Griffin’s Quill enters into the realm of children’s fiction, creating a new posting category, and interviewing modern polymath, William Banks. Read all about this fascinating author and Ollie, the endearing and adventurous cephalopod.
About the Author:
William Banks grew up in Texas, went to the Episcopal Day School and just knew that he would become a successful author. Grandchild to a printer and painter and child to a musician and radiologist, he wanted to combine the arts and riches. So, he drew comics and designed books and sold them to his classmates. William designed this book when he was 11 years old.
Excerpt from Ollie the Octopus:
Find out what happens to Ollie next! Get the book here.
Featured Author Interview:
Griffin’s Quill: As an eleven year old, you wrote, illustrated, printed, and marketed Ollie the Octopus. This is an amazing feat for an adult, much less a fifth grader! I remember the fifth grade. Those memories are not filled with literary creativeness but rather playground escapades. What role did your Grandfather play in generating this adventure? Did you learn to draw from his tutelage, or did your art, at the time, stem solely from grade school art class?
William Banks: I wouldn’t say that I “printed” Ollie as an 11-year old. I did write and illustrate the core story, and then reproduced the whole book 4 more times by hand, as I did not have access to a photocopier. I wanted to make a comic book that I could sell. So, after writing the book five times, I took four of them to school (keeping one for myself – a wise decision I think) and sold all four copies to my classmates. I thought I would have to somehow finagle them into buying the books, but apparently they (my classmates) really liked the books and bought them. I don’t think any of those originals ever survived, but you never know…
My grandfather played a key role in the development and illustration of Ollie’s first great adventure. He worked as a printer for many years, doing typesetting the old-fashioned way – with type blocks and using a printing press. Sometime during his life, he broke his shoulder. To retrain his manual dexterity, he learned how to paint. Whether he taught himself or took a course, I don’t know, but eventually, his style improved to a professional level. During his life he painted hundreds of paintings, some of which can be found in museums all over the northeastern United States, from Maine to Maryland.
I remember spending countless hours in his studio as a child, drawing and painting alongside him. One of my favorite memories of the time we spent painting together was from when I was 6 or 7 years old: we went to a local park in Southbury, Connecticut, where he liked to go draw, paint and think. I still have the painting I made from that day. It was my first watercolor painting where I actually tried to paint what I saw in nature. He loved it and had it on his wall for years. Every time I visited his house, I saw it hanging on the wall where he could see it while he painted his masterpieces. Honestly, I don’t remember my grade school art class at all.
So, when I started Ollie the Octopus when I was eleven, he showed me how to lay out the pictures and make sure that the words were lined up properly on the page, centered at the bottom. He taught me to first draw with a very light graphite pencil, then ink in the drawings with colors. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but with lots of effort, I did it. I have to admit now that felt pen on construction paper was a poor choice for art materials, because it doesn’t “age” well, but then I never thought I’d actually publish my book with a real publisher.
Griffin’s Quill: You have a truly amazing story behind the creation of Ollie. Stories like these are rare and provide others with wondrous inspiration. “Will my child create an everlasting treasure?” the readers will ask. Maybe, but one thing is certain. They will all remember the adventure if it comes not from an art class but from a caring loved one. Kudos to you and your grandfather! You’ve wanted to be an author since early childhood. Did your heart ever wander toward another passion? Did your brain ever try to talk you out of it?
William Banks: Actually, my heart wandered to several passions. That is why I’ve diversified my life so much. I wouldn’t say my brain talked me out of it, rather that it said “writing isn’t enough… do a whole ton of things and fill your day with many things.”
I’ve got many stories to tell about all my life experiences – and believe me, there are many – but as there’s not that much room to talk about them all in an interview, I’ll give you the abstract. Listing all my passions and paths I’ve followed, I’m a writer, self-taught computer technician, archaeologist, anthropologist, forensics specialist, classical linguist (ancient Greek, Latin and Egyptian), actor, trumpet player, clown (like the ones in the circus), storyteller, skater punk, bicycle racer, martial artist (karate, judo, tae-kwon-do and jiu-jitsu), security guard, night-club bouncer, computer salesman, computer game designer, role-player, lawyer, researcher, teacher, opera singer, and now publisher, media specialist, business consultant and web designer… in no particular order.
Griffin’s Quill: You’re right, that’s way too much for an interview – maybe too much for a single biography. I like the title, Biography of a Modern Polymath – Volume One. Until then, let’s talk about Ollie. One of your key selling points is interaction with the book. How can children participate in the story of Ollie the Octopus? What age group do you recommend?
