Interview: Donovan Bixley talks about Flying Furballs: Most Wanted
Donovan Bixley is an illustrator and writer based in Taupo. Donovan has numerous bestsellers to his name, including the recent Much Ado About Shakespeare. Donovan created The Great Kiwi ABC Book (2016), Pussycat, Pussycat (2015), Little Bo Peep (2014), Old Macdonald’s Farm (2011), and The Wheels on the Bus (2010). Flying Furballs: Dogfight, Flying Furballs: Hot Air and Flying Furballs: Unmasked are the first three books in this new series. He talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Flying Furballs and the fourth book in the series, Most Wanted.
Flying Furballs stars our hero, Claude D’Bonair, the youngest pilot in the CATs air corp. It’s just like World War One, except with pussycats in planes in Paris!
In Most Wanted, Claude and his squadron pursue the top dog ace, The Red Setter, into their biggest air battle yet. When things go topsy turvy, Claude finds himself on the run behind enemy lines. Along the way he makes some new dog friends, and bumps into some old enemies.
What inspired you to write this series?
Most of my books come about because I’m really excited to paint certain things. With Flying Furballs I wanted to draw pictures of pussycats flying planes and going on hair-raising adventures to romantic and exotic locations.
What research was involved?
I’ve always loved old fashioned planes and it’ really inspiring reading actual accounts by WW1 pilots. In each Flying Furballs adventure I try to make up unbelievably crazy scenes for my characters to do in their aircraft … like doing a loop de loop and falling out of their plane and then falling back into it … but usually I discover through my research that these crazy things actually did happen to some WW1 pilot for real!
What was your routine or process when writing these books?
I write each story out by hand. This normally takes a month or so, because I’m usually working on 3 or 4 other books at the same time. Once I get the words knocked into shape I start working out the page layup and doing the rough pencil drawings. I really love the process of making a chapter book that works like a picture book, so that both the words and pictures are each telling part of the story. The pictures really allow me to create a wider universe, with a lot of depth that readers can get lost in. You’d be amazed at how much storytelling the pictures are contributing to the words.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this particular book?
Each Flying Furballs book is an excuse for me to draw a new WW1 plane. In Most Wanted, Claude get’s his beloved plane, Kitty Hawk back — it was shot down in book 1 Dogfight, and was rebuilt by Claude’s friend Manx. In this Holland adventure I also get to draw some lovey little Dutch villages nestled beside canals.
I usually have a bunch of action scenes and set–piece gags that I want to wrangle into the story, like the spread where we get to see the funny pages from the cat newspaper, The Scratching Post. One of the most enjoyable parts of writing is when your characters take you off on some unexpected storyline. In Most Wanted, I was thrilled to discover that Claude needed to disguise himself in a traditional Dutch milkmaid’s outfit to escape the dogs.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
This year I worked on nine books, plus the eleven I have coming out, so I’d be a full time partier if I celebrated every time I finished a book or had a new book come out! It’s always a good excuse to have a glass of wine though.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I met a great Australian comedian and writer, Osama Sami at the Perth Writers Festival. His book Good Muslim Boy, is a wonderfully moving insight into another culture. His misadventures as a young man who’s not quite Iranian, not quite Iraqi and not quite Australian are blimmin’ funny too.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m currently working on a couple of very exciting picture books, which allow me to really explore some cool aspects of New Zealand’s culture, beyond the kiwiana classics I’ve created with titles like The Looky Book and The Great Kiwi ABC Book. I’ve also got Flying Furballs book 5, where our feline heroes adventure to Egypt, and then book 6, which sees them dogfighting over Big Ben in London. Most exciting, my illustrated biography Faithfully Mozart is being republished after almost a decade out of print. In 2017 I was the recipient of the Mallinson Rendel Illustrators award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation, and in March, I’m using the award money to go to the world’s biggest children’s book fair in Bologna, Italy. With books published in 31 countries, I’m really keen to show international publishers all my latest projects.
Flying Furballs: Most Wanted by Donovan Bixley, published by Upstart Press