As part of National Non-Fiction November we’re delighted to welcome Owen Davey to the FCBG blog today.
With a first class degree from Falmouth and now based in Leicester Owen Davey works in a mixture of traditional and digital media. His fantastic use of colour, texture and pattern help create fun and entertaining images that are perfect for engaging with audiences in a friendly and informative manner. His illustrations are used by advertising, editorial and publishing. He has written a number of picture books including Foxly¹s Feast, Knight Night. His latest book is a foray into illustrated non-fiction: Mad About Monkeys.
Monkeying around with Non-Fiction
“I love non-fiction books and always have. I think good examples are the ones that contain the juiciest details and the most interesting facts, but don’t bombard you with numbers or dates or algebraic equations; they tell you clearly and simply about cool stuff. I used to be a massive fan of all of Terry Deary’s Horrible History books for exactly that reason. Informal and informative; that’s the key in my eyes.
I tried to keep this mantra in mind when working on Mad About Monkeys, my first ever non-fiction book. There was an element of the book being conversational. I would replace the word posterior with bum, or change food to ‘Nom nom’ or whatever. I would ask ‘Is a Monkey my Uncle?’ and answer my own question with ‘No’ (although I do expand on the reasons why in the book, obviously). I asked and answered the questions I wanted to know and I wanted it to be fun to read and fun to create.
The whole project was a massive learning curve to be honest. It’s such a different way of working form how I’ve approached my fiction books in the past. The research is the main difference. Whilst I always research any work I do to contextualise and flesh stuff out, it’s never normally the main focus. If I made a beautiful book about monkeys which had no accuracy whatever, it completely loses its purpose. So it was all about getting everything right. I read loads of books, papers and articles about monkeys to find out the exact information I wanted to get across. I had to read several scientific papers to find out something as simple as what crabs are eaten by monkeys. That was a nightmare. People just kept writing ‘crabs’. But I had to draw these crabs. I wanted to make sure they were the right crabs. If I drew some kind of poisonous crab or one that was found on different continents to monkeys in the wild, I felt the book would lose integrity. I was by no means an expert on monkeys before starting the book and have learnt a lot in the process. I never knew, for example, that Pygmy Marmosets farmed sap, or that Capuchins have been known to rub millipedes on their skin as an insecticide. I mean, that’s amazing! That’s seriously clever! My main sieve for what made the cut was just my own brain. If I found something interesting, why wouldn’t a kid. So anything that caught my eye, I noted down and researched more of. Before I knew it I had essentially written a dissertation on monkeys. Through lots of cutting down, rearranging and organising, I finally got to something that resembled the words to a book fit for kids.
Only then did I really start playing with the visuals of the book. This is where I discovered a whole new set of problems that needed solving. I didn’t want to completely accurately represent all the monkeys in a photo-realistic style. What’s the point? You might as well then just use photos. My main aim was to make the species of monkey easily recognisable, but to make the illustrations as fun and engaging as the animals they were depicting. It took quite a lot of work to get that balance right, but I’m super proud of the results.”
This guest post was provided by Owen Davey. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.