We absolutely love Australian illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett’s debut picture book, Grandma Z! It’s just been published and we’re thrilled to have interviewed Daniel for our blog.
Grandma Z comes to visit and makes Albert’s birthday extra special and adventurous. I think we all need a bit of Grandma Z in our life. “Climbing enchanted rock, hunting for Dew of the Sea, visiting the King and Queen of Osternovia”… Yes please! We couldn’t wait to ask Daniel if she was based on one of his own grandmothers!
Not only is it a great read but illustrations from Grandma Z were chosen from thousands of international entries for the prestigious Society of Illustrator’s Book exhibition which was held in New York in February 2018. Grandma Z was also selected for Ilustrarte (correct spelling!) 2016—Biennale of Children’s Book Illustration.
We hope you enjoy the interview!
How do you find inspiration for your books?
Mostly from the people around me. There are so many weird and wonderful characters and stories that come into our lives that will often inspire an idea.
You write and illustrate your books – do you get more joy out of one over the other?
I love both. I illustrate for a living so I spend a lot more time doing that and the joy is a bit more immediate with that work, but writing is something that I’ve always loved doing since I was young so getting to work on that again has been a lot of fun.
Is there a lot of yourself and your own story in your books? (Is Grandma Z real???)
I see a lot of myself in Albert (from Grandma Z) and most of the adventures he has with Grandma Z are things I have done myself, or would love to do. Grandma Z does embody a lot of great qualities from my own grandmothers. She’s not my grandmother but she says of course, she is real! She is currently trekking in Nepal and sends her regards.
How long does it take to create a book?
Longer than you think! It took me 18 months to finish Grandma Z – about 12 months to write and a very busy 6 months to finish and hand in the art. I’m told that this was quite fast for a book – but also a bit stressful so I’ll be taking a little more time with my next books. 2 years is a good timeframe.
Is there any advice you can offer someone looking to get a book idea published?
The story is key, so work on having a good idea with a solid narrative arc. If you can join some kind of writing critique group or find an editor who can help get your manuscript into shape, that will definitely help you out. Some of the publishers (such as Scribble/Scribe) will also take submissions so do some research on who does and their process. An editor might be able to help you with this too. But don’t worry so much about the art, that will come later once you have a publisher on board. Write first!
Does where you live inspire your books?
In a way, yes. I’ve just moved out of Sydney and that probably inspired me because it’s such a busy, high-pressure place to live. Books are an escape and can take me to places that I find hard to go to when you live somewhere like that, which is probably why Grandma Z and Albert spend so much time outdoors. I’m currently in transit, moving to the Huon Valley in Tasmania, which is the complete opposite of Sydney. Quiet and rugged natural beauty, lots of fresh air and space. It will be interesting to see how that change of environment inspires and affects my books.
What kind of space do you work in?
I usually work from a home studio, a desk in a quiet room or corner where I can be with my music and my thoughts. Until recently I also had a shared studio in Sydney with my friend Kate Banazi, who is a terrific print-maker and illustrator. That space was great – full of music, paper and printing and it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off.
Do you have a favourite book? One of yours and one by another author…
I have so many. My book is easy, Grandma Z is an only child (so far). I’ll give you two – my favourite picture book is Where the Wild Things Are and my other favourite book is Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
Did your parents encourage your creativity? Did you do art courses growing up, for instance?
Yes, they definitely encouraged me to appreciate culture and creative things. My siblings and I played instruments. At school I did art, played in bands and joined extra creative-writing groups. My mother did Chinese ink painting and lots of sewing. So in some shape or form, creativity was always around me.
Do you have children? If yes, what kind of books do you like to read to your own children? Or what do they like to read?
Not yet! Though if and when I do, they will be hearing a LOT of Roald Dahl.
How old do you think your children will be when you start reading to them?
I will be reading to them as soon as I can. I want them to learn a love of stories as early as possible.
Thank you so much, Daniel!
Pages from Grandma Z
Daniel Gray-Barnett is based in Sydney, and his illustrations have been commissioned by clients such as The New York Times, Sydney Opera House, The Boston Globe, Warner Music and The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Self-taught, he studied Medical Science at the University of Sydney before swapping his microscope for pencils when he realised illustration had a much lower patient mortality rate. He has three grandmothers and Grandma Z is his first book. For more, head to his website.