Where the Lyrebird Lives by Vikki Conley illustrated by Max Hamilton

Where the Lyrebird Lives by Vikki Conley, illustrated by Max Hamilton

Published by Windy Hollow Books

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

Inside the 2023 CBCA Shortlist

Inside the 2023 Notable Books

Author & Illustrator Interview

Where the Lyrebird Lives by Vikki Conley, illustrated by Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books) is a celebration of the Australian bush and its creatures. As its title implies, it features the lyrebird. It also follows a family as it carefully and quietly (usually!) searches for the bird. Young children will enjoy the gentle adventure and appreciate our native flora and wildlife as they journey together through the bush.

Congratulations on your 2023 CBCA shortlisting in Book of the Year: Early Childhood, Vikki and Max, and thank you for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords.

Vikki, why have you chosen to feature the lyrebird in this book? What is so special about the lyrebird?

I have a passion for creatures that are not easily seen in the wild. The lyrebird and the platypus are two of my favourites. It was always a thrill as a child growing up in the bush to go searching for these special animals in the mountains, along the rivers and in the gullies near my childhood home.

The lyrebird is particularly special because it has the superpower of mimicry. Its natural characteristic of being shy also lent itself perfectly to this title, which is essentially a story about hide-and-seek, or search and discovery.

The story is set in the bush. Is it a specific location?

Yes. When I was a child, my family took picnics into the Strzelecki Ranges, often to a rainforest area called Tarra Valley in the Tarra Bulga National Park. Our farm was nearby, nestled in the foothills of the Ranges.

I shared photos with Max from these childhood visits, and more recent ones with my two children. She has lovingly painted these memories into the story. The swing bridge, the waterfall, the shimmy-shimmy-hop log with frog green moss, and the pathways are all depictive of the rainforest within Tarra Bulga.

I love how the search for the lyrebird is a gentle adventure. How have you achieved this?

Walking through a rainforest is a bit like poetry itself. I wanted to replicate this feeling by using lyrical prose and words that reflected the fragile nature of the creatures and spaces that exist in these ancient places.

Figurative language was my friend, as were words and phrases that suggested quietness like, tip-toe, shhh, listen can you hear and I wonder.

To achieve the gentle rhythm of the text, I actually first wrote it in rhyme, then switched out the rhyming words. This happened a little by accident, but it did help to create a lovely flow and tempo to the story.

Why have you showcased three generations in the family?

Because this was my family in the story! When I was little, my dad always led our adventures into the wilderness. Now, at 80 years old, he still joins us on the bush trails. Spending time in nature with the family is something that has always been a special part of my life.

I have fond memories of my grandmother making date slice and a thermos of tea to join us, plus two orphan bottle fed lambs (who couldn’t be left alone for too long without a feed) into the mountains for a picnic! These were precious times to slow down, explore and connect with family and nature.

How have you personalised each character?

Vikki: I wanted the two children to be playful, adventurous and inquisitive. The choice of lots of active and lively verbs and fun onomatopoeia helped to achieve this.

Max: I try to imagine each character’s personality when I am developing the book characters. 

In this particular book I wanted to depict the different relationships, connections and also stages of relationships within a family – the parents are pretty busy keeping an eye on the children while they walk through the bush which contrasts with the grandparents who have calm moments together and also fun moments with their grandchildren. My parents often comment how they enjoy time spent with their grandchildren more than they did with us when we were little because they were always so busy juggling everything. I wanted to reflect these family dynamics within the illustrations for this story. 

After many months all locked down and unable to see family this book really highlights simple and precious time spent with extended family.

I love the sign Where the Lyrebird Lives at the start of the book. What is its purpose?

Where the Lyrebird Lives written by Vikki Conley, illustrated by Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books)

Max: I decided to create this illustration for the title page to look like a National Park sign. Most bush walks start at a sign post and follow a marked track so I thought this was a clever way to start this story of the family’s adventure to find the Lyrebird.

Vikki: The entrance to Tarra Valley has a very similar sign. I loved that Max creatively played with this and that it reflects the entry to many forest trails all over our amazing planet.

