Blake Nuto, author of Child of Galaxies, returns with his latest poetic picture book, A Day That’s Ours. This time, he tells a heart-warming story about a father and his child enjoying their final peaceful moments before the start of the school year. Join us as we learn more about Blake and his new book.
Hi, Blake! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your new book?
What inspired the idea of ‘stealing a day’, like the parent and child do in A Day That’s Ours?
It is a very personal book and as much a reminder for myself, as anyone else. I, like most parents, get swept away in the floods of life. From work to family, domestic demands, self-care, investing in community, creative pursuits; each will take its slice of time. And then, maybe it’s a photograph from a few years back or looking at a drawing you pinned on the fridge, and the veil lifts. You perceive the miracle for what it is, this heart outside your body, blossoming in the wealth of childhood and you have to steal a day. You have no choice.
The big question for me, and one that is looming over society at large, is why are we still stealing back our time? We are beginning to hear a lot of conversations about this. We are living in a world where productivity has far outgrown demand. Now there is a growing public sentiment to dream differently. Huge corporations are trialling four-day work weeks, some countries are attempting to reduce the length of work-hours, families are finding balance and flexibility through working from home. These aren’t new ideas, but they seem to be taking root.
The book is all about slowing down and appreciating the little moments. How do you remember to appreciate the little things around you?
Choosing to walk is always a great one. It’s a deliberate choice to get somewhere slowly, or perhaps just to walk for wandering’s sake. Soon enough, if the phone is away, I find the mind adrift or my senses a little more attuned to the world around me. There is a great book about this called A Philosophy of Walking. Or read, Henry Davide Thoreau, Friedrich Nietsche, Mary Oliver — they all celebrate the habit of walking. Writing itself is a form of mindfulness and I find most of my best poems emerge when I’m outside. Hiking has been an excellent way to draw our children into that world.
We are lucky to live at the foot of a beautiful mountain in lutruwita/Tasmania and it affords us the daily opportunity to have our attention arrested by some truly beautiful things. But as lucky as we are, we also chose to uproot our lives and move away from our city of birth, to be here. So in a way it is not just luck, but design. With the current pace of life, I think mindfulness can only be achieved by making very deliberate choices. We are expecting the impossible if we are asking ourselves to be both endlessly efficient and genuinely mindful.
I have now really been trying to orchestrate my world to find that elusive work-life balance. Just after we had our third child we decided to move to the ocean for a year and we both worked part-time. I recognise the liberty in being able to make that choice, but we were also spectacularly sparing. Regardless, we look back on it as a wildly brilliant decision and celebrate our year of frugal hedonism; our kids will never be that young again. It was also during that period I wrote ‘Child of Galaxies’, which is a good representation of my headspace at the time. ‘A Day That’s Ours’ really draws upon all those memories (especially all that time spent walking).
Despite our best laid plans, life proved expensive, and we knew it could not last forever. However; five years on the need to steal back time became evident and we are both working part-time again. We are a little more established now and our kids a little older, but it is still a juggle. I know it is a great privilege, but it is also a very deliberate choice and one that people who are much more well-off than we do not often seem to make.
One of the upsides of our recent pandemic (and I am conscious not to undermine the trauma) was watching the possibility of how rapidly the speed of life can change. Sometimes when I’m in the city, I like to stop and remember how quiet the streets were. We saw a real spike in baking, strolling, and gardening within our local community. That drastic and intentional shift to slow down the virus was evidence of the power we have to live differently. The decision to speed it all up again is an equal testament to our power of choice.
When did you start writing poetry?
In my last year of primary school, I had a brilliant teacher that sang with us every day and drenched us in poetry and good literature. His love for it was infectious. It was a gift for me to have a male teacher that treasured such things. From there I had a good friend that introduced me to his father’s record collection, and we spent weekends discovering good lyricist, Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Paul Simon. I remember handing in the lyrics for American Pie for a poetry assignment in high school because I knew I couldn’t write anything better. Understandably, my teacher did not pick me as a promising writer.
In the latter years of school, my English teacher thought differently and gifted me a book of poetry. Classics, like William Blake and Wordsworth. I kept writing song lyrics for my band and eventually, I bought an old typewriter from a flea market and wrote my first poem outside of the school curriculum, because I had a crush on someone and couldn’t bring myself to tell them in the modern way. From that point I never really stopped, I loved what poetry gave back to me. A chance to say things I couldn’t say, an excuse to take a long pause to wrestle with my experiences.
Why do you think books are important for children?
I think we only really understand anything through stories. We understand ourselves through the narratives we tell, and we understand others through the narratives we build around them. Books continue to be brilliant vessels for sharing stories. They’re an old technology, but for me, the reason they still haven’t been replaced by screens is their aesthetic. Books are something slow and tangible in the sea of fast and flashy things. They also live for free in one of the only public places you can go that does not demand your money, the local library.
What was your favourite book as a child?
My favourite book as a child was called Mr Peepers and the Golden Treasure. Was it a master work that lasted the test of time? No, it was not. But it was a testament to how attractive lift-a-flaps were to children in the nineteen-eighties, a wholesome precursor to the phenomenon of unboxing videos. Fortunately, later on I found The Hobbit, which was such an immersive and transcendent experience for me. I remember when I was reading it even my breakfast tasted different, as if I was eating it in the house of Beorn, not the suburbs of Western Sydney.
What has it been like to work with illustrator Vyara – and what is your favourite illustration in the book?
Vyara is an emerging wonder. I also like to create illustrations and I am completely humbled by her talent. Working with her was so inspiring, as she was really open in sharing her process and was very enthusiastic to include little details of our family life in her work. I thought that was really very generous and touching. The moment I saw her drawing the blanket on the first spread, I knew it was going to be a beautiful book. Vyara is a very warm and caring person and this shines through in the details that are laced throughout her work. Just look at the humanity in her characters.
If I had to choose a favourite spread, it would be the final pages, where the day is over and the characters are sharing a picture book together, if you look closely, you’ll see its Child of Galaxies. It is such a tender image and there is also an acceptance in the father that things will change, and that is okay.
What has been your favourite part of the process of creating A Day That’s Ours?
My favourite part was how the book emerged from a very short and simple poem that was commissioned by a friend. I never intended for it to become a text, but I looked at it one day and wrote an early version of the book. After many, many more iterations under the guidance of the editors, it became A Day That’s Ours. It was a very different process to Child of Galaxies, where the text was almost fully formed in about thirty-minutes. I still wasn’t completely sure it could work until I saw Vyara’s illustration pitch. She captured the sentiment so perfectly. So, I like how creating this book was a very collaborative process between the editors, the illustrator and myself.
And finally – if you could steal a day, what would you do with it?
I would step outside the door with a packed lunch, a pen in hand and no particular destination.
A Day That’s Ours
Written by Blake Nuto & illustrated by Vyara Boyadjieva
In this heart-warming, poetic story, a father and child share the last few moments of quiet before the school year begins. They take the time to notice each detail as they spend their special day together – from making a special pancake breakfast to noticing each spider’s web and falling feather. A moving story for parents to share with their little ones as they take their first steps into school or nursery.