Author Interview: Paul Goble

Paul Goble is author and illustrator of many outstanding books for young readers, including The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses (Simon & Schuster), which was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1979. His books have also earned praise from the National Council of Social Studies, the International Reading Association, and the Children’s Book Council. Paul lives in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Books by Paul Goble
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What made you decide to become an author & an illustrator?
Paul Goble: I had been reading to my son and daughter, Richard and Julia, and had admired some of the books very much. When Richard was watching a series about General Custer on TV, I knew that it had nothing at all to do with the history. I looked in the library for something real about General Custer for his age, about 7, but could find nothing. As the subject of General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn was a specialty of mine, it gave me the idea to try and make a book myself. I did all the paintings and the text before ever approaching a publisher. It was taken by Lady Marni Hodgkin, editor at Macmillan's Children's Books in London. The book was co-published by Pantheon in the U.S.

Hence, I suppose, that made me ‘an author and illustrator,’ although my real work was as a freelance furniture and industrial designer, and also teaching the subject, part-time, at both the Central School of Art and Design in London, and Ravensbourne College of Art and Design, south of London. That book work, and subsequent book work, was done after I got home in the evenings.

What's a typical workday like?
Paul Goble: Days are mostly divided between working and walking. My wife, Janet, tells me that I work ‘three shifts.’ Maybe I used to, but now at age 70 I would call it ‘two shifts.’ I find walking is important, because, like sleeping, it clears one's thinking. I may work at a problem at the desk, but the answer often comes to me while walking briskly for an hour or so, or the answer may come the next day after sleeping on it. I am very fortunate, because Janet joins me in the middle of my walk with a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Then we walk a little together, and afterwards I go on my way again.

I like my work and am lost if I ever feel I have nothing to work on. If I feel like that I get ‘down in the dumps’ and that spurs me to find something to do sooner.

Do you do any research before you begin a book? Can you give examples of unusual research for any of your books?
Paul Goble: Song of Creation took only a little research, looking at how it was interpreted in various bibles and prayer books, ancient and modern. The birds and animals in the illustrations are all ones that we have seen over the years. Sometimes they are painted as we saw them. The spread with the Redpolls, for example, is exactly as we looked out of our window one winter day: suddenly the tree was crowded with these beautiful birds. The two pages with the cranes in the sky is as we have seen them migrating in Spring and Fall, calling down to us in their cheerful song.

Most of my books have concerned Native American subjects, and for those I have had to do immense amounts of research in books obtained through interlibrary loan if I do not own the book already. There have been many visits to museums, sometimes to look at their storage collections, visits to reservations, letters to experts asking them questions on this or that. I have been as thorough as I know how because I find it annoying when I read or look at something which is obviously incorrect. When telling something about another culture, it is important that you do not insult those people wth one's errors.

4. What's hardest for you to draw?
Paul Goble: People! Years ago I used to think that in time drawing people, or drawing anything, would get easier. Drawing is really hard work and it never gets any easier, but hopefully the result is a little better with experience. I have a one line drawing technique, as opposed to sketched drawing. That one line has to be right and to achieve it I may spend hours trying to get it right before finally putting pen to paper.
Do you rewrite much?
Paul Goble: I often spend a day writing and rewriting a paragraph or two and at the end of the day I perhaps think it is just right. When I look at it the next morning I often cannot understand why I thought it was so good. so the writing starts again. There comes a point when the rewriting has to stop. I put it away for several days or longer and when I look at it again it often becomes clear what is right or wrong. Writing for me has to ‘mature.’
Do you have any advice for would-be authors and illustrators?
Paul Goble: Write about or paint what you love most, not what you think might be acceptable to other people.
What characteristics do writers and illustrators need most?
Paul Goble: You have to love what you are doing and you need the self-discipline to complete a job that may take many weeks. You need the imagination to be able to see something that at first does not exist.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
Paul Goble: I have a collection of over 600 classical baroque CDs which I listen to while I work, and the music is wired throughout the house as well. My father was a pioneer in the revival of making recorders, harpsichords, virginals, and clavichords, and my mother was a founding member of the English Consort of Viols, in which she played the viola de gamba. Hence my love for Baroque music.

People may also not know that my wife Janet is, and has been for over 28 years, an enormous help to me in all kinds of ways with my work. Recently, for instance, when working on a different kind of book I needed precise and specific enlargements and reductions of many drawings and photographs. Driving each time across town, she learned how to do this work exactly on a printing machine, enabling me to do work in the studio that otherwise I would not have been able to do.