The Aussie children’s author and illustrator conquering the USA and Hollywood:
The ten year journey that led to his overnight success.
His books have been called “excruciatingly funny,” “clever and witty,” and a “sheer joy.” Now the world is knocking quite voraciously on the door of Australian children’s author and illustrator, Aaron Blabey, all wanting a piece of his creative genius. Not only are children (and adults) devouring his books globally, it has just been confirmed that Hollywood is now turning The Bad Guys book series into a film!
If the name Aaron Blabey sounds familiar, it’s because it is. In 1998, Blabey acted in The Day of the Roses, and the following year in Erskineville Kings alongside Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton. Human Touch soon followed in 2004. He also starred in the ABC series The Damnation Of Harvey McHugh, for which he won an AFI award. Not bad for someone who has said, “I was terrible at acting.”
The Bad Guys and Pig the Pug book series were met with instant success, however Blabey calls it “a classic case of the ten year journey to overnight success.” After acting, Blabey delved into writing children’s books, however as he told us in our last podcast with him, “I started writing children’s books and had a seven year period where I couldn’t make a living out of it, so I worked in advertising and a whole bunch of stuff that I really didn’t like.”
It was in 2013 when Blabey was almost 40 that he quit advertising and moved to the Blue Mountains in NSW, with the aim of giving writing one last chance. On a particular stroll one day, the idea for several of his now bestselling books came to him. “I had no ideas, and all of a sudden by the end of that week there was Pig the Pug, The Bad Guys, Thelma the Unicorn, Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, and I Need A Hug. They all came together in this one strange brain vomit and they’ve just banked up all in a row.” All his picture books are now written on his phone while he walks.
Where once he found no commercial success despite being awarded the 2008 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for his first book Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, he now has five books scheduled each year for the following three years.
“What I love, the book that tipped over [and found commercial success] wasn’t sweet and cuddly, Pig the Pug is about a mean little bugger … and I’m so pleased that the thing I return to every year now is this nasty little Ricky Gervais of a dog, and I love that. It’s such a thrill… I just don’t have it in me to do Miffy, or something where it’s cute. It’s great and fantastic that sort of stuff, but it’s not me.”
Pig the Pug is the hilarious story about a greedy and selfish pug that teaches children about sharing. Globally, more than 1.3 million copies have been sold. Now Blabey endeavours to write and illustrate one Pig the Pug book a year alongside his other projects, which never amount to under five in total.
“I never work on less than five, and my reasoning for that is, working on at least five stops me from turning into Gollum. What I mean by that is, if you’ve got the one manuscript you’re working on, it can so easily become your precious and it can go wrong. If it doesn’t go your way you can turn in on yourself, and I feel that really strongly. I’ve experienced it in the past and have become superstitious about it.”
Alongside his Pig the Pug books, Blabey writes and illustrates two books a year from his Bad Guy series, another riotously funny comedy about a crew of scary animal pals (a wolf, snake, shark, and piranha) who want to change and shake off their notoriously bad reputation. This is the series getting the Hollywood treatment and being published in over 28 countries including the USA.
“The prepping, writing, and designing/ thumb-nailing process of The Bad Guys is really mad because it takes me about … three weeks.” While text may be sparse, there are 150 pages of art to illustrate per book.
Has Blabey assigned voices to his characters? “The Bad Guys feels like a long story board for a film so it helps to cast the voices in my head. It’s a little like a moveable feast.”
As with most authors, Blabey plays certain music to inspire him while illustrating. “Soundtrack is really important to me. I have a massive record collection, a couple thousand records in my studio of all genres, but when I’m doing a Bad Guys rough [draft] I listen exclusively to metal. It’s really strange. I think it’s the propulsion, like early Metallica, which just powers…”
Blabey tells us that he receives emails daily from parents and teachers informing him that their young male children and students have finally found a book they love in The Bad Guys. He’s even been told that these books have been used in Year 7 and 8 classrooms with children who have trouble with literacy. That’s just “fantastic.”
And finally, Blabey’s advice for aspiring authors: “The key to all of this is persistence. Just don’t give up. It sounds like a terrible cliché, but it’s true.”
Listen to Booktopia’s full podcast with Aaron Blabey here.
Aaron Blabey, a friend of Booktopia
About the Contributor
Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.