Prolific children’s book author Adam Wallace recently visited the Warragul Library to teach kids about drawing.
Image: Adam demonstrating how to draw the elusive ‘UFO dog.’ Photo: William PJ Kulich.
The Baw Baw Citizen sat down with Adam to ask what pulled him into writing, and what exactly makes an Adam Wallace book…
Adam: They’re funny. I try to do funny narratives. My books are probably a bit quirky and a bit different. Even when [teaching] cartooning the instructions are little rhyming funny stories, and the pictures start as different things and then transform.
They reckon good books and moves are 85 per cent familiar and 15 per cent original, so that’s what I try to do. It’s sort of based in that familiar stuff but then take it a bit left of field.
BBC: Do you actually graph it out?
Adam, jokingly: ‘84! Gotta get one more per cent!’ No, no no, I do do graphs though funnily enough, but more mapping out the story: good events, bad events, and seeing if I get a nice curve in the story. I do that after I’ve finished the first draft, which I’ve found really really helpful.
BBC: That’s cool! You seem to do a lot of school and library visits. What do you enjoy about actually meeting your readers?
Adam: I do a lot. I’ve done about 250 school visits over the last few years. I also go to markets; I’ve done about 750 markets as well. I actually love meeting the parents as well as the kids, but especially the kids in schools and things, I just get [this] energy. Even now just saying it, I’m just getting that energy the kids give, and that interaction. And after doing a visit
I’ll often just go home and start writing because it gets me excited about it.
Seeing kids get excited about books and drawing and reading and writing, it makes you go ‘ooh, this is the right thing. The path I’m on is a good path.’
And they’re just funny – kids just crack me up, so I’ll spend the whole time just laughing, they’re awesome.
BBC: How long have you been writing full time?
Adam: Full time since the end of 2009, so eight years now. I was an engineer before that.
Adam: Yeah, that’s the reaction I get from everyone! Then I did my primary teaching degree. I didn’t teach but went into after care and was writing stories for the kids in that. I really started getting into it. Then I went back to engineering part time so I could finance starting up the books, and self published, and went from there. That was about 2005, when my first book came out.
BBC: Do you miss engineering at all?
Adam, firmly but laughing: No.
BBC: So why did you do it in the first place?
Adam: Probably like a lot of people who do engineering, I was in high school, I was good at maths and good at science and had no idea what I wanted to do, and dad goes ‘how about engineering?’ I went ‘hmm, sure,’ and so I did it.
It was fine, and it got me 10 years of good work and some of my best friends out of it, and financed starting up my writing, so it was really worthwhile, but I never had the motivation to want to become a manger and work 80 hours a week and do all that sort of stuff, and all the meetings. No interest at all.
BBC: You’re talking to a lot of young kids about sketching. What got you into drawing in the first place?
Adam: Drawing? I used to muck around at home, like when I was in primary school and stuff, but never really thinking about it as anything.
I see a lot of kids who go ‘oh, I can’t draw.’ Because there are kids in their class who are awesome, they go ‘well, I can’t draw like that so I can’t draw.’ But it was really only when I was doing the before and after care back in 2003 and just wanted to do something with the kids [that I started drawing more.]I looked up a couple of pictures of cartoons online, copied them, and just drew them with the kids. They liked it and I liked it, so I then sort of started developing my own stuff from there and taught myself, did an online course. I don’t see myself as an illustrator or anything, but I love drawing.
BBC: So you’re author first, illustrator second?
Adam: Absolutely. And authoring, writing, is much more natural. I can just sit down and write and be reasonably happy with what I write straight away. Drawing is easier now, but I have to really work it. It’s not a natural thing to just sit down and draw a picture like I see some people do.
Now I’ve worked at it for 10 years it’s easier, but it’s still not natural. It’s almost more rewarding because it’s not natural. But writing is easier. I wouldn’t illustrate someone else’s book, I just wouldn’t have the confidence, I guess.
BBC: You do have an illustrator for most of your books?
Adam: Yes. That sort of stuff that they do, I can’t do that. I mean, I do the simpler stuff, which is why my how to draw books work well. I think, because they look simple enough, kids go ‘oh, I can draw that!’
BBC: You have a surprisingly big audience for your YouTube channel. It’s 2017 so obviously kids grow up with more than just books and the ABC. How do you find interacting with an online community that’s probably people around the age of 10?
