John O-Reilly



Author Interview


Where were you born? Where do you live now?

I was born in Wellington and I now live in Papamoa Beach, Bay of Plenty.


Where did you go to school? Did you have a nickname?

I went to school in Eastbourne, Wellington, then to Hutt Valley High School. My nickname was Johno or Johnny.


What were you like in school?

I was pretty quiet at school and very focussed on my sports, especially cricket. It was my dream to play professional cricket, but I got a back injury which put paid to that.


What was your favourite book growing up?

Beebo and the Fizzymen by Alain Gree and Philippe Fix.


Who is your favourite children’s author?

Roald Dahl.


What is your favourite food/colour/movie?

My favourite food is kolok mee, a Malaysian noodle dish that you can’t get in New Zealand. Bright pink is my favourite colour, and Blade Runner is my favourite movie of all time.


Who inspired you to illustrate/design?

My uncle is a graphic designer so he had some influence on me deciding to go to design school. My original idea was to become an industrial designer, but I came to realise I was most interested in graphic design.


How did you get started? How old were you?

I always created artwork, logos and posters from an early age. I used to do theatre posters and ticket designs for my mum’s local productions. I made comics for other kids at primary school. At high school I did Art, Design, Technical Drawing and Photography, and went on to get a Bachelor of Design from Victoria University.

     In terms of books, I’m a graphic designer, but I work with my partner, Ali, who is an illustrator, on children’s books. We design the books as well as provide the artwork so we’re responsible for the whole package. I guess that’s where my graphic design training gets applied in its most conventional sense, but I’m fully involved in the initial conceptualising and layouts, and the artwork too. She usually creates the initial artwork or elements and then I will do lots of digital work on her pictures.


Why did you want to be an illustrator/designer?

I’ve always been a visual person and I love creating and crafting things. Everything we use or look at every day has had to be initially designed by someone, somewhere, at some time. When you first realise that as a kid, it’s very inspiring.

     I run a design and indie games company by day. We work on commercial projects and our own games, and it’s all digital-based work on a screen. Creating books with Ali is something I do for fun, and to be able to make something physical, like a book, is a nice change.


How do you think up ideas?

Having an open and inquisitive mind helps. Sometimes the ideas just present themselves, sometimes you have had ideas and you’re just waiting for the right project to use them on. It helps to have a wide range of input: watching and reading and observing all the time is key for me.


Do you have a special place where you design/illustrate?

I work from home and sometimes it can get very loud with our many animals and my six-year-old son running around. So I don’t really have a special place to work but I definitely work best when I have a cup of coffee and music playing in my noise-cancelling headphones.


What is the best thing about being a designer/illustrator?

I guess it would be the freedom. I work for myself and choose to work on the projects that I really want to work on.


Have you had a funny or embarrassing moment as a designer/illustrator?

Recently we got to display the Xbox One version of our new game at an Xbox Showcase event at the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco. While I was showing the game to a lot of media, a man came up to play it and I was asking him which company he came from and why he was there. He was looking at me a bit strangely. It was only after he left that I was told he was ‘Mr Xbox’, the man who is in charge of everything and who I should have recognised. Funny and embarrassing. Luckily, he loved the game.


What do you do when you are not designing/illustrating?

I create games with my business partner, Greg. I hang out with our six-year-old son. Help take care of our menagerie of animals. Get out and about and enjoy the amazing place we live in. I love to run.


What would you have chosen to be if you were not a designer/illustrator?

A professional cricketer.


Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?

Charles Darwin.



Awards received:

Winner – Picture Book and Children’s Choice categories of the 2007 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!

Winner – Best Picture Book 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for Tahi, One Lucky Kiwi

Winner – Children's Choice 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book for Melu

Winner – Te Kura Pounamu Award, for a distinguished contribution to literature written in Te Reo Maori, at the 2013 LIANZA Children's Book Awards for Ko Meru


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