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INTERVIEWS

Philip Ardagh
Malorie Blackman
Kevin Brooks
Robert Cormier
Cormier & Burgess
Sharon Creech
Joseph Delaney
Berlie Doherty
Anne Fine
Jack Gantos
Sonya Hartnett
Michelle Harrison
Tanuja Desai Hidier
David Levithan
Graham Marks
Chris Mould
Anant Pai
Mal Peet
Philip Reeve
Chris Riddell
Marcus Sedgwick
John Singleton
Robert Swindells
Nick Ward

Three Illustrators

interviewed by Jacob Hope



A picture history of children’s book illustration prior to the eighteenth century would be populated for the most part with woodcut vignettes or engraved frontispieces largely included with the purpose of embellishing texts. Later, a more integral, supporting role was found for illustrations in hornbooks, or wooden paddles with the alphabet inscribed, sometimes incorporating religious tracts and prayers.

The introduction of new printing technologies created a greater freedom in the reproduction of artwork and typesetting and eventually led to the publication of inexpensive chapbooks, making reading and literature more readily available to the masses. Illustrated chap(ter)books have remained a popular form of children’s literature and in 2007 three critically acclaimed illustrators have written their own story series as a vehicle for words and pictures to come together in an integrated and dynamic story form.

Nick Ward’s first published book was Toby in 1979. His Shadowland was chosen as a Young Book Trust picture book of the year for 1994. Who’s Been Eating the Porridge was a recommended read for World Book Day 2005. A Wolf at the Door was winner of the Stockport Schools Book Award 2002 and his Don’t Eat the Teacher has sold over a million copies. Nick’s Charlie Small series was launched in Spring 2007 with the publication of Charlie Small: Gorilla City.
http://www.nickward-illustration.co.uk/

Chris Mould was born in Bradford. His first published book was Hank the Clank in 1993, written by Michael Coleman. Mould’s Vesuvius Poovius was commended for the Sheffield Book Award and The Wooden Mile, his first book in the ‘Something Wickedly Wild’ series was a recommended book for the National Summer Reading Challenge 2007.

South African- born Chris Riddell’s first published book was The Book of Giants, 1985. Riddell has won the Kate Greenaway medal twice, the first time for Pirate Diary and again for Gulliver. He has won the Smarties Gold Medal for Fergus Crane and the Nestle Silver Medal twice for Corby Flood and Hugo Pepper and the Nestle Silver Medal for The Emperor of Absurdia. His ‘Edge Chronicles’ series, a collaboration with author Paul Stewart, has sold over two million copies world-wide. Chris Riddell’s solo series “Ottoline” has received industry coverage since Bologna 2004 when Macmillan’s purchase was reported.
http://www.chrisriddell.com

What memories from childhood do you have of books and reading?

Chris Riddell:
My childhood memories of books are always of words and pictures – The Cat in the Hat, Professor Banestaum and the wonderful illustrations to The Chronicles of Narnia by Pauline Baynes. My favourite book as a child was Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown because of the wonderful central conceit of a paper thin boy.

Chris Mould:
My main memories are of The Tyger Voyage (Richard Adams/ Nicola Bayley) which my father bought for me and which I looked over endlessly for its beautiful artwork. It now sits in my room as a reminder of where my enthusiasm began. Also I loved the Chronicles of Narnia books and as a very young child I adored (and still adore) Richard Scarry’s work. I also read Danny the Champion of the World at school and that meant a lot to me. It just clicked somehow. I don’t know why.

Nick Ward:
I have very strong memories of reading as a child, and it was always the atmosphere of a book that was important to me. The books that I really loved were The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, The Chronicles of Narnia series and Alfred Bestall’s Rupert Bear. Oh, and Tintin! I really believed in the worlds created in these books.

Did drawing or art play an important role in your childhood?

Nick Ward:
I was always drawing as a child: horses were my favourite things to draw. When I was about 9 years old, I started to write a story called Richard and His Horse, in an exercise book, complete with illustrations. I think I got to about page twenty before I got bored and decided that was long enough for a book and ended it mid-sentence.

Chris Riddell:
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. My older brother and I would spend hours drawing battles on paper and later, as an eight to nine year-old, I used to write and illustrate miniature newspapers full of lurid headlines.

Chris Mould:
I drew incessantly as a child and I often preferred time alone to time spent out on the street or in the park. I guess that is when I did a lot of drawing and my enthusiasm flourished.

At what stage did you decide on a career in illustration?

Chris Mould:
I went straight to art school from school at 16. I had no idea where it was going but I was placing myself in the correct area for my future development. The idea of children’s books came later when I was eventually finding a style and realising what my own personal work actually looked like. I suppose only then could I place it where it belonged. Children’s books was a natural route for my style. Influences were probably also mostly from a children’s books angle so I suppose that I was also shaped by this along with a discipline for drawing and an interest in the pen and ink tradition.

Chris Riddell:
My ‘Art Master’ at school told me I was an illustrator rather than a painter and I’ve always been proud of the distinction. Later at Art School I was taught by children’s book illustrators such as Raymond Briggs, Justin Todd, Chris McEwan and John Vernon Lord so it seemed the natural field to go into.

Nick Ward:
I think I had always wanted to somehow work in books, and for me writing and illustrating went hand in hand. I really became serious about it when I was in my second year at Art College. I did a degree in Graphic Design and our major project for the year could be self-initiated. I decided to write and illustrate my own story and I’ve never stopped since! I feel I received a really good grounding in design at this time, and the look of a book and how it works has always been of paramount importance to me, although of course one doesn’t always have the final say in this!

How did you set about becoming involved in children’s literature?

Nick Ward:
After I had written the story for my college project, I contacted a picture book writer and illustrator who had been a student at the same college some years before, called Nicholas Brennan. He came in to see what I was up to and then very kindly, started coming in every week to oversee my project, give me heaps of useful advice and suggest publishers who might be interested. Without Nick, I’m not sure I would have ever got a foot in the door and I am eternally grateful to him.

Chris Mould:
As an illustrator I set out to contact anyone and everyone in publishing and shove my work under their noses which I did using a colour copier, A4 envelopes and my own headed notepaper. I then followed up with phone calls and requested folio viewings whenever I found people who liked my work and felt they could use it. After that it was a waiting game.
My involvement as a writer was purely accidental. I had never really been able to get a grip on writing and creating something that went from start to finish (in a narrative sense). That’s actually very hard, even harder for a short picture book text I think. But it was when I was putting Dust ‘n’ Bones together... I was looking for Victorian or old ghost stories I could use. I found a really nice collection, I thought, but there were some things that I wanted to do visually in the book that I just couldn’t find stories for. For example I wanted a pirate ghost story. Out of frustration I wrote two short stories myself. Purely so that I could control what we saw in the way of artwork. I enjoyed it immensely, they seemed to come quite naturally and I felt they worked, so I sent them to Leilani Sparrow, my editor on the project. She felt the same and it rolled on from there. I fell in love with creating in a different way and the novelty feels like it will never wear off so I hope that people like what I do.

Chris Riddell:
I visited publishers, hawking my portfolio around.

What were your feelings on your first book being published?

Nick Ward:
I felt immensely proud, not with the book, but more with the fact that I had got something published. I was also nervous, as I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next. Answer: nothing! It was the gap between my first and second books that made me realise that you had to prove yourself all over again, every time you submitted something.

Chris Riddell:
I was delighted because the fee paid off my student overdraft and I’ve worked at Walker Books ever since.

Chris Mould:
Despite a really fun text by the excellent Michael Coleman I began a long personal struggle at this point with disliking my own work, feeling it was nowhere near good enough and being conscious of the fact that it existed in print. The book was well received though and I was pleased about that. I have felt like this about my work for most of my career but I am not unhappy about that. It made me conscientious and I think my drawing and painting has improved.

Which artists and authors have influenced and inspired your work?

Chris Mould:
Many, many people have influenced my work. Initially I was influenced by Ralph Steadman and Ronald Searle because I studied and fell in love with the pen and ink tradition and I discovered their work was responsible for bringing that tradition to a contemporary audience. Could I do the same but make my work look like my own and not just a bad pastiche of theirs? That was my goal.