William Banks: Ollie the Octopus has been reconifgured from the original “Felt Pen and Construction Paper” format into a fashionable modern coloring book. Children (of all ages) can enjoy reading about Ollie’s adventures while coloring in the pictures with their own visions as to what Ollie’s home and world look like. On the book page, we’ve posted some of the renditions of Ollie’s adventures as seen through the eyes of Ollie’s readers. We also want parents to scan in their kids’ works and email them to Safkhet (email@example.com) to be posted on the page as well. We’re also considering the next storybook/activity book and how that story will unfold.
Primarily, Ollie’s adventures are appropriate for children from around 3 years (when they start really drawing) up to 6-7 years old. Of course, it’s fun no matter what age you are.
Griffin’s Quill: My own daughter just turned four. I think a place to showcase her Ollie artwork is a great idea. You just gained a new customer. I’m afraid you beat me to my next question, Will. I’ll ask a qualifying question then. Do you plan on developing a series of children books around Ollie? We think you should. Can we expect any new friends in Ollie’s adventures? A sibling perhaps?
William Banks: I do plan to write more children’s books surrounding Ollie and his adventures, because I think the idea of enhancing the original story behind Ollie is really fantastic. As I have a dual role in Safkhet Publishing (author and publisher – more on that later), I will have to schedule time into my calendar to actually sit down and write a new story. Going back to a previous response, with a dual role, I often find that I am spread very thinly over my different projects. But, my readers should never fear, as there is the possibility of a future Ollie activity book. I am sure that Ollie has friends about the ocean that he can involve in his adventures, but so far (as an 11-year-old), I hadn’t gotten too much farther than Ollie’s mom. Depending on a market analysis, though, I might develop a sibling into the story – maybe you can ask your daughter if she’d like to see a brother or sister in Ollie’s family, and what his/her name might be?
Griffin’s Quill: You are certainly targeting the right audience for your market research. Children are marvelous wonders, and, to take from a great American movie, you never know what you’re going to get. (Thank you, Tom Hanks!) Perhaps children could post their suggestions along with their art work. With the knowledge you may not have started yet, I’ll ask a follow up question. When writing new material, do you feel it will be difficult to reincarnate the child’s perspective you had when you originally wrote Ollie?
William Banks: I don’t think I’ll have that much of a problem getting into the frame of mind of an 11-year-old boy. I like to think that I haven’t quite grown up yet, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. J I am really good with kids, and can relate to them quite well. I have this funny story that goes right along this line: We (Kim and I) were visiting a friend and her son who at the time was 5 years old. While we stood in the kitchen drinking coffee, the boy came over to us and asked his mom if he “could play with the other boy”. When she asked which other boy, he pointed at me. We then went off and played his racing game on the Playstation for the next couple of hours. So, no, I don’t think I’ll have any difficulty relating to a boy’s perspective.
Griffin’s Quill: Ah, what a wonderful little adventure the two of you shared. I imagine you made that boy’s day, and it gave me a chuckle because I would’ve asked the boy the same question. It’s fun to play, and I make it a point to do so as often as possible, perhaps to a fault depending on who in the family you’re asking. Still, your affinity for overly animated and imaginatively arduous youth raises a comparative question. Are you primarily a children’s book author, or are you building a wordier fantasy world?
William Banks: I’m primarily a children’s book author when it comes to trade fiction. For my academic career, I need to write academic books and articles, but it’s not the kind of books I really want to write. I don’t really see myself writing the epic fantasies that you can find in bookstores these days. I’d rather have other people write those books and then publish them (more on that in a different interview), than do it myself.
Maybe the next Ollie book will be a bit longer, but then it will still be an activity book – maybe this time with puzzles, mazes and word games. Who knows? Though on that note, I think it may be difficult not to ostracize some of my readers based on development stage. Maybe if we mixed the activities or had different levels? Well, there goes my brain… coming up with new stuff all the time…
Griffin’s Quill: I think the idea of Ollie evolving into different levels is a great idea. I can see the youngster, just learning to read and write, falling in love with a fun activity book about an octopus; then I see that youngster growing up and discovering a more mature Ollie toting more advanced puzzles and games. One day, Ollie might even evolve into a young adult action figure with comic book quality artwork and story development while still bringing the familiar challenging activities reminiscent of younger years. I think you’re sitting on an educational franchise, though I can’t begin to imagine how much work such an enterprise would entail. I find that my writing preferences seem to grow and mature as I do, which is not saying much about my writing let me tell ya. However, today I write about a man forced to take on a new life. Earlier in my life, my characters were younger, more appropriate to YA. Now that I have a family, I feel compelled to create a children’s book – after all, I read at least one a night. Will you always be a stalwart author, helping shape the minds and interests of children, or do you think your writing will evolve to something else as you grow older? Can you imagine a time when you no longer write?
