This is Kev at a library visit, yep that is a pencil through his head. Photo: Nadine Cranenburgh 2013
Kevin has illustrated over 50 children’s books since 1985. He wrote his first book ‘B is for Bravo’ in 2003 and illustrated it using amazing dioramas. He loves doing workshops for all ages. His other titles include ‘Antarctic Dad’ with Hazel Edwards and ‘The Uncle Eddie’ books with Lucy Farmer (Walker Books). Kev is an absolute performer at school workshops. Children (and adults alike) love him. He’s funny and inspiring, encouraging children to have a go at writing and drawing.
I was lucky enough to meet Kev as part of my Maurice Saxby Mentorship last year and he’s very generous in his support of emerging writers.
Congratulations Kev on the launch of your new YA novel, ‘Kate’.
A dangerous boy, an abandoned dog and one girl’s perilous road trip to personal growth. Meet Kate.
This is a story of growth and mistakes. Kate’s lucky to find Wilde, a battered, heroic hound she rescues from the streets, and Mal a troubled young man with a dark past. When things go really wrong they’ll need each other and they’ll have to run!
“Kate dug her hands deep into the pockets of her hoodie and sniffed; she hated how the cold weather made her nose run so freely. Her eye caught a motor-oil rainbow shimmering across the soft sheen on the damp asphalt and wondered briefly how it was that ugly things could sometimes appear so beautiful.”
‘Kate’ is also an illustrated novel, dotted with beautiful, dark and gritty, black and white images reflecting Kate’s dire situation.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Kate’ and read it in one sitting. I’ve got a few questions for you Kev… just hang on a tick while I get myself together. Okay.
1. Tell me, how did you evolve from being an Illustrator and becoming an Author/Illustrator? Did you always write?
Good question Neridah. Perhaps I didn’t always write, but even in primary school I told stories. If they were a little exaggerated perhaps I knew even then that even though I had deep enthusiasm and respect for non-fiction, fiction would always be my thing. I wrote remarkably pretentious, wordy and impenetrable poetry through my secondary years and wrote years of correspondence back to Australia whilst living and studying in Holland. It was all preparation for eventually taking up the pen and key and wielding the word.
For example, I illustrated Susan Kurosawa’s column in the Australian Newspaper for years. When I heard she was going on holidays I sent an email suggesting that I take over the writing of the column while she was away. So, whilst the editor had enough sense to not even acknowledge my offer (what did he know?) even then I felt that it was inevitable.
But wait, there’s more. I have always listened to and copied others speech patterns and am a little too probing when asking about people’s lives and experience. I love to stretch a tale, and am still a tad too pleased when I can make myself cry when writing. Are they the marks of a writer or what?
Absolutely they are. Making yourself cry is a skill.
2. How did the idea for Kate first come along? It feels and reads like a true story. What’s your advice to writers trying to achieve this?
Firstly, thank you for that compliment; I appreciate that specific endorsement of my characters from another writer. Kate feels real to me because she is an amalgam of girls I knew when I was growing up. She is also in part the friends of my children, my children, and young women I speak to when visiting schools.
I feel for the profound challenges they face growing up in our time. There is so much scrutiny and intrusion into their lives and yet they face so many disturbing chapters of their lives unseen and alone. I don’t think we manage the transition to puberty at all well and Kate reflects this.
We over protect them right up to pre-puberty, and then suddenly all ties are off. They have phones, almost unfettered access to the internet, an aggressive media modeling bizarre behaviour to them in prime time and magazines that describe a model of femininity that’s prime material for psychotherapy.
I also really like women and have many female friends, and they are all strong and capable. They are not without their insecurities but in spite of this they achieve highly, and on top of this they are loving, loyal, and at times very brave. Here’s to them.
How do you write characters like that? Pick some sound female friends. And don’t be afraid to listen to them.
Good on Kev. And I agree the challenges facing our teenagers are so different from our own.
3. You obviously love dogs, because Wild is a gorgeous creature. Do you have a dog?
When I was young both mum and dad worked, and after schools it was often our two very large dogs who greeted us when we came home. They were excellent companions, jealous protectors and entirely forgiving of our mean tricks and callousness. They taught us to be better people.
They were also a very soothing presence. School was such a confusing experience, and as a migrant others were often not as gracious as they might have been. Having a dog around you after a bad day is like taking an aspirin for a headache.
I don’t currently own a dog but speak to them often and everywhere. And of course as you might know money from this project goes to the lost dog’s home. We have never had an animal that hasn’t been rescued or inherited.
It’s a wonderful cause. Check it out at Lost Dogs Home in North Melbourne.
4. I found your book pretty fast paced. How do you approach writing that sort of action and dialogue? Do you stop to sleep?
ZZZZZZZZZZ. Oh sorry, I seemed to have dozed off.
Michael Dugan, whose work I illustrated early in my career was a perceptive and generous mentor. When we drove off into the country to conduct workshops we talked about all things.
He was a very successful writer and gave me some excellent advice. He said that especially when writing for young people it was important to make something happen on every page. As it turns out that’s not bad advice for any writer. When writing Kate I tried to keep pushing my characters Kate, Mal, Jess & Wilde into situations beyond where they were comfortable. It manufactured a tension that I kept trying to resolve in the writing. It created a sort of roller-coaster effect.
The other thing he stressed was to keep the language simple, sentences short but not to be afraid to launch into complex subject matter. When writing Kate that’s what drove the process.
Dialogue is very important to me. I am impressed how both Michael Dugan and John Marsden write clipped, elegant dialogue that infers so much more than it says. It is something I will always aspire to.
I agree, they’re amazing writers.
Well, thank you so much Kevin for so generously giving your time to answer these questions for me. I feel I know you so much better and there is some great writing advice in here. Good luck with your next project, I can’t wait to read to see it.
If you’d like to buy a copy of Kate, she can found in any good bookstore or you easily can buy it on-line at Morris Publishing Australia.
Also, at this site you can read the first Chapter of ‘Kate’ and read a great review by Jill Smith.
Check out some of Kev’s other books. They’re absolutely wonderful.
‘B for Bravo’
Is an alphabet book that teaches the phonetic alphabet, celebrating 100 years of Australian aviation.
‘Antarctic Dad’ written by Hazel Edwards & Illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre
‘The Uncle Eddie’ Books written by Lucy Farmer & Illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre