Oliver Jeffers on changing plans

The artist and children’s book author shares how Covid derailed his travel and career plans and how he’s adapted his life and creative practice as a result

For the last decade, Oliver Jeffers has been dreaming about taking a year off. So it’s the worst luck that his long-discussed 12-month sabbatical started just in time to coincide with a global pandemic. According to Jeffers, he and his partner had decided to “put the elbows out and prepare” for a long-awaited break in 2019-20, squeezing it in before their two children started primary school.

Without making any set plans, the pair decided to put their life in New York on pause and go travelling. Jeffers kept his studio in Brooklyn going, but packed up his apartment ready for a year-long hiatus – albeit punctuated with a few projects that were still ticking over. In mid 2019, he and his family took an ocean liner to Southampton, and then spent several weeks journeying around Europe.

Towards the end of the year – and during a trip to Japan – it became clear that something was going wrong. “It was a case of just 48 hours,” Jeffers told CR. “Because we were quite close to China … there were cases springing up overnight. It was a max exodus of tourists from Japan and we were lucky to get a flight. At that point we decided to go back to the west coast of the USA – a couple of months and this would blow over.”

Jeffers had already intended to visit Dubai and Vancouver in 2020, for a book festival and a TED talk, however once they arrived on the Oregon coast, “things started getting really weird”. After a phone call from a friend, letting him know a European travel ban was about to go into effect, coupled with the news that his dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jeffers and his wife packed up their three suitcases and flew to Belfast – where he grew up and where he’s been ever since.