‘Hollowpox – the hunt for Morrigan Crow' by Jessica Townsend. I love these kinds of books with magical realism and this series is simply fabulous.
What do you love about reading to children?
Their excitement, their reactions and how they will always expand upon the story in their own way – it’s priceless!
What was your favourite book when you were little?
I don’t recall having many books as a child, I can’t remember any to be honest. My most memorable books would be a very thick copy of A. A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ when I was 7 years old which I bought from the school book club, and the complete series of ‘The Black Stallion’ by Walter Farley.
When you’re working do you listen to music? Eat? Have a pet on your lap?
I generally have music playing and always two border collies at my feet.
Can you tell us a story about you researching for your story?
I love the research part of stories – talking to people, learning new things, finding inspiration when you least expect it. For ‘Lucy and Copper’ I spent a day with a little girl named Chiara and her pony Smudge. It gave me insights into their relationship, all the quirks that can’t be told in words. These inspired a lot of the images.
You see books as very important – I can tell that from your website. What would you say to parents just starting out - introducing stories and story time to their new baby?
Picture books open up a child’s world. They are never too young to start looking at books – they are the window to literacy. It’s how babies learn to associate the image of a cow with the word ‘cow’. Literacy today is about so much more than words and books are where it begins. The earlier a parent can start reading to their little ones the better. It not only builds their connection but also a child’s curiosity, imagination, knowledge, and confidence to explore everything the world has to offer.
When you are working, do you think back or check-in on when you were little?
No, but I do check back in on when my son was little and the different stages he went through growing up, and I ask his opinion a lot. Details for instance – children love details and it’s like they have a radar for homing in on things. I always make mock-ups when I start working on a new book, once the drawings are complete. With ‘Joey and Riley’ I had drawn cardboard rocket wings on the go-kart. This go-kart appears in two places – once on the farm and once after Joey has moved to the town. I had left them off the image from the town scene and my son picked it up when I read him the mock-up book. So of course, I had to put them in because I just knew then that another child somewhere would also pick that up. These are the little things that adults miss.
Do you ever make mistakes and have to start again? Do you do drafts?
Mistakes are basically learning opportunities, but deadlines don’t allow for too many of these! With every book I do I complete storyboards, character studies and complete drawings before commencing the finished painted artwork. With each stage I work very closely with my editor/publisher so any little changes can be made as it progresses. This avoids major changes at the painting stage.
Can you tell us one of the best things that has happened since you started your work with children’s books?
Being able to do author visits in schools and see children’s responses to my books first hand. To see how much children connect with my characters and stories, feel their enthusiasm and excitement, and know that what I do inspires a child’s own creativity. I recall a few years ago, I had two days at one particular school, speaking to every class. On the second day a teacher made a beeline for me and thanked me profusely. There was one student in a class on the first day who they had struggled for a very long time to communicate and connect with. After my session he started drawing and talking about what he was drawing – it unlocked a door that that teacher and others, hadn’t been able to get past. If I have to speak to 10,000 children to reach that one, it is so worth it. It is worth all the long days and late nights.
What is the best thing you have heard from a young reader?
Children come out with the funniest things sometimes like, ‘are you rich? Because I want a job that makes me lots of money’, ‘I can draw Valiants really well’, ‘can you draw a poo on the end of the elephant’s tail’, and ‘have you met Andy Griffiths?’ but honestly, the best thing is when they tell me they never want to put my book down – that’s heart melting stuff.