Nick Ward:
Mervyn Peake, a wonderful illustrator and author. His illustrations always reflect, enhance and become an integral part of any book. His writing is dense and atmospheric; he writes with the eye of a painter. Wonderful!
Maurice Sendak, an innovator in children’s picture books.
There are so many brilliant illustrators from the past and in the present and they all have an influence in some way. I love Michael Foreman’s work, especially his War Boy books. I love Nicholas Brennan’s picture book Olaf’s Incredible Machine, and he was as strong an influence as anyone, mentoring my first book. I also love the work of Charles Keeping, W. Heath Robinson, Ian Beck and many of the wood engravers from the 30’s and 40’s.

Chris Riddell:
John Tenniel – I used to copy his illustrations to Alice in Wonderland, William Heath Robinson – I love his use of black and white. Edward Gorey – amazingly eccentric, fully imagined world.

Which contemporary children’s book illustrators do you admire and why?

Chris Mould:
Mostly, I admire Chris Riddell. The reason being that I think, as someone who is carrying on the tradition of black-and-white illustration, he is a landmark figure. Especially as he has also dominated the Editorial/Political scene through the papers at the same time for many years and brilliantly so. There is no one to touch him and I think many contemporary illustrators benefit from the fact that he is around. (That secretly means I copy his work a lot.) I also can’t believe how much work he physically gets done. I don’t believe there aren’t two of him, one of which he keeps in a cupboard at home! I bet he can’t prove it! I was so annoyed that it took so long for him to receive the Greenaway Medal.
Who else do I like? Well I love David Melling’s work. I think he can draw like hell and design the shape of a page like no one else. That’s important. David Wyatt – genius. Philip Reeve – another genius. There are many more!

Nick Ward:
Michael Foreman, Chris Riddell, Peter Bailey, because they can really draw!

Chris Riddell:
I love the work of Charlotte Voake – delicate, insightful, draughtsmanship and beautiful watercolour. Dave McKean – exciting, graphic black and white illustration and cutting-edge picture book work. David Roberts – Edward Gorey inspired, characterful black and white cross-hatched illustration – very classy. Emily Gravett – the most exciting new talent in picture books for a decade – beautiful and touching characterisations. Quentin Blake – he is the master of the illustrated novel as well as being a great teacher and advocate of illustration.

You have all illustrated work by a range of highly acclaimed and innovative children’s writers. Do any of these texts stand out as having been particularly memorable to illustrate?

Chris Riddell:
Philip Ridley’s The Meteorite Spoon was a seminal text and taught me a lot about how to interpret a writer’s story and add something of one’s own. I love illustrating poetry and working with Brian Patten on Juggling with Gerbils and Gargling with Jelly was a joy.

Chris Mould:
Well the great thing is that they all create their own worlds and they are all unique to that writer. Therefore each experience of illustrating their work is made different. Michael Lawrence creates a hilarious but sinister world in Young Monsters and Young Dracula which I particularly enjoyed.
I think ultimately, working with such strongly creative people is what led me to want to write. People keep saying to me, ‘Ahh I see, you’ve worked with all these authors and now you’re thinking, I could do better than that.’ That’s missing the point. And the point is that what actually happened for me is that I was so inspired by these worlds that I inevitably began to wonder about my own world and what it contained. Maybe this is how people like Philip Reeve and Alan Snow felt when they made the transition!

How do you visually interpret the creative world of other authors?

Chris Mould:
This can be a tricky area. Some writers are very visual and others aren’t at all which I find intriguing. It often brings out differences between authors and illustrators but I really feel that if you go down the creative line together instead of alone it will result in something better. Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell have an excellent working relationship that means that their books evolve out of the time they spend together in creative thought. I think that’s brilliant. Ian Ogilvy is a very visually minded writer. We often go through a process where he says, ‘I didn’t really see this character like that, I saw him/her like this.’ I like this because I can’t think of a situation where the idea of pushing the drawing around hasn’t worked. I like to get everybody in on things. It works for me but for some illustrators it doesn’t and I understand the frustration because people have to work in the way that is best for them.

Nick Ward:
I think you have to be honest to yourself and the author. You must try and illustrate a book the way you want to do it, but remain true to the author’s vision. An illustrator must be in harmony with a story, otherwise it can become soulless – and this does happen! I suppose the most frustrating thing is to be chosen to illustrate a book, and then be asked to draw in the style of someone else. It rarely works!

Chris Riddell:
One needs autonomy to illustrate a writer’s work, to bring something of yourself to your interpretation but the text is paramount and the illustrations should compliment the story, never over power it.

What is your preferred media for illustration?

Chris Riddell:
I love black and white pen and ink illustration.

Nick Ward:
For many years I have been using watercolours with a pencil line, but recently have been trying acrylic paints, which obviously respond in a very different way and I’m finding it hugely enjoyable.

Chris Mould:
I have always loved black and white through my study of the history of illustration but I like to see black and white next to colour work because I think they compliment each other and that was the idea behind Dust ‘n ‘ Bones because the pages run alternately between the two. I draw using a ball point pen and use other things like fibre tip pens, tippex, car spray, etc as a means of rendering. The colour work has basically the same approach except I use acrylic paint also.

Which out of your pieces of work are you most proud of and why?

Chris Riddell:
I have huge affection for The Edge Chronicles but the sequence of Black and White illustrations to Hugo Pepper have to be the ones that I’m most proud of. The snowmen were pre-cursors to Mr Munroe.

Nick Ward:
I’m very fond of A wolf at the door, as I like how the book works overall. The Terrible Troublesome Troll I like for the simplicity of the illustrations and the heart-warming story. I’m fond of The Naughtiest Fairy Ever, because she is a really feisty character, and The Biggest, Baddest Wolf for the same reasons. Don’t Eat the Teacher will always be special because it did so well for me, and of course the Charlie Small books, because they have been something I’ve really been able to get my teeth into!

Chris Mould:
Probably the Something Wickedly Weird books if I can refer to them as a piece of work. The reason being that they are, ideally, what I want to be doing, and they finally look how I wanted my work to look all along.

What do you like best and least about illustrating children’s books?

Nick Ward:
When things are going well, it’s the best job in the world, although I do hate having to sacrifice any quality because of very tight deadlines. When things are not going well, it can be extremely frustrating and very lonely!

Chris Mould:
The best thing is that I am always genuinely excited about the working day. The worst thing is that I don’t know when to stop. Sometimes I need a knock on the head.

Chris Riddell:
I like the actual illustrating part – sitting at my desk in my studio with a paintbrush in my hand. I dislike having to go out and publicise the finished books. My ambition is to become a hermit.

What inspired the concept for each of your series titles?

Chris Mould:

A lot of my own personal influences for my own world come from film and TV. I like all the old Horror films but I also like humour. So the dark and sinister world of Royston Vasey from TV’s The League of Gentlemen was a massive influence on me. This and films like Stephen King’s The Shining or the original film of The Wicker Man. Sinister and dark but not gory. A lot of this is to do with strange isolated places and what goes on there which is what the series is really about. None of what I mention is children’s viewing but I hope that what I conjure up brings something new to children’s books.

Chris Riddell

Ottoline and Mr Munroe just appeared one day in my sketchbook and stayed there for a year or so until I started thinking about young novels – transitional texts between picturebooks and novels, and remembered them. Then I bought a little blue sketchbook and wrote Ottoline and the Yellow Cat in thumbnail form – words and pictures and design coming together at the same time.

Nick Ward:

Of course I didn’t write the Charlie Small books, I was just lucky enough to find the first journal washed up on the banks of a river! I’ve always wanted to write a children’s novel as opposed to a picture book, though, and when I found the first journal it seemed to be just the sort of book I would like to have written. I already had an image of a ‘lost’ book, describing wonderful adventures experienced by an unknown boy, so imagine my delight when I found just that sort of book, purely by chance. The boy in the book could be anybody; he could be you, or me, or any child in the world.
I remember being fascinated by a book my dad had given me that had been his when he was a child. It was by Dennis Wheatley and was a murder mystery, presented as a file with ‘real’ letters, tickets, stamps, photographs etc. stuck in, and I always wanted to do something along those lines. When I found Charlie’s journal, I discovered maps and drawings and found objects stuck into the book that gave Charlie’s journals the same feeling of reality. The Charlie Small books are that much more believable because he offers proof of his incredible adventures!

How long did the novel take to write and illustrate?

Nick Ward:
According to Charlie, about four hundred years!

