Interview with Author Charlie Mackesy Pt. 1
Charlie very kindly met me on Zoom and let me ask him lots of questions that Edward and I came up with! I will release part 2 soon, so make sure you subscribe to our mailing list to be updated about when it's released. This is a transcript of his answers:
1.How did you come to make the book?
That’s a good question, but also a very difficult one to answer. It happened gently and organically over time. When I had made so many drawings of the conversations between the four characters, it did feel like there could be a book, but it seemed there was no real story yet.
I always felt that a book needed to have a proper narrative, where something happened and there had to be a plot, but I couldn't quite see one yet. The book slowly came to be when we put all the drawings together and worked out that actually there was a journey being made both conversationally and physically.
Then someone from Penguin came to my exhibition in November 2018 and introduced herself and said “Would you like to make a book?”
I liked the idea, so I just kept drawing, sharing the images with my friends, and we slowly worked out how it was to be.
Somehow the book already existed, it was just getting the order right - that was really important; how things developed in the characters, where they were going, what they were concluding about life at the end.
So a long answer to your question! But really it came about over time, almost by accident as far as I'm concerned. In a weird way - and I hate to sound odd, but - it almost asked to be made. And the ingredients were already there, already in the kitchen. We just needed to get them in the right pot and cook them at the right temperature for the book to come to be.
Basically, like a cake.
Yes like a cake! Exactly!
2.How did you come up with each of the 4 characters?
It was the boy and the mole who arrived first and two of my favourite books of all time are ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and also a book called ‘The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business’ where someone poos on his head and he goes around asking who did it. So I’ve always loved moles and then I illustrated some poems and one of the characters was a mole, and they’ve always been in my head, so I thought well let's have the boy meet a mole.
Then I think a horse arrived and I love drawing horses, all my life I have loved drawing horses. I like the power of the horse next to the little mole and the vulnerability and mix of the three. Then a good friend of mine came to me because she wanted to have a tattoo on her arm. She liked foxes and I have always liked drawing foxes… and I see them often in my garden. So the fox joined the boy, the mole and the horse. They just came one by one.
I actually didn’t realise at the time but they all represent very different parts of us as human beings. So the mole is the part of us that is excitable, constantly craving, probably highly addictive. The boy is the part of us that is quite pure but very naive, always asking questions about existence. The fox is the bit of us that is hurt and withdraws and watches wryly from the side, doesn't trust easily and is defensive and quite aggressive. Then you have the horse which is probably the deepest bit of us - it’s peaceful and calm, probably the soul. But still vulnerable.
So the four of them work with each other, and the thing is, I didn't really realise at the time but that wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t like I chose them to represent those parts; they just arrived. The more I shared on Instagram, and shared with good friends, I realised that we were all just working from a deep place in us and we were just trying to work out how they represented us and what we really wanted and what we feared and what we really hope for.
I think the reason that those characters stuck and I didn't look any further was because, deep down, we recognised that that was enough, that whatever they were was enough. Otherwise we would've got a penguin or a polar bear. - There were other animals around that they met and could easily stay, but they didn’t. I just think that they arrived and that’s that.
3.We really love the mole and how much he loves cake! Was there a particular person who inspired the character of mole for you? And did they really like cake that much?
I think actually a normal mole would fit in the palm of my hand, but the mole in the story is quite big. Barney - my dog - is very like the mole in character; constantly hungry, insatiable! His nature is very like the mole. That said, I do know in myself that when I have a crisis, when things are difficult, I immediately turn to food . Usually crisps. Or chocolate. I think we all do it, we have these places we run to when we are struggling. So, I reckon between me and Barney and friends the mole took shape; he is kind of a combination of all these people. But yes, Barney really had the biggest influence in retrospect.