It feels like it sets the reader up to begin an adventure, and also invites them to take one for themselves into the real outdoors.

How did you create humour in this story?

Vikki: When my children were toddlers, my mum used to gallop (slowly) around the carpet with my children riding on her back, whinnying like a pony! I wanted to capture these moments of playful intergenerational interaction that are joyful and relatable.

I was delighted when Max and our publisher Cristina Pase suggested to have Nanna and the children in our story actually dancing with ‘their feathers’ up high to match my text!

How did you collaborate on the book? Did Vikki write the text and then Max illustrate it or was there interaction between you both?

Vikki: Cristina was wonderful at facilitating the collaboration between the three of us. Photos, prose and artwork were shuffled back and forth over email at different stages of creative process, seeking input and comments along the way.

But yes, I wrote the manuscript first and then Max was invited by Cristina to add her magical brushstrokes.

Max: We work independently. Our editor Cristina, at Windy Hollow, chooses the illustrator she thinks fits each story best. She is our go-between throughout the book process. Vikki had lots of great reference images of the story setting and of her family bush walking which were so helpful. 

Vikki, how have you made the text sensory?

I hope that my stories will take children to other worlds. Many of the students that I meet have not set foot in a rainforest. In my writing, I consciously aim to add elements of smell, touch, sound, visual cues and sometimes even taste, that will immerse children in a place they may never have experienced before.

Figurative and descriptive language like, wisha-wisha trees, clitter-clatter bridge, frog green moss, sleepy clouds, chiming birds, giant lace ferns and bird sounds like wwww-hip-chirp, all helped build this sensory story.

Sensory stories are important for inclusive literacy. They offer more accessibility to children who may be neurodiverse, deaf, blind or who have intellectual disabilities.

What else can you tell us about your writing here?

I wanted to play with loud and soft sounds to help build highs and lows into the ‘energy’ and dynamics of the story. These offer ‘bite-size’ moments for interaction with very young readers.

I developed this story on the back of Covid lockdown story times, where I started using more interactive actions, sounds and home-made puppets to help engage an early childhood audience that was often on the other side of a screen, or spread out across the wide expanse of a public library carpet.

During and after lock-down, the storytelling experience shifted from being a close, intimate huddle around a picture book, to a distant more disengaged experience. The bursts of sounds and questions asked through-out the story (that I often ask children to repeat after me) help to keep the attention of very busy young minds.

Max, your colour palette has beautiful shades of green. Do you mix these colours yourself or do some of them have names? If, so, please tell us some.

Thank you Joy. I used many shades of green and mixes of these colours to illustrate the landscape and foliage in this story. Some of the main watercolour greens used were Winsor and Newton – Sap Green, Hookers Green, Olive Green and Oxide of Chromium Green. I also mixed in touches of blues, blacks, ochres and browns to create depth.

I illustrated “Where the Lyrebird Lives” after spending many months illustrating the nature storybook “Tasmanian Devil” by Claire Saxby. Both stories are set in lush Australian landscapes with the former being illustrated in a detailed and semi scientific illustrative style. I wanted “Where the Lyrebird Lives” to have a different illustrative style and lighter feel to it. I also wanted the illustrations to somehow reflect the feelings and benefits of going for a walk in nature. I used larger sized brushes than I normally use to illustrate the dense, layered rain forest foliage and I found this freed up my illustrative style and worked to give the effect of the dense rain forest foliage, dappled light and feeling of being in this environment.

Why/how have you chosen your contrasting colours that ‘pop’?

I wanted the family to stand out against the landscapes as they are as much a part of the story as the hiding Lyrebird and the landscape are. I also really wanted to give the sense of the little kids being a bit noisy, as kids are, in the natural setting as much as they are told to be quiet in order to spot the Lyrebird. I think upon reflection somewhere in my subconscious memory I was also tapping into the TV show “Dot and the Kangaroo” that I watched as a child where Dot and the Kangaroo were brightly animated characters set against actual film of the natural Australian bush. 

Where the Lyrebird Lives written by Vikki Conley, illustrated by Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books)

Please explain how you’ve designed the endpapers.

