Sue Martin of Books go Walkabout was delighted to interview the Finnish author and illustrator, Timo Parvela and Virpi Talvitie, to celebrate this year’s 2017 tour.
Their book Bicycling to the Moon is a wonderful story, beautifully illustrated by Virpi, that tells the the story of Purdy the Cat and Barker the Dog.
1. Can you tell us more about the character, the dreamy poet cat and the practical dog?How do they resolve issues? Do they remind you of any characters that you know?
Timo: There are two possible ways to examine the characters. They might resemble different sides of the author’s personality or they are just a cat and a dog, both of whom have their own strong nature. Barker is always being practical, jumps right into tasks and is happy only when the problem is solved (a very Finnish way of thinking). Purdy, on the other hand, sees only ways to be creative when facing a problem. Purdy might solve one problem but also creates a new one at the same time. So yes, I suppose the characters resemble us, the creator’s but also our spouses..
Virpi: Certainly, they remind you of someone you know. I read the script to my children as well (they were teenagers at the time) and they said: Mom and Dad, this book is about you two! – True story, I really resemble Purdy and my husband is just like Barker.
2. Did you work together from the start on the illustrations and what influenced the style of the illustrations in the book?
Virpi: When i received the script from Timo I made the pictures rather independently. Illustration, such as the text, will show and cover things – leave space for the reader’s own imagination, that is. Sometimes I want to give the cat and the dog touches that resemble human characteristics by using rough lines and graphic surface layers. The animal hair may, for example, resemble human clothes or the paws might look like shoes and so on. Moreover, the vignettes in the beginning of each story create are art as well. They are repeated and there will be more in the books to follow, if needed. We could soon make a Purdy& Baker ABC-book of them.
3. Bicycling to the moon as a thought is very dreamy. How did a practical dog find himself involved in such a venture?
Timo: First and foremost, Barker is loyal to its friends. Although Barker can tell that the trip will not be a success, it doesn’t want it’s friend to be alone when Purdy finds out the truth. Or maybe some part in Barker wishes that it might actually work..
4. Where are they going to next? Could it be Mars or Venus?
Timo: Barker goes to bed and Purdy will write a poem about the universe.
5. What is the best thing about the dog and also the cat?
Timo: It’s the same answer for both: they are present when the other one needs the other the most.
6. When you were asked about it being made into a TV programme, how did that feel? Sometimes it can be both very exciting and also scary, where there any times that you didn’t feel that it was such a good idea?
Timo: As a matter of fact, I created and produced the TV-programme myself so the whole process frightened me a little bit. I have worked with TV for so long that I have learned to accept the fact that a tv adaptation is always a new version where new things are added to it and something gets left out. We are currently preparing to shoot the Purdy and Barker’s christmas special, which entails 24 episodes.
7. As a guide to relationships, how do you think children can find a way to exploring how to manage their feeling through your book?
Timo: By reading and listening to stories again and again as well as by asking so many questions that things that puzzle them start to make sense.
Virpi: it is the same with pictures: by looking at the again and again. As an illustrator I find that I am, in particular, illustrating, colouring, interpreting and conveying the story and it’s characters’ feelings, emotions and atmosphere.
8. I am personally a great reader of children’s books, but what do you think about children sharing this book with parents as a guide to harmonious living?
Timo: I don’t want my books to be guidebooks for anything. They are literature but I am obviously delighted if someone finds comfort, answers or epiphanies in them.
Virpi: Those moments when the children share the books with their parents create harmony. They are extremely important shared moments, where reading any book together is significant. Moreover, Purdy and Barker are surrounded by a diverse community, consisting of very different animal characters and characteristics. There will always be challenging situations but all problems will be solved eventually. Humour conveys important messages as to accepting differences and so on.
9. The Children’s Bookshow is a great programme for children’s books across the UK, did you know about it before coming to England. Have you had chance to meet with other authors and children too?
Timo: As I am writing this, everything is still ahead, so I can’t say for certain. Hopefully I do.
Virpi: I wasn’t aware of the event before. We illustrators tend to work alone in our chambers. We do have contact with our colleagues in our own country and sometimes even internationally when there is an art exhibit, for example. It was truly great to attend such an interesting and well organised event!
10. In Finland, do you know of any programmes that are similar? Are children’s books popular and are their characters and books which are being made into films?
Timo: Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar large and international festival of children’s literature. We should though. Instead in Finland, many people such as librarians, work at schools and kindergartens every single day to promote reading. We make two or three children’s movie, based on children’s books a year. Finnish people are still reading quite a lot of children’s literature but unfortunately the numbers have gone down during the last few years as they have across the world.
Virpi: Well, we do have the Finnish Reading Center, which promoter literacy and reading among children and youth. The center does some very important ground work by organising author visits and workshops in schools and libraries across the country. However, the biggest international events are still missing or they are more linked to (in a commercial way) to book fairs.
11. ( I should have finished on 10 questions but…) What are your plans for further books and further characters?
Timo: I have four different series of books meant for children of different ages. I write a new book for each series every year. My Ella books have been translated into 25 different languages so I travel quite a bit. My newest series is called Kepler 62 and it is meant for children age 9+. I am writing it together with a Norwegian author Bjorn Sortland. The adventure takes place in the future and a group of children are sent to explore a new planet. The series have been translated into 12 different languages and it is becoming more and more popular.
Virpi: I am still illustrating one book a year for the Purdy & Barker series. Furthermore, I am currently working on a children’s encyclopaedia project, which is about how animals and humans sleep, what their sleep and circadian rhythm are like. I am also working on children’s poetry project.
Thank you for the interview and the insights.
We hope to have the opportunity to work with Timo and Virpi, and Books go Walkabout projects, in the near future.