A quiet chat with Stuart French
Ethicool's editor, Romane de Beer, sits down with company co-founder, Stu French, for a candid chat about everything from kids' books to quiet corners of France.
Full name? Stuart Edward French
Year of birth? 1985
Place of birth? Hobart, Tasmania
Place of residence? Melbourne, Victoria
Now, let’s start with the obvious question: how did you become a children’s book author? I’ve been into creative writing for as long as I can remember - quite literally. I always excelled in languages at school and ended up completing an honours degree in creative writing, under the supervision of wonderful Tasmanian author, Danielle Wood. The academic side of writing never really interested me much, but I always found a great sense of freedom and catharsis in writing fiction. Poetry, especially, has long been my method of escape. I am deeply introverted and have always needed a place to hide my mind. There is no place better to hide than within the depthlessness of words.
I have quietly written hundreds of poetic works over the years and have basically hoarded them on my harddrive, always feeling reluctant to share the raw emotions I’d bound inside them.
I guess as I’ve grown older, my self-consciousness has basically disappeared, and I’ve progressively realised that I should share and showcase my work.
To be clear, almost all my poetry is thematically very heavy, and not really fit for a young audience. So much that none of the children’s literature I’ve published (nor the works I have in flight right now) is created directly from my earlier poetry. What writing poetry has done for my children’s literature, though, is to open my vocabulary and reinforce my ability to find seamless ways to make words hold hands.
What has informed your creative style? My writing style is perhaps most informed by listening to music, actually. Beautiful piano tracks always give me goosebumps and the fluidity of good music has real parallels with good writing. I am quite sure I have the most diverse taste in music of anyone on earth (!) and this has amused a lot of people over the years. While writing, I could be listening to anything from Claude Debussy [French composer] to Loyle Carner [English hip-hop artist], and anything in between.
Outside of music, my general creativity comes from extensive world travel and the exposure to lots of wonderfully different cultures and artforms. Growing up, I was raised in a single-parent family. We were certainly not well-off, but at age 12, my mum mortgaged the house to take my brother and I on an around-the-world trip. We were out of school for several months and it was the best education I ever got. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with travelling, and this feeling will never go away.
What do you think makes a great children’s book? Simply put, I think a story that resonates with all ages. So many popular children’s books are meaningless to adults, and I think these books have failed dismally - whether they’re selling strongly or not.
Who is your favourite children’s book character of all time? Oh, gosh… I’d have to say, Pooh Bear. Kind, cute and wonderfully accessible.
If you weren’t writing children’s books, how else would you find creative release? I’d probably focus more on photography, which is another passion of mine.
How long does it take you to write a children’s book? I often get waves of thought at very random points during the day/night, and these usually spawn new stories. Most of my books are written in about 30 - 45 minutes, which sounds very fast, but I guess I put many collective hours of thinking into them in advance.
What do you think is special about your writing? It's emotion-charged and impassioned. I really “feel” something when I am writing my books, and this feeling carries over to readers.
Name a famous person you respect the most? Probably Emma Watson or Barack Obama for much the same reasons: humility; passion; purpose; perseverance.
When was the last time you were really excited? Every time I tell a new story to my children, it simply repeats over and over as the best moment of my life. Honestly. It never gets old.
When was the last time you were really scared? I was in a pretty major accident four years ago and broke my neck and back (!). It was truly horrifying and I am still haunted by it daily. I’ve made a decent recovery and I’m extremely grateful, but the experience has changed my life.
Where is your favourite place on earth and why? Outside of Australia, it’s the Dordogne region of France. The history, the castles, the landscapes. I never, ever tire of going there.
What’s one thing you wish people would do more of? Realise how unimportant many things are, especially in relation to work and career. It’s for a whole other time, but I suppose I’ve had a very fortunate professional career outside of writing. It has been wonderful on the whole, but also introduced me to hoards of people who really, truly have almost nothing in their lives outside of work, and this is just really sad, and a genuine and systemic cultural problem in society.
What’s one thing you wish people would do less of? Kill animals for trophy hunting. I am repulsed by these people.
What makes you most happy? Outside of my family, it is most certainly being in nature. I absolutely adore the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, with my camera gear and a bottle of water!
What’s your favourite random fact? The average child asks 300 questions a day... Although, I think my eldest son asks more like 1300!
Leave us with a random parting thought, please: “Paradox” is one of my favourite words in the English language!