A Viking in Ubud


James Foley, illustrator of The Last Viking Returns, gives us an overview of his time at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Bali … it’s an idyllic paradise filled with rice fields, temples and frangipanis … unless you’re in Kuta, and then it’s a place of digestive upsets and Bintang-singleted bogans.

Don’t go to Kuta. Go to Ubud. It’s a very special place an hour’s drive north of Denpasar, and I got the chance to go there for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October.

I was a last-minute replacement for my good friend and fellow author/illustrator Briony Stewart, who had to pull out. My first job at the festival was running a ‘crafternoon’ for kids, and Briony had kindly let me run with her idea – each child would decorate their own cut-paper dragon complete with flapping wings. The workshop was chaotic fun. The kids were from all over Bali, from other parts of Indonesia and from other countries too. Their cut-paper dragons looked awesome. They also did some drawings of their ideal dragon and decorated Viking helmets to take home.

The next day I jumped into a mini-van along with WA author A.J. Betts, German graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist and Norwegian writer Anne Ostby to visit an international school in the village of Canggu. I spent the day with a Year 5 class doing creative writing and cartooning. The lucky kids have a massive water-slide park right next to the school – I imagine they have a pretty awesome swimming carnival.

My only other commitment for the festival was a panel session on the ‘Strange Difficulty of Making Picture Books’. On the panel with me were a Kiwi illustrator called Zak Waipara and only the most successful Australian picture book author of all time, the inimitable Mem Fox. I was very nervous (OMG MEM FOX) but tried not to show it. I met Mem (and our lovely MC Jeni Caffin) in the green room beforehand. Mem was very warm and self-deprecating, and happily signed my childhood copy of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. It was a huge honour to be on a panel with her, and you can listen to the audio of our session on the Ubud Festival soundcloud page (https://soundcloud.com/ubudwritersfest/oct04-0900-indus-the-strange-difficulty-mem-foxzak-waiparajames-foleychairjeni-caffin).

Ubud is a beautiful place to stay in Bali – hotels are nestled in lush vegetation, restaurants serve raw organic food, and there are yoga studios everywhere. One of the best pastimes is scooter-spotting. I’ve prepared for you an Ubud Scooters Spotter’s Guide, sure to give you hours of fun.

Huge thanks to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival for having me; to Briony Stewart for suggesting me; and writingWA for sending me. It was a brilliant experience and I’ll definitely visit again.



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