The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Richard Byrne

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Richard Byrne

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Summary: This Book Belongs To Aye-Aye by Richard Byrne is quirky and amusing tale of Miss Deer's Academy For Aspiring Picture-Book Animals. With its smart plot, intriguing mystery, useful lessons and zingy illustrations, there's plenty to enjoy. We leapt at the chance to interview Richard Byrne.
Date: 29 June 2011
Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath

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This Book Belongs To Aye-Aye by Richard Byrne is quirky and amusing tale of Miss Deer's Academy For Aspiring Picture-Book Animals. With its smart plot, intriguing mystery, useful lessons and zingy illustrations, there's plenty to enjoy. We leapt at the chance to interview Richard Byrne.

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

Richard Byrne: I imagine a very similar scene to the one in the book - lots of young children sat on bean bags gathered around the teacher, laughing hysterically at the funny bits, booing the naughty rabbits and cheering when Aye-Aye wins the day (unless they've been told to listen quietly with arms crossed). I also like to think that the adults also find something that tickles them along the way.

  • BB: What made you choose an aye-aye as the central character over any other creature?

RB: I was doodling character ideas in my sketchbook when it occurred to me that they were all cute fluffy creatures like rabbits, mice and squirrels. I began to wonder if an animal who isn't known for being particularly endearing didn't deserve to be a hero in a picture book. After a short wander around the internet I came across a photo of a solitary little creature from Madagascar who had a funny stare, lovely big ears, strange spindly fingers and a great name... the aye-aye. He was perfect. And so Aye-Aye's story began.

  • BB: The idea of a book within a book always appeals to adults, but was there ever a concern that kids might not get it?

RB: Not really. I did test drive the idea at the roughs stage with children of various shapes and sizes and even the younger ones seemed to understand it was a picture book about a picture book creature becoming a picture book hero in his own picture book - what's difficult about that?

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

RB: I work at home in my studio (nee dining room). The dining table has gone to a better home and been replaced with lots of studio stuff (books, computer, guitars, Woodstock poster) and is conveniently next to the kitchen for easy access to coffee and biscuits. My stories often begin with a picture rather than words. I'll sit down with my sketchbooks and doodle ideas for characters until something or someone sparks an idea for a story. I sketch as I write so the story and the pictures grow together.

  • BB: Which illustrators and artists particularly inspire you?

RB: I've always loved that great double act Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake - a match made in publishing heaven. Charles Schulz and his Peanuts characters have also been a big inspiration to me. His humour, drawing skills and ability to portray a character's personality and story in so few frames still amaze me. Amongst the plethora of wonderfully talented illustrators I particularly like Oliver Jeffers, Emily Gravett, Sarah Dyer, Tony Ross and Ralph Steadman. I also love nothing better than a day out at a contemporary art gallery looking at works by modern(ish) artists including Rothko, Bacon, Schiele, Hockney, Giacometti and Peter Blake for inspiration.

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

RB: I certainly wish that the ongoing implementation of library closures would stop.

  • BB: What were your three favourite books as a child?

RB: The Cat in the Hat books by Dr Seuss, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and the comic 2000 AD (I know it's not strictly a book, but boys will be boys).

  • BB: What are you reading now and how are you finding it?

RB: After moving back down to the south coast after 20 years in land locked West Yorkshire I'm currently learning to sail so I'm actually reading Complete Sailing Manual published by Dorling Kindersley most of the time. I'm stuck on the 'learning to tie knots' chapter and still finding tangling knots a lot easier.

When I'm not trying to learn my port from my starboard, I'm currently reading Life by Keith Richards and One Day by David Nicholls. The first appealed to my frustrated rock star alter ego and the other was given to me by my son's school teacher as part of World Book Night and despite not being the sort of book I'd normally pick up enjoying enormously - so thank you Mrs T.

  • BB: What's next for Richard Byrne?

RB: I've recently finished my next book with OUP, The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur, which is about a really, really, really big dinosaur and is due to be published next spring. My next is still a doodle in my sketchbook but I can tell you it's going to be really, really, really...

  • BB: Haha. We can't wait to see the new books. Thank you very much, Richard!

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