Q&A With Chris Stead

The Wild Imagination of Willy Nilly is a children's picture book series with an art style that sits somewhere between Western video games and Eastern anime TV shows. It covers the ordinary everyday activities of a little boy called Willy Nilly, which spiral into epic adventures as the real world, and the world powered by his imagination, merge into one.

In his first adventure, The Little Green Boat, a trip to the beach takes an interesting turn when Willy discovers an abandoned boat in the sand. He jumps in, only to be washed out to sea by a giant wave. He must enlist the help of some dolphins, who take him to a tropical island where Willy must survive monkeys, bats, crocodiles and more if he is to find the secret treasure chest and a way home.

1. In 2013 you left a career as an editor of a game magazine to start your own company, Old Mate Media. What were your motivations behind the move?

In many ways I had reached a ceiling in terms of career progression. I had run one of the biggest publications in the world, won awards and learned how to do all the jobs in the production process. I had been working in the media for 17-years at that point. But more importantly, I was getting tired of doing everything and not owning any of it. There’s so much imagination and personality that goes into creating content, and I wanted to own it moving forward rather than pressing the send button and turning my back on it. Looking way down the track, I also want to have something – a family business – I can pass onto my children should they have similar interests to my own.

Funnily enough, after forming Old Mate Media and going down the path of creating my own magazines, books and websites, many of my existing media relationships reappeared with opportunities. I still provide content for a host of big name brands, but it’s all on my own terms now. And it fits around my priorities of being a dad and creating my own projects a lot easier. 

2. How did your work as a journalist help/hurt when it came to starting your own company?

I learnt my entire trade on the job. At university I was actually training to be a geneticist if you can believe that (!!), but had started writing on the side for magazines. I love writing – that is when I am happiest. By the time I finished my degree, I had been hired as staff writer for the launch of a major new magazine for Australia’s biggest media company.  

So with no formal training as a youngster, I had to learn everything in the moment and under the pressure of getting results. As well as the raw skills of the entire production process – which is vital to what we do at Old Mate Media - I believe this taught me that there is always a solution. That you can get things done. You can teach yourself new tricks. And that quality can always be achieved. It also made me feel like I had to always deliver content better than anyone else, because I was an imposter and someone might find out I wasn’t a “real” journalist, or a “real” editor.

3. Where does your inspiration come from? 

If I could write and create every book that pops into my mind during the course of any given day I’d have hundreds of books out. I have no idea where it comes from; sometimes a concept is just so far out of left field I can’t bridge any connection to what I am doing in that moment. I’m just happy that the ideas keep coming; even though it is frustrating to know that so many that I think are great will never come to fruition for simple lack of time.

Once I have the idea, however, the idea’s shape - presentation, language choice, story particulars, etc. - are more heavily inspired by life experiences. Most notably with the children’s books, just watching the way my own kids interact with their imaginations. Watching quietly as they play, you learn so much about the way they see the world and apply what’s in their mind’s eye to it. I always feed my books through that perspective as they spill out of me.

I also heavily engage with my own memories and emotional reactions to text to see what milks the best response. It doesn’t matter if it is rose-tinted or one-sided; it just matters if you can discover the root of what makes you feel that way, and then expose it in your words in such a fashion that the reader can feel it too.

4. Tell us a little bit about Willy Nilly. What will audiences love about him?

Willy Nilly is a good kid: perhaps a classic Australian child. He loves his family, he loves the outdoors and he has a healthy sense of adventure, driven by endless curiosity. He is also very engaged with his imagination, and this is where the trouble begins. Willy isn’t a naughty or even reckless child, but he’s a dreamer. He gets carried away in his own thoughts and as a result, what would otherwise be a normal situation – like going to the beach, or feeding bread to the ducks - can spiral slowly into an epic, over-the-top quest. Invariably this is to the irritation of his parents and amusement of his sister, but at the end of the day, everyone is smiling and enjoying life.

Willy is heavily inspired by my son and who I understand him to be. But I was also conscious to make sure he wasn’t a conduit for moralising life as so many children’s book characters are these days. This is about a kid being a kid, and celebrating what the world looks like through his unADULTerated eyes.

5. What's your best elevator pitch for The Little Green Boat ?

An old-school adventure tale for children who would walk over the top of a huge sand dune just because there might be something cool and fun on the other side. (hint: there is!)    


Book links:

Spanish version: http://geni.us/WN1Spanish