TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Steve Augarde

Steve Augarde

Steve Augarde has spent much of his adult life as an illustrator of children's books, an author of self-illustrated titles, and a paper engineer for pop-up books. His illustrations feature dark lines and bright colors, reflecting the cartoon style used in animated television series. (Augarde drew for two such series that aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in his native England.) In books such as We're Going on an Airplane!, Tractor Trouble, and Bulldozer, machinery-loving small children can learn about how such equipment works in a hands-on manner, with lots of pull-tabs and moving parts.

Augarde's first foray into middle-grades fiction was The Various, a fantasy published in 2003. The first volume in a trilogy, The Various introduces readers to eleven-year-old Midge and the fairy world into which she stumbles. At first Midge is very unhappy at having been foisted off on her quirky Uncle Brian while her single mother, a classical violinist, goes on an orchestral tour, but she soon settles in and begins to enjoy exploring Brian's run-down old farm. One day while she is poking around in a falling-down barn, she discovers a fairy—a miniscule flying horse, trapped under a toppled piece of farm equipment. She frees the little horse, named Pegs, and cares for him as he heals. Learning to trust Midge, Pegs tells her about the whole world of fairies living in a small enchanted wood on Uncle Brian's land, communicating with Midge telepathically, as befits such a magical creature. The five different tribes of fairies—Troggles, Tinklers, Irckri, Wisps and Naiads—are ruled over by the scatterbrained Queen Babetts, a comical character. The tribes collectively refer to themselves as the "Various," although they do little else collectively; as a Publishers Weekly contributor noted, "in Augarde's tale, the fairies struggle with divisiveness and racism just as humans do."

Like many wild creatures, the Various are being threatened by development in their area, and now their last haven, the one remaining small wood, may be destroyed as well: Uncle Brian is planning to sell it to builders. Pegs takes Midge back to the Various's land to try and warn the fairy folk about the danger, but many refuse to listen to anything that a human—a Gorji, to the Various—has to say. While the tensions soon mount, as the Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, Augarde "ably balances moments of drama with large doses of humor."

Several critics noted the care that Augarde takes in constructing his fairy world, which, Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist, is "painstakingly crafted right down to the dialects spoken by the tribes." In part because of this detail, "The Various is long on atmospherics and rolls along at an unhurried pace," Scott Veale commented in the New York Times. "But," the critic continued, "there's also plenty of action," as the tiny creatures battle gigantic (to them) foes such as the barn cat they have dubbed "Tojo the Assassin." The scene in which the Various have their showdown with Tojo is "powerfully visceral," wrote School Library Journal contributor Sue Giffard. Despite these exciting action scenes, Giffard concluded, "the strength of the novel lies in the sense of atmosphere, and the portrayal of the fairy characters, particularly Pegs."

While Augarde has become a prolific illustrator and author, his early career was not without setbacks. As he once explained: "In 1980 I had a brilliant idea and invented the electric pop-up book. To come up with a good invention in England, is, of course, to make a big mistake. In terms of progress, you may as well try rock-carving with your teeth. Still, I enlisted the help of an engineer friend, Richard Bendall, and together we made several working dummies of the book, first of all with batteries in the spine and later progressing to self-contained electronic modules mounted between the pages. We not only had pop-ups but lights and sound to accompany the pictures. We showed the dummy books to publishers who fell about with delight, shook our hands, called us geniuses, and gave us dinner. Well, at least we got the dinner.

"To give the publishers their due, they did try. But always the same reply. Too expensive. Can't be done. I still think that, had we been in America, things would have been different. It is notoriously difficult in England to get a new idea funded and off the ground. Time and again we seemed to be about to break through. The tension, build up, and frustration cycle went round and round for five years. Gradually it became clear that the project would just not happen. The idea was being diluted—musical greeting cards began to appear in Japan. The impact was lost and the impetus gone.

"Disenchanted with publishing, I worked instead as a musician, playing in pubs and clubs, and for a while with a theatre group in Cardiff. Got a job as a motorcycle dispatch rider, worked in telesales.… Five years on, very broke, I was offered the 'Bertha' books to illustrate.…and became a floating illustrator once more."

"Behind all authors' lists of books there are real lives going on," Augarde reminds readers. "At least there ought to be. I would be suspicious of anyone who spent the major part of their time in front of a typewriter or behind a drawing board. Not much going on there."

Nowadays Augarde is an established and respected novelist, his books published in several different languages around the world. He still works as a musician, playing double bass with popular jazz band The Gents, a regular feature on the festival circuit. The Gents are scheduled to play at Glastonbury 2009.

Many thanks to Steve Augarde for this biographical material.