Chris Riddell:
I wrote Ottoline and the Yellow Cat over five days, filling the blue sketchbook. Illustrating it took longer, as did editing and putting bits and pieces together – about six months.

Chris Mould:
Not long at all really. I do everything quickly. That’s not because I’m clever, it’s because I’m impatient and my attention span is short. I like things to happen instantly, otherwise I lose interest. I’m spending maybe a couple of weeks on each text and a couple of weeks on the drawings. Often I’ll come back to the text when Rachel Wade, my editor has been through it and she’ll point things out and I’ll do another week on it but I have to work in short stints. I see my manuscripts like rough drawings. I give them to Rachel and say, ‘This is sort of how it goes but it can change.’ And it usually does and sometimes drastically but I don’t mind that. I am quite happy to hack whole chapters out. I quite enjoy being ruthless like that. I’m never precious about anything I create. I had that knocked out of me at art school and it’s a good lesson to learn.

Are there any autobiographical elements to the story? Can you explain a little regarding the background and inspiration to the novel?

Chris Mould:
I wanted my world to literally be in its own place away from everything else – hence the island. In that way it could be like the places I had seen in the films I mentioned. Strange and isolated with weird goings on. I have always liked the idea of pirates so it was convenient then that they could frequent this place in the middle of nowhere in their boats. The werewolf came from another of my favourite films from when I was younger, An American Werewolf in London. A film which seemed to invent modern special effects before their time. The transformation scene is incredible. I just had to have that in the book. I was then able to target a character who could be the werewolf which was great fun.
The Wooden Mile itself is a walkway which allows access to the island from a mainland point. It is only accessible when the tide is back as the water washes over it when it comes in. This was inspired by Holy Island in the North East where I have been several times. There is a road across to Holy Island which works in exactly the same way and if you don’t plan your day carefully you can be stuck. I have always been fascinated by it. It’s not at all autobiographical but I wanted Stanley to be the boy I would have liked to have been. He learns to be plucky and tough through all his trials. I was determined he would be well mannered because I hate bad manners. So in all of the books, even though sometimes he is angry or gives someone (who deserves it) a punch on the nose, he is never rude to anyone. I was not trying to make him politically correct, I just think that a good hero needs strong personal qualities and I also, as his creator, needed to like him.

Nick Ward:
The only elements in the Charlie Small books that have any relationship to my life as opposed to Charlie’s, are the memories of the atmosphere of childhood; how I felt when playing with my brother, or when I went out exploring with him across the miles of fields at the back of our house. We did have a little raft that we used to sail on a local brook, and even if we never went very far, I can still remember the thrill of pushing the raft through the reeds and wondering what might be around the next bend! And of course there was the time when I was captured by a gang of grisly, cut-throat pirates…

Chris Riddell:
I wrote Ottoline and the Yellow Cat straight off, sitting by my brother’s pool in down-town Penang, Malaysia, surrounded by tall, odd looking buildings. It is a story of digressions, asides and quirky observations and its elements built on each other as I wrote. The only constraint was the number of pages in the blue sketchbook.

Which character in the novel was your favourite to conceive of in illustrative and narrative forms?

Nick Ward:
My favourite character so far, apart from Charlie Small himself, is the Steam Powered Rhinoceros, because it reminds me of Durer’s drawing of a rhino, which is a favourite of mine and which I always thought looked like a mechanical animal.

Chris Mould:
Probably the pirates because the nasty ones are always so much more fun. I hear actors saying how they love to play sinister parts and I can understand it. I suppose it’s a chance to be mean when most of the time we spend our time being nice!

Chris Riddell:
Mr Munroe is my favourite character because he is entirely visual and yet is a complex character that the reader can engage with. That is the illustrator’s alchemy – magical when it works.

Can you explain a little about the relationship between the process of writing and illustrating the book?

Chris Riddell:
The words and pictures came out at the same time, often being shaped or informed by the design of each page. A lot of the humour comes from visual patterns in the book – the long dining room table, walks through Big City, Mr Munroe’s silent soliloquies. It is a technique that is familiar to picturebook illustrators but isn’t applied to longer texts as often as it could be.

