Children’s author Robyn McLennan and illustrator Jules Faber discuss their latest project, the third book in the The Clunkertons series – an inspriring children’s story which brings the Australian bush to life with its two strange looking characters and the friendships they make along the way with birds and animals.
AUTHOR – ROBYN MCLENNAN
It gives me great pleasure to have this third and final book of The Clunkerton series, The Clunkertons and the New Beginning released. Writing The Clunkerton books has been an amazing experience.
At the beginning, I had no idea that a second or even a third book would evolve. It was towards the end of writing The Clunkertons of Sunnybank Creek (the first book) that I realised I’d left the door open for a follow-up story, hence The Clunkertons and their Unforgettable Journey.
My ten year-old grandson was a little saddened with the ending in this book and like the first, it left him wanting to know more. So after much soul-searching, The Clunkertons and the New Beginning came about. His straightforward comments and tick of approval that the three books were now ‘connected’ was very satisfying indeed. I felt I had passed the test.
The inspiration for the stories to begin with came from the wonderful Lilly Pilly trees in the Coffs Harbour area. Again, being close to the creek and the surrounding bush, it was not difficult to let the imagination run away from me whilst sitting quietly with pen and paper. Story one was on its way!
The 1996 flood in Coffs Harbour left quite an imprint on me, and this is how the second story came about. After being rescued by a very special platypus, it shows how the Clunkertons were able to move on against the odds and start all over again.
This third and final story really began at the Marina, where my husband and I would often go for walks. On many occasions we would spot the same little turtle paddling in and around the boats that were moored there. I often used to wonder how it got there. A new tale was soon beginning to emerge.
And of course, no story would be complete without the aid of Kakita the Kookaburra. She has been there in all three books. She often comes and sits on our balcony. Where would I be without her?
Jules’ clever and colourful illustrations have brought all of the above to life. Even now, when I look closely at his work, I am still discovering all the subtle and hidden details which I was unaware of before. Just matching the Clunkies’ hats with each Clunkerton for example, was quite a fun thing to do. It really made me smile, especially in this third book, where the number of Clunkertons begin to increase.
Jules and I actually completed the three books (with many drafts from me) in two years, and it has been quite a remarkable journey working with him. He is a very, very patient man, especially considering I do not have the internet or email, but somehow, with all the meetings and the help of my son, we managed to get around it. He is a survivor!
I have been most fortunate in that Book Warehouse, Dymocks, Botanic Gardens, The Bunker Cartoon Gallery – even the local library who arranged a book launch for us last year – have been very supportive and encouraging towards myself and local writers. Also, my hairdresser, Jenny, the Plaza and Sawtell Post Offices were very obliging in allowing me to place the books on their shelves.
ILLUSTRATOR – JULES FABER
There’s an old adage which states: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”. I have always firmly believed in this, as whenever I’ve wanted to try something new, the opportunity just seems to materialise almost from nowhere. For many years I’d been a professional cartoonist, but had never truly dipped into the ‘design’ element and wanted to test the waters. Sure, I’d constantly worked with the process of laying images out and planning them so they read right and such, but I’d never taken on the role of designing a major publishing project like this.
When Robyn approached me with the concept for her first book, I immediately saw the opportunity to learn the processes necessary for laying out a children’s book ready for press. In the past I’d been a co-editor on a well-received comic book series, but that wasn’t so much about designing as it was about collating a bunch of other cartoonists’ work into a tangible book.
With The Clunkertons, I had the opportunity to explore the ways a page can be laid out so that it helps the narrative along and so the words don’t trample all over the art and vice versa. There were no word balloons to make things easier here, nor were the characters going to be much help – having no arms and three legs, I had to rethink a lot of my traditional knowledge base regarding expression in cartooning. It ended up being a project that took me around six months to plan right and I learned a lot in those months, as I discovered parts of design I’d always had an idea existed but had never had to confront before. By the time the book was finished, I had picked up an enormous amount of knowledge and had, happily, done what I set out to do – learn about the process.
So when the second installment came along, I was ready for it. The book was to be the exact same size to maintain continuity on the bookshelf, so I was already prepared for that technical side. In the first book I’d made the mistake of creating the art first, and this meant I had worked around its form the whole time. This time I worked with the page templates and sizing before creating the artwork, which sped the process up considerably. Within two and a half months, the book was completed – much faster than the previous one. I had explored some new things, including comic book-type imagery and whilst I’d done this to an extent in the first book, the second book lent a little more confidence. For example, cave scenes utilised a lot of blacks, and I put white text directly onto it rather than use narration boxes. The second book gave me more time to explore new ways of designing a page.
Naturally, by the third book that confidence had grown, so that I could effectively marry all the skills picked up in the last two books. Wanting to try something I had considered in the last book, I planned double page spreads to further put the reader into the characters’ world. Again, I created the artwork using the page templates and brought in my animation experience to create ‘widescreen’ page layouts. Due to this last chapter of the trilogy having a slightly higher page count, it was possible to do this several times. By the time it was done, this final book was wrapped up in just under six weeks.
Overall, I got an enormous amount from the experience. I think the universe hands us opportunities all the time, if only we’re open to them. And in the end, I think that’s what the old adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” means. Stay open to it, and a world of opportunity will suddenly materialise.
This article can be found in issue 31 of Coffs Coast Focus