Two Interviews: Paula Green and Myles Lawford talk about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems
The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, by Paula Green and Myles Lawford, was voted for by children and young people from all over New Zealand to be a finalist on the children’s choice list in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Paula Green has worked closely with children in creating her poetry, and it is no wonder that this collection is on the list. Reviewer Tim Gruar says, on the Booksellers NZ blog, ‘There’s a nice collaboration going between author Paula Green and illustrator Myles Lawford in this quirky little collection of onomatopoeic and physical verse.’
This post is part of a blog tour that Booksellers are running for the Children’s Choice finalist list for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Booksellers have given me a copy of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems to give away – to enter, just leave a comment below!
We put questions to Paula and Myles about how The Letterbox Cat came about. Paula is first up:
1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to put together this collection in particular?
I have been collecting picture poems in notebooks for years and I finally decided it was time to put them in a book. I love using words to make a picture on the page and then to make sure those words sound good. All the other poems arrived by surprise. It might be seeing the crazy way our dog swims or where our cat sleeps. Or the way the sky looks. I just think: that’s a poem! I love using real life and real things in poems as that can make a poem sizzle, but like Margaret Mahy, I also love the power of imagination. Most of all I aim to make a collection that sounds good.
2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
Once Scholastic agreed to publish the book (I was over the moon! Not many children’s poetry books get published in NZ sadly), then they took over. For me there were no big challenges (some of my books have had tyrannosaurus challenges!), it was just cupcake pleasure. When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried! When I saw Scholastic had given the book a Dr-Seussy feel I jumped with joy on the spot.
3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
When I write poems for children, I want the poems to sound good and catch the ear. I want my poems to go into the poetry playground and have fun. Going down a poem slide or digging in the poem sandpit can be funny, serious, imaginative, challenging. Playing with words can make your skin tingle just like when you whiz down the slide. I want my poems to hook the five-year old and the twelve-year old. I think poems can travel an age stretch more easily than novels and stories.
4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
I dedicated it to my brother Warren and his lovely wife Banu. She’s from Turkey so it felt like a nice welcome gift to our family and to New Zealand.
5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch because she was the queen of word play. Any collections by Peter Bland because he is an expert on the way poems can sound so good and dazzle with imagination. A truckload of poetry collections from USA: I love anything by Calef Brown, Valerie Worth, Karla Kuskin and Shel Silverstein. The dictionary! This was one of my favourite books when I was young and I would read it in bed with a torch. I loved finding strange words. I loved mashing words together so they sparked or sung. And the book I loved to sit on the (make-believe) stairs and recite from: AA Milne poems. Bliss.
6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
I love doing things outside like running swimming walking cycling gardening boogie boarding skiing. I don’t care if it is raining or windy or freezing because the Great Outside blows all the spiders webs clear out of my head. Then I am ready to write a poem! I like doing things inside like cooking (especially dinner!), doing cryptic crosswords, watching films and TV shows. Hanging out with my girls. I like cooking tasty new things, sharpening my mind with tough puzzles, sharing the warmth and love that makes a family special. Family is more important to me than anything.
Myles Lawford was influenced by Quentin Blake in his images for The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems:
1. What was your approach to illustrating each of these books?
For The Letterbox Cat I wanted fun little images, nothing too finished as to distract from the poetry, mainly influenced by Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle.
2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards to published work for each book. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating each of the books?
The challenge of The Letterbox Cat was to find interesting interpretations of each poem. I would come up with a few ideas for each and then present these to the editor for approval.
3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writers? Do you prefer to work this way?
Actually, I don’t talk to the writers at all during the entire process, only at the end when the book has been printed is the first time I talk to the writers to see how they feel. Thankfully I haven’t had any disappointed writers yet. Fingers crossed. We try and split the two processes of writing and illustrating so that one doesn’t influence the other.
4. What was your favourite thing to draw when you were at primary school – did you have a “party trick”?
When I was at primary school I spent most of my time drawing for my classmates, at a cost. I charged people for helping them illustrate their homework and projects. Nothing too outrageous, an ice cream here, a steak and cheese pie there.
5. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or illustrating, and why?
I’m a big fan of computer games, the conceptual design in gaming was always something I wanted to do, whether it being designing new characters, races, architecture or environments. I find myself sketching ideas all the time due to something I might of seen in a game or from a movie. I a child at heart, I’m not ready to grow up just yet.
For a review of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, check out the Booksellers NZ blog.
Yesterday’s feature was Maori Art for Kids, by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke, which was featured on the NZ Green Buttons blog. Monday’s feature will be the third of our five non-fiction titles, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic. This will be featured at Booksellers NZ’s blog site.