Nick Ward:
Because of the nature of Charlie Small’s journals, his illustrations work very closely with the text. They are sketches that Charlie made himself, on the spot and provide a wide variety of styles, from very finished drawings to the simplest of doodles. The books are full of scribbles, drawings and found objects; sometimes there’s a doodle that has very little to do with the text, but shows Charlie’s thought processes at the time.

Chris Mould:
I liked the idea that Stanley would look like a scrawny kid who wasn’t up to much. In that way it would make his success seem more triumphant. I also felt that if he looked powerful/athletic he would have a tendency to appear older and more capable and we would be less inclined to connect with him and want him to win through when his luck is down. Generally, I think it is good to undermine the text sometimes as well (even if it is your own!). I think it helps a reader to diversify their opinion of what they are reading and it reminds you that when you read, you are only taking on one person’s view of something!

How has working on narrative fiction compared with working in the picture book medium?

Nick Ward:
I work on a picture book by trying to come up with a really strong idea and then, over time and in conjunction with page layouts, paring the story down to a skeleton around which I can put meat back on the story with the illustrations. At the same time I try to keep the text readable, fun, interesting and with its own dynamic. Working on a fiction book is a different discipline, and around the initial idea I have been able to develop my ideas to a much greater extent and follow my imagination as it veers off on all sorts of tangents. I then use the illustrations to compliment the text rather than help tell the story.

Chris Riddell:
Ottoline and the yellow cat is essentially a picture book in novel form – a picture novel.

Chris Mould:
I would say it’s more intense. When you dream up a whole world you tend to live it yourself. It’s very involved.

How important do you feel illustrations are to the narrative drive of the series?

Nick Ward:
The illustrations are essential to Charlie’s journals, showing us what he thought was important to record; pictures of unknown creatures; sketches of his friends and enemies; things Charlie has found and thinks important enough to keep. Often Charlie can say more in a quick drawing than if he described it in words.

Chris Riddell:
The major rule in Ottoline and the yellow cat was that the illustrations should have equal or greater weight to the text. The spreads that gave me the most pleasure were the ones that were wordless. Although the text is simple, the illustrations are intricate and sophisticated, something that adds to the book’s humour.

Chris Mould:
The great thing about working in this way is that throughout the process I have been able to say to myself, ‘I don’t need to say this because I have the artwork clear in my mind and it will be clearly evident.’ Likewise the reverse also happens. There is not always the need to illustrate something that has been intricately described. So I guess what happens is that the artwork and the text combine in a way so that they collectively tell the story and neither of them really work in isolation.

Design for the series contributes hugely to the finished ‘feel’ of the books. What involvement were you able to have in this aspect of production and how closely has this met, failed to meet, or exceeded your expectations?

Chris Mould:
My expectations have been exceeded every step of the way. Hodder have looked after this so well. Initially it was to be paperbacked and not quite as long. Then I did quite a lot of artwork so it became a fair bit longer. Then they went for the hardbacked thing, then they put a glossy bit on it. And all along I was just sat back going oooh, yeah, carry on. I suppose at the end of the day it’s about how much money they invest in what you’ve done so I feel quite flattered.

Nick Ward:
I wanted the finished books to look as much like Charlie’s originals as possible, but at the same time to be clear and legible. Therefore I decided to use a typeface rather than reproduce Charlie’s handwriting, but to position Charlie’s drawings in the same place and in the same state as they appeared in the journals. I worked closely with the designer on how the books would look and I think we have arrived at something that is as close to the original journals as possible.

Chris Riddell:
The thumbnails in the blue sketchbook translated into the finished design almost seamlessly and the book was designed in miniature form as I wrote it. The finished book exceeded my expectations – gorgeous cover design by Nick Stern and inspired idea of using a second colour by my editor, Sarah Dudman.

What wasinitial reaction like?

Nick Ward:
The reaction so far has been fantastic. I have talked to lots of children who have read the journals and they seem as intrigued by Charlie as I was. They particularly like the rhino and powder jet swordfish and how Charlie uses his wits to escape from the most dangerous and seemingly impossible situations. I think the pace of the journals has a lot to do with their appeal, adventures following in quick succession, one after the other. Sometimes you feel as if you haven’t got time to catch your breath!

