Interview - Michelle Morgan

Interview: Michelle Morgan, Author, Illustrator, Environmentalist and director of Snoop Creative
- September 2017


Snoop Creative


Art Environment Maroubra Beach Maroubra

You are such a multi-talented artist, illustrated and author. What's your favourite types of projects?

I love having a lot of creative scope in my projects. Its why I started to do my own projects so I can let my imagination run wild and challenge myself as an artist. That is what lead me to writing Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew. I wanted my own project where I could draw and create exactly how I saw it in my mind.

When and how did you discover your artistic streak?

From a very young age I had a big imagination. Illustration and art work allows me to channel it into more productive outlets. At school, Art was my favourite subject but back then, in a small country town, there wasn't the career avenues for creatives there are now. But as they say, all roads lead to Rome, eventually anyway!

Your book 'Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew' is wonderful. Why did you decide to make this your first book, and what's the reaction been like regarding combining your important environmental themed story with the vibrant illustrations?

I never thought in a thousand years I would end up writing and illustrating a children's book but it has been such a wonderful ride and I loved every minute. I initially painted an underwater scene with a happy turtle in it and Toby Turtle grew from that. I knew I wanted to center the story around Toby and while I was on holiday I developed all the characters for the underwater crew, the story came last. I put a lot of thought into whether I wanted to write a story that had a meaning or not. Initially I wanted to create a pretend magical world for children because there is so much going on in our current environment that is very serious. I asked all the parents I knew if they were more likely to buy a book for their children if it had a message. There didn't seem to be much consensus on that. When I started to write, the story came quite easily and naturally. I think it's a culmination of everything I have seen at some stage of life and travels.

The reaction has been great, children seem to connect with the characters and love the story. Parents are telling me their kids sat through the story enthralled and love the colour-in at the end. Colour-in's were my favourite thing to do when I was a kid so I had to put one in the book. I did all the illustrations on paper, I wanted to produce images that were authentic and I think that has paid off because I get a lot of comments on them. My Chinese translator developed an affection for Paul Pufferfish and some of his story was edited out, she was most upset!

What can you tell us regarding the continuation of the Toby Turtle story, and do you think it will find its way into classrooms, major library's and bookstores, or media firms who work closely in the environmental sector, or a combination of these elements?

The next book will be about coral bleaching, unless I come up with a better idea and change my mind! Seriously, I've already written the draft for the next book and I am looking forward to starting those illustrations. The characters are so familiar to me now and there will be a couple of new characters as well.

I think every writer who has gone to the effort of writing and publishing a book, which is a lengthy process, wants to see their book succeed. I hope it does make its way into schools and associations that can make use of the story and message it holds. But, the way the Underwater Crew save Toby Turtle is not exactly scientific and I was worried how that would be perceived. However, I can't have my lead character die a slow and painful death which is what happens to Turtles in real life! I hope I have put the message in a way that children can understand and relate too, in a more gentle and playful way.

Why did you decide to publish the book in multiple languages?

Once I had finished the illustrations and started formatting I thought, we are such a multi-cultural country, Mandarin and Spanish are the second most commonly used languages (I think) so it would be worth spending a more money now and being able to reach a larger audience. The Mandarin and Spanish versions have English subtitles for enhance learning. Although, I never knew that there are different versions of Spanish, I ended up with a great translator who did it in neutral Spanish. It was really nice to share a part of the journey with two lovely people.

What do you most love about the water and nature?

Being in nature, whether it's the mountains, the bush or the ocean, it relaxes and re-charges people. When I was at high school I used to do a lot of mountain climbing and bush walking with a group, we would sleep on the side of a mountain or out in the bush under the stars. I think having those kinds of experiences, no matter how old you are, gives you an appreciation of mother nature and all it holds. Additionally, how important it is that we protect it for future generations. Wouldn't it be a terrible thing if kids 15-20years from now couldn't get to do the things we have done!

I used to do a lot of scuba diving and the thing that impressed me the most is that, it's a whole other world down there and we really are the outsiders. Every ecosystem on earth is connected, if one starts to die it will directly affect us. Being human we tend not to think about things we can't see but I really hope children and their parents get another view of the underwater world.

What environmental and social awareness campaigns have your worked on over the years?

I did environmental studies at University, which was quite an experience. The lecturers and students would all disappear to go and demonstrate somewhere. I remember they all went down to the big Franklin Dam protest and others. I really admire people who have that kind of passion.

I try to keep up with what is happening in current affairs, the Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching, the Adani mine for example and most recently Malcom Turnbull winding back the national marine parks which is really unbelievable. I am an advocate of leaving these marine parks completely alone and limiting visitors to scientists only, to allow the underwater world to regenerate and grow again.

Having done research for the book, the amount of plastic we use and the impact is phenomenal. Plastic never degrades and a significant amount ends up in the ocean, it breaks down, sea life ingests it and then it quite possibly ends up on your plate. It has made look at my own behavior and how much plastic I use. Banning bags is really not enough, if you look at some of the statistics it is very scary. Delhi for example has banned all single use plastics, that included plastic knives and forks etc and the amount of energy used to produce 12 plastic bags could drive a car for 1.6 kilometers! I am trying to work on ways I can reduce my plastic consumption. There are lots of causes I have an interest in but I am what you would call a bit of a keyboard warrior.

What inspires you?

Lots of things and an eclectic array of people. The person that lead me down the path to developing my creativity and writing this book was Ice Cube. I was listening to an interview with him after the success of Straight Outa Compton and he said, 'find out what makes you different then focus on that'! I thought about that for a long time. There are lots of people who are much better at art and illustration than I am, but I thought, when I was little I had an over active imagination. That must still be inside me somewhere and once I started on the book it started to flow. I think it's the story an illustration or piece of art tells that captivates people. So, it was really Ice cube that inspired Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew!

What's your current projects?

I am working on a range of greeting cards featuring my illustrations, I have started the draft of the next adventures of Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew, trying to get the eBook version of Toby done, developing a shop on my website and I have another book brewing based on my brother and I growing up in Papua New Guinea.

How did you come up with the business name Snoop Creative?

My father used to call me snoop or snoopy after the cartoon character because I was an inquisitive child, I would listen in on conversations, snoop around in cupboards. I had a long list of possible names but this one resonated with me the most and I think it's a bit different and he passed away a long time ago so it's in honor of him. I have started the process of trademarking it because I have seen a few imitators online and I want to protect it.

What do you consider to be some of your career highlights to date?

In terms of my creative career, I think completing this book has been the highlight. It took me a year and a half end to end to complete. The illustrations are all on paper and they took me 6-7months in between temp jobs. Then figuring out the world of publishing on demand, formatting, finding the translators, I am really pleased with the way it has come out.

Has the internet been mainly a positive or not for your line of business? Explain....

The inventor of the internet wanted it to connect people and make information more accessible so in terms of this, it's positive. But having a website, maintaining social media accounts it's a lot of hard work for small businesses. Getting your message heard above all the noise is very difficult. One thing I like about the internet is, distance is not so much of an issue anymore, you can keep up with friends interstate and overseas, see their photographs and what they are doing. I am not sure what we would all do without it.

Do you prefer Facebook or Instagram, or do you just utilise both in basically the same way?

I prefer Instagram because its more visual and find it more positive than Facebook. I am still at the stage of building my audience. It could do your head in if you think about it too much!

Have you done any of the Meet The Author type book talks at this stage?

I would love to do one so if shops, schools or libraries are interested please contact me.

What do you think of the idea to transform you book story into an animated cartoon or children's television series? I thought of this idea as education combined with entertainment and learning can be powerful.

I have thought about animating it, it would be awesome. All my characters have very distinct personalities and seeing them come a life would be incredible. I would love that! It is a definite possibility.

What do you most like about Maroubra and the Eastern Beaches region?

What I love about Maroubra is, it's the only place I have ever lived where people say hello to you walking down the street. I love the surfers that are out there every morning no matter how cold it is and the community feeling. People interact and are genuine. I have never seen that anywhere else I have lived and I have lived in a lot of places.

What would you like to mainly focus the rest of your career on?

I would love to have a financially viable career doing what I do now. Creating stories and books that bring happiness to those who read them. My goal is also do illustrations on products such as greeting cards, phone covers, scarves, a little piece of art that tells a story and sell them on my website.

Where can people get a copy of Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew?

Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew is available in English, Spanish and Mandarin and can be purchased from:

Empathy books
Book Depository

Toby Turtle and the Underwater Crew