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!
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!)
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.
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!)
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.
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?
Thanks for reading!