William Banks: I imagine such an enterprise would require me to be a full-time writer, a position I gladly file right in with all the other things I’m doing. I think, though, that I would need a small team to delegate all the aspects of publication in order to focus on the writing aspect. It’s not rocket science (I’ll leave that to you) but certainly a lot of challenging work to manage all these things simultaneously.
I cannot imagine that I would quit being an author, innovator and publisher of books – and children’s books of course. As I am so much a child at heart, I think I’ll leave the adult writing to my academic life and leave my creative side to writing children’s books.
Griffin’s Quill: Enterprise – be it a small garage start-up, the fantastic space exploring vessel conceived by Gene Roddenbury, or the very real test article of the former Shuttle Program, they all require the actions of a team to be successful. For what can one man do – without a Tardis? Until then, we’ll have to settle for cramming what we can into each clank of the clock. Now, let’s break away from the serious and explore the child within. What’s the story behind Anglesey Abbey? Is it just a quirky photo, or does it have a deeper meaning?
William Banks: Kim and I (and Mozart, of course) love to go to places and just walk around, looking at buildings, statues and gardens. We don’t normally go into museums, especially when the weather is great (and usually because the museums don’t allow Mozart). Sometimes, we find a statue that is particularly interesting, funny or just special. Once we found a statue of a sitting dog, representing some politician’s special dog. We had Mozart sit right next to this dog and pose for a picture. She sat so perfectly, it looked like she and the statue dog were carbon copies.
At Anglesey Abbey, a property of the National Trust – a charity dedicated to the preservation of historical properties around the United Kingdom, there is a huge garden with crisscrossing paths, open meadows, beautiful flower arrangements, manicured topiary and statues strewn about. One of these statues depicted a boy with his hunting dogs listening to the sound of the hunter’s horn. We thought it would make a great picture of me also listening for this magical horn, clearly embracing my playful and curious side. One a side thought, I normally think I don’t look good in pictures, but this one is definitely my favorite. I think, in retrospect, we should all be listening for that magical call that leads us to create, innovate and truly live.
Griffin’s Quill: The UK certainly has a great deal of history – and statues, plenty of statues, and squares with fountains and … What’s it been like to transplant yourself from the great state of Texas to the confines of Cambridge?
William Banks: Actually, not as difficult as you would think. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe, ever since I was a child. We visited Germany when I was a teenager, and I fell in love with the country then. Just after I graduated from Law school, my wife and I moved to Germany after a short year on the East Coast. We lived in Germany for 6 years, and then moved to Cambridge so that Kim could go to University there for a master’s degree.
I have to say, though, that the biggest difference between Texas and England for me is that in Texas, everything is big, wide and spread out. Here in England, everything is very “cosy” (read: not much space). Also, where I grew up, it was pretty commonplace to see big cars and trucks. I haven’t (honestly) seen more than one pickup truck in this country. People here are more apt to listen to pop culture music, whereas in Texas, the common form of music heard was Country.
Griffin’s Quill: A very bold and daring move to say the least. I’m glad it has also been a rewarding one. As a child, I dreamed of many things. Some were erroneous, like dreams of driving a tractor trailer (no offense to the truck drivers out there – I just don’t do long distance road trips well). Some I’ve attained; though they’re colors are duller when viewed through the eyes of reality. Others were outlandish, mostly stemming from a desire to live out the adventures of Jules Verne – every one, and some I dream today with the same childish vigor. What dreams have come: to you as child, to fruition, today?
William Banks: Well, for one, I got published, didn’t I? I enjoyed being a storyteller then (although I think my parents thought of my storytelling as escapist behavior). I’ve always wanted to sing professionally, and I’ve done that. I wanted to be the smartest person in my family – I don’t think I can judge that, but I do have the most degrees than anyone in my family – not that THAT is the end-all to education… I also wanted to be an astronaut, but that didn’t happen: I thought I could become an astronaut without joining the military… well, we know how possible that is.
Griffin’s Quill: You’ve been a busy little beaver, Will. I’m guessing you get some interesting stares at your family reunions. We share some dreams it appears. You can probably guess which ones – singing isn’t one of them. That dream was trampled by anyone around me with one good ear before it had a chance to root.
Being someone who prefers to view the world with a child’s eye, you should have fun with this question. If your writing had the power to materialize around you, what would you do with it? Would you alter the world we live in or pen a new one? What would it look like once the ink ran dry?
William Banks: I’ve actually thought about this question before, but sometimes I think it is a GOOD thing that such is not possible. I’ve had other iterations of the same daydream: what would the world be like if I could cast magic spells like the ones in Dungeons & Dragons (a pen-and-paper role-playing game), what would I do if there was 24 hours of Amnesty for all my actions, what would I change if I was rich (and I mean Bill Gates rich, not just a measly million dollars), what if this is the world of the Matrix (the movie) and we don’t know it, what if I could really fly (never pay for another airline ticket), what if I could teleport (never late to work again)…
If I could change the world with the flick of a pen, the world would be faster, brighter, cleaner and more technologically advanced than ever before. War would be a thing of the past; someone starts to get rowdy and I’d rewrite his history. I’d pen one where magic is real, dragons and fantasy creatures exist, a person’s dreams can come true, and poverty, hunger, violence and abuse would be only nightmares that no one would have to actually suffer. Cancer? Gone. Drug use? History. Crime? Vanished. Understandably, this may be a brave new world, where the Savage is cultured and the cultured savage (Aldous Huxley) or threaten to be a world of Big Brother (George Orwell), but then, I’d have the power and I’d use it so that THAT doesn’t happen.
Griffin’s Quill: Great answer, Will, with some heavy hitting references to illustrate your point. Whoever the person was to coin the phrase ‘what if’, they were certainly a storyteller. I like the part where you’d rewrite a rowdy person’s history. It put me in mind of Total Recall (the original), but then I think Anakin Skywalker thought in a similar fashion and look what happened to him. Thankfully, as you point out, our pens hold no direct sway over the world we live in, yet we can hope to leave a lasting impression on our readers, if we’re good.
Our pen’s can’t change reality, but if they could transport us to a new one, what destination would you set? Would you chose to write in a past age or the next?
William Banks: I think that if we could go to a new reality on the spin of an ink nib, I’d set the destination to a medieval high-magic fantasy setting. It’s my favorite destination when I dream. I’ve loved it since I was 7 years old, when I first started role-playing back in 1979. I’ve also been an avid fan of history, so I’d stay with that. It also fits in with my ideas of how the world should work.
Griffin’s Quill: You started tossing dice and fudging character attributes a bit earlier than me, Will, but I wasn’t far behind. I too love the old tabletop RPG. Sometimes I think our dreams can be so cruel to give us a glimpse into a fantastic world only to snatch it away at the sound of a buzzer, but I wouldn’t give them up either. As a history buff you should enjoy this next question, provided you know your movie history. If you were the Time Traveler in the 1960 movie adaptation of “The Time Machine”, by H. G. Wells, what three books would you carry with you into the future?
William Banks: Well, admittedly I like the more sci-fi/techno version of The Time Machine from 2004 adapted from the original in 1960, which follows the book – essentially written as if the author IS the Time Traveller himself. I like Guy Pearce as an actor and think that Jeremy Irons makes a fantastic arch-villain. But, were I to be the Time Traveller, I’d take a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (just in case there isn’t a copy anymore – artifacts like the first mass-printed book need to be preserved), The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (which, no matter how many times I read it, I always enjoy again and again), and (provided I can also bring a full box of pencils) a 1000-page book chock-full of empty pages — so I can write my own chronicles.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder . . . live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” — Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Griffin’s Quill: Great choices, Will, although now I’m curious whether the Gutenberg Bible would get read or preserved. I’ll leave the answer for the reader to ponder. The Martian Chronicles is one I will have to check out. A blank book, especially one with a 1,000 pages, is a wise (and fairly common) choice, though I must advise you consider a pen with a box of ink refills over a box of pencils. Who knows what amazing adventures you might capture, or who you might share them with, for such is the blessing of an author. With our blank books, we can all be the Traveler and journey across more barriers than just time.
I’ve enjoyed our time together, Will. You’ve provided us with a delightful story of a child’s dreams, given us hope those dreams are attainable, and inspired us to soar toward new horizons. I’ll just say thanks, now, and leave you to share your final thoughts with the readers.
William Banks: I’m not as concerned with whether that bible would be read as much by other people… I think having a really historical book that I could treasure and enjoy relating to other people (really great stories in there). I know that you’ve probably heard the “I’d take a blank book” routine before, but the advantage of a blank book is that not only can you write with in, but you can also draw in it. Furthermore, pencils I think are better because, if you run out of ink, your pen is useless. If you run out of pencils, you can use coal, graphite, chalk… there are plenty of minerals out there that are similar to mark paper.
Never lose your inner child. It’s one thing to take responsibility for your actions, and a totally different thing to grow up and forget what it’s like to be a kid.
Thank you, Ryan, for the interview. All the best.
Griffin’s Quill: Thank you for being such a great guest, an awesome publisher, and an all around good guy who we secretly implanted in the UK in a plot to understand their version of English. Don’t forget to report back once in awhile.
William Banks’ Links: