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Gavin Bishop
Photo by Martin Hunter

Check Out an Author: Gavin Bishop ONZM

Jackie McMillan —

Gavin Bishop O.N.Z.M. has published more than 70 books over the last four decades, including several that have won New Zealand Children's Book Awards.

His books have been translated into twelve languages. In 2016, he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Canterbury. In 2018, he was awarded Ngā Tohu ā Tā Kingi Ihaka for a lifetime contribution to Maori Art and culture, and in 2019, The Prime Minister's Award for Literacy Achievement. Among his prizewinning books are: Hinepau, Winner of the Best Picture Book for 1994; Kiwi Moon, winner of the 2006 Russell Clark Medal for Illustration; and Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story was the 2018 winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction and the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year. The biennial Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for unpublished illustrators was created in 2009. This award recognises Gavin's contribution to children's book publishing, and gives the winning illustrator an opportunity to be mentored by him.

Jackie McMillan put some questions to Gavin about his books and current projects.

Q: When did you first consider illustrating or writing books as a career? 

A: About 40 years ago a friend told me that Oxford University Press in Wellington were looking for some stories that had a strong New Zealand flavour. She said I should have a go at writing some. So I did. My first story was about a sheep, Bidibidi. It took some years before it was published though because of all sorts of reasons, not all of them to do with my not knowing how to write a children’s book.

Q: Have you got a favourite age group you like to make books for? For instance, do you start with an idea and then decide which audience level it is for?

A: I write books for all ages of children. The initial idea usually determines who the book will be for, what age group it will appeal to.

Q: Of all your characters you have illustrated (or written about) which one would you most like to hang out with?

A: Well, Mrs McGinty was a ‘pain in the neck’ and Mr Fox was pretty sly, so I probably wouldn’t want to spend much time with them. If I had to choose someone from my stories it would probably be my dear old teddy bear, Teddy One-Eye.

Teddy One-Eye — Image by: Gavin Bishop

Q. Are there any particular illustrators, or writers, that have influenced your work?

A: Maurice Sendak would be my favourite illustrator. I once shared a desk with him at the Rhode Island School of Design when I taught there in 1996, but we never met. His teaching days were different to mine.

Q. What were some of your other favourite books, or favourite illustrators or writers, when you were growing up?

A: Most of the books I read when I was very little were ones we had at home. I had lots of Boy's Annuals that were full of short stories and puzzles. And of course some of my favourites were the Cole’s Funny Picture Books from Australia. We moved to Invercargill when I was about 8 or 9 and it was there I joined the Invercargill Public Library and my reading took off. The Hobbit was one of my favourites.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I am reading my way through a pile of entries for the Heritage Book Awards. I am the judge this year for the children’s section.

Q: Tell us about any children’s or young adult books you have discovered and enjoyed as an adult?

A: I have big collection of children’s books that I keep adding to. I could go on and on about my favourites by people like Raymond Briggs and Shaun Tan, but at the moment, I really like in particular, the picture books by the French writer Clotilde Perrin. Her Inside the Villains is a stunning piece of work.

Q: What current projects are you working on?

A: I am currently working on another ‘babies’ book for Gecko Press. I have done two others and what makes them particularly special for me is that they are in te reo. Because they are simple, they are hard to do well. There is no-where to hide.

Koro — Image by: Gavin Bishop

Q: Do you have a ritual you follow before you start your working day?

A: I usually read the newspaper in bed before getting up and making a smoothie for breakfast. Eventually I get to my studio around 9 o’clock if I am not going to the gym that morning or popping out for a cup of coffee. When I am really busy working on a book I spend about 7 or 8 hours a day at the job.

Q: Has your writing or illustrating been affected by the last year and lockdowns?

A: I quite liked the lockdown. I didn’t have to go anywhere. I worked most of the time on my new book Atua.

Atua — Image by: Gavin Bishop

Q: Have you some advice for young writers and illustrators?

A: Read lots of books and do lots of drawing, even if you produce most of your illustrations on a computer. There is nothing more obvious than bad drawing. Even if your digital skills are very impressive, poor drawing will always show through.