Award-winning author, playwright and artist, Barry Dickins has written and illustrated a distinctly Aussie take on the story of the Three Wise Men. He tells Warcry about the inspiration for his unique interpretation of the Christmas story.
This is your fourth children’s book. How did you come to write and illustrate The Three Wise Blokes?
I was a guest poetry teacher in Broome (WA) in 2012 after the English Faculty at Genazzano Catholic Girls College invited me to conduct special English classes at Saint Michael’s School in Broome for a fortnight. The Year 11 pupils there wanted to write a story in verse, and one of the kids thought of the story of the Three Wise Men. I have always loved that special story, and it was the fascination of reinterpretation and making something original come to life that got to them—and to me too.
The book is dedicated to Patricia Cowling, principal of Genazzano College. How did she influence your writing?
I dedicated The Three Wise Blokes to Patricia Cowling because she has a deep love of poetry and all forms of literature, and has always encouraged me with my drawing classes and writing classes. The book could not have come to life without that encouragement and friendship.
Your literary output is nothing short of prolific. Have you ever done a count of how many books, plays, poems, biographies, etc. you have written?
I have had more than 30 books published since I became a professional author and illustrator after graduating with my Diplomas of Education and Fine Art in the early 1970s. They are collections of essays, memoirs, biography, fiction and plays. I have always enjoyed working on new publications that I usually illustrate with line drawings and a coloured cover.
You have had a long career teaching creative writing. Has this been a vocation for you?
I have worked as an English teacher since I graduated from Melbourne State College in 1974 and also teach creative writing at sheltered workshops pro bono and privately. The student input for creative writing classes is inspiring, to say the very least, with pupils running with an idea and making the story their own. I teach students to trust their imagination and to aspire to the idea that they can become first-rate authors and artists.
How does the ‘inspiration/perspiration’ quotient work for you? Does inspiration come easily or can your output cause perspiration at times?
I have always enjoyed the famous Picasso quotation that work is rest because writing has always cheered me up and given me a boost as opposed to wearing me down. It is for me exactly the same as the practice of drawing pictures, whether they are light-hearted cartoons as in The Three Wise Blokes or more serious and much more emotional drawings for a gallery when I have an exhibition. The drawing and the writing both give me rest.
The Three Wise Blokes is a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Does Christmas and its joy hold great significance for you?
The Three Wise Blokes is about my love of Jesus—I was happy at my little weatherboard church years ago down the end of my old road and I always ran to Sunday school with my elder brother John. I enjoyed singing the verses of songs I loved so much, such as ‘Abide With Me’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In’ when it was Christmas and our small church was celebrating. I have always loved Christ.