Tristan Bancks | Australian Children's & Teen Author | Kids' & YA Books: Children's Author / Illustrator Gus Gordon: The Writer's Studio

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Children's Author / Illustrator Gus Gordon: The Writer's Studio

Gus Gordon is much-loved in the children's book industry for his generosity, good humour, talent with both pen and paintbrush and his extraordinary moves on the dancefloor. He is the author-illustrator of picture book Wendy and the upcoming Herman and Rosie. I was fortunate enough to have Gus illustrate My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (Random House) our book of weird, funny short stories for primary schoolers that is released this week. Here he takes us on a tour of his writing space.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space that you write in?
I do pretty much all of my writing in my studio but I think about the writing everywhere - the supermarket, caf├ęs, in the surf, dancing (I'm kidding - it's really hard to think about anything while you're dancing). But it’s the shower that works best for me. Especially when I have a problem that needs to be resolved. It must be the flowing water, I don’t know, but for whatever reason I think very clearly and visually in the shower. Most of my book ideas have come from there. It’s weird, I’m sure there must be something sciency to it.
Gus Gordon's writing studio. (Gus wanted me to publish a pic of him in the shower but I declined.)
I think a good working space is invaluable. I have a good imagination but if you are not comfortable and in the right head space then it’s so much harder to tap into that place – wherever that is. Poland, I think. Anyway, I need a mental run-up to get on a roll so the less distractions the better. Especially since I am rather prone to distraction. Thankfully my studio has good light, space and most importantly it is my place – my room, and everyone respects that (sort of). Some days nothing happens in there but as long as I have a place to stare blankly into space I’m happy. 
'Nit Cures' from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up, out this month.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I do a bunch of research so I can get a good feel for the time, place or character/s I am illustrating or writing about. My cork boards are forever changing according to what I am working on at the time. I pin up photos, sketches and things that I find inspiring in some way (like a photo of a beer or some cheese). It’s important for me to be constantly reminded about my character’s environment or about the way I intend to handle the visual or graphic elements of the story. The more stuff the better.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
Since I started writing I have added another cork board to the wall that I use solely for laying out the story. It’s good to have an area where you can step back and see the story unfolding, not just visually but structurally, in front of your eyes. You need that kind of space with picture books to see if it’s all flowing or if there are any weaknesses in the story arc. Or if it's crap. I do a surprising amount of standing, thinking and just looking at that board.
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
For the most part I keep fairly regular hours unless I’m chasing a deadline or working on multiple projects. It’s better for everyone that way. Nights are normally good for me until about 10pm when I always seem to hit a wall and my brain ceases to function on any creative level at all. It’s at this time of night when I begin to write off everything I’ve done that day. I’ve learnt it’s best to put done tools before this happens. I have been trying very hard not to work weekends this year and until lately I’ve been mostly successful. Having said that, I have been working away madly on my new book, Herman and Rosie, so I can see some weekends merging into weekdays before it’s all done.
Herman and Rosie illustration by Gus Gordon.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
I’m not really a ritual guy - other than coffee and then more coffee. I am usually down in my studio around 8.30am. I read a few blogs – books and music stuff – then slowly get going around 10ish. I pick some music to set the tone of the day and then I’m away. Afternoons are normally the most productive and I’m always sharpening bloody pencils.
Next week in The Writer's Studio, Shamini Flint, Cambridge-educated corporate lawyer turned children's author and 'soccer mum' who was a hit at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival. She's a dynamo, a funny lady and has written dozens of books, both self-published and through major international publishers. See you then.

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