Children’s book author Danny Parker (also one of our fabulous AWC presenters) recently made the shortlist of the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards 2016 as well as last month’s Australian Book Industry Awards shortlist – for his picture book, titled Perfect. With the book set to appear on many other lists, both long and short, we thought we’d find out a little more about this Perfect man…
Hi Danny, can you tell us what Perfect is about?
“Perfect is a ‘day in the life' sort of story. We see three children having a perfect – almost nostalgically perfect day. They draw, they cook, they walk, they play, they share. It really is very, very simple. And I hope it is something of a throwback to endless summer days. No TV, no screens at all. Freya Blackwood has created three beautiful characters and shows them roaming through a series of moments – it sort of captures a great day.”
Sounds blissful. So how did the idea for Perfect form? Was there a lightbulb moment or did it evolve?
“This was a lightbulb moment for sure! I was at home with my daughter; we had the day ahead of us and I asked her what she would like to do. Her response was simply: ‘Oh Dad, I just need a crayon and somewhere to scribble’. That phrase ‘A crayon and somewhere to scribble’ just stood up in front of me. It had such a rhythm, such a great shape. I started to create other phrases that followed the same pattern, and before long they were becoming events that had an order. Soon they began to rhyme – and the story was becoming poetic. It was as if the words were sort of forming in front of me and I was just catching them and writing them down. Very different for me, often I start with a big idea then try to craft it down, bring it down to essentials – but for Perfect it just came out fully formed. I remember being actually a little embarrassed sending it to my publisher Margrete Lamond, as it had been so obvious!”
How did it feel to be shortlisted in the 2016 ABIA and CBCA?
“A double joy! To be in such wonderful company – sharing a shortlist with such terrific Australian writers and illustrators. Shortlisted for both the ABIA and the CBCA – really wonderfully exciting. These bodies do so much for writing, for keeping books in the hands of children. Very humbling. And delighted of course for Freya Blackwood. This really is her vision, her beauty, her joy.”
What's next for you? What are you working on?
“Lots going on for me at the moment. I have just received the advance copy of a new picture book – Crusts with Matt Ottley as illustrator. It's about a boy Jacob, who doesn't eat his crusts…he saves them. He alone knows of their power! It's a funny, intergalactic beautiful story about saving the world.”
Sounds cool! Got anything else lying around?
“On my desk are the final proofs for my next picture book with Freya Blackwood – Molly and Mae. A book about friendship… it is breathtaking. When you get the illustrations through it's just incredible. Picture books are such a shared experience, collaboration at every level. It's a joy.”
Can’t wait. Surely nothing else on your plate?
“I'm also working on two new stories for Lola's Toybox – a series for young readers. These will be books seven and eight. Book six is almost ready for print.”
Phew! Busy boy. So what's your advice for aspiring writers who hope to write picture books?
“Well, keep writing I suppose. Sounds like a cliche I know – I have been really lucky, but I write a lot – and often. (Lots of which will never see the light of day, I know. Though I always start out thinking that it will.) Sometimes finding time is really hard – especially if you're not lucky enough to have plenty to spare.”
“Probably the best advice I've had was to create a space where you can be creative! Try to get some ‘writing’ space. I have a study at the moment – but it has been a landing storeroom and a spare bedroom in the past. When you have the space, you need to spend time in it.”
“I also try to write the ideas freely rather than think too much about shape or structure in the initial stages – if the idea seems to come and doesn't fall apart as I write, I feel it will be strong enough to withstand some structural surgery later.”