Dynamic author and illustrator duo Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan are launching their third book together, The Bomb. In a funny story about being true to oneself, a child dreams of pulling off the perfect dive bomb. He keeps doing flops in spite of getting advice from his bomb champ Nan and everyone else – that's until he finds the secret.
Huia Press have published this title in both English and te reo Māori language editions, so we asked Sacha and Josh about translating their fantastic book, their collaboration and their real-life influences. The Bomb is launching on Saturday 10th November, 3pm at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie Plaza, Kilbirnie.
1. It is really cool to see both an English and Māori version of The Bomb. During the writing process was it a matter of translation from one language to another, or writing with both languages in mind?
Thank you! We’re really pleased with the way they turned out! I love Huia’s decision to give the English and Māori versions different covers! Such a great move! A translation is always going to be a little different, so accordingly the distinct covers give each version of the story their own unique identities. Hmmmm – this is an interesting question. To be honest, I didn’t have both languages in mind right at the very start. At first, I was focussed on trying to get the story right and creating strong characters. I wanted to write a story that (at least to me!) evoked emotion. I wanted it to make people chuckle in places, perhaps make them feel a little sad at the low point, but ultimately make them feel uplifted. The ‘feeling’ was my primary concern. Once this and the story structure were strongly in place, I focussed on refining the rhythm and (in some places) rhyme of my words in English. As I was writing some of the rhyming parts I did wonder how Kawata might get on translating them. I thought, ah oh, I’m not making this easy for him! I speak Spanish (although it’s getting a bit rusty these days!!) but even so, I would sometimes think, now how would I translate this part? It really makes me appreciate what Kawata does!! Sometimes, (especially with rhyme) what you end up translating is quite different, but if you’ve done a good job, it will still have the same essence. Knowing Kawata and his gift for translation, I knew that he would do a beautiful job – and of course he has!!! He is fantastic!! The chorus that the Kid sings out in Māori is amazing!!! It has a gorgeous rhythm to it!
2. How was managing the translation process and working with a Māori translator? Was it similar to the collaborative style between author and illustrator?
We definitely had a lot more to do with Kawata from a much earlier stage this time around. We didn’t actually meet him face to face until the launch of The Marble Maker/Te Kaihanga Māpere. Much like for Josh and I, we ended up doing a couple of events together, and this helped us to get to know Kawata a little better (we even roped him in to being Mad Professor Teepa in a very cool bilingual reading/performance of The Marble Maker/Te Kaihanga Māpere at the National Library! What a good sport!) Kawata was involved throughout the development of The Bomb/Te Pohū when the story and was shaped and edited in English. So in that sense, Kawata had a close understanding of where we were coming from and what our vision was.
3. This collaboration between illustrator and author began earlier than previous books you’ve worked on together, how did that effect the way characters were conceived and developed?
Yes, that’s right. It’s been quite a different experience this time around. I approached Josh with my early draft of The Bomb and we made the decision to develop and submit the story together, because we recognised that we made a pretty good team and wanted to continue working together. Because of this, we met regularly to work on our vision. With The Bomb there were loads of brainstorms, discussions, and general jamming off of each other’s ideas. For example, I knew that I wanted the Kid to end up on the bomb platform for his final jump in little sequined speedos and a feather boa. Josh and I were jamming this scene when we came up with the idea that we could base the Kid’s look and style on the tui (which totally makes sense given the Kid’s love of the natural world).
Somewhere in this particular brainstorm session, Josh was telling me about his weird dream. It was about a pony wearing a sparkly necklace who was talking to him (ha ha – Josh’s gorgeous dream mind!!) As soon as he said it we were both like ‘sparkly necklace!!!’ (as you do!) We thought the sparkly necklace could be used for the white feather tufts of a tui. So, we added a sparkly necklace on the original character concept of the Kid (which in the finals ended up as a sparkly disco ball… among other things). So yeah, lots of IRL discussions gave us the chance to grow our story and shape our characters organically. Of course, initially these discussions were just between Josh and I, but once Huia decided to publish our story (yay), these discussions and brainstorms were extended out to the wider Huia team. It’s something that I really love about creating picture books - the possibility to work with others and jump off in directions you might not have gone alone.
4. We’ve heard many of your characters are based on people from your lives, what were your main focuses in creating characters for this story?
