Hi, my name is Fiona Burrows, and I am a children’s book author and illustrator, and I also work at the University of Western Australia and I collect picture books. I love collecting all kinds of children’s books, but picture books in particular because I love the writing and I love the illustration and I think they’re so beautiful. I feel really lucky when I get a new one.
Really, in the last couple of years, I guess, is when I really started to properly collect them. I always thought it might be a little weird that I was buying these picture books and I didn’t have any children, but yeah, I decided—I guess a few years ago, that I really wanted to be a children’s writer and illustrator, and that’s probably what kicked me off starting to collect them. And then since then you know, I’m just constantly buying more. And since I’ve had my baby, I certainly haven’t stopped after that. ‘Cause now I can buy them for him and for me.
I definitely have collecting tendencies and my parents both collect things. My dad—my grandad was a literature professor and he had a massive library, floor to ceiling books, a personal library of his own—my dad also collects books as well. So we have hundreds and hundreds of books at home—my childhood home.
So, you know, I was destined to collect books, even apart from picture books, I also have hundreds and hundreds of other books. But I think it’s the best thing that you can collect, really.
There’s nothing better than a house full of books in my opinion! But I also collecting old things. I’m really just drawn to old unusual things, so I don’t know, anything really. Like old plates or pictures or furniture, anything like that. But I try to restrict my collecting—I don’t have space for all of that! But I can’t help myself with the books.
I’ve definitely had a few times when I’ve gone travelling and I just could not help myself with buying picture books. At one point I had to buy an extra suitcase to take them home. That was only over east, luckily, but I had to buy an extra suitcase ‘cause I just had so many books that I couldn’t help buying, and I just figured it was worth it. But even so, last time we went to Europe which was just before I got pregnant with him, we were in Germany for the Christmas markets and I went to a couple of book stores there, and I couldn’t help buying German picture books as well! They are written in German, so I have no idea what they say, but I just bought them for the illustrations really. One day he’ll have to learn German so that he can read them!
I did a lot of art and I’ve always loved drawing, but equally loved writing and reading as well. So, you know, it’s always either reading a book or making up my own stories. And I used to make little picture books actually. I used to make little picture books for my younger brothers and sisters, because I’m the oldest of six—so five others.
Well, one that I told the kids about when I was down in Margaret River [Festival] was a book that I made—I probably would’ve been maybe eight. Seven or eight. Actually no—I would’ve been a bit older, probably ten. It was called Ellie’s Octopus—my little sister’s called Ellie. And we went down south in a holiday house in Augusta, and she was at the beach, she would’ve been about two. And she was kind of sitting on this little rock, near the beach and she started screaming, and my mum was right there and came over and was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And it was an octopus and it was sort of reaching all of its tentacles out towards her, and then she was kind of scared after that. So I wrote this little book about how the octopus wanted to be friends with her, and illustrated it.
I always remember my dad saying to me when I finished year twelve, ‘cause he’s a lawyer—he said, ‘Look, just go and do what you want to do. Don’t do what you think you should do. Do what you enjoy.’
And that was arts and literature. So that’s what I ended up doing. And I think you can build a career in that area, you just have to be prepared for a bit of uncertainty for a while. Life is just too short to not do it, or to spend years in a job that you’re not particularly enjoying and just wondering, ‘I wish I could do this other career.’ Well, you’ve just got to do it! Make it happen. And it’s a hard industry to get into. I’ve had other friends who I met through the industry and through starting to be involved in things, and they’re all, you know, same as me, weren’t published, were just starting out. And now, they’re all getting published—and so it does happen! You just have to put the time and the effort in, I think.
People always ask this you know, ‘Who’s your favourite illustrator?’ or, ‘Who’s your favourite writer?’ And I just—I can’t ever pick. There are so many that I love so I can’t think of a favourite one—but I have lots of favourites. Favourite illustrators, definitely, but it’s so—it’s a pretty big collection as far as, you know, it goes for a few years. I think I’ve got over five hundred picture books now, and I have collected a mixture of new ones and second-hand ones. Like older ones that you can’t buy anymore, they’re out of print. So it’s quite a mixed up collection really. They’re not all just contemporary, current ones.
Mostly I tend to buy based on the illustrations, actually. I find that that’s something that draws me, so when I go to the book shop, I tend to be looking for something that visually I love. And then I’ll look through it and go, ‘Oh wow this is just so beautiful, I have to buy it!’ And then same, mainly with the older ones, either I’ll find something that just looks really interesting and really beautiful—or else I’ll buy something that I remember from my childhood, or that’s a classic one—so like the May Gibbs and the A.A Milne and things like that. It’s a bit of a mixture there, but definitely with the new books I love, I basically decide based on the illustrations. I always feel like it’s kind of like collecting art.
It’s like all these amazing artists and you get to collect this whole sort of book of their work, for twenty-five dollars, which is pretty good. So that’s what I love I think, just having all these amazing artworks—and picture book illustration these days is just so diverse. There’s just so many different styles there’s a lot of—they’re getting a bit more arty I think. So there’s just so many more diverse styles. That’s what I see and it’s not all a typical children’s style. Some of them are more artistic and more abstract and graphic and sort of so many different kinds.
My partner keeps saying, ‘Oh are any of these books his? Like is he allowed to touch them?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, not sure. These are kind of mine…’
So he’s started making a collection just for the baby. ‘These can be his books!’ We’ll see what happens when he gets a bit older and a bit more destructive, and whether I’ll let him. Might have to be supervised! But I have collected some as well that are more just for him. That he can rip up or eat or do whatever he wants to, but I’ll probably keep him away from the more special ones. When he’s older and he can look at it nicely.