Matt Owens is a graphic artist, pounamu carver and volunteer firefighter who lives on the Awhitu Peninsula, tucked inside the southern headland of the Manukau Harbour on Auckland’s west coast. Matt talks to NZ Booklovers about his first children’s book.
Tell us a little about The Story of Swoop. The Story of Swoop is based on my real life experience rescuing an injured baby magpie, raising her and watching a friendship unfold between her and my cat mogli. This all happened at the same time my father told me he was terminal with cancer, Swoop really helped me through that.
What inspired you to write this book?
Two things, the story of Swoop, (and Mogli) went viral around the world, children and people loved the story so much and it brought a huge amount of joy to people going through a pandemic. I wanted to take it further and I wanted to inspire children to be kind to animals, learn about co-existence and also about identity which is a story line in the book.
The second is that when I was a child, I would day dream and write short stories, I always wanted to write a book but the opportunity never came along until it literally fell into my lap later on in life.
What research was involved?
As I was starting from scratch, I had a lot of learning to do, I would go into libraries, book stores, I spoke to authors, children, teachers and parents finding out everything I could in order to make it happen.
How did you work with the illustrator, what was the process?
The beautiful thing is that Swoop the magpie chose the illustrator. I hadn’t met her yet but swoop was visiting her daily. Emma fell inlove with swoop and painted her. When I found out about this I instantly pitched the idea to Emma.
I provided Emma with the script and she illustrated it, but since she had a relationship with Swoop and the area she was really able to capture the vision.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Without a doubt Blackbird by the Beatles.
My father's sickness and his passing is a big part of this journey, the book is in honour of him, and there’s a monarch butterfly that hatches from a chrysalis into a butterfly in the book Which is a personification or him. I sang blackbird at Dad's funeral so I’d pick that song if I had the chance.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book for children?
The whole experience has been amazing. It’s been one of excitement and overall I’m just really proud. Also my campaign to find and secure the perfect publisher was an achievement I’m extremely grateful for.
What did you do to celebrate finishing The Story of Swoop?
I went and told my mum. I’ll never forget the tears in her eyes.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Alchemist, it’s a story about a young mans personal legend. I feel like I’ve just started mine.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I really would love to make this my career going forward so my plan is to write more books. As a musician I’d also like to incorporate songs with my stories in future.
Scholastic New Zealand