Multi-award winning author Gary Crew delivers a dark, but compelling Australian fairy tale in his latest illustrated book, The Cuckoo (Ford Street Publishing). The story follows the journey of Martin, a boy on the cusp of becoming a teenager, living in the Blue Mountains. Deserted by his mother, bullied by his brothers and neglected by his father, he seeks solace in the bush. The story is a warning against arrogance and is cleverly complemented by the intricate and surreal drawings of Naomi Turvey.
Gary Crew joins me to talk about The Cuckoo and his other recent works.
JF: Gary Crew, congratulations on the The Cuckoo. The book is ultimately a tale of forgiveness and hope, but there is a great deal of cruelty in the story. Can you explain the background to the book?
GC: Having taught Murray Bale’s novel ‘Eucalyptus’ at university, I was interested in writing an Australian Fairy Tale that would appeal to boys. The extract from Perrault’s ‘Hop o’ my Thumb’ which introduces The Cuckoo proved the perfect starting point for a Fairy Tale based on sibling rivalry and sacrifice.
The Cuckoo is an illustrated book, aimed at middle school readers. What does an illustrated book offer children heading into the teenage years?
GC: Visual literacy is a vital element associated with negotiating the modern world, irrespective of the reader’s age, so that’s one reason; secondly, the image allows the basic print narrative to be extended into a multiplicity of personal interpretations and readings according to the reader’s unlimited imagination.
JF: Would you classify The Cuckoo as a Post Modern picture book?
GC: Yes, I think I would because it is a bit ‘off the wall’.
JF: There is a heavy focus on nature in your illustrated books – Finding Home, In the Beech Forest and The Cuckoo. Do you think your own environment – the Sunshine Coast hinterland, has played a part in that?
GC: For the last 20 years, I have lived on property in the beautiful Blackall Ranges which form the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. My tiny cottage is on top of a mountain; my view is sky and forest. I can’t help but be overawed by nature’s wonders.
JF: You are Associate Professor, Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. How does your teaching background affect the way you write?
GC: This is a great question: the guaranteed income from my university teaching allows me the freedom to innovate and experiment with my writing and publications. I can ‘push the envelope’ and affect genres. I love trying new ideas in both print and illustrative forms.
JF: Do you feel the need to educate when you write as a result of your profession?
GC: No, I don’t feel the need to educate (I don’t really like the word: it means ‘to lead…’ I’m not keen on leading!), but I do like to share my enthusiasm for the uplift that writing creatively can give.
JF: After writing many books for young adults, you wrote two books for adults – The Children’s Writer and The Architecture of Song. Did this change you as a writer?
GC: As I read mostly adult literary works, the time had come for me to ‘have a go’ at writing for an older audience myself. I found a great sense of freedom in doing that.
JF: You have returned to illustrated books. What appeals to you about this genre?
GC: I read the world visually and I love the collaboration with illustrators that the genre allows me.
JF: What’s next for you – more illustrated stories, or something different?
GC: I have contracts for an historical YA novel, ‘Voicing the Dead’ with Ford St and an illustrated book with a seriously innovative ‘steam punk’ artist (Paul O’Sullivan) for ‘The Visions of Ichabod X’ (Harbour publishing). Both are for publication in 2015.
JF: Thanks for visiting, Gary and good luck with The Cuckoo.
Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.