Why I Wrote Charlie Weatherburn

In the last week, a lot of people have asked me why I wrote Charlie Weatherburn and the Flying Machine. Here’s the story behind the book.

It’s In My Blood

I always did a lot of drawing as a kid. My aunt is an accomplished artist, and both of my parents are quite artistic, although they pursued their passion in other creative fields such as music and photography. But there’s no question that art, in one form or another, runs in the family. My folks always encouraged my interest in drawing and visual expression, sending me to summer art classes and providing my brother and I with a constant supply of materials: pencils, crayons, pastel crayons, watercolour pencils, and paints.

Charlie at his desk

But when Dad brought home the first family computer (an Apple II+ compatible) I began to immerse myself in a whole new world, and to a large degree left behind an important aspect of my personality. While I was learning about telecommunications network traffic congestion avoidance algorithms during my engineering degree, or writing software in BASIC, Pascal, C++, Fortran, Java, Powerbuilder, Forte, or whatever other language was flavour of the month, the artist within was always nagging away at me, eager to be satiated.

I’ve consciously steered my career back to one that allows me to be creative (I now work full-time designing user experiences for websites and mobile devices). I’ve gained confidence with colour (up until a few years ago, I would restrict my creations to black and white) and refined my style (I like to think of it as a cross between Marvel comics and Quentin Blake). And when my first daughter was born, our home library of children’s picture books began to grow. Slowly, I’ve been slowly collecting titles to indulge my own nostalgia as well as discovering new titles to share with my kids.

Graeme Base, Mem Fox, Pamela Allen or Lynley Dodd: these are the inspirational authors and illustrators who reignited my love of children’s picture books. However, it wasn’t a book by any of these greats that kicked me into action …

Charlie tinkering away with his tools

Motivated by Mediocrity

The motivation to tell my own story came not from a book that inspired or amazed me, but from one that left me frustrated and disappointed. I don’t want to name the author or the title, as that would be bad form, but it was a book that I felt was amateurish. The language was sloppy; the illustrations were passable; and the story was only half thought-out. And yet, it was a book that sold quite well, and inspired a ton of merchandise and thrust the author into the spotlight (for a while, before fading into obscurity). Basically, I thought: “I can do better than this.”

Not that the book is perfect, by any stretch. There is a lengthy laundry list of things that I wish I’d done differently, but during the production of the book I made the call that the effort required to address those issues was too great considering the benefit that each would deliver. In spite of its flaws, I’m very proud of how it turned out, and while it’s difficult to be impartial, I do believe it’s better than a lot of other kids’ books out there.

Scratch that Itch

Of course, I didn’t just suddenly think, “This book is crap, I’ll make one that is better.” Illustrating a children’s book is a challenge that I’d been thinking about tackling for years, and I’d had conversations with friends who had written manuscripts for books, with the view of possibly doing the illustrations for them. But in the end I decided to write my own (the details of that process are best left to another post). Stumbling upon that one frustrating book was the catalyst that ignited an idea into action.

Charlie in the air, looking a little worried

So that’s why I created the book—I wanted to prove to myself that I could in fact do better, and what you see in Charlie Weatherburn is the result. I wish I could say that my motivations were far more selfless, such as a desire to get kids excited about maths, or to educate others about a long-forgotten hero, or to tell a unique story dedicated to my own kids. These are all true, but deep down the initial spark to get going, and the drive to finish it, came from something far more selfish.

I made this book for me. However, I hope you like it too!

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