I had the pleasure of asking author/illustrator, Steve Antony, about tantrums, his favourite banana dishes and how he's finding his new career as a popular children's author, all in the wake of his second picture book, Betty Goes Bananas.
Steve Antony was born in England, but grew up in Alamogordo, New Mexico where he was the kid with the British accent that liked to draw and entered lots of writing contests. Steve was obsessed with character book collections like the Mr Men books and the Munch Bunch. He even wrote to Roger Hargreaves with a suggestion for a new Mr Men character: Mr Green, an environmentally aware Mr Man.
Steve went on to study art and graduated with an HND in Illustration from Swindon College and an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin. There he learned a great deal about sequential illustration - and was finally able to find satisfying ways to do the two things he loves to do most - writing and drawing - at the same time. Steve’s pile of loose drawings, tatty sketchbooks, notepad scribbles, and newspaper clippings continues to grow into a small mountain of stories in his little Swindon studio.
BWB: Your new book Betty Goes Bananas is about tantrums, did you ever lose your cool over anything when you were a child?
SA: I lost my cool lots of times when I was a child. I really disliked doing anything that involved being the centre of attention, like trying on new shoes or getting a haircut. If I could find a way out of doing those sorts of things, I would. If I couldn't find a way out, a major strop usually ensued. I was never spoiled as a child, but I do remember losing my cool whenever my mum couldn't buy me a new Mr Man book whenever we walked through our local WH Smiths. Thank goodness for libraries!
BWB: Betty Goes Bananas is your second picture book. Was it like the 'difficult second album' after the success of The Queens Hat?
SA: I finished the book around about the same time I finished 'The Queen's Hat', so I never felt any pressure to create something better or just as good. They are totally different. I often like to pick a subject and just dive in to it without thinking too much about how it will compare to something else I've done. My first book was a 'British' book; my second, 'tantrums'; my third, 'manners' and so on. For me, the most important thing about writing picture books is telling the story in the best way possible, even if that means creating something totally different from anything I've done before. I quite like the challenge, and I'm really happy with 'Betty Goes Bananas'. I hope that others like it too.
BWB: Is there any item of food you find hard to open?
SA: I can't open those ice pop lollies that come in long plastic tubes. Everyone else just seems to be able to rip into them with their teeth, but I have to use scissors, or (if I'm desperate) somebody else's teeth.
BWB: What's your favourite banana related dish?
SA: Banoffee Pie! Just don't ask me to make it though.
BWB: I read that Betty Goes Bananas started as a doodle in a sketchbook. Do all your ideas start this way?
SA: Betty captured my imagination as soon as I drew her. She made me laugh out loud, and that's normally a good sign that I've created something worth developing. Oxford University Press loved 'Betty' and suggested that I explore tantrums as the core theme to her story. But not all my ideas start this way. Sometimes I hear a phrase that inspires me. Sometimes I stumble across funny newspaper articles that spur me on to write. I only ever pursue the ideas that seem to come naturally, and sometimes I go through my sketchbooks to see if I can further explore any of my characters and ideas.
BWB: Like The Queens Hat, Betty Goes Bananas has a limited colour palette. Do you prefer to work this way?
SA: I do. Once I've got an idea that I feel is strong enough to pursue, I start contemplating what colours will best suit the story. It's often the case that my choice of palette influences the entire book and how I render the final illustrations. With Betty, I wanted the character to pop out and I wanted the background colours to reflect Betty's emotions. Once I had settled on red, yellow, black, white and pink, I decided that a Toucan would be the best secondary character for the book, and I decided that background elements weren't necessary to help tell the story. The visuals are actually quite abstract; Betty could be anywhere, and that's what I like about it.
I would never rule out using lots of colours, but I only ever introduce colours that are integral to the telling of the story. At the moment, I'm working on a book that has lots of colours, but that's because it features lots of props that need to stand apart from each other.
BWB: What's the most challenging task you've faced since becoming an author/illustrator?
SA: Events were daunting to begin with. I took a dive in the deep in with the Hay Festival. It was my second event, and the tent was at full capacity. I had a moment of terror that lasted a few minutes before I stepped onto the stage - maybe that was my inner child that hated being the centre of attention. I'm much better now. Recently I drew in the window at Foyles Grand Opening Festival, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
BWB: Who is your biggest illustrator crush?
SA: Norman Rockwell.
BWB: Would you ever consider illustrating someone else's text?
SA: Sure! But to be honest, I prefer the idea of writing a story for somebody else to illustrate. I think I'm more of a storyteller than an illustrator. I've written several stories, including poems, that I haven't even started to illustrate.
BWB: Can you reveal any details about your new book, Please Mr Panda?
SA: It's about a panda, doughnuts and good manners, and it's due for publication by Hodder Children's Books in January. I can't wait! It'll be a good excuse to eat lots of doughnuts.
Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to answer my questions. Steve's second book, Betty Goes Bananas is now available to buy in all good bookshops!