MEET THE AUTHOR // Pam Slattery
The Story Behind Cobber, A Beautiful Children's Picture Book.
It started as an idea in the back of artist and illustrator Pam Slattery’s mind when she lived on the fringes of the rainforest in North Queensland 30 years ago. The concept sat quietly until Pam moved to Sydney and she put pen to paper in 2005 to bring the story of Cobber the cassowary to life. But it wasn’t until the arrival of her own grandchildren and a move to the Highlands that the idea from many years ago became the stunning children’s picture book, Cobber.
We caught up with Pam in Burrawang to chat about her new career as a children’s author!
1 // You’ve had a varied and successful career as an artist. Tell us more about that.
My mother was a talented watercolour artist in Melbourne and when I moved to Cairns in 1979, I followed in her footsteps and started to paint. I exhibited my works in a number of galleries in Cairns and Port Douglas, and was the artist-in-residence at Radisson Treetops Resort in Port Douglas and Silky Oaks Lodge on the Mossman River. It was beautiful there. I had my own little cabin in the rainforest, would paint for days and I met many interesting people from all over the world.
My art career continued when we moved to Sydney and in 1999 and again in 2014, my work was selected to be part of the prestigious Birds in Art Exhibition in the USA. Each year, over 1000 international artists apply to have their work exhibited and only 60 are selected. That was a huge achievement for me.
When we moved to the Highlands, I loved getting to know the art scene and creative community here. I’ve exhibited my paintings at the Milk Factory Gallery and in the John Copes Prize Exhibition at Bowral District Art Society, in which I received Commended Awards in 2017 and 2019. My studio has been part of the Art Trail in recent years too.
2 // So, tell us where the idea of Cobber came from.
Our home in Cairns backed onto rainforest and all the animals and birds of the rainforest were part of my everyday life. I definitely took inspiration from nature and the world I was living in. I learnt about the role that each animal, insect and bird played in the regeneration of the rainforest and as I’m a keen bird watcher too, I was most interested in the cassowary.
A friend's husband called everyone ‘Cobber’ because he couldn’t remember people’s names! That stuck with me.
The story of Cobber is about a young cassowary heading off on an adventure, meeting and chatting to the many creatures of the rainforest to find his purpose.
3 // You’ve done the beautiful illustrations for the book. What came first? The words or illustrations?
I wrote the book first, back in 2005. There was lots of editing of text, then I did most of the illustrations and sent the manuscript off to Create a Kids' Book in Melbourne to be assessed. They were very helpful, and I did some more editing before sending it off to a number of publishers. I ended up with a whole lot of rejection letters which was disheartening, so I gave up for a while and focused on my other work in Sydney and my art.
4 // So how did Cobber see the light of day in 2020?
I live in the Highlands now and when the pandemic hit, I decided to finish all the illustrations and print off a copy of the book for my grandchildren. When I got the book in my hands, it looked fantastic, so I submitted it to Boolarong Press, a publisher in Brisbane. I got a call from them within a couple of weeks saying they wanted to publish it!
5 // Where can people get a copy of Cobber?
It’s available at Book Nook 2577, an independent bookstore in Robertson. You can also ask Berkelouw Book Barn in Berrima and The Bookshop Bowral to order it in, or you can buy it online via Booktopia or the Boolarong Press website. I’m also keen to get in touch with local schools in Term 4 and do some library readings.
6 // Are there more books on the horizon?
Most definitely. I don’t want to be a 'one book wonder'. I have one that’s finished, that the publishers haven’t seen yet, and another one about penguins in Sydney Harbour that I’m finishing off now. Watch this space!
7 // What do you love about living in the Southern Highlands?
We moved here because we wanted a garden, a view and open space, which we have now. We built a little studio in the garden for me, and I love that we had the space to do that. The weather is much cooler than living in the tropics! There’s a huge creative community that I enjoy being part of and really, it just comes down to how un-busy everything feels in the Highlands.
Cobber is available to buy at Book Nook 2577 in Robertson – RRP $19.99. Swing by to grab a copy. Such a great way to support a local store who is supporting a local author! Follow Pam on Instagram @pamslatterywatercolourartist and on Facebook - pamslatteryartist to keep upto date with all her art and writing adventures or head to her website.
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