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6 October 2012 ·

Artists and Animals: Errol Broome, from Atom to Muttley

A few posts ago, I wrote that after rereading Errol Broome’s Tangles,I strongly felt that she was one of Australia’s best writers for childrenread post here (I then read Gracie and the Emperor, which backed up my opinion as well as being a bit of preparation for the Napoleon Exhibition at Victoria’s National Gallery.) But of course it was reading Tangles that prompted me to ask her to contribute to this artists and animals thread. 

Errol’s most recent title Song of the Dove, illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar (Walker Books) a Romeo and Juliet-like picture book, based on the love story of the composer Bellini and Maddalena Fumaroli, was listed in the top 100 international picture books in the 4th CJ Picture Book Awards.

Find out more about Errol Broome at: www.errolbroome.com.au
Errol Broome with Muttley

Have you ever been inspired by an animal in your life or art?
I was very horsey as a child. My friends Fiona and Jenny and I galloped around the garden pretending to be  horses. I’m not sure when I first heard about Phar Lap, but I saw him in Melbourne Museum when I was thirteen. His true story contains all the elements of good fiction, and I can’t stop writing about him. A short story Off the Track won the 1990 Mary Grant Bruce Award. This was followed by an education title Bobby Boy (the stable nickname for Phar Lap), the story of strapper turned trainer Tommy Woodcock and his love for the horse. Then in 2006 – and still in print – came My Grandad Knew Phar Lap (Fremantle Press.) It’s about Toby, today’s boy, his horse-mad friend Maddy and his great-grandfather but again it tells the true story of Phar Lap because you can’t improve on that.
Yes, you could say Phar Lap gave me inspiration.
What was the pet you most wanted as a child?
The July Dog was my first pet. When I was six, my mother had a calendar hanging on the wall and the picture for July was all dogs. I fell in love – and wanted – the brown puppy in the centre. I wouldn’t let Mum take down the July picture. On Christmas morning, Santa left a note at the end of my bed: Look in the kitchen. And there, in a fruitbox, was the brown puppy. I called her Merry because she was now the Christmas dog.
Errol with Atom
I did keep a series of other pets; guinea pigs, budgies and canaries, and when I was eleven Atom, a bulldog. I trained him and entered him in the W.A. Kennel Club show, and he won 1st Prize. I couldn’t understand why the crowd thought this was funny.
Do you have an animal companion now? How did it get its name? Does your pet have a story to tell?
I’ve had Muttley for three years. He’s a five-year-old Cairn terrier. It was my lucky day when a young couple decided to part with him. It was they who gave him his name. My grandson calls him Muckley.
I believe he has a short story to share, but I make it up for him.
What would your pet tell us about you?
She’s a bit stingy with the treats.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
My family thinks I’d be a horse, but I don’t behave like a horse. I see myself as a dog because I come when I’m called. And a house is cosier than a stable.
Any advice for people wanting a pet?
Think ahead. That cute thing won’t stay that way forever. Why do I want this puppy/kitten/fish/rabbit/canary? And will it like living with me?
Favourite animal books?
Mudlarks, a beautifully illustrated English book for children by Vernon Stokes and Cynthia Harnett (1940.) Set along the river mud banks, it’s a touching story of a poor family who must sell their beloved dog Rosie because they can’t pay the licence fee. ‘Father tied a string to her collar and led her away. Poor Rosie … her ears and tail hung limp and she did not even raise her head.’ The pictures might show the story better than the words, but Rosie’s adventures and the twins’ efforts to save her always warmed my heart.
I love Horton too. And I see Dr Seuss copyright is 1940 for that one.
I meant what I said, and I said what I meant …
An elephant’s faithful –  one hundred percent!
And still on elephants, only last month I read The Elephant Whisperer by Laurence Anthony, owner of a game reserve in Zululand. His experiences are sometimes painful but always touching as he learns about life, loyalty and freedom from a herd of wild elephants.
I guess we’ll never have one as a pet, but this book gave me a greater respect for elephants.



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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio