AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Michael Thompson

How far back does your interest in picture books stretch?
I went to an exhibition of artwork from a picture book when I was in Year 2 at primary school. I loved seeing all of the artwork displayed. We spent a lot of time that year making our own picture books: planning them on huge sheets of butcher’s paper, cutting paper for the pages and binding them together with wool when we had finished. I have collected picture books for years now, especially when I love the artwork.

Were there particular events/ideas that inspired your story, The Other Bears?
The most important inspiration for the book was just living in a country of such incredible diversity. We have so much opportunity to experience and learn from a range of cultures in Australia. Like many people, I was challenged by watching news of the riots that happened in Cronulla some years ago on TV. The themes in the story probably evolved for me after thinking about those events.

How long have you been drawing and painting?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was in hospital at some stage as a very little boy and have a memory of a person who visited me (I think to keep me occupied) and showed me how to draw a dog and an aeroplane. I drew these same two things over and over but eventually must have branched out from there. My childhood career plan was to be an animator for Disney.

What was challenging about creating the artwork?
Time. I loved the drawing but finding good chunks of time to sit and focus on completing a piece was always a challenge.

What was challenging about writing the text?
Getting every word just right. The story actually came out close to its finished form in one evening although the title was different. It was then a long process to refine the story to get every word in its correct place.

Koalas are not true bears – as you note on the inside cover. Why did you choose to use koalas?
Koalas were originally thought to be bears and are still called bears in many parts of the world. Like bears, koalas can be made to look very human in expression and posture. I liked the idea that a family of koalas might quite like to be confused with bears (who doesn’t like bears?) but may not be sure if they want to actually meet the real bears. They are also closely associated with Australia worldwide, we love them in this country and they are very cute.

What is/was your favourite picture book?
I love all of the books from Graeme Base – especially Animalia and more recently Uno’s Garden. I really enjoy Oliver Jeffers’ books as well.

The bear characters are vividly imagined and expressed. Did you become attached to any of them as you wrote and drew?
I have a soft spot for the pandas. They are the first ones I drew and the finished picture worked out just like the one in my head.

What is the overall message you hope to convey?
I hope the book encourages people to look for the new and interesting things that people from other cultures can show and teach us. In the same way, wherever we come from we have a lot we can offer other people.

What did you enjoy most about the whole process?
I loved putting the book together, planning the page layouts and the way the book would look. I had a lot of fun working with the editor and designer to get it looking the way we all hoped.

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