Fly, written and illustrated by Jess McGeachin (published by Puffin Books) has been shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Awards for New Illustrator. This award aims to recognise and encourage emerging Australian book illustrators.
Jess’s second picture book, The Lost Library has also recently been published. Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Jess.
You’re very welcome!
What is your background in art, design and/or illustration?
I’ve always loved to draw, and luckily found plenty of inspiration from my mum who’s a scientific illustrator. I also studied Communication Design at RMIT which has been a really handy skill set for making picture books.
What impact has being shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA New Illustrator award for Fly had on you or your book?
The CBCA awards have helped Fly connect with a wider audience for which I’m very grateful. I love hearing about someone discovering Fly for the first time and that it means something special to them.
What other award has Fly received?
Fly has also been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards and the World Illustration Awards in 2019.
Your books, particularly The Lost Library, suggest that you love books. Could you share a childhood experience of stories or books?
Because I’m a twin, many of my book memories are shared. I have very fond memories of curling up on the lounge room floor and pouring over the details of a Graeme Base or Alison Lester book.
Why do you think books are so powerful?
I think it’s the reader that gives books their power. We all have different experiences so one book is never the same for two people. I’m glad you used the word power though – books can be safe and comforting but they can also hold magic and mystery. I wanted to evoke that feeling in The Lost Library.
Could you reveal some clues or secrets hidden in these two books?
Yes! In Fly, follow Lucy’s yellow scarf. And in The Lost Library, keep an eye out for dragons in the shadows.
What are some fantastical elements that you include in your stories?
I love hidden doorways – portholes to different worlds that are hiding in plain sight. I’m pretty sure there’s one in the laneway next to our house.
How do you create a sense of pain or loss in your stories while keeping them appealing for children?
Sometimes there’s no words to describe pain or loss, and that’s why picture books work so well – the illustrations can do the work. Often it’s what you don’t say, rather than what you do, that tells the richest story.
How do your child protagonists show agency and resilience?
I think we often underestimate children. Instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong, they’re often much better at focusing on what will work. I like to think that my characters are quietly powerful – full of empathy and persistence.
How would you describe your illustrative style?
Detailed, colourful, quirky and emotive (I hope!)
What media do you use, and why?
I always draft my work in pencil and then scan and create the finished artwork on an iPad. I love the flexibility of working digitally but I have to remember to keep the rough edges and happy accidents.
What value/s would you hope that children appreciate from your stories?
I’d love them to take away a sense of curiosity and wonder for the natural world.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished working on a book that comes out next year. It may or may not involve dinosaurs.
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
I’m currently reading ‘The Wild Robot’ by Peter Brown which is beautiful.
How would you prefer your readers contact you, Jess?
You can get in touch with me via my website, www.drawthemoon.com
It is exciting to see the work of a talented new illustrator such as Jess McGeachin.
Thank you for your responses, Jess, and all the very best with this and your upcoming books.
Thanks so much for having me.