I really enjoy creating endpapers. Sometimes they work to be a decorative element, like these particular endpapers are, where I have used the Lyrebird’s feathers to create an all over pattern and sometimes the endpapers can contain clues to the story or can work best to be very subtle and understated. I think it depends greatly on the cover and title page design and what will work best between these two important design elements of a children’s book. I like my endpapers to complement the cover and story but also not to take away or be too dominant in terms of design and colouration. I am a graphic designer by trade so sorry if I am boring you with my design talk. (I love this stuff!)

Max, please choose one of your illustrations where you use perspective to enable the reader the enter the scene with the family.

I know one of the CBCA Judging criteria is to look at such things as different perspectives showcased within a book. I felt that with this story I wanted the reader to feel like they were along for the bush walk with the family so chose to keep the perspective close and one level for the most part with the characters as if you were there in person with them searching for the Lyrebird. In the spread that illustrates Vikki’s text “High in the mountains through the sleepy clouds” I have used a zoomed out perspective to show just how small the family are in comparison to the old, giant rainforest trees. It could still be from a person’s eye view but they are looking up to the tree tops and dappled light.

Where the Lyrebird Lives written by Vikki Conley, illustrated by Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books)

Max, Where the Lyrebird Lives seems to be a companion book to When the Waterhole Dries Up, which was also shortlisted for the CBCA Early Childhood category last year. These books have different authors but you have illustrated both. How was the process similar or different?

The similarities between the two stories is mainly the publisher and the types of warm stories Cristina Pase from Windy Hollow is drawn to. The books also may be compared because of my illustrative style. The process in which I approach each book is similar in lots of ways – firstly I review the story to see if it speaks to me and I can imagine the illustrations for it, if so I say yes to the book. Then I do loads of research, rough character sketches and my mind switches on to this story and I gather ideas wherever I go that may inspire my illustrations. After this I create several rounds of thumbnail roughs and once I am happy with these I send them to Cristina for approval. At this stage Cristina and I usually have a very long chat via Skype and we share our ideas and trouble-shoot any elements we think aren’t quite working. After this I usually make a few minor changes we have discussed and then work the thumbnails up in a larger scale and in more detail. Cristina will then show the author my roughs for their feedback. I like to consider where the story text will sit and make sure there is space for this before I paint up the final art. I do this by dropping my black and white drawings into Indesign software and adding in the text roughly. I use watercolour, coloured pencil and lead pencil to create final illustrations for the book. Then the final art is supplied to the publisher and their Graphic Designer creates the text layout and puts the important pieces of the book together, adding logo, imprint text, ISBN’s etc.


How do you present this book to children? Do you read the whole book straight through? Or use other visual aids or techniques?

Vikki: I love combining sounds, actions and hand-made puppets with my storytelling. Essentially the children help me tell the story, and they totally get into it!

There’s lots of noisy koo-koo-ing and kaa-kaa-ing with puppets in the air. And the children love drumming their hands on their laps and stomping their feet to create the clitter-clatter bridge. But then we tip-toe with our fingers on our knees, sway like ancient ferns and tumble like waterfalls back to a quiet place.

How do children react with delight to the book?

Vikki: The funniest thing to see is how the children’s mouths grow wide and their eyes pop out when they watch a video I show of a lyrebird mimicking a chainsaw and a camera click. They cannot believe it and beg to watch it over and over!

This book has been one of my favourites to present to schools and children. At the end of the day, we’re all dancing with our feathers up high, scratching for grubs for lunch and screeching like rosella parrots.

Recently I explored body percussion to create a rainforest storm with a room of 180 children. It was like a mini rock-concert – in the most delightful way!

If you know of a great idea of how a teacher or parent is using this book with children, could you please share it?

Vikki: A grandparent shared with me a very tender story about her experience with our book. She often sees echidnas and other bush animals in her forested backyard. But in the day after reading my story to her grandchild, she saw a lyrebird in her garden for the first time!

She told me that my book had summoned the lyrebird to her. Magical, huh?

What impact has being shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood award this year had on you or this book?

