Philip Bunting is not only a great author but also a fantastic illustrator. In fact, I have 4 of his prints hanging in my house all purchased from his website. The first book we read of his was Mopoke. A ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, our smallest and most common species of owl. They are known for a love of peace and quiet, and their eponymous “mo-poke” call. The pictures in Mopoke are great, as is the story but what I loved most of all is that my boys who could not read at the time, would ‘read’ it to us. Some of the words are repeated on each page so they can remember it and if not, the picture will tell them.
When I saw Kookaburras Love To Laugh in a book shop window I raced in to read it. I had my 6 year old with me and we roared with laughter. His wife Laura co-wrote this book, what a talented couple they make.
Philip and his lovely family have checked out of the Sydney rate race now and reside in the Noosa Hinterland. Perfect.
How do you find inspiration for your books?
Our whole life, world and universe is more unimaginably marvelous than we can ever suppose. We still know so little about why we’re here. Fundamentally, that sense of wonder is what inspires me to create books… I make books as a way to help leave the Earth in slightly better shape than it was when I got here.
(Alright, that might sound a bit lofty… but it’s true!)
You write and illustrate your books – do you get more joy out of one over the other?
For me the most true joy comes from creating a piece of work that finds absolute harmony between the words and illustrations, to a point that one can’t be seen as distinct from the other. There’s always a moment when I finally manage to get the idea, storyline, language, illustrations, design, typeface, sequencing … all pulling in the same direction … that moment is where I find the most joy.
Is there a lot of yourself and your own story in your books?
Absolutely! I think all art is inherently autobiographical. Most people (myself included!) tend to see the world as we are, not necessarily as it is. So yes, a lot of my own perspectives, biases and hang-ups end up manifesting in my work.
For example, Mopoke, is a stern-faced owl who simply wants a bit of peace and quiet, but the world can’t leave him alone. This is my life. Sandcastle is about the idea that we’re all made from particles that have been around since the beginning of time, and that those same particles will go on to lead many future existences … a concept which always blows my mind (Rae, the name of the boy in the book, was also my granddad’s name). And my wife Laura’s latest book – Kookaburras Love to Laugh – tells the tale of a grumpy kookaburra who doesn’t want to join in with the daft antics of his flock. A thinly-veiled bio piece, if ever I saw one!
How long does it take to create a book?
It really depends on the book, the story, and medium… but they can take as little as a few days, or up to a few months. My stories and ideas tend to come together in minutes, but of course those few moments of inspiration draw from 35+ years of nosing around the planet.
Is there any advice you can offer someone looking to get a book idea published?
My little boy Leo (5) has a favorite phrase he uses when I’m struggling to do something for him (typically finding ice creams in the freezer, or falling asleep reading books), which is “try harder!”. This is the best advice. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, but as long as you give it your very best, try your hardest to find solutions to the problems you’re facing, there’s usually a way through it.
Does where you live inspire your books?
Yes, I think we are so, so lucky to live in this part of the world. Australia has to be one of the most unique, inspiring, wild and wonderful places to live. Laura and I live up in the hinterland behind Noosa. We’re surrounded by kookaburras, mopokes, kingfishers, sharks (in the sea, obvs), koalas and the occasional red-crested bogan (haha). Australia’s wildlife, flora and geography are just magic, to me. I reckon I could create a lifetime’s worth of books about the stuff that happens in our back yard.
What kind of space do you work in?
At the moment, I work from a converted spare room down one end of our house. I had nice big French doors installed, which open up into our garden. It’s almost like working outdoors*.
*In another life I think I’d be a park ranger.
Do you have a favourite book? One of yours and another author.
Sandcastle is the book I’m most proud of, so far. I tried to capture the biggest idea in the simplest terms possible… You, me, this screen, your breakfast… we’re all made from tiny particles, stuff that has been around since the beginning of time. We’re only borrowing these particles from the enormous universe that made them. Once we’re done with them, the bits that make us will go on to lead many new existences on Earth, and beyond. Sandcastle is a book about that.
And my favorite picture book maker is Carson Ellis. She and her work are a genuine force for good. Her 2016 book Du Iz Tak is just magic.
Did your parents encourage your creativity? Did you do art courses growing up for instance.
They did! I was a pretty obsessive dinosaur enthusiast as a kid, and spent much of my childhood drawing and creating little books and stories about them. My folks allowed me the freedom to pursue the arts (through school and ultimately university), rather than push me into areas of less interest to me, for which I’m very grateful.
I can’t remember doing any courses, I don’t think I needed the encouragement. However, I still have vivid memories of mandatory life drawing classes in secondary school… where the model was an old man (80+), playing golf, various poses … fully starkers [shudder]. It was all just bearable until he adopted the ‘picking up the tee’ pose, right in front of me. Shudder, shudder, shudder.
Tell us about your family.
Laura and I have three children. Leo (5), Florence (3) and Arthur (4 months). They’re still largely into picture books, with a few younger chapter books thrown in. At just-5, Leo also loves informational books about sharks and all things marine life. Florence is similarly obsessed with anything on the subject of cats. We’re also reading a bunch of good Dreamtime stories, which are always fantastic.
A few of my favorite books at the moment are: The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli; The Grotlyn by Benji Davies; The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey; and anything from Oliver Jeffers, Carson Ellis, Christian Robinson, Mac Barnett, Jory John, or Kes Gray and Jim Field. There’s probably a bit too much of a trans-Atlantic bias happening in there, sorry!
How old were your children when you started to read to them?
Laura read to them all in-utero, and then we’ve read to them every day since birth. Book time is something much more than a routine for me, it is the part of the day that I feel most deeply connected to my children, and I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
Far from a passive, time-passing activity, book time is a platform for chatter, play, expression, silliness, stillness, learning, wonder, and bloody good fun.
For more on Philip Bunting (and his wife’s books) check these links.