Monday, November 30, 2015

North Melbourne Books December Newsletter - featuring Nicholas Gannon

In the December edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to American children's illustrator and writer Nicholas Gannon about his debut novel The Doldrums.

It's a funny, exciting story about friendship and imagination that's sure to win your heart.

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North Melbourne Books talks to Nicholas Gannon

North Melbourne Books: The Doldrums is the thrilling story of young Archer B. Helmsley whose lonely life as a dreamer is interrupted when his globetrotting explorer grandparents go missing, last seen atop an iceberg in Arctic waters. At first it looks as though Archer’s desire to find them will be frustrated by his parents' strict rules surrounding family and school-life. Were you anything like Archer, dreaming of grander adventures ahead?

Nicholas Gannon: Yes, I probably was in certain ways. I was never very fond of school and I was always looking forward to what came next. And in an odd way, during that time, I think the imaginings felt more real than the real stuff did.

NMB: Archer eventually befriends two children, Adelaide and Oliver, who join him in his quest. Adelaide has arrived from France after her dreams of becoming a ballet dancer are ended by the loss of a leg in an accident. When asked what happened her reply is that a crocodile took it! Have you found that good humour and  imagination come in handy when coping with life’s slings and arrows?

NG: Hamlet had a few things to say about those slings and arrows and I’ve found humor to be a good way to oppose them. It’s important to find something to laugh about in terrible situations because otherwise we’ll all end up wallowing away in our own misery and that’s not very attractive.

NMB: The children in The Doldrums appear to exist in a world unaffected by the digital age. Hand-written letters, newspapers, books and libraries are not only essential to the plot but also give the book a sense of depth and tangibility. Do you miss this “golden age” of communication?

NG: Yes, for The Doldrums, I didn’t want it to be placed with specific location or time period. And I do enjoy the aesthetics of that bygone era. It’s more enjoyable to illustrate a letter than it is to illustrate a cellphone. And I’d argue that it’s more enjoyable to receive a letter than it is to receive a text message. A letter creates a connection. At one point, the person who wrote it also held that paper in their hand. I think you summed it up well with the word ‘tangible.’ We’re very connected today, but it all feels less tangible.

NMB: Your wonderful illustrations for The Doldrums give the book a real sense of strangeness and mystery.  Had you always wanted to both write and illustrate a novel for children and just how difficult was it to juggle the two?

NG: I knew I wanted to be an illustrator from the beginning, but it wasn’t until the age of twelve or so that I realized I would also like to write stories. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to juggle the two. In many ways they inform one another. The only challenge is that unlike other writers, when I finish a book, I don’t get to move on to the next right away. When I finish the writing I have to begin the final illustrations and that makes the whole process considerably longer.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

NG: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. He’s brilliant. His writing has a similar command to that of Mark Twain. They even had similar haircuts. I’m wondering if they used the same barber.

The Doldrums, by Nicholas Gannon. Published by HarperCollins $24.99