Oliver Jeffers at the V&A

Oliver Jeffers at the V&A

I was lucky enough to attend an event at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on Saturday 26th May, where Oliver Jeffers talked about his journey to becoming an illustrator and writer. Before his talk, he signed books at Waterstones in Walthamstow.

I am a massive fan of Oliver Jeffers’ books, starting from when I picked up How to Catch a Star when volunteering in a charity bookshop and continuing with Stuck, a hilarious story which I read to every class I have and A Child of Books, a book we based our World Book Day celebrations around this year. I own pretty much all of his titles so was very excited to finally meet him!

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Another reason I was interested in meeting Oliver Jeffers is because he is originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I am from. It’s a small place and it is always nice to see someone from home becoming successful, particularly when they use that success to include Northern Irish slang in internationally-published books (take that the people in England who told me I didn’t speak English properly! My dialect is just as valid as yours!)

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I did bring along most of my collection of books to get signed, but there was a VERY long queue so I just chose my favourite two, plus the newest book, Here We Are.

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Oliver was a fantastic speaker and kept everyone in the audience entertained with his interactive doodles as he spoke. I loved how he introduced where he was from by saying that everyone in Belfast is a storyteller – this is very true! It is often said that if a story is worth telling, it is worth telling well, which usually means a smidgen of exaggeration and a tad of embroidering!

He then spoke about the inspiration behind some of his stories and how they are all (mostly!) based on true stories.

For example, Lost and Found was based on a newspaper article about a schoolkid visiting Belfast Zoo who somehow managed to get into the penguin enclosure, capture a baby penguin and smuggle it home under his coat. When the theft was discovered it was already late at night so the penguin had to spend the night in the family’s bathtub until the zookeeper could come and collect it. Oliver said he had always wondered what kind of conversations the boy and the penguin could have had in that time…?

Stuck came from a holiday where he was looking for a new idea about something to write about. While playing with a kite it got stuck in a tree, so he threw up a shoe and several other items which also got stuck. He said that he hadn’t realised that he had come up with a story until he was telling his friend about this experience after he got back! He admitted struggling with the ending as he had initially thought that everything would need to come down somehow, but he was inspired by watching his young nephews playing, as they simply walked away and started another game

See my review of Stuck here.

He then spoke about how he has always been an artist and a writer, like every child, but he just never stopped. He also talked about how he creates stories to amuse himself and said it’s just lucky that lots of four-year-olds share his sense of humour! ( I do too!)

 

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He talked about how four years of art college had improved his drawings of people – before art college on the left and after on the right!

 

Oliver went on to read his latest project, Here We Are, and talk a bit about the inspiration behind it. The title came from when he brought his son home from the hospital and said. “Here we are son, this is where we live” and the realisation that his son knew absolutely nothing about the world and it was up to him to teach him all he could. He said that writing the story took about two weeks as he thought about the most important information that should be included and the illustrations took about another two years after that.

He concluded his talk by giving out his top tips for aspiring authors or artists, which then became general tips for life:

  • Always carry a pencil and paper! the best ideas often come to you in the shower so have one at least once a month, whether you need it or not.
  • If your story isn’t going well, or you get stuck, add in an elephant. If that doesn’t work, make it a flying elephant, a flying elephant with laser vision or a flying elephant with laser vision that’s on fire. If none of that works, you shouldn’t be telling stories!
  • He passed on a piece of advice from his grandfather – if you ever want to get in somewhere for free, walk in extremely confidently, backwards.
  • If you never want to work a day in you life, get to work writing a Christmas No. 1 song.
  • Never eat anything bigger than your head in one sitting.
  • Never eat cheese before bed or you might wake up to mice on your pillow.
  • Finally, if you can’t afford a proper motorcycle, get a friend with a trombone!

We then moved on to questions, with Oliver reassuring the audience that any question was fine as he had already received the best question he was ever going to get.

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He talked about how long it takes to write and illustrate a book (between 2 weeks and 2 years, but usually a year), tips for getting a book published (be tenacious and believe in your work! He was once rejected because his illustrations were, apparently, ‘too scary for children’.) and the fact that ideas come from everywhere and anywhere so you have to keep your eyes and ears open!

Overall, an absolutely fantastic day which I am so glad I was able to attend!

Thank you Oliver Jeffers for a fascinating talk and to the wonderful V&A museum for hosting this event!


Have you ever met any of your favourite authors or illustrators?

Have you read any of Oliver Jeffers’s books? (If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat!)

What do you think of his tips for aspiring authors or artists?

Let me know in the comments!


While you’re here, why not check out some of my picture book reviews: Cinderella and the Furry Slippers, Argyle Fox, Shelter, The Last Tree, Erik the Lone Wolf, Max and Bird, Stardust or Ten Cents a Pound?


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Thanks for reading!

23 Comments Add yours

  1. rebecca says:

    Great post! I discovered Oliver thanks to my university – I adore his books, and can’t wait to start using his books in class!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! They have gone done a storm in any class where I have used them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our ml home says:

        Christina, Just to let you know that “Stuck” has been a hit with my 5 year old! ;). And I’m head over heals in love with “Here we are”… such a beautiful book, it gave me the goose bumps. :). Thank you again for your great recommendations! I’ll be purchasing the other titles over the coming months! 😉

        Like

  2. Our ml home says:

    Christina, which of his books would you recommend to start with? I have a 5 and 2 year old. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think ‘Stuck’ is fantastic and the humourous, unexpected ending should be a hit with age 3+ (although your 2-year old might enjoy it too!). ‘Here We Are’ is a gorgeous, warm introduction to this strange world we live in, aimed at ~3 year old. Next I would go for ‘How to Catch a Star’ and ‘Lost and Found’. ‘The Incredible Book-eating Boy’ , ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ and ‘The Heart and the Bottle’ would be suitable for your 5-year old or even older – I know a lot of schools where they have used these books, even with 11 or 12 year olds. Really hope you enjoy his books!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our ml home says:

        Thank you so much Christina! I’ll take them in order and add “Stuck” and “Here we are” to my next book shopping spree! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yay! I just posted a review of ‘Stuck’ today as well, inspired by meeting the author and by the fact that so many people had not come across it before!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Our ml home says:

        I had come across his work (my local library screened the Lost & Found animation) but there are sooooo many children’s books on the market it is very difficult to make one’s mind up. That’s why it is so nice to have reviews and opinions from others to help us in our selection! ;). I’ll go and check out your review of Stuck!. Thanks again! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not familiar with Oliver, but meeting authors is just THE BEST, especially if they have the same culture as you do. 🙂 And his art looks effortlessly adorable gah I am jealous of his talent. ♥

    – Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should definitely have a look at his books, even if you don’t have kids – the art style and humour are brilliant! Thank you for commenting 😀

      Like

  4. The NChanting whispers says:

    I don’t know the author but now I want to explore …Thank you for sharing your experience …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting and I hope you enjoy his books! I think they are excellent, whether you’re sharing them with a child or just reading them yourself!

      Like

      1. The NChanting whispers says:

        Of course I am exciting to go through them ..And you talked about Irish dialect ..Is really interesting ..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He uses a word -‘boke’ which means ‘to vomit’ in Hiberno-English. It was just nice to see something which is often dismissed as a dialect or slang, used in a printed book.

        Like

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