Though they are humorous, Bradley Trevor Greive is not just about cute animal pictures. He spoke recently with Signs editor Nathan Brown .
"If you'd told me after so many years that a grumpy blue frog would launch me onto the world stage I wouldn't have believed you!” says Bradley Trevor Greive of the cover photo of his breakthrough book, The Blue Day Book . “But I am so grateful for that little guy.” And well he might be. With sales of more than 12 million books in 37 languages, Greive is a publishing phenomenon.
The Blue Day Book was the invention of a new publishing style and genre and has inspired a string of similar books. “When I came up with that size for the book, I literally drew a square on a piece of paper and said it should be this size—and now it's a worldwide industry standard,” Greive recalls. “I love those little books. When I write them, I use them to address themes or issues that are serious or universal—at least to me—but I definitely write for an audience of one. I very much enjoy the process of thinking through an issue, whether it's self-esteem as in Looking for Mr Right or perspective in The Blue Day Book .” But publishing was an unexpected twist for Greive, who originally trained as a paratrooper. “It was terrifying for me, because I was scared of heights,” he says. “But I so desperately wanted to be a part of this special unit that I had to thrust out my jaw, just close my eyes and hope for the best. Thankfully, I did make it through selection, and I took command of a paratroop rifle unit within the airborne forces.
It was a great awakening for me as far as knowledge of self and of the darker side of the human condition. I certainly learnt a lot about the world.” n In 1992, after four years of service, a tropical respiratory infection led to a type of asthma, ruling him out of combat fitness. He admits this was a devastating blow at the time. “I had worked incredibly hard to make it to that very special group and to have all that torn away from me in my 20s was very tough,” he reflects.
Now Greive has a different perspective: “I am totally grateful for my feeble pulmonary system. I was forced to move on and to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. It answered a lot of questions for me because standing in harm's way, which is essentially the role of a soldier, is a noble profession but there were a lot of questions I tended to ask myself, particularly when I was on the Cambodian border in 1989. I kept thinking, We're really not part of the solution and there's got to be a better way to make a difference and to really do something meaningful .
“So it felt right when I left, but it was a struggle. It was almost 10 years before I finally managed to get things into shape and move forward.” It was the difficult process of “getting things into shape” that spawned The Blue Day Book . “It was my first book published, but it was actually my eighth book,” Greive explains. “I wrote seven books in eight or nine years and every one was uniformly rejected by every publisher in Australia and a number in the United States and UK as well. That kind of consistent, unrelenting failure is pretty hard to take, no matter how determined you are."
“I reached the stage where I hit rock bottom: I was completely broke; I was sleeping on the floor of a grotty little studio near Central Station in Sydney; not feeling particularly healthy and certainly romantically dislocated—and just feeling very ordinary. I had just been knocked back again after hundreds of rejections."
I started to wallow in self-pity and any credit I'm due is simply to the fact that I took the time to reflect on this and said ‘How bad is it really?' “My military experience— unpleasant though much of it was—really gave me a sense of perspective,” Greive explains.
“And I think back to the people I saw at the refugee camps on the Thai–Cambodian border and all the little boys with no feet and hands, and I'm thinking, Just dry your eyes, big fella.
You've really got to move on and you're very fortunate to have the privilege of being able to fail repeatedly in your publishing endeavours .
“And I did the one good thing that all creative people should do—I used that intense experience as a bridge and I asked myself some questions. And in doing so, The Blue Day Book was born because basically I said, ‘You just need to take yourself a little less seriously and have a bit of a laugh at what's going on.' And that's what came—a humble, humorous little book about perspective.” Even with such a good idea, success was not automatic. “It came up as a fresh, funny new idea for a book and gave me a good laugh,” he says.
“And to my intense relief—although it was rejected again in Australia—I finally got it published in the US.” A series of follow-up books have also found success and while Greive claims to be primarily a humorist rather than a “fractured philosopher,” he admits there are strong ideas in his books. “I think the simplest way of summarising it would be, ‘Take responsibility for your life,'” he muses. “Don't sit passively watching the hours go by. I think that there's a growing tendency for people to be more remote from profound life experience. I believe in going to the edge of the world and seeing what's there. And I've had the great privilege of doing that, of travelling with my family in England and Asia and as a soldier, as a tourist, and now as a conservationist and author."
“As you get out there, you just become so enthralled and inspired by the wonders of this world and it makes you a happier and more interesting person.It improves your quality of life and I believe it affects everyone around you.”n Greive's love for the natural world is not only reflected in the photos used in his books but also in the charitable endeavours to which he has applied his remarkable success. His 2002 book Priceless — which he describes as his favourite— stepped out of the Blue Day format and emphasises his environmental passion.
“I tried to produce a beautiful book and I think we did that with [Japanese wildlife photographer] Mitsuaki Iwago's photos,” Greive says. “And I'm shamelessly promoting it because I don't make any money out of it at all. It all goes back to conservation. But I just try to say, ‘Get out there and see it.' It's disappearing. We were born on a planet that was already covered with tyre tracks and footprints. You can't go back in time and see what was, but you can certainly go to the edge of the world and see what is—and I thoroughly recommend it.” Greive dedicated Priceless to naturalist Gerald Durrell. “He was one of the great ambassadors for wildlife and wild places,” Greive enthuses. “He delighted in what I call the astonishing mundane. I'm proud to have an association with his legacy now as a life benefactor of his Trust and I'm good friends with his widow. He championed for all things and he used to specialise in what he called the ‘little brown jobbies,' the ugly little creatures that nobody cares about but which are incredibly important. And I think it's a wonderful philosophy because in so many ways we're all ‘little brown jobbies.' You have to care about the little things."
“There is general lack of awareness of the profound connection we have with living creatures. We do share the earth with them. We breathe the same air. We tend to modify nature, whether as a tourist experience or something that might end up in a sandwich. But when you experience it, you come back with an understanding—at least at a basic level— that this is something special."
“As a child I absolutely loved animals,” Greive says, “and I guess in a way I've never really grown up because I still do.
It's one of the great pleasures I've been given is to use that to make a difference.
Wherever we make a profit with publishing we put money back into the environment.
I think from The Blue Day Book already $2 million in royalties has gone to support conservation projects.
“I'd like to say that I did it because I want to make a difference, but the truth is I just love it."
“I can think of nothing so wondrous as looking at the great red sand ocean in the middle of Australia or the rugged coastline or rainforest—it's so inspiring and a wonderful way to get things in perspective.” And it is this inspiration to which Greive retreats. “I look forward to people seeing less of me,” he says. “I've got a farm that is conservation-listed in Tasmania. I'm looking forward to spending more time down there with my puppies and just working on my books.
“I'm just so in love with what I do.
But I know that in order for my talents to flourish, I need a lot of green around me, so that's what I'm doing. I think the ultimate sign of success is having a large dog—and having the time and space to enjoy it. And that's what I'm planning on in the future."
“It's not an early retirement but I'm certainly enjoying having to retire to get some work done.” But we will be hearing more from Greive. This month sees another book released in the Blue Day series— A Teaspoon of Courage . “It's a lovely book,” says Greive. “Often in life—if you are overcoming an illness or looking for professional progression in life or to help establish a relationship with a friend or lover, or whatever the case is—it's often just that little bit extra that makes a difference. And we're close to success sometimes but we don't know it until we just go a little bit deeper. We tend to take ourselves far too seriously and people think that somehow just surviving is enough, you're just hanging in there and that's very noble but if you're just hanging in there, you're as close to failing as succeeding, so if you can move forward, even just an inch, it will make a profound difference in your life."
“And if that all sounds a bit worthy, it's also a fun book,” he adds.