In which I introduce you to Colin Thompson — award-winning author, illustrator, tech gadget fiend and bit of an inspiration.
I had the great pleasure of wrangling the easily distracted Colin Thompson for an interview earlier this week for a web series. In truth, he was in excellent spirits and I think we (me and trusty tech master Michael) took more time setting up our gear than we did actually getting him to answer our questions.
We were talking predominantly about inspiration. He seemed like a good person to ask about this topic considering he is far and away one of the most prolific storytellers I know.
Colin is 71-years-old and still considers himself ‘new’ to the writing game, as he only had his first book published when he was fifty. Most well known as a children’s book author and illustrator, he has also been at various points in his life a potter, a weaver and a documentarian amongst other things. Since his first picture book in 1991 about Ethel the Chicken, he’s gone on to publish well over 50 books and has won and been nominated for a stack of awards including The Children’s Book Council Australia’s Picture Book of the Year. His body of work is pretty amazing by anyone’s reckoning really.
When I asked him why he still thinks he’s a writing newbie, he told me that writing was never something he’d ever thought he would do growing up. In fact, he wrote his very first story only because a publisher he’d met through his illustration work suggested he give it a go. The rest as they say is history. He has a huge fan base and his work is translated and sold all over the world (outside of Australia and the UK, he is apparently particularly popular in Brazil in Korea).
While he is classified as a children’s book author, he’s not particularly keen on the label. As far as he’s concerned, he writes for himself and anyone can enjoy his work. In fact, he doesn’t really believe in there being such a thing as a children’s book — if an adult can’t enjoy one, then there’s something either wrong with the adult or the book (hear, hear).
If you don’t know Colin’s work, I’d suggest starting with one of his picture books like Looking For Atlantis or The Last Alchemist. He creates fabulously imaginative worlds in his intricately detailed illustrations that you can explore for hours. His running love affair with book shelves is clear in almost all of his books, where tiny little tableaus of cottages, cafes and trees live happily alongside giant, leather-bound tomes.
More recently, Colin has been writing kids’ novels — his The Floods series for 8 to 12s is particularly successful having sold well over two hundred thousand copies in Australia alone. The 13th instalment was released just recently in March. One of his first novels for a younger audience is How To Live Forever, which I got to read in manuscript form a long while back now, and it’s a story I hope to revisit soon as I remember really enjoying it at the time.
If I had to describe Colin’s work collectively, I’d probably say ‘richly layered and imaginative’. But that wouldn’t really give you a good sense of the scope of it at all. His illustrative work can be both wondrous and silly, and his stories swing between emotional studies of humanity to irreverent, comic absurdism. He really isn’t scared to explore anything and everything, and in fact is right now working on a book designed for kids with what was once known as Aspergers Syndrome, now called Autism Spectrum Disorder, born out of a desire to provide young people with a book written from the perspective of someone with the condition (both he and his grandson have Aspergers/ASD).
I know he must be a real favourite with librarians — an author who is not only an accomplished illustrator but also a prolific novelist with a wonderful sense for what primary school aged kids relish. His work is often genuinely funny, quirky and a bit weird — perfect fodder for kids who may not always find reading or books all that accessible.
It’s perhaps not so surprising to learn that Colin now makes a good chunk of his living from jigsaw puzzles, and to a lesser extent, laptop and mobile phone skins. His beautifully composed and detailed illustrations, particularly those marvellous book shelves, have become extremely popular images for the jigsaw makers of the world (yes, they still exist!) Colin now spends a good portion of his time reworking and creating new illustrations specifically for jigsaws. He’s currently tackling a huge illustration for a mind-boggling 18,000 piece puzzle. Woah.
I think what I admire most about Colin is his unending enthusiasm for his work and passions like technology. He is smitten with almost every new-fangled gadget that comes on the market and simply has to have it! At an age where most of us would be settling into retirement, he is producing as much as he ever was, with an unwavering enthusiasm for all of it. He really has never grown up, and has no future plans to either. And that’s something I will always find truly inspiring in a person.
You can visit Colin Thompson’s official site here, where you will find comprehensive lists of his books as well some free downloads and other information about his life and work.
I’ll post a link to the interview with Colin here as soon as it’s up!