The Dad Diary: children’s author Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers
'Here We Are' was inspired by Harland

Oliver Jeffers, the children’s author and soon-to-be father of two talks parenthood, art lessons and seeking advice from his dad

How has fatherhood been treating you? 

Great! We’ve been very fortunate with how good-natured our son [Harland] is. My wife and I are pretty laid back people, so I like to think he gets it from us. He’s just turned two – he’s big for two, though. He’s probably more the size of several four year olds…

How have things changed for you since becoming a dad?

It’s been a total paradigm shift. The hours in which you work obviously change – I feel quite strongly that I want to be there for dinner and bedtimes, but evenings and weekends used to be my most productive hours. A lot of things haven’t changed as much as I thought they would, though. I kind of thought [fatherhood] would be all constant turmoil and no social life, but that’s not really true. The things that I want to do have changed, that’s probably the best way to describe it.

What kind of dad would you say you are?

Hands-on in a sense that [Harland] doesn’t fall down the stairs or stick his fingers in a plug socket, but I like to think I’m pretty relaxed.

Oliver at work

What has fatherhood taught you? 

When we found out we were having a baby, I remember asking my dad, ‘Come on, lay it on me, what’s the secret?’ [Jeffers is one of four boys]. He shook his head and said, ‘I don’t know. Luck maybe?’ Then he thought about it and said he thought perhaps it’s because he was consistent. We always knew where we stood with him. The world is a topsy-turvy, upside-down place, so if you can offer consistency as a parent, that’s probably the most important thing. I try to do that.

You’ve dedicated your new book to Harland. How did you come up with the idea? 

It started with me semi-humorously giving him a tour of our apartment when he was just two days old. Then the novelty of that led me to realise I had to introduce him to everything. I suddenly had this awareness that he didn’t know anything at all and it was our responsibility to educate him. Despite the strange political climate of the world at the moment, and how much divisiveness there is, I tried to remain as positive as possible when explaining things to him, and many of those views filtered down into this book.

Were there any books from your childhood that were special to you? 

I wasn’t a big ‘book kid’, to be honest. I liked The Bad-Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle – particularly the last spread where the ladybird picks a fight with a whale. That sense of scale on the page – the whale looks so big because of the existence of this ladybird. I learned an art lesson that day.

The boys take on New York

What’s the one dad essential you can’t live without?

Harland has been given lots of Jellycat toys but it’s a Marks & Spencer elephant that he loves. Even now, if he trips and falls, it’s his elephant that he asks for!

How will you be spending Christmas?

Waiting with my bags packed by the door! My wife Suzanne is due on New Year’s Eve, so we won’t be straying too far. After that, I’ll be taking some time off to spend with the baby – take my foot off the accelerator for a bit.

Here We Are (£10.99, Harper Collins Children’s Books) is out 14 November 

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