Beverley McWilliams, author of Born to Fly, and illustrator Tim Ide answer some questions about their book. We thank them and MidnightSun Publishing for this interview.
Questions for Beverley McWilliams
I would love to know more about how you came across him to start with, and what was it specifically about him that inspired you to commit to writing his story?
During a vacation in the Yorke Peninsula, I visited the town of Minlaton and was excited to discover The Memorial Hanger displaying Captain Harry Butler’s ‘Red Devil’ plane. I thought it was wonderful how this small country town had such a magnificent memorial to their local hero, and I was intrigued to learn more about the life of Harry Butler. What I discovered was an inspiring story of perseverance and courage. I’d always been interested in early aviation, and there was something special about Harry and his determination to achieve his dream that really reached out to me. But despite his wonderful story and tremendous aviation feats, outside his home community Harry Butler was very much a forgotten hero. I wanted to change this, and as 2019 marked the hundredth anniversary of his most significant flight, I decided that it was a perfect time to write a children’s book to celebrate and share the achievements of this inspirational Australian hero.
Tell us more about how long it took to collate all your research. And how did you go about doing it?
My initial research took around six weeks to collate. I revisited Minlaton and met with members of the Butler family who shared their stories and private collection of photos. I visited the Minlaton Museum which has a room dedicated to Captain Harry Butler. I spent several days in The State Library of South Australia where I examined archived photos, documents, artefacts and original letters. I also used Trove to access the many newspaper articles written about Harry. I gathered my initial research before I began writing the Born to Fly. However, my research continued throughout the writing process as I focused on the areas of relevance to my story.
What was the most rewarding part of the writing process for you?
I love research so I particularly enjoyed that part of the process. Reading original letters and holding precious artefacts such as a celebration pin worn at one of Harry’s aerobatic displays was truly special. Through my research, I felt I developed a real connection with Harry, and this made writing his story even more rewarding.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
The most challenging aspect was deciding what to include in the book. I had collated a tremendous amount of information, but being a picture book I was very limited in the amount of words I could use. Providing a timeline in the back matter enabled me to include a lot of information that didn’t make it into the story. However, I still found it difficult to be ruthless with my text and keep within my goal of 700-800 words.
Describe the process of working with Timothy as an illustrator.
When I found out Tim was illustrating Born to Fly I was thrilled. I had seen his illustrations in other non-fiction picture books, and I loved his style. I really enjoyed working with Tim. He was very open in sharing his illustrations from his first sketches through to his final artwork. He even included a surprise illustration of me and my children. As a picture book writer, I think it is very daunting when your book is first handed over to an illustrator. You never know if their vision of the story will be the same as yours. But Tim made the book everything I dreamed it would be, and I felt very privileged to have worked with such a talented illustrator.
What did you feel you personally learnt most from your research and process of writing Harry’s story?
Born to Fly was my first non-fiction picture book, and I learnt to take a very different approach to my research and writing. With my research, I wasn’t just gathering information, I was searching for those special gems which could make a factual biography into a story that would engage children. When it came to writing the story, I needed to move my focus from Harry’s significant aviation achievements and instead try to connect children to Harry as a person so they could appreciate and be inspired by his story.
Read Sonia Bestulic’s review of Born to Fly
Questions for Tim Ide
Timothy, congratulations on your wonderful work in Born to Fly; can you share with us, how you went about creating such real to life
With this and other historical based books, I
try to think ‘cinematically’, I think. With a biopic, you have a lot of
information to cram in, so you want it to look as accurate as possible, skip
the boring bits and entertain, educate and not misrepresent, which is a bit of
a juggling act. Beverley had also given very detailed notes in her MS as to
what might be a good idea to have as a picture on each page, which was very
useful. For example, the more amusing farming mistakes Harry had made through
having his head in the clouds.
What amount of research were you required to do, and how did you go
about completing the research to ensure your depiction was accurate?
I had to do a lot of research into planes, an area of knowledge that I am not familiar with. I drove down to Minlaton to see the Red Devil in its little glass building and photographed it from as many angles as possible. I also took photos of Minlaton and surrounding land to get a feel for it. I researched fashions, cars, WW1 uniforms and details, goat buggies, basically every page and every illustration needed research of some kind! The illustration of Minda required research into what buildings were standing in the 1920s and what it might have looked like back then.
Google was my friend for this, not to mention information that museums and enthusiasts can supply. I contacted Minda Inc for information about their buildings and nurses’ uniforms.
Were many revisions required, or did you follow a specific process with the publishers and/ or Author that made the process more streamlined?
It was a pretty streamlined process! I kept in contact with the author and publisher to let them know how I was going, but I was pretty autonomous (subject to approval) for the most part.
Do you have a favourite illustration in the book, and if so, why? Probably my favourite illustration is the World War 1 Spread. It’s the darkest part of the story in a less is more kind of way, and I wanted to show that in this particular picture, pretty much literally, as it is tonally the darkest picture in the book! I wanted to show the tedium of war, with the horror of war just lurking and waiting just a couple of feet away over the top of the trench. I did a lot of research into life in the trenches, photos and drawings from the time, that sort of thing. I wanted that if some student at school was studying WW1, they could look at this picture and see what they had been learning about come to life.