Interview: Raymond McGrath talks about That's What Dragons Do
Raymond McGrath is an award-winning animation director, illustrator, designer and writer who has been working in children’s television and advertising for around 20 years. He has written and illustrated several books himself as well as illustrating books for other authors, such as the award-winning The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo, Bess the Brave War Horse, Friday the Rebel Dog and Mrs Chippy the Cat. Raymond lives in rural Auckland with his wife and four children, some cats and a Schnauzer! He talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about That’s What Dragons Do.
That’s What Dragons Do is a imagination driven, playful bed time story for Dad’s.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have four children so, bedtime is chaos. My kids are always confusing bedtime with playtime and they tend to try to drag it out for as long as they possibly can. I feel as though there sometimes aren’t as many of books specifically for fathers, so I wrote this for me to read to my kids. I also wanted to write something that reflected my girls and who they really are.
I have watched them play and ‘gender norms’ do not seem to be a thing that concerns them. Play is play and they’re up for anything – they switch effortlessly from a fairy princess to a big digger dumper driver to alien space robots!
What research was involved?
Well…to be honest – not much! I watched my kids. I drew some pictures…
The evolution of the story might be mildly interesting? Originally, the idea came from me wondering one day what the enemy of a dragon would be. Traditionally it’s a knight, but I thought that was a little boring. I decided that obviously, it would be a fire fighter because they have a mouth full of fire and a fire fighters sole purpose in this world is to put fires out!
Can you tell us a little about how you did the illustrations?
It’s not too exciting – I used digital tools for this, mostly photoshop. These days the tools are pretty good and I like the flexibility because I can never decide what colours to use! Usually I have to draw and re-draw things about ten times as I figure out what I am trying to do. Actually, now I think about it – I don’t actually know what I’m doing! (Maybe when I grow up, I will…?)
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Shut Up and Dance – by Walk the Moon
Get Back Up Again – Trolls
What did you enjoy the most about writing and illustrating this book?
Doing my own thing and telling my own story. I also quite like surprising readers. It amuses me to make them think they know what my story is about and then change it to something else. [Spoiler alert] – It’s not actually about dragons!
What do you hope children will take away from this book?
Bedtime is bedtime!
No, um…I think just to have fun, be yourselves and read a book with Dad. I don’t think there needs to be a deep message all the time. I hope they just get a laugh out of it, are surprised by how it all plays out and it sparks their own play.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I’m a terrible celebrator. I just got to work on the next thing of my ‘thousand things to do’ list!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I’m reading The Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger with my eldest daughter (she’s two books ahead of me – show-off!). I just love that she and I can have secret conversations about the stories and characters and no one else knows what we’re talking about! It’s a little shared experience thing that is just our own.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have a million things to do. More books, illustrating, screenplays, I’m developing a new animated TV series, graphic novels, novels…too many ideas and not enough hours in the day, I’m afraid.
Scholastic New Zealand