Chris Riddell:
The initial reaction has been very positive. Jack read Ottoline goes to school and gave it a thumbs up. I talk to my children incessantly about my work and they reward me with sympathetic condescension – especially Katy!

Chris Mould:
Initial reaction has been great so far. I have had a lot of positive feedback.
Quite a few people have said they read it all immediately which is flattering. I have to try not to get too excited when people are complimentary. Emily and Charlotte really loved it and I felt it was such a nice thing for all of us to be able to sit and read it together. There is one part in the back where they were both really mad with me for ‘being cruel’ and making a certain thing happen (I won’t spoil it and say what it is). I couldn’t help laughing at their sad little faces when I read it to them. Dear, oh dear. I’m such a bad parent.

Are there areas of greater liberation and/or constraints with illustrating your own story?

Chris Riddell:
There is greater freedom in illustrating my own work, but also self-doubt. I enjoy the collaborative nature of illustrating, working closely with writers and miss that when I ‘go solo’ but there is real pleasure to be had by inventing a set of characters and breathing life into them straight from scratch, as with Ottoline and Mr Munroe.

Chris Mould:
The great thing about this approach is that I am able to completely introduce my own world, both in a narrative and a visual form. I write about what I want to draw and vice versa. And there are other elements of development that I can be part of. For example I had an idea that we could have covers for the whole series that looked like they were all torn, ripped or burned in some way so that we could see the black and white artwork on the inside. It is very liberating but I think the danger lies in becoming completely self indulgent. So I try and keep everyone involved. I’m lucky because I have an excellent relationship with Hodder. They are very honest and supportive and we only do what we collectively feel is working.

Nick Ward:
I think there is much more freedom when you illustrate your own books, because you often visualise the characters and situations, and sometimes the whole spread, as you are working on the story, so it feels as if they are both being developed alongside each other.

Each of these series is set to continue, so what concepts do you have for the series as a whole?

Nick Ward:
We know the next journal is called The Puppet Master and describes how Charlie was turned into a performing, prisoner puppet when his skin crystallises and develops a hard shell. He has many adventures and meets some very strange characters. There is also talk of another journal being recently found in the American badlands, telling of adventures with a desperate gunslinger and amongst the proud Rappaquois tribe, but the authenticity of this journal has yet to be verified.
Who knows where Charlie may end up next? He already mentions in his notes that he has been to the ends of the earth and the centre of the earth. Perhaps he even goes beyond the earth! We will have to wait and see. Hopefully Charlie will one day make it home in time for tea.

Chris Riddell:
Ottoline goes to school in which Ottoline goes to the Alice B Smith School for the differently gifted. Ottoline at Sea in which Mr Munroe visits his family in Norway. After that, who knows?

Chris Mould:
Well I like the idea that anything can happen but that the series isn’t reliant on those elements. For example the pirates are important early on in the series but the focus changes to something far more sinister by the fourth book. We still have Stanley and the setting with the large house and the island but he comes across different types of challenges

How do you respond to the implicit criticism of illustration that pictures in a novel somehow stifle children’s own creativity and imagination?

Nick Ward:
I can’t agree. Children can respond to illustrations on an emotional level, and a well-illustrated book can fire a child’s imagination as much as a well-written book. Surely! It was as much through responding to illustrations, as well as the stories, that gave me my interest in books in the first place.

Chris Mould:
I think that particular problem stems from children being presented with bad artwork that is poorly drawn and communicates narrative insufficiently. And I’d insist that good illustration will do the exact opposite. Personally, I have always looked at other people’s work just to get me inspired before starting on something. It’s about creating a desire to want to create by seeing something else worthwhile. make the current market available to those children who are unlikely to see the inside of a book store.

Chris Riddell:
Good illustration is, by definition, illuminating and should add to the reader’s enjoyment, stimulating their imagination – I refer you to Tenniel, Baynes and Quentin Blake.

What challenges do you feel there are in the field of children’s illustration at present and how do you feel these might best be met?

Nick Ward:
I think the main challenge is always with yourself, to constantly try and improve the quality of your work.

Chris Riddell:
The re-invigoration of the picture book is a challenge, and the graphic novel remains an enticing challenge. At the moment I’m interested in picturebooks for teenagers.

