Interview with Kay O’Neill

Kay O'Neill is a Christchurch writer and illustrator. Their gentle fantasy slice-of-life graphic novels appeal to all ages, with "a focus on young characters learning about themselves and their strengths, protecting and finding their place in the world around them, and feature various kinds of relationships". Kay's work has won prestigious Eisner, Harvey, and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics, and features on the ALA Rainbow List.

Kay's books


Q&A with Kay

What is your favourite food?

I'm a huge nut for sourdough bread- the kind where the dough is fermented for a long time and it comes out with a crunchy shell and soft inside, preferably with lots of seeds! Because of the fermentation process it's good for your stomach and it tastes amazing. I love it with soup!

Who inspired you when you were little?

I was really inspired by the characters in stories, especially other young girls, and I would often try to emulate them after I'd read a book that I really loved. One was a character named Katy from the book What Katy Did Next - I related a lot to her love of books, her awkwardness, and her desire to be good but often forgetting her resolutions. Sakura from the manga series Cardcaptor Sakura was pretty much my heroine - not only was she kind and brave, but she seemed so independent to me as a kid even when we were the same age. That was something I wanted to replicate myself.


What were you like at school?

I was either extremely studious, or completely distracted by doodling and writing story notes, depending on the subject and teacher. I loved English, social studies, history, classics and Japanese language and had a really high standard for myself, but in maths and physics I struggled to care beyond the minimum required to pass. I dropped the subject as soon as I was allowed while still gaining University Entrance, but loved everything else I studied.

Which person from the past would you most like to meet?

The author Tove Jansson - I'd just love to hear her talk about her life and her thoughts on making work for both children and grown ups.


Who is your favourite author/children’s author?

Tove Jansson is a big one of course, and I also love Ursula K Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones


Why did you want to be a writer?

For as long as I can remember I've made up characters and stories, whether it was daydreaming in class or on online message boards. It's something my brain just does naturally, inspired by what I read and also what I experience. It's also a way of communicating my thoughts and ideas with people in a way that conveys them through feeling and emotion, which feels truest to my original intention. I was also so heavily influenced by books and stories I read as a child, so with consciousness of a new generation I would like to try to make books that inspire kindness, self-acceptance and social responsibility.

Do you have a special place where you write your books?

I have a lovely studio workroom which I share with my partner! It's nice to be a million miles away in a project one moment, but then able to turn around and chat to someone the next.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?

It's a tough job, but I would really like to be a therapist of some kind. I think that's a different way of engaging with stories, and therapy has helped me so much that I would love to do the same for other people. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers or illustrators?

Be honest about what you really want to make, and stay open to all kinds of new experiences and inspiration in the world around you. If you work hard, and make something that is true to you and what you want to say, people will naturally sense that and be engaged by it. 

More about Kay

Images supplied by Kay O'Neill

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