Yes, that’s correct. Keys/ Ngā Kī was very much a story based on my dad and I and The Marble Maker/ Te Kaihanga Māpere – well – that was based on myself playing marbles as a kid at primary school. With The Bomb/ Te Pohū, the Kid isn’t based on any one person in particular. But I did draw on my years in education and thought about some of the very cool kids that I taught. The Nan however, was in part, inspired by my Nana.
I thought of the story when I was on my way back to Wellington from Kawerau one summer. As we were driving through the bush and passing all the beautiful lakes I began to daydream. My mind naturally wandered to my Nana, who had died only a year or so before and it all sort of merged together and the story of this Kid and his Nan doing bombs just popped into my head.
My Nana was a pretty cool lady. I used to LOVE hearing stories about her back in her youth. She was involved in speed boating, rode a horse to school and used to drive trucks (I think they might have even been lorries!) I was always so impressed by her truck driving! I was like, my Nana can drive a TRUCK – THAT IS SO BAD ASS!! Nana began suffering from the consequences of a genetic condition in her late fifties which seriously affected her ability to walk. She ended up in a wheelchair but didn’t let the change in her mobility affect her love for life or dampen her eternal sass. She seemed way too stubborn to let her ill health get in her way! I remember that she had a ‘number plate’ on her mobility scooter that said ‘Married but still looking’ which always cracked me up, because Nana and my Granddad totally adored each other (they often turned up to events in matching hats!) AND seriously she was like 70+ when she had that number plate! Ha ha! So, for The Bomb/ Te Pohū, I definitely wanted to draw on her no-nonsense, truck-driving, sassiness! Fittingly, Josh and I dedicated the books to our grandmothers – we feel that they have all influenced the Nan character in some way and we also wanted to pay tribute to the positive impact they have had on our lives.
5. Do your real-life influences also play a role in the illustrations of the book, or were they based more on imagination?
I know that when Josh and I were doing the initial mock ups for the rough illustrations, I drew a lot from my experiences of being involved in student short films and photography to guide me with composition. I tend to see the picture book in my mind as a film, so I’m always thinking about ‘what shot’ is the right one to capture to do the scene justice AND suit the mood and pacing of the story. I love a good emotive close up, so I was really set on there being a nice tight illustration of the Kid calling out his chorus in the final jump scene and thankfully, this image made it across the line.
On top of that, when we pitched it to Huia we said that we’d like it to have a bit of a Taika Waititi feel. Also, during the development phase Josh came up with the brilliant idea to really draw on Wes Anderson for one of our ‘montage scenes’ where the Kid is being driven all around the town getting advice.
A lot of time I did draw on real life experiences and references for the illustrations, including what Sacha has talked about. It was very important for Sacha and I to get the art of doing bombs correct so we did a lot of research, such as watching hundreds of videos of people doing bombs, (especially Manus/Māngere’s), getting photographic references, and attending a couple of bomb competitions in Wellington. There was a lot of wonderful characters that I could draw on for the thinkers, the jokers, the she’ll be righters and the posers, and most important of all, a lot of references for the steps to doing the perfect Manu bomb.
I also did a bit of research into diving structures, but in the end, I made a structure out of Lego with different platforms to use as a reference and build an imaginary beach setting around. In saying that though, the beach setting was largely inspired by the northland and east coast beaches that my family would spend Christmas holidays at.
The characters were largely from my own imagination. I like to act out and become the characters when I illustrate to capture the right expressions and poses, so maybe the characters all have a bit of the poser in me ha-ha. For the main characters though, we did look to real world ‘characters’ to reference. For the Kid, I referenced David Bowie a lot, especially for the way he held himself and sat. For the Kid’s outfit and hair, we did play around with him initially having a plaited pony tail (after Sacha had found a cool photo of a boy rocking a long plait), then having the Kid in a dandy inspired outfit before settling on the hair in a top knot, red overalls, and pink boots. For Nan, I looked at soul singers, especially Diana Ross. Te Kani (designer at Huia) had the brilliant idea of looking to the wonderfully expressive Iris Apfel for her outfit! Although the champ character was largely from my imagination, the yellow “champ” towel was a homage to the brilliant Billy T James!
The Bomb is launching on Saturday 10th November, 3pm at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie Plaza, Kilbirnie.
LitCrawl’s main crawl will be on Saturday 10th November Crawl and the Extended events from 8th-11th November.