Chris Mould:
It’s very hard at the moment. The picture book market has narrowed itself down. I don’t think it’s really enough to just illustrate children’s books now. You have to create a whole identity for yourself to survive and survive well. Lauren Child is a good example of that. Her name is a brand now. When people see it they understand that they are getting a whole package executed in a certain way by her and it works brilliantly. There are other examples. I think that both business wise and creative wise, it is the way forward.

If there was one change you could drive within the world of children’s books what would this be?

Chris Mould:
I’m not sure. The promotional side is very strong nowadays. When I was at school the most we ever did was read a book in class. We would never discuss illustrators/ authors etc. I think we thought they dropped out of the sky. Children are very in tune these days. They understand the process more than we did. It’s not really that long ago that author/illustrator visits, events and workshops were unheard of. I think when I go to public libraries and libraries in schools there is an obvious lack of funding from the necessary authorities. In an ideal world they would be stocked like bookshops, have all the latest releases and therefore be able to make the current market available to those children who are unlikely to see the inside of a book store. At the moment it’s a long way from that and libraries look like they did when I was a kid.

Chris Riddell:
That older novels should be illustrated as a matter of course – not just chapter vignettes but full page illustrations in teenage and young adult fiction.

You have all been involved with material for television and film, can you tell us how?

Chris Mould:
The television stuff was only ever bits and bats here and there really but the film work is more involved. For example, I did a lot of initial character design and background/ scene setting visuals for Flushed Away, the latest Aardman release. I really enjoyed that and I have done other stuff I don’t think I can talk about but the Aardman team are fantastic and I admire Peter Lord a great deal. When I met him I found he was a big fan of all the old punch cartoonists and that he was inspired by them a great deal so we had a lot in common.

Chris Riddell:
The BBC produced Muddle Earth for Jackanory and The Edge Chrnociles and Fergus Crane are being developed in Hollywood but I’m not really interested in film and TV – my passion is children’s books.

Do you receive much feedback from your intended readers? What is the most unusual question you have been asked and how did you reply?

Nick Ward:
I receive a lot of letters from my readers and it’s always very interesting to see what it is about a particular book they like. A recent question I received was regarding the identity of Charlie Small. If we really wanted to find out who Charlie Small was, a boy asked, why we didn’t just ring every ‘Small’ in the telephone book until we found a family with an eight-year old boy called Charlie. This was so obvious it was a wonder I hadn’t thought of it myself! I can now say that this has been done, but we are no closer to tracking Charlie down. His number must be either ex-directory, or the may not live in the UK at all!

Chris Mould:
I do get letters and emails from readers and I also get a lot of interest from students who are studying illustration. I had some contact not long ago from a student who was studying me for an exam piece. I found this quite strange to think that someone could specialise in Chris Mould. It was good fun though. He had to do a piece of work in my style and he had a really good crack at it. He still keeps in touch. Sometimes children send me drawings which is great. I am particular about making sure I get back to people and I always try and send something. There are a lot of people who get a lot more fan mail than me and I worry that if I ever got so much that I couldn’t reply to it all I would feel awful but I guess it’s inevitable for a lot of authors/ illustrators.
I’ve been out and about a bit recently and talked to a lot of children and had some very intelligent questions from them. They obviously do think about it seriously. But for all the good questions I get there’s always a stray one here and there. The most bizarre one to date was ‘Where do you buy your furniture?’ I struggled a bit with that one. I couldn’t quite see where it was going!

Chris Riddell:
I get lots of letters from Edge Chronicles fans and little girls are writing to me now on sparkly stationery saying they enjoyed Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and asking when the next one will be published. I always send them a reply in an illustrated envelope.

What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?

Chris Mould:
You can’t be a pest. You just have to let your work speak for itself. If it’s good enough, the opportunities will come along sooner or later. It’s a long and winding road. (Dear oh dear. I sound like my granddad.)

Nick Ward:
All I can say is, believe in what you are doing and send your work off to as many editors as you can. You have to send it out before you can get a story accepted (It’s amazing how many prospective authors and illustrators don’t send their work anywhere!). Develop a very thick skin, because, as likely as not, you will receive any number of rejections before a story is accepted.

Chris Riddell:
The best advice I can give to prospective illustrators is not to wait to be commissioