About the author:
Bradley Trevor Greive AM became a publishing sensation after the release of The Blue Day Book in 2000; he has since sold more than 25 million books in 115 countries. In 2014 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his service to literature and wildlife conservation.
The Blue Day Book is a publishing sensation. This new commemorative twentieth anniversary edition is quite different to the original. Can you tell us about it?
I honestly have to pinch myself when I realise that The Blue Day Book has been in print for twenty years and sold 13 million copies. Keep in mind that no one wanted this little book when I first submitted the manuscript – every single ANZ publisher rejected it except for Jane Palfreyman (then at Random House, now at Allen & Unwin), who fought to add it to her list.
What makes this anniversary edition so exciting is that it’s not just the same book with a facelift with a few shiny production flourishes, it a completely new edition. For starters, all the animal photographs have been replaced with Claire Keane’s stunning original artwork. Most importantly, there is a new visual sub-narrative featuring an elephant struggling to make his dreams a reality in the modern and seemingly loveless world. The text also has a few crucial updates but the humorous, uplifting message about finding perspective when life gets you down is 100% true to the original book.
The deceptively powerful substance of this pocket tome is as relevant now as it was two decades ago, perhaps even more so. And of course Brigitta Doyle and her team at ABC Books have pulled out all the stops in terms of quality – the thick satiny paper stock, lush inks, embellished cover, custom endpapers and stitched binding are all exquisite. If you loved the original Blue Day Book from 20 years ago, then you’re sure to enjoy the new edition, and if you’ve never ever heard of The Blue Day Book before then you’re in for a real treat.
Claire Keane’s illustrations are beautiful. How did you come to work with her on this?
Creative plans for our twentieth anniversary celebrations have been in the works for several years. I wasn’t prepared to release a new edition unless it contained both fresh material and a fresh approach, which is how we landed on the idea of using illustrations instead of photographs. Many famous and gifted illustrators were considered but none felt right until Claire’s agent, whom I’d met at an industry event in New York some years earlier, pitched her wonderful work to me in California. Claire is a successful children’s author in her own right, plus she has a huge fan base from her stunning contribution to Disney’s animated blockbuster, Frozen.
It was Claire’s idea to create a central animal character to drive the sub-narrative; she said that when she met me she immediately thought of a huge, battle-scarred elephant, which I chose to take as a sincere compliment. Once it was clear that I was the blue elephant I relished the opportunity to create a deeply personal visual sub-story tracing Elephant’s journey from misery to joy, and failure to success, and that’s how the new edition was born. While Elephant’s rocky but rewarding life journey is directly inspired my own heartaches, triumphs and misadventures, it is also something that everyone can relate to.
What inspired the idea behind the original book?
My promising military career imploded when it had barely begun, thanks to a tropical lung infection, and my attempt to reinvent myself as a writer failed miserably. My first seven books were universally rejected. I was still in my twenties, flat broke, had no prospect of steady employment or a steady relationship, and was sick as a dog – I felt I had hit rock bottom.
After wallowing uselessly in self-pity I finally took some time to really think though what had happened to me, who I was as a person, and what I hoped to do with my life. The best decision I ever made, as a writer, was to take what had happened to me and use it as creative inspiration. In the end it wasn’t my experience as a paratrooper that gave me the strength to carry on when all seemed dark and pointless, it was having a sense of humour and being able to compare my hardships to the challenges other people have faced that gave me the fresh life perspective that I needed me pick myself up and go on.
My love of animals was also crucial – I observed how animals dealt with hardship, and most carried on best they could without letting things get them down. I found this inspiring and the thought of melancholic hippos taking antidepressants made me chuckle. By the time I’d finished writing down what I thought and felt, and juxtaposed these ideas with funny animal images, I was on the mend. Part of me immediately knew I had created something special, but if you’d told me that these lighthearted musings on misery would one day become the world’s highest selling gift book, I would not have believed you.
You must receive a lot of correspondence from readers who have not only loved your book, but have been helped by it. How does that feel?
This little book started out as a deeply personal project, so it is always astonishing to think how many people have read it. It feels very humbling to receive letters from people who say The Blue Day Book helped them or someone they love during a difficult time. I’m always touched by such stories, but I also know that it is the reader who does almost all the important work; they are the ones who see themselves and/or those they love in the pages of the book, and therefore they are the ones who place their hardships in context and find a way to smile at whatever life has thrown at them.
Knowing that so many millions of readers, all of who are unique and different in so many ways, have found common ground in my book reminds me that hurt and misfortune are unifying experiences, essential to being human. We all suffer and we all struggle. And we are never simply one thing, no matter how society tries to label us; we are complex creatures capable of complex feelings. We can all feel positive or negative at various times, we can be both very fragile and incredibly strong, likewise feeling down doesn’t mean you are pathetic, just as feeling confident doesn’t make you perfect. Gaining perspective on your situation implies a larger point of view, but it’s equally important to appreciate that even very small changes in fortune can affect us in unexpected ways, especially if we don’t address these issues or assume we are alone in feeling the way we do.
I should state, very clearly, that it’s important that people don’t look up to me as a veteran psychotherapist or some kind of happiness guru. I’m just someone who managed to find a way to get back up after stumbling and falling repeatedly. It is worth mentioning that I have struggled with depression three times in my life, and two of those episodes came well after I wrote The Blue Day Book.
To most people looking on, I would have seemed the last person to ever feel down, but there you have it. No one is immune to feelings of loss, sadness and self-doubt. Fortunately, having worked my way through these issues before, it became easier to identify the key symptoms and seek help. I always stress that I wrote this book for myself, at a time when I needed a smile more than ever. It’s wonderful that so many people have found my message and experience to be uplifting and comforting, but I wrote this little book simply to help me get back on my feet.
What’s your daily work routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
My daily routine is 24 hours of beautiful chaos, punctuated by high-speed bathroom breaks. Which is to say that, after many years of hoping and praying, my wife and I welcomed our first child in February, a beautiful baby girl. Mostly I change nappies, sing silly songs, read stories, make my wife cups of tea and do laundry. Work-wise, I just finished filming Little Giants, a 20 part international wildlife television series for Animal Planet about tiny but remarkable wild creatures. During baby napping windows I’m currently writing the sequel to my book Penguin Bloom (also with ABC Books), which is being made into a movie, starring Naomi Watts as Sam Bloom.
You clearly like adrenaline sports. You were accepted into Russia’s cosmonaut training program and your hobbies include sky-diving, desert racing, scuba diving, and adventure travel. What do you do to relax?
Like most Tasmanians I love the outdoors, and I admit it’s painfully true that, for many years, my idea of downtime involved lacing myself into hospital gowns and paper underpants for surgical repairs [full disclosure: as I write this, I am nursing a fractured hip, a torn bicep and an injured eye]. However while I still love action sports I’m a brand new daddy now, so what I enjoy most is spending time with my baby daughter. Her animal noises are really quite excellent and I can’t wait to introduce her to the wild creatures and wild places that my wife and I love, especially the giant brown bears of Kootznoowoo, Alaska, that I have been studying for the past six years.