Typography and hand-lettered type are passions for you. He elaborates on his passion for typography and hand-lettered type: ‘Type was always a mysterious thing to me and I love how it has meaning and how the illustration has meaning and the two can be on the same page and together say something new. Visually, it is such an integral part of a composition, so the selected typeface has to feel right. A serifed typeface fits with my drawing somehow. The hand-lettering is really part of the drawing and is a kind of bridge between the set type and the drawing. I also like to look beyond the meaning of the letters and words, and just see them as shapes to use in the composition.’

Wry humour is another aspect of David’s work – when the narrator is looking for help to remove the bug, she turns in desperation to the family dog but concludes that: ‘O’Reilly’s no help because O’Reilly wouldn’t hurt a fly.’ The ridiculously elongated arm of the narrator is a visual joke; his books are full of delicious little asides like this.

adults’ lives were when I was growing up: at home, at school, in society. We inhabited different worlds, and that’s a great basis for storytelling for children. One can exaggerate it, or blend it. I love the melodrama of juvenile struggle, but in a good way. To the adult, it’s something the child will get over but to the child experiencing it, it can be the end of the world. I guess we all did struggle.’

David uses a variety of mediums and techniques in his distinctive drawings and collages; here two pages contain a series of small images which give a filmic or comic quality to the action, and the final image contains a stark silhouette framed in a window. He says: ‘This book is very busy and scratchy and full of messy line drawing. I wanted the feel of outdoors in a garden in summer, when it’s holiday time, and I wanted to draw it all. I was thinking about how it was playing outside, around the house. The indoor/outdoor aspect was a theme, a metaphor for knowing someone and not knowing them.

Melody the next door neighbour is the fulcrum of this book. The girl’s flashback to her relationship with this new friend influences her reaction to the bug and so I inserted two strip-like pages where she recounts what happened with Melody on their way to becoming friends. It’s a contemplative story and the reader needs to think a little too.

My work is very drawing-based, nothing more than that. It’s figurative and I love to draw people and things. I like working on paper and in two dimensions, but with drawing I like adding tension with some collage, usually with a found image or something cut from kraftpaper or newspaper or something. Composition is all important. I might start with cutting out a cat from a piece of paper and working a picture up around that piece of paper. Or a drawing might have a piece of paper glued down on it because I like its shape and want to use it. I have pieces of paper I like pinned on the wall waiting to make an entrance.’

What was the inspiration for this book? ‘When I was little I was in the garden and a Christmas beetle flew on to the front of my shirt and clung on. I tried to brush it away but it stuck on there and flapped its wings to try to deter me. I could feel its claws scratching me. I was alone in the back yard and felt like I was helpless. But really, it must have been more terrified than me considering I was 100 times its size.’

What do you plan to work on next? ‘I’m working on a book about a shoe shop which is all about making decisions. I’m really enjoying drawing lots of shoes. It’s surprising how many styles you can imagine when you put your mind to it. And I’m designing a series of longer fiction books for HarperCollins and have been writing some stories for boys set in the Wild West but without horses.’

David’s signature style is always design-driven and his unique aesthetic is appealing to old and young alike. But the writer of words as well as images has always been lurking there in his pictures, and in these six books he confirms his considerable dual talents: ‘When I’m writing a picture book there’s a fight between what comes first: pictures or words. I’ll sketch a quick storyboard to see the visual narrative which in turn inspires the words, but then I’ll write something that will make me think of a way to illustrate it. So it’s back and forth like that. But it really all stems from an idea or a situation I find interesting and I can’t tell you where that comes from because I don’t know.’

See David’s website: for a more extensive interview, and for a link to the book trailer.

Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright is deputy- chair of the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance and has published widely on children’s and YA literature.

Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017 15

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