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5 Minutes with Shaun Tan

June 26, 2018

I started writing because…

I like stories. Who doesn’t? The real question is why didn’t I stop writing, or stop drawing for that matter. Basically, I found a way to keep doing it and still pay the rent: make books that people can buy!

The best part of writing Cicada was…

Cutting it back. It was originally a much longer, overwrought story about workplace bullying, but by reducing to the voice of a simple insect, it became much more open to interpretation.

Cicada was inspired by…

I once saw a single flowering plant in the window of a huge, sterile-looking office block in Berlin. For some reason I imagined a bug working there among humans, and continued to think about this idea on and off for the next ten years. Along the way I became interested in the 17-year life cycle of certain cicadas, and also enjoyed watching office-based sitcoms. These three unlikely influences seemed to naturally fold into each other.

When I’m not writing I…

I’m probably painting!

My favourite place to curl up with a book is…

With my wife and daughter (4). Interestingly, this family time also counts as research, since almost all of the books are, naturally, picture books. I’ll be examining the imprint page, layout and production choices once everyone else has dropped off.

Purchase a copy of Cicada | Read our review of Cicada

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In school he became known as the ‘good drawer’ which partly compensated for always being the shortest kid in every class. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and currently works as an artist and author in Melbourne.

Shaun began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery. The RabbitsThe Red TreeTales from Outer SuburbiaRules of Summer and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for animated films including Pixar’s WALL-E, and directed the Academy Award-winning short film The Lost Thing with Passion Pictures Australia. In 2011 he received the presitgious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honouring his contribution to international children’s literature.


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