One of the most exciting things about writing is getting to work with a talented illustrator. You get to see your ideas brought to life in ways that you didn’t know were possible! I was lucky enough to be teamed up with Richard Morden for our recent book Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings. His drawings range from funny to creepy to downright scary – not just echoing the text, but also enhancing it.
Based in Melbourne, Richard works in a range of styles and is fascinated by Australian culture, history, prehistory and natural sciences, gothic horror and science fiction. He was happy to share his thoughts about this latest adventure.
1. Tell us a little about your research for this project.
I looked up all the people, places and animals to make sure they looked just right. I also added accurate details that weren’t necessarily in the text. The aim was not just to draw what was in the text, but to expand on it in a complementary way, helping to create an informative experience for the reader. Some of the animal drawings were based on photos I have taken in museums and a lot of the landscapes were based on photos from my own reference library. Interestingly, I met some of the witnesses of the Westall UFO sighting years ago at a talk promoting a documentary. I asked them what they experienced and their answers helped inform the Westall UFO illustration in this book: best reference ever.
2. What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching the book?
I loved the story of medieval African coins being found on the North coast of Australia. As well as being an exciting story of a chance discovery it hints at possible histories beyond the generally accepted accounts of Australia’s past. It left me wondering what wonderful historical surprises yet await us.
3. What was the most difficult part of this project?
Some of the more serious topics covered in the book continue to have an effect on people’s lives to this day. Stories such as the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain required representation in a way that is informative and engaging yet respectful to those affected. Illustration concepts such as these need more consideration than others. On a less serious note, what does a bunyip look like? Nobody really knows. How then to illustrate a bunyip? I struggled with this question, changing my mind several times. In the text is a suggestion that extinct megafauna could have been a real life basis for the legends of bunyips. Following this train of thought, I sketched a Zygomaturus, an extinct giant marsupial swamp cow, and decided it looked weird enough to fit the bill. What do you think a bunyip should look like?
4. What was the most fun or rewarding part?
Illustrating all the mysterious locations, situations and characters was a lot of fun, but by far the most rewarding aspect was all the learning involved. I was already familiar with some of the stories but many were new to me, and when researching the illustrations I learned even more. Behind the incredible stories is a backdrop of intriguing Australian personalities, culture and history; exactly the kind of subjects I enjoy learning about.
5. What’s the strangest or most mysterious experience you’ve ever had?
What do you think explains it? In 1996 on a cool but sunny spring morning I saw three large black cylinders quietly floating over the western suburbs of Melbourne. I couldn’t identify them so for me at least they were UFOs. Years later I searched on the internet for what I had seen, and found many pictures of floating black cylinders identical to what I remembered. They were real. I am pleased to say they were not aliens, they were solar balloons! Someone had been playing a prank. Look them up, they are strange looking things.