Vikki: It has made me dance with my feathers up high! Awards like these offer validation, and a boost to the profiles of authors, illustrators and publishers and ultimately book sales! All of these can transform the future for creators and publishers.

It also helps deliver our book into the hands of children – all over the world – who wouldn’t otherwise have discovered our title.

Max: Being shortlisted in the CBCA Awards is such a huge honour. So many wonderful books are created each year and I know just how much work and time each Author and Illustrator puts into their work so being fortunate enough to make the shortlist is not taken lightly. We have some extremely fine company this year too in our fellow creators so its a huge honour to be by their sides. I hope in time being shortlisted will open up more opportunities to advance my career in this industry.

Could you both tell us about some of your other books or work?

Vikki: I like to write stories that celebrate the spirit of wonder, freedom and adventure that I wish all children could enjoy. I love playing with the concept of wonder, enquiry and creating stories that allow children to explore other worlds and themes including diversity, the natural world and imagination.

I have characters that search for lost moustaches, explore the concept of mindfulness, arrive at school in many different ways, search for what ‘love looks like’ and discover ‘their song’ in the most unexpected ways.

Max: I have also illustrated “My Possum Plays the Drums” by Catherine Meatheringham, “When the Waterhole Dries Up” by Kaye Baillie and “Tasmanian Devil” by Claire Saxby.

What are you writing or working on now?

Vikki: My two next titles have both just been sent off to the printers. One is a sequel to my CBCA Notable book, Little Puggle’s Song. This time it’s Little Puggle’s Christmas. Helene Magisson has once again exquisitely painted a magical bush wonderland!

The other title, Under The Red Shawl, has been inspired by my 10 years of working with the international aid agency, World Vision. Similar to my CBCA Honour book, Amira’s Suitcase, this new title has a refugee theme with breathtaking and powerful artwork by award-winning illustrator Martina Heiduczek.

I’ve worked with New Frontier Publishing for both of these upcoming books. They’re due to hit shelves in October and November respectively.

Also keep your eye out for a board book version of my Christmas Wonder title with Cheryl Orsini, with the very fun title of Christmas Wonder Downunder, by Affirm Press.

Max: As mentioned last year I illustrated Megan Daley’s “The Hive” published by Walker Books which I believe is scheduled for a 2024 release.

I am currently illustrating a book by Catherine Meatheringham called “Our Home” and this will be followed by another book to illustrate written by Kaye Baillie, both with Windy Hollow Books.  In between illustrating other people’s books I am also working on several books as author and illustrator in the hope these stories will get picked up by a publisher one day soon. I was fortunate to be awarded a mentorship through the ASA with Erica Wagner and Erica has been instrumental in giving me the confidence to believe that becoming an author / illustrator is possible, and the importance of carving out time for this.

What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?

Vikki: The Little Things by Penny Harrison is a beautiful ode to slowing down, tender family moments and mindfulness.

Who’s Afraid of the Light? by Anna McGregor is a fascinating and entertaining exploration of the the wonders of the ocean’s ‘midnight zone’.

Floof by Heidi McKinnon is hilariously cute.

Max: I just finished reading Margaret Hamilton’s memoir “Falling Forward”. For anyone interested in the history of Australian Children’s publishing it is a great read. I knew a lot of Margaret’s professional achievements but I loved reading about her personal life experiences and achievements with Max and Melissa.  

I am currently reading Canadian film maker Sarah Polley’s book of six personal essays called  “Run Towards the Danger”.  I find Polley so intelligent,  humorous and inspiring and these essays are her way of making sense of her very unconventional life. 

How can your readers contact you?

Vikki Conley’s website

Max Hamilton’s website

Instagram @mhdesignillustration

Where the Lyrebird Lives at Windy Hollow Books

Additional comment from the publisher, Cristina Pase “I love these answers and can agree wholeheartedly with much of Vikki’s commentary about her language choices inviting all readers in. I used this book a lot this weekend at the Kid Lit Vic conference as an example of language that invites the reader to be a participator not just a passive reader.” 

Companion book, When the Waterhole Dries Up at PaperbarkWords

Similar title, Little Puggle’s Song by Vikki Conley

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