part, yeah. Because kids don’t need things fully rendered, you know? Like some of the most simplest books are the most amazing books. And look at that from an art person or from someone who could draw, you’re like, “Is that all it takes?” You know? “Like, a solid nikko line and a splash of colour, is that all it takes?” And sometimes it does. So, that’s the challenge you get. “How do I construct something that in its simplest form conveys the most meaning and the most pacing?” You know, because it’s that page-turner, to get the most out of that.

Valerie
What’s the grand master plan now for your illustration career?

Giuseppe

Grand master plan? Well, Bruce Wayne is tired of being Bruce Wayne. He wants to be Batman all the time.

Yeah, I mean to go back into my bat cave and work on…

My master plan is to get better at making story, because I think to get a book out there and to make it really successive, it’s a team effort.

Valerie

Yeah.

Giuseppe

I’m not a marketing person. I’m not a publisher. I’m not in there, and it would take me a lifetime to get good at all of those things. And I’ve only got one.

 

Yeah, so my focus is to focus on story. So, now I’m trying to construct picture books as quickly and as often as I can and get feedback on it, because that’s number one. Apart from your craft, it’s the feedback.

Valerie

Yep.

Giuseppe

So, I need to build these things quickly and get comfortable with doing it, understanding the pacing and the pages and show them to kids and get feedback.

Valerie

And so you’re moving into writing your own picture books, are you?

Giuseppe

Yes, sorry, yes.

Valerie

Great, because so far you’ve illustrated them, but have not written them. But, now you’re moving into writing and illustrating?

Giuseppe

Yes, yes.

Valerie

Very, very exciting. Well, look I have no doubt that we’re going to see much more from Batman in the months and years to come. And I’m just so excited to watch the next step in your journey.  

Thank you so much.

Now where do people find you online in case they want to see some of your stuff.

Giuseppe

Yeah, so you can go to my website www.guiseppepoli.com

If that’s too long just do a Google search for ‘Poli Artist.’

Valerie

Fantastic.

Giuseppe

I’m at the top and then you can find all of my other channels of communication.

Valerie
Wonderful. And thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Giuseppe.

Giuseppe

Thank you, Valerie. I hope it helps someone out there, some other Batperson.

 


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