The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Joel Stewart

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Joel Stewart

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Summary: Bookbag has really enjoyed Joel Stewart's recent work, including Dexter Bexley And The Big Blue Beastie On The Road and Have You Ever Seen A Sneep? We were delighted when he agreed to answer some of our questions.
Date: 9 June 2010
Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath

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Bookbag has really enjoyed Joel Stewart's recent work, including Dexter Bexley And The Big Blue Beastie On The Road and Have You Ever Seen A Sneep? We were delighted when he agreed to answer some of our questions.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Joel Stewart: That is a hard one! It's probably not something I do too often, since whenever I meet people who've read my books or who review them, they are a total surprise to me! I guess I'd like to imagine them laughing a lot, and then drawing afterwards (both the adults and the children).

  • BB: The Big Blue Beastie is quite a creation, and follows in a fine tradition of monsters in children's books. Was he inspired by anything in particular?

JS: Actually I think his name came first... then I sketched and sketched until a version looked right. I think that the funny top he wears in the first book was vaguely inspired by Winnie the Pooh, just the way it rides up so high and makes his arms slump forwards. I liked the idea that I could give a properly scary Beast some of the friendly qualities of a cuddly bear. Then he needed a hat. In the first book his hat is a little bit like something the singer Tom Waits would wear, and that's because the Beast's jawline reminded me of him, and also because he is a similar mixture of scary and friendly. In the second book he has a three cornered hat and a tartan waistcoat. The tartan waistcoat is a bit mismatched because those are English bagpipes he's playing, but I don't think Big Blue Beasties (or many other people) care about that sort of thing.

  • BB: Did writing a sequel bring with it any particular challenges?

JS: Not once I had decided to keep Dexter Bexley and the Beast as a pair, which mainly came from it seeming a bit awful to split them up, having ended the first book on their friendship. As a pair they can go anywhere and do anything. I can imagine all sorts of other stories for them without too much trouble, though I'd like to focus a little more on how dangerous Beastie still remains.

  • BB: Do you prefer working as an illustrator in collaboration with an author, or do you prefer working alone as author and illustrator?

JS: Umm... what it really depends on is the story. If I've written my own story and it is good, then hooray! And the same applies if someone else has written it. All the illustration work gets done pretty much on its own either way. I don't know, I do like beginning with drawing rather than writing for my own stories, but that doesn't always work out. It doesn't always work out the other way around either. Recently, for television, I have been working with two other writers, who also draw a lot, and that has been amazing. With the right people you can come up with stories that are greater than anything you could do individually. But then again I like the private nature of making your own story exactly the way you want it. I'd like to carry on doing it in all these different ways please...

  • BB: Is it hard for children's illustrators and authors to get the same recognition as adult authors?

JS: I'm not sure. It certainly is hard for illustrators who aren't writers at all to get recognition, which is a shame in a way. Reviews of my books didn't mention my personal input much at all until I started writing them as well as drawing them, even though with picture books the pictures have an equal, sometimes greater, role in the feel and the telling of the story.

  • BB: If you could click your fingers and change one thing about children's literature, what would it be?

JS: More (good) black and white illustrations in fiction for all ages!

  • BB: Who inspired you to become an author and illustrator?

JS: Too many to mention, but probably really my late grandfather Ray Evans. He was a painter and illustrator and also published several books about the subject, and about another subject close to my heart, that of sketching. It meant that I knew that it could be done, that you could live perfectly well, for a long time, doing that for a job. In recent years I noticed that my drawing shares more in common with his than with any of the people I've consciously tried to emulate, and I find something reassuring about that.

  • BB: Which three books should every child read?

JS: Every child? I don't think they necessarily all need to read the same books! I still recommend Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as one of the greatest picture books of all time, and fortunately there still aren't too many kids who go without that one. I also strongly recommend The Moomins by Tove Jansson, in all its forms but especially the novels.

  • BB: What are you reading right now? How are you finding it so far?

JS: Let's see, the pile beside my bed includes, oh dear, that list is too long. Highlights would be books by Sarah Waters and Michael Chabon, and then there is a stack of comics and biographies including a big book about comic artist Jack Kirby. Also a lot of poetry. I tend to read books in bits and pieces, and in piles...

  • BB: What's next for Joel Stewart?

JS: Weeeell... I'm writing, directing, and designing an animated children's TV series at the moment. It's taking all my time (and has done mostly for almost the last two years) and I still have twenty-six episodes to come up with (in collaboration with the other writers). Some things about it are still a bit secret, so I'd better be a little hush hush, but it's extremely exciting. I very much wanted to make animation when I was younger and this is an incredible opportunity. It's harder work than I've ever done before in my life however and I'm missing some of the quiet studio time, and the control, of making my own books and I'm sure that is what I'll return to most of all.

  • BB: Ooh, fantastic! Good luck with it. Thanks a lot, Joel!

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