4. Do you remember what your favourite book was when you were 10?
Yes I do, I really loved Asterix and Obelix, and they are graphic novels. They have drawings and
words. As I said in the introduction to the book, I’m not good with just words. I never understood why adults, or when you reach the age of 12, why did they suddenly decide that they didn't need pictures anymore? What is it about an adult that no longer needs images? I still feel that, so my favourite books at 10 were Asterix and Obelix and Tintin which is also a graphic novel. I like how they all work together and if I got bored of the words I could look at the pictures. I think one of my first books away from pictures that I tried to read was The Hobbit and I found it intriguing, but again I really wanted pictures. So, graphic novels and comics.
5. Where are you when you get your best ideas?
Often I hear a conversation between friends or someone is saying something and I get an idea from that. I just hear people talking, or it's on the radio. Sometimes in the bath because you really relax and you can put music on and think about your day. Sometimes when I am half asleep and I wake up in bed at one in the morning with a sudden thought. Or sometimes when I'm really worried and think how do I try to calm myself, what is it I tell myself?
There was one drawing I did this year which was ‘I just cannot see how we're going to get through this - it’s just too big.’ And I just remember thinking, just feed Barney, just brush your teeth, just make a cup of tea. Just… can you see your next step? What is your next step? If I know what it is, I just do that. So I drew it: The horse says, “Can you see your next step?”, and the boy says “Yes.” “So just take that then.”
6.What inspired you to start drawing?
When I was little I spent a lot of time on my own. We lived on a farm and I liked drawing horses, so my earliest memory is drawing horses. I also had an old wooden record player and I loved listening to things like Beatrix Potter and also the Aristocats. I used to put them on and listen. I had this old compass and it was really sharp, and I drew all the way round the record player. I ruined it! So my earliest memories are drawing horses and scraping my drawings on the side of that record player, listening to these stories.
7.And which artists inspire you?
I forgot to tell you when you asked what my favourite book at 10 was, I forgot to mention a series of books which you can still get by a writer and illustrator - he did both - Edward Ardizzone. He wrote a book called Tim All Alone which is just brilliant, and when you read it and looked at it you are actually in his world. Somehow the drawings and the words pulled you into his world and I found that it was just a very moving experience. Again it was a graphic novel, again it was words and pictures. But Edward Ardizzone was a good artist in his own right.
I think also probably Vincent van Gogh’s ink drawings have always moved me. His landscapes, his mark making is really beautiful and he influenced me a lot. Just staring at them, I still do look at them, I just think that he's amazing. But I mean obviously - he’s one of the greatest artists of all time. Also with sculpture, Auguste Rodin has a huge influence, on how form and shape work together. But I think Ardizzone is the deepest down because of his books and his drawings.
8.Which writers inspire you?
I think that the First World War poets really inspire me, you know, when we go through extreme times, when human beings go through really difficult times. The poems that were written from the trenches always move me. When I was a boy I had to learn them at school. So Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen really influenced me. And I had to learn them off by heart and recite them to myself.
Poems are ruthless in their choices of words, there aren't too many words, absolutely every word matters. If it's right, it's like heart surgery, it goes into your chest. I actually think that some of the new Testament has influenced me, oddly.
There is a book called ‘Birdsong’ I read by Sebastien Faulks who is the first time I ever read a book where I was in public reading it and cried uncontrollably out loud and couldn't stop myself. I remember thinking Gosh ,I was young and I remember thinking, the power of these words is insane.
Also I think a writer called JD Salinger wrote a book called ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ And he broke all of the rules. Books to me, often I felt were a bit boring and they had to do a certain rules they had to obey. I remember reading the first line of Catcher in the Rye and I nearly fell off my chair because he just said “I suppose you're going to want to know where I was born and where I was brought up and where I went to school and all that kind of rubbish, but I'm not going to tell you.”
And I just thought, Wow, you know, that's great! So in a way that’s what's happening with us, with the book. In retrospect, we did break rules making the book- like it's got lots of blank pages and we've got teacup stains on it, and it’s an odd book. It's like it doesn't play by the rules. In retrospect, some books did that- they helped me.
Part two coming soon...