– I had no doubt that it would be published. I had a suspicion that it would be published by Penguin for some reason – I just used to love Puffin paperbacks when I was a kid – and within a month that’s what had happened. When that had occurred I was sort of flooded with confidence and I rented a little studio outside of our house and I sat down and thought, “Well, what am I going to do next?” and I did Sunday Chutney which felt like it wrote itself really easily, but I realised recently that I’d filled five notebooks full of stuff trying to process what it was going to be. I’d loved the Eloise books and I wanted to do something like that, but the minute I start imitating something it’s just shit, so it became a girl character and then it became autobiographical. Once that idea had been triggered, again it was written in a minute. Then I immediately wrote and illustrated another one, Annabel, which is probably going to be published sixth. Again it’s about loneliness, but in the form of a ghost story. It’s much darker and it’s been bumped down the track because it’s for a very different audience. By then Quinn was a little bit older and we had no family [in Melbourne] so we had to move back. This glorious time ended with this glorious summer. I don’t know why, but we were playing Coney Island Baby by Lou Reed a lot under the chestnut tree with the baby and having vodkas in the afternoon. It feels like a scene from a beautiful film in my head. And then our time was up. The house sort of rebelled on us; the plumbing collapsed and we spent thousands of dollars repairing things you can’t see. As much as the house had called us in, and as much as I hate to admit this, it sort of felt like it was telling us to go away. Then two artists from England came over, saw the place and bought it. So suddenly we were back in Sydney, where we were before, and I was going to design school.
Why design school?
The negative side of living in a utopian, alternative reality is that you often don’t see things that are staring you in the face, like that you can’t make an awful lot of money in Australia making picture books. Even though Pearl and Charlie has done as well as a picture book can in Australia it’s financially the equivalent of having a part time job, it’s bugger all. What led me to design school was that I thought I’d get a job in publishing, designing books. Then the same thing happened, the missing bit was narrative, and that got me thinking about advertising. The other thing with ads is that I’ve been on sets forever and I’ve seen every film that’s ever been made, so I’m really film-literate too. Whether I can actually produce them or not is yet to be seen. This may be hilarious in a year or two, it may just not fit me at all, but I can’t shake the feeling that it will somehow if I’m in the right place. It’s an interesting point to be at and everybody from my previous life – there aren’t many people left from my previous life really – is completely bemused or horrified by the idea or the word advertising. To actors, advertising is one of the sleaziest words you can use, but when it’s good, it’s brilliant and smart. I guess I want to be an art director. When you look at what you actually require, the skill set you need to pull that stuff off at the highest level, and compare that to the ability to memorise some lines, it’s just another world. It’s hard. The guys who are really good at it have a dazzling level of left and right brain …
How have you found design school?
Frustrating actually, I haven’t learned as much as I was hoping I would and at 34 it’s hard being in an undergraduate course because everybody’s so young and not as driven as I expected …
How much longer have you got to go?
Seventy-four days [both laugh]. I counted at the train station yesterday! That makes it sound worse than it is, but I think that was driven by the fact that my days yesterday and today started at 3am with the kids. Jude has started teething and will loose the plot for two hours in the night starting at 3:30am and then the other one will get in on the act at 5:30am. I’m watching the Wizard of Oz at 7am and contemplating suicide by 8am.
How old is Jude now?
Seven months, so that whole drama happened seven months ago.