Katie, you obviously have a passion for animals. What's your favourite animal noise?
Well, I can honestly say I haven’t ever had to answer that question before! I hope you’re not expecting a humorous answer, because I’m actually going to wax lyrical. There’s a little bird here in Australia called a rufous songlark. He’s plump and quite drab in his colouring, but he turns up every year at the beginning of spring and sings the sunshine in. It’s not a tune you could repeat, it’s a bit like a two-year-old singing to himself, but it’s so full of joy that I listen for it at the beginning of September every year and get a thrill every time I hear it.
You're clearly a talented writer and illustrator. But if you had to choose just one of those to continue with, which would that be and why? (I never said this would be an easy interview.)
Thank you for the compliment, Jonathan, but not for this question! It’s a bit like that one, ‘If you had to be blind or deaf, which would you choose?’ I think I’d choose to be an illustrator, mainly because I’m a visual thinker, so the process of illustrating, for me, has one less step involved. People tell me (some happily, some complaining) that I write visually, but that’s how I see my stories – like movies working themselves out in my head. To write them down, I then have to find the words to translate the pictures. It’s harder – and I’m lazy. Illustrating is just a matter of copying what’s in my head, no translation involved. So it’s the easier choice.
I’d miss writing, though!
I bet you would. And apologies for the evil question! Now, if you could be an animal for the day, what would you be and why?
I think I’d be a cat. We have three cats at our house, two who live outside and chase mice in the barn and one who lives inside and chases mice in the kitchen. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, they all spend all day dozing wherever they find a comfortable spot and only wake up when they want their bowls filled. I think I could live with that arrangement.
And if you could be a famous person, alive or dead, for the day, who would you choose?
Another difficult one, but maybe it would be good to come back as Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon. If I were him for a day, I would spend the whole day telling everyone in the company about this Australian writer/illustrator I knew called Katie Stewart who is so brilliant and deserves to be given every opportunity to sell millions of books. I’d arrange world-wide advertising, contracts (giving Katie Stewart a huge percentage for royalties), I’d speak of nothing but Katie Stewart for the whole day. Then the next day, as me, I (as myself again) would humbly answer the email from Amazon asking if I’ll publish under their imprint at 90% royalty (to me) with a ‘Oh, you’re so kind’ and rake in the money for as long as the bubble lasts.
Unfortunately, all the time I was writing that, there was a little character sitting on my shoulder, shoving blunt sticks into my ear. So here’s the more boring answer my conscience wants to give – and my conscience always wins. If I could be someone famous for a day, I’d be Rupert Murdoch. I would insist that every news story for the day was a positive one, that no one would be hassled, bullied or hounded for a story, that people would be treated with compassion and seen as real people, not just another story. Then I’d give away all my money and assets and retire to a small cottage somewhere unremarkable.
Neat answer! And who could argue with the first part? I mean, you've merged famous people with animals... it's genius!
What's your favourite famous animal creation so far?
In Famous Animals Volume 1, I think it would have to be Felix Mendelsswan. That’s why I used him on the cover. But now that I’ve done over three quarters of the illustrations for Volume 2, I think my favourite overall is Fred Astairedale. He has a certain class about him, I think. That’s not to say I won’t paint another overall favourite next week or next month. I’ve really enjoyed painting them all.
Excellent! And it's great to hear that a second volume is well on the way. Thanks for sharing this image of Fred too. Isn't he good?