Adam: It’s really weird because I don’t use a lot of social media, and Facebook’s probably my main one, but then kids aren’t allowed on that until they’re 13 so it’s more the parents and teachers who I interact with there.
The YouTube stuff has been good, but I’ve been pretty slack the last couple of years so I need to get into that more because I actually really like making videos. Again, it’s that thing where it probably feels a little more like work because it’s not that natural, even though I like the editing.
And I like the face to face almost more than the online, so I’m probably a bit old school.
BBC: Do you think you have inspired any little kids to follow into a career which isn’t engineering? illustration or writing or so on?
Adam: Yeah, I think so! I have a few folders at home of [pictures] kids have sent me and letters from parents and stuff, which has been really nice, and I’ve been told by parents that their kids have been reading my books and that sort of stuff, and I go ‘ooh, they might take that path.’
Once you’re in, I think you can go anywhere with it, but for lots of kids getting into reading and drawing stuff, it feels a bit daunting I think. When they realise it’s actually fun, I think so, hopefully.
BBC: You’ve published a lot of books. Just googling your name…
Adam, interrupting: I do [that] all the time.
BBC: ….there’s multiple books every year, and you’re doing this talk on a weekend – is this what you live and breathe now? Or do you get time to do anything else?
Adam: Yes, this is pretty much it. I think I’ve got about 40 books now, and this year I’ve got about five or so coming out.
I wrote down a goal a couple of years ago to do one book a year, and it’s just sort of change from that now.
I was talking to someone yesterday who was asking ‘do you have a day off?’ And I’m like, ‘well, no.’ If I get up in the morning and the family’s asleep, I just start writing because I don’t want to just sit around and do nothing. So even on days I have off I will at least do some writing, and I do markets on a lot of weekends as well.
BBC: Would you write something for older kids? Or have you?
Adam: I generally write up to grade 6.
I’ve done one novel that’s probably aimed at nine to 13 or 14 year olds. I did try a young adult novel and showed it to a few people, and they just went ‘nah.’ Again, it didn’t come naturally, and they could see I was trying too hard to write a young adult novel.
I think my natural voice is probably seven to 11. When I just write stuff, that’s what it comes out for. But I would love to do a young adult story; I have an idea I really want to work with, but since that first one I haven’t had the guts to sit down and write the new one. One day, one day. I really like the idea so one day I will do it.
BBC: What did you like to read when you were a kid?
Adam: Heaps. My stepdad was a teacher librarian, so we had books everywhere.I did get a bit influenced by him, which is why I barrack for Collingwood as well; he would have kicked me out of the house if I didn’t! When I was three!
But yeah, lots of Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss, and Bill Peet, who is one not as many people know. He actually worked for Walt Disney, and he was the only person to have ever done a whole Disney animated movie on his own. He did 101 Dalmations by hand on the flip paper, every sheet, just by himself. Now it’s teams of thousands or whatever. He did two movies, I don’t know what the other one was. His books are amazing. He writes and illustrates the books as well in a really cool sketchy style.
They were probably the main ones. And I started reading horror stories when I was about 10.
BBC: What do you read as an adult?
Adam: A lot of non-fiction, actually. A lot of philosophy, self help, personal development-type stuff. At the moment I have three books on the go at once, so I do one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and then one when I go to bed.
BBC: You have time for all that despite writing five books per year!
Adam: Yeah, I don’t read as much as I’d like to. It’s about 15 minutes at a time.
I just read One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest because I hadn’t read that in ages, so I usually go a fiction in the evening, a non-fiction with breakfast, and whatever.
BBC: Have you ever been recognised while out and about by a particularly keen reader?
Adam: Yeah, sometimes, generally if I’ve been to a school in the area. The other week I was at Doncaster Shopping Centre and this kid just watched me go past, and I went ‘have I been to your school?’ And he was like ‘yeah!’ That happens a bit.
I just remembered the funniest one, and this was really embarrassing: I was at a book market at Federation Square, and there was this march about a war somewhere, it might have been a memorial. It was all very quiet and sombre, and then suddenly I heard this kid go ‘oh my god, it’s Adam Wallace!’ And I just waved and covered my face, it was hilarious, that was just about my favourite moment of all this I think.
You can find out more about kids’ activities at the Warragul Library by visiting wgrlc.vic.gov.au.
First published in the 2 June 2017 edition of the Baw Baw Citizen newspaper.
Get free email updates from the Baw Baw Citizen
Read more Baw Baw Kids