An Interview with Tina Matthews
Interview by Bridgette Glover As if being an author wasn’t already impressive, Tina Matthews can also add illustrator, puppet-maker and musician to her list of talents. Born in New Zealand and now residing in Sydney,
Matthews appears to have lived several different lives, beginning with being part of a girl band called The Wide Mouthed Frogs in which she played the bass guitar (during which she managed to turn down being the supporting act for Split Enz during their tour in 1980). After The Wide Mouthed Frogs disbanded she joined The Crocodiles, and released the hit song “Tears” which got to number 17 on the New Zealand charts. In this same decade, Matthews had a puppet-making career, and worked on the sets of children’s shows as well as big budget films, allowing her to work with Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
Tina came to UNE in late May for the Writers and Illustrators in Residence program, during which she conducted workshops for the university and Armidale community.
BG: So your puppet-making career started in 1979. What interested you in this career?
TM: Well I always made stuff, even from when I was really small. I grew up in a house where a lot of stuff was made. My dad was always making wood work and my mum was always sewing; they were both really practical people, and I was the last of the family and got left to myself a lot, so I turned itinto what became my art form. So to actually combine devising stories and making stuff to go with it, which is what puppetry is, just made sense.
BG: Let’s talk about working on the 1986 film Labyrinth. It must have been amazing?
TM: It was a great and really interesting experience to sort of see the hard work that is involved in making huge movies like that. Jim [Henson] was really good; he lived across the road and he had good relationships with a lot of the puppet makers, and there were a lot of incredibly talented puppet-makers. A lot of them had their own jobs, and mine was specifically to put puppets together and make sure they moved really well. I finished working on the set before I could meet David Bowie though.
BG: So you were a puppet-maker and a puppet doctor for shows like Bananas in Pyjamas and The Ferals. How do you feel about the way children’s shows have shifted from puppetry to animation? TM: When I do puppetry at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) I see the incredible power of making a little figure that has some essential human or animal movements in it, and what you can express with it. It’s so beautifully simply. A shadow puppet too; they can do such great stuff and tell great stories too, and so cheaply. But yes, it’s all animation now and it’s not the same.
BG: So what made you move away from puppets, and into making baby mobiles?
TM: The main reason for moving into the baby mobiles was out of interest, having kids myself, reading stuff about what they saw and so making one myself, and also income, because it’s also a sort of cottage industry. So, that was just a little business and also, I’d seen that they really worked and that kids really liked them. The babies really like the complexity and the hard contrast of the black and white; no one quite knows what they see keep on selling. So the baby mobiles have kind of worked as a continuum, as has teaching at NIDA. Then of course there are books.
BG: Your first book called Out of the Egg was published in 2007. Tell us a bit about it.
TM: Out of the Egg was a story I just thought about years ago, and always wanted to write because it was just taking that original story of the Little Red Hen, which is a story about hard work, and turning it into not just an environmental story, but also focussing on the new generation and what they’ve got to offer. In fact, when I wrote that book, John Howard was in power and there was a big outcry about kids being kept in detention, and you can see in the corner of one of the pictures there’s a black area with the three little animals outside the fence, and the mum is big and saying that they can’t come in, and the little chick is saying “Mum, that’s mean!”. That was a direct reference to all the kids that were in custody.
The real irony of it is that the book is about listening to what your kid has to say, but the way I got it published was my son suggesting Houghton Mifflin Book Company, and I almost ignored him because it seemed so unlikely, after I had been trying to get it published for a year.
Tina has published three more books including Waiting for Later (2011), A Great Cake (2012) and most recently So Many Wonderfuls, which was published this year. Tina is now in the process of creating another book which focuses on the classic tale of The Three Sillies.
Talented illustrator, Anne Spudvillas will be visiting UNE from the August 2-17. Spudvillas has illustrated numerous children’s stories including The Peasant Prince and Woolvs in the Sitee.