David Elliot

Check out an author: David Elliot

David Elliot is an award-winning children’s illustrator and author. He has written and illustrated many amazing picture books, including the ‘Sydney penguin’ books and Pigtails the Pirate (winner of the 2003 NZ Post Children’s Picture Book Award). David’s book Snark, Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock…..and its tragic aftermath won both the Russell Clark Award for Illustration and the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award at the 2017 New Zealand Awards for Children and Young Adults. It was also awarded a White Raven by the International Youth Library in Munich and is New Zealand’s nomination for illustration in the 2018 IBBY Honour List.

David has also illustrated for many other New Zealand children’s authors, notably including Margaret Mahy's The Word Witch, winner of the Honour Award in the 2010 NZ Post Picture Book category. In 2010, he and Margaret again worked together, on The Moon and Farmer McPhee, which won the NZ Post Children’s Book of the Year Award for 2011. Most recently, David collaborated with Tessa Duder on her book First Map: How James Cook Chartered Aotearoa New Zealand, published by Harper Collins in August 2019.

Internationally, David has provided illustrations for Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Castaways series, and for John Flanagan’s bestselling Ranger’s Apprentice series.

You can find a full list of all David's books on his website.

Since 2008, the Ashburton Art Gallery has been curating and regularly exhibiting David’s work. His illustrations can also be viewed on his website.

In 2014 David was awarded the Margaret Mahy Award for lifetime contribution to Children’s literature in New Zealand.

David lives in Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, with his wife Gillian, and Molly the dog. He has two adult daughters, Mhairi and Jess.

About himself, David says:

I was born in 1952 in Ashburton , New Zealand, in the middle of the Canterbury plains where there wasn’t much going on but sheep and pine trees. I quickly invented a pretend lamb as a friend (really just the piece of string I led it with) and have been making things up ever since. ~ David Elliot

Rachel, from our Youth Services Team, caught up with David recently and asked him to reveal a few of his secrets...

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

David: All the way through school... a vet… but now I think I’d like to work with old artifacts… or old books… things with stories behind them… maybe conservation.

Rachel: Did you ever get told off for reading when you were a child?

David: Not reading… drawing! I was always drawing characters in my books and I suppose they had stories attached to them somewhere in my mind. My maths teacher in the third form called me up to his desk and flicked through my book... which hardly had a single sum… just little creatures running all over the pages. He gave up on me after that.

Rachel: What were you like at school?

David: I think I was a bit of an odd boy out early on… then I discovered stories, drawing... and swimming, and that made me feel a bit more comfortable with myself. I ended up in the top class at school but could never quite work out why I was there.

Rachel: What was the first ever story that you can remember writing?

David: I had a fantastic teacher who really encouraged me at primary school... used to take my stories through to the class below apparently, although I didn’t know that at the time. I can’t remember any of them, but I expect they would have been based on the adventure stories I used to read. I suppose when you live in a dream world like I seem to inhabit then the stories just run into each other. It’s difficult to cut one out and say this is where it begins and ends. I can remember poems I wrote for the school magazine competitions. When I look at them now they were very full of themselves.

Rachel: How did you feel when you saw your first book in print?

David: I was proud of course because I’d actually got it done… but it had turned into a different story than the one I wanted... the realities of the market and publishing for other people... so I was a bit disappointed in that. I think I just wanted to get onto the next one and make a better fist of it.

Rachel: Do you have a ritual you follow before you start writing?

David: My stories usually grow out of things I’ve scribbled down in my notebook and sort of vaguely happen rather than me sitting down to actually write them. I sort of visit them from different angles... and of course drawing bits and pieces helps them evolve. If I ever do sit down determined to write something I end up sharpening my pencils or mowing the lawn... anything but actually writing. Or if I do actually manage to sit down my imagination slides off on too many tangents. I find it better to kind of walk along behind the ideas and sketches and sort of shepherd them along. Stray bits wander off... other unexpected bits join in… eventually we all arrive somewhere.

Rachel: Of all your characters which one would you most like to hang out with?

David: I’m not sure I’d like to hang out with any of them really… perhaps the pig in Oink… but I’m not sure he’d like to hang out with me. He pretty much likes his own company I think. I’d much rather be with one of Jack Lasenby’s animal characters. I think they are fantastic and I loved doing his covers… Perhaps one of his old draft horses.

Rachel: What are you reading right now?

David: I usually have several books on the go at once and sort of meander between them depending on how I feel. I’ve just finished a book called The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson about a man who stole a whole lot of rare bird skins from a museum in England… that was interesting. Then there’s The Daylight and the Dust, a collection of fantastic short stories by Janet Frame, and The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indrason (I quite like crime fiction).

Watch Chris Gilman Gable's "Hunting with David Elliot" documentary.

David Elliot talks about his vision of 'art in nature' as part of the 7X7 Wild Talks during the 2021 Wild Dunedin Festival.