In Conversation with Marg Gibbs and Alicia Rogerson on The Post Office Pup

Congratulations on the release of the adorable, The Post Office Pup!

Marg, this sweet story was inspired by the real life Shilo from your local Mapleton Post Office. What can you tell us about him and the research that went into creating this tale?

MG: Shilo is 11 years old, so perhaps not a young puppy. He is a Cocker Spaniel and has his own bed at the Post Office behind the counter where he spends most of his day. Shilo still has sisters in Mapleton that visit from time to time. He makes a big fuss of them when they come in to collect their mail.

When he was a pup, he followed one of the water hens off the bridge at Lilyponds and thought he could do the same. He sank like a stone. Shilo loves gardening, chasing lizards, bugs and rhinoceros beetles; he is an avid mouser.

The research for the story came from talking and asking questions of the owners of the Post Office and visiting their backyard one day to take photographs. I watched Shilo in action. Xanthia gave him lots of cuddles. Yyvonne shared memories and antics too. David told me about his personality.

How does the real Shilo help or add to the community life in Mapleton?

MG: To be honest, Shilo is quite shy indoors and knows his place and routines; outdoors he’s more social, watches the Mail Van pull up and follows David out to the footpath.

Shilo belongs to a big family who loves and protects him. He does have his “fan club” who come in to say hello and have a pat.

Marg, how did you engage Alicia for the illustrations? What do you like most about the way she has captured the curious (and cheeky) Shilo and the Mapleton community?

MG: I contacted Alicia via email after reading about her work and art in the community. Her response to my story was very positive. She loved the manuscript of the regional family who loves their dog. I love the way she has shown Shilo in many different poses, using acrylic paint to capture strong textures and tones. Her idea to bring the outdoors inside is reflected in the many critters that pop up frequently. Children warm to them.

Alicia, what do you like most about Marg’s story? Which parts do you connect with the most?

AR: I was drawn to the energy of the story and the random moments that inspired change to his everyday life.  I am very much a dog person, so it was a lot of fun to bring Shilo to life and surround his story with a whole supporting cast of characters.

Alicia, please tell us a bit about your illustration process. What kinds of media do you use?

AR:  For this book we chose to go with acrylic paints to reflect the style of the story.  This way it would be brighter, energetic, layered, and modern.  I spent the first few weeks sketching many dogs in lots of poses.  My dog helped, particularly when it came to sleeping!  Then I moved onto exploring garden scenes and finally dove into painting with colour.  I try to involve my kids more (4, 8, 11) as they bring a great energy into the process.  They would suggest elements I could add, the way a box could be stacked and even what an insect could be doing on a page.

What is your favourite part of The Post Office Pup? Why?

MG: I love Shilo scampering out to the garden to play with Xanthia. The double spread is bursting with vibrant colour and shows the dog’s movements and fun. Alicia has captured this scene skilfully. Throughout the book, Shilo sniffs at the letters and parcels looking for a surprise.

AR: I enjoyed the scenes of surprise – nose kissing Xanthia, Shilo racing through the garden, the parrot squawking.  I think this reflects my desire to notice the moments of life that elevate our days from monotony to inspiration.

What do you hope readers will gain, or draw inspiration from, by reading this book?

MG: I hope readers will connect with the love and affection of an animal or beloved pet. And connect with nature too. It’s my intention to honour the hard working and devoted family of a rural community service such as a Postal business where customer service, friendliness and courtesy is everything.

AR: I would like children to smile and enjoy the story of a dog finding friends that bring happiness to his life.  To remind them to look for surprises and a little hint – there is a friend hidden on every page but Shilo doesn’t recognise this at first.

Do you both still use traditional methods of communication, or are you more digital savvy?

MG: Alicia and I emailed each other over many months. She sent me mud maps/ roughs and a storyboard, and we shared our thoughts.

AR: Traditional methods are rarely used in the industry anymore.  It is much faster to do everything digitally and a great positive is that time and distance is never a restriction.  I do however still create my art traditionally.

Shilo is a curious Cocker Spaniel who seems to love people and nature. Do you have pets of your own? What kinds of funny or loving things do they do?

MG: My two beautiful border collies have died but I fondly remember many happy times, walking them in the neighbourhood, playing with the grand-children and entertaining  them with treats and surprises. They were loyal, energetic, smart and greeted everyone with a loud bark. They loved running on the beach, splashing in the surf and rolling in the Autumn leaves.

AR: I joke to my friends and family that our house is a zoo.  We have a dog, ducks, rabbits, hermit crabs as well as others.  It keeps our home busy and always entertaining which helps my children learn many life skills.  Our dog Scout loves to jump up and down on the spot, and one of our ducks keeps my daughter company for her outdoor yoga/mediation sessions.  Animals bring a great positive energy to the home.

Marg, please tell us about how you are promoting The Post Office Pup in your local community.

MG: The book will be on sale at the Post Office and Elizabeth and Yyvonne are involved with 2 competitions for children. A drawing your pet competition and sending a message to Shilo for his birthday in June. We plan to offer a soft cuddly toy dog to take home for a week so that kids and their family can keep a diary of activities and photos. At the country market at the end of June, there will be a book signing, reading, stickers and a letterbox for children to post a message. I am also thinking about a story dog in our community that visits school meeting Shilo. Wonder what they would have in common?

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

MG:   My website is available to browse. www.mjgibbs.com.au

I am on Instagram @marg_gibbs.

AR:  My website is www.aliciarogerson.com and you can follow me on Instagram at @alicia_rogerson_art

Thank you for chatting with us about your gorgeous story, Marg and Alicia! 😊

M. J. Gibbs has an innate curiosity about people and places when finding ideas for the stories and poems she writes. From Booknook Blue in Maryborough and Kenmore, Brisbane to the Bookloft in Mapleton, Marg has reached out to children in local communities to bring a love of reading and story telling. The book clubs enabled her own four children and their friends a golden opportunity to connect, be creative and enjoy a bookish program involving craft, games and outings. Marg has published poetry in magazines and anthologies, The Magic Fairy Wish and Musical Christmas TreeAlone in a Dark RoomPhantom MoonThe Hope Tree and Art Room in the NSW School magazine. Her stories about the Brisbane flood have been enjoyed by many.

Alicia Rogerson lives in a regional country town called Bridgetown in Western Australia. Her studio sits on a hill beside a forest. Her work is inspired by nature, objects and collections of things. Themes of Alicia’s works are often inspired from her dreams, her childhood and whatever direction her imagination takes her. She likes to use bold colours and inspire others. Alicia loves using a huge variety of materials including acrylic, watercolour, pencil, pens, ink, collage. She will often then use digital techniques to finish off the artworks.

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