This is our 5th post of this series. This time it is with one of our members who has recently self-published a really cute-looking picture book. Let's meet Justin Plunkett and get to know him and his wonderful little book.
Tell us about your new book
Oskar and Nanuk is my first children book. It is a story about a llama and sloth helping each other find themselves. When a storm threatens to turn Nanuk into a soggy mop, she decides to leave her hill and find shelter from the rain in the jungle. The following morning she awakens to the alarming sight of an odd looking beast with long, clawed arms, hanging above her. It’s Oskar, a sweet but slightly smelly sloth. When Nanuk realised that she’s lost, Oskar offers to help. The marvellous view from his perch in the tallest tree for miles is filled with rainbows and promise. But something scary keeps him from chasing adventure - a rather unsettling earthworm experience. Together, Oskar and Nanuk work to overcome their fears and they find far more than what they were expecting.
The story is told in rhyme. It has super colourful illustrations throughout, it is 32 pages long and is self published.
What inspired you when working on this project?
There were two books in particular that inspired me, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak and ‘Hello Lighthouse’ by Sophie Blackall. Far from children’s literature, the songwriting of Nick Cave always blows me away. Listening to him, I imagine the words leaving his mouth, where, instead of falling clumsily to the ground, the words dance with each other like smoke. I love reading lines that are playful but carefully crafted, often with the use of assonance, onomatopoeia and rhyme. In the early stages of writing I joined the Masterclass website and watched most of the writers’ courses.
Tell us about the creative process for this book.
When my son was born, I knew that I would make start making something for kids. I didn’t exactly know whether it would be furniture, clothing or something else. I decided to develop a kids brand using two names I’d resonated with during the process of naming future babies, Oskar and Nanuk.
I chose the sloth and llama as they both had really distinct visual characteristics and they could play off each other well. They were a funny combo, opposite in so many ways. To get to know them better I drew cartoons and developed lots of little vignettes that helped me clarify who they were and what they wanted. I thought a lot about the structure, the conflicts and character arcs and then I wrote the story. I loved it when it was done and shared it with a few people. It became clear very quickly that it was far too long. It rhymed in some places and not in others. But it was way too long. I think I ended up writing 4 or 5 versions, with each one getting shorter.
By the second version I felt ready to start illustrating and over about three months I went from sketches to finished work. The illustrations were done on my iPad Pro with the Apple pencil and the software I used was Procreate. Even after the drawings were complete I kept editing and tweaking the writing. The rhyming spread. It was getting really hard to stay motivated towards the end.
When I learned that the process of getting a publisher on board could take 6 months to a year I decided to self publish. After all that work, waiting 6 months for a response was too great an anticlimax. I want to get this book out into the world. Much of my careers has been focussed on branding and marketing so, equipped with a relevant skill set, I feel optimistic about building brand awareness. I remain open and interested in finding a traditional publisher as they are clearly experts, while I am merely impatient.
Did you encounter anything unexpected while working on this project?
I guess I was naive and enthusiastic when I started. It felt easy at first. The editing process was harder than I’d expected, writing became more and more difficult.
The illustration was largely a breeze but when I needed to prep the artwork for IngramSpark, the Print on Demand platform for self publishers, I ran into a really difficult issue. As a designer I’ve printed thousands and thousands of things for clients over the years but I’d never encountered a print specification that included an ink coverage limit. IngramSpark threatened to reject books that exceeded their ink density limit of 240%. I won’t go into technical details, but as a result of this ink limitation I had to spend a week fine-tuning each drawing so that it would print the bright and saturated colours I’d intended.
When I received the first printed prototype it felt small in my hands. I needed to push the book to it’s largest possible format, and with a better sense of how to edit the colours, I went back to editing the pictures.
Now for something completely different! Seaside or Mountains? Why?
While the Alps here in Switzerland are naturally breathtaking, there are shameless tribes of octogenarians who whip past me on the trails, filling me with despair as I desperately need air.
I prefer the seaside in spite of my fear of sharks. As a kid, waist deep in the sea, I found myself face to face with a shark swimming towards me in a tall rising swell. When the wall crashed into whitewater, all oceanic sports were permanently washed from my future. But later in life, the natural beauty of Cape Town left an equally profound mark on me. No bite marks, but brilliant orange sunsets over the sea that stay with me still.
Thank you for this insightful interview.
It's quite inspiring to meet someone who has taken the bold step to self-publish. We wish Justin all the best with his picture book and in future writing/illustrating endeavours.
Bio - Justin Plunkett
Like most people I wear many hats. I’m dad to a beautiful 3 year old. I’m husband to a wonderful Swiss who inspired me to leave the country of my birth, to join her in the land of hers. I’m a South African designer, illustrator and artist. Today I call the sweet little city of Schaffhausen home.
I grew up in a family of avid explorers, every school holiday became an expedition to deserts, jungles and the African bush. I learned to drive a Land Rover at 11 and watched my dad fix them on beaches, salt pans and mountain passes. When I tell stories of my wild childhood to Europeans, they sound far fetched, torn from the adventure books I loved to read during the hours and hours of driving. I had time to imagine and can’t remember being bored as a kid.
In my career I’ve zigged and zagged. I’ve had terrific mentors and hopped from advertising to animation to design. I could always draw. As a restless 5 year year old with pneumonia the only way my mother could keep me in bed was sitting in bed with me. She taught me to draw birds. She was an illustrator and interior designer and as a kid I remember looking up through our glass dining room table littered with markers, papers and french curves. My dad was a creative director in an advertising agency and could draw great cartoons. With my mom’s help I won art competitions at school and my hungry ego found a steady source of approval and admiration. Decades later, I picked up awards and professional recognition and created work I’m still very proud of.
When I became a dad, the wonderful world of children books reopened doors to the past, and this is the reason you are reading this now.
Willkommen! Bienvenue! Benvenuto! Bainvegnì! Welcome!