Interview: Ross Murray talks about Muki and Pickles
Ross Murray is an author and illustrator from the Bay of Plenty. Influenced by a combination of comic books and vintage advertising, his illustration clients include Lonely Planet, Marvel, NASA and Disney. In his spare time, he makes picture books for kids and comics for grown-ups. Ross talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Muki and Pickles.
The book is a gentle story about friendship, resourcefulness and the quest for one delicious peach. Muki and Pickles are best friends who happen to be rabbits. They’re quite different from one another but both love food. One day while exploring in the woods they spot one last peach on the tree across the stream and set their hearts on finding a way across the water to pick it!
What inspired you to write this book?
As both a parent and a visual storyteller, coming up with stories for my kids feels like a very natural thing to do. My elder daughter, Ella, used to be really obsessed with rabbits and she actually co-created the characters with me. Ella and my younger daughter, Millie, provided inspiration for the personalities of the characters which are a combination of various bits of both of them. Ella loves reading while Millie loves making stuff and going on adventures. Conversely, Ella can be quite outgoing while Millie is very introspective.The story was inspired by a series of bush walks we did while on holiday in the Coromandel. There were a number of rogue peach trees on the trail and they provided the seed (pun fully intended) for an adventure featuring our two characters.
What was the process when writing and illustrating this book?
The book was the result of a very slow process of scribbling away in-between other projects: comics, other books and a full-time career as a commercial illustrator. It was completed over a span of about five years which sounds like a ridiculously long time! I settled on a visual style very early on and gradually refined the storytelling as I went. For quite some time, the story was in the form of a more traditional picture book with words and image separate from one another. At some stage I realised the pictures were telling so much of the story on their own that I was able to reduce the words purely to dialogue and integrate them into the illustrations in the form of speech balloons. I have a helpless love for comics!
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
There’s a song called ‘Sweet Road’ by a band name Animal Collective that has a really joyful, playful nature to it. I used to listen to it a lot when the kids were little and we lived in the woods and I think it sums up the mood of the book quite effectively.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book?
I really enjoyed that it was a project we worked on as a family. Of course, there were a few creative differences of opinion, but the result really conveys a sense of who we are. Those greedy bunnies are quite an accurate reflection of our family.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I don’t exactly recall but it most likely involved taking a stroll around the Waikareao Estuary, keeping a keen eye out for any neglected fruit ripe for the picking!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I’ve just finished reading Tranquility and Ruin by Danyl McLauchlan which is a series of essays loosely related by the idea of ‘uncertainty’. Danyl is such an intelligent and relentlessly inquisitive writer and this collection really encapsulates that. But in terms of kids books, Millie and I finished reading Tears of the Painter which is the fourth and final story in Kickliy’s wonderful Musnet series. The titular character, Musnet, is a mouse who paints and happens to live in Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. It’s charming, sweet, inspirational, exciting and really funny!
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m busy with a stack of commercial projects at present which includes illustrating covers for a bunch of new Lonely Planet books and working on a series of illustrations for Apple. A UK/European edition of my comic book for grown-ups, Rufus Marigold, is being published in November and I’m part of a group exhibition in Auckland in December which I’m looking forward to. Not sure what’s next on the picture book front - give me another five years though and we’ll see!