When Gwyn Perkins became a debut author in his 70s he hardly expected to be shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards, so it was a delightful surprise when he went on to win Picture Book of the Year for A Walk in the Bush.
Gwyn’s win has been such a happy experience for us at Affirm Press, and Gwyn being a 76-year-old first-time author who is an exceptionally talented artist makes it even more special. There are many phenomenal Australian picture books released each year and it’s a real honour to even be considered, let alone win.
Gwyn recently answered some questions from a class of curious Year Two students and his sense of humour shines through so brightly that we wanted to share the Q&A here.
Thank you for your questions everybody. It has been a very busy time and I have just come home from being interviewed on ABC Radio in Sydney and am at last, sitting back at my desk. It is cold here today and I have lit a fire to warm the house.
When did you start creating stories and books?
Books I’ve been creating only very recently, but I have been drawing stories for a long time. I have done some travelling and whenever I went somewhere exciting or unusual, I would draw my adventures and have them bound at the printer when I got home. At the start, the drawings were very small and there were too many words so the pages were cluttered, but as I became more confident, my drawings improved and I found I really didn’t need as many words to explain things.
How did you become an author?
A few years ago I was awarded a grant from the Australian Council of the Arts. There had been a competition to find ideas for children’s books based on the concepts of illustrators. This was very different than the normal way, where an author writes and an illustrator adds pictures later. The prize made me feel that my ideas might be all right so I finished my concept within the year I had been given to do so. However, I didn’t think that it was much good when I saw it made up into a rough book and I thought it was the end of all that. Then my publisher saw it and immediately commissioned three books!
Why do you write children’s stories?
Who wrote this question? Put your hand up. This one is the hardest one of the lot. I’ll go and put the kettle on, I need to think about this.
Here I am. Mmmm nice cuppa. Now, what was that difficult question? Oh yes…
Are you wearing bright spotted socks?
Yep. And they’re red.
But back to your real question …
I used to do animation and I became weary of a lot of the things advertising agencies asked me to do, but found that whenever I got to do funny things for kids I had a good time.
Type ‘Gwyn Channel 9 Perth’ into Google and you will see six animations I did for kids. (The one called ‘Monsters’ was so scary it was banned.) These were shown when kids got home from school in Perth and now they have all grown up and I hear they still remember the words. Kids are the best audience.
Animation jobs went away when computers came but I still wanted to draw, so I moved towards books where I could do things the way I preferred. Also, it’s sort of like teaching. Things are remembered when the message is a bit funny and I get a chance to pass on things I know and love.
Did you enjoy writing stories when you were younger (and a child)?
No. I liked to draw though. When I was at school I won a drawing prize in a Melbourne newspaper. It was at the time when NASA sent a satellite to circle the moon. The competition was to draw what a man who lived on the moon might look like. I won a box of paints, a guinea – which was some money that your teacher will tell you about – and I had my name printed for everyone to read as “Miss” Gwyn Perkins. Will I ever forget that? No.
Was the main character based on you or someone else (or made up)
Definitely me. Maybe I’ve got a big nose and a fat belly. Not saying. Maybe I tell dumb jokes. Who said that?
How old were you when you first wrote a book?
I was 72 when the idea started, 74 when A Walk in the Bush became a real job, and 75 when I wrote A Day at the Show. Now I’m 76 and working on A Trip to the Coast.
How did you feel about your books being nominated for the big award?
Very happy of course, but also amazed. I spend most of my time alone in a small room and then when I won the prize for the best picture book of the year, I found I had nothing to measure that feeling against. I had won awards before for my work in advertising, but that job really wasn’t what I wanted to do (even though I didn’t know it at the time).
Working with children’s books is perfect for me, so I can’t imagine feeling better than this. The award means recognition for everything I have done to get here. It also helps someone like me (who never knew if his work was good enough) to become more confident and bolder in style and ideas. Since the announcement, I have received lots of beautiful messages from friends and colleagues and have been congratulated on radio and in newspapers. I didn’t realise what a big deal this all was until I went to the award ceremony in Brisbane where I met so many happy dedicated people who are passionate about the importance of children’s literature in this country.