Meet Graeme Base

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Graeme Base, author and illustrator of Moonfish answers some questions about his book. We thank Graeme and Puffin Books for this interview.

Moonfish is an extraordinarily beautiful story, about belonging and bravery. It feels like it can appeal to readers of all ages. What were the first glimmers of inspiration that compelled you to tell this story?

Every time I go somewhere new, I come home with a new story. A few years ago, I began travelling to China, initially just to have a look around and then, over several subsequent trips, on book-tour to support my Chinese publisher in Wuhan. The idea came to me of a book reflecting the travels of a Western person in this Eastern land – a story born of European traditions (the classic Ugly Duckling theme) but showcasing the Chinese landscape and culture.

Some of the pages in Moonfish have no written words. Can you tell us a little about the intention of these pauses and their purpose in your storytelling?

The adage ‘timing is everything’ is as applicable in storytelling as in any other pursuit. Pausing to allow the reader to take in a moment or to ring the changes as a new plot direction emerges is important. Also, I’ve always felt a picture book should generally avoid saying in the text what can be seen in the artwork – so, occasionally, allowing an image to speak for itself with no text whatsoever can be a memorable moment.

Moonfish leaves his home and meets other animals on his journey of discovery. In these encounters I became very curious about some of the background details I could see when I looked closely. Was it just my imagination?

I gathered a great many books and photos of Chinese landscape and cultural imagery in my travels that served to populate the detail of the artwork, sometimes quite clearly, as in the Great Wall, the mountains of Guilin and scenes of traditional village life, but also concealed objects like vases and coins that can be found in a more leisurely study of the pictures. This kind of detail is something I have always loved doing in my work. (There’s also a character called PandaFish to be found in every scene – an underwater version of China’s most famous and loved animal!)

When I was reading Moonfish, I forgot at times that it was an underwater world. It is filled with atmospheric light and vast landscapes. Can you describe some of the techniques that you use to create such depth and detail in your artwork?

The idea of a reinterpretation of the Chinese landscape in an underwater setting was always going to require a delicate balance – sometimes it comes to the fore in the shape of surface reflections/refractions and bubbles, sometimes it fades into the background. I explored this dualism in ‘The Sign of the Seahorse’ some years ago and it was a lot of fun revisiting the technique for Moonfish. It takes a little longer to strike the right balance in terms of creating a sense of depth but I’m happy to say that in most of the paintings the result came in largely as I had hoped!

Finally, if you could choose only three words to describe Moonfish, what words would you choose?

Multi-layered. Atmospheric. Damp.

Read Angela Brown’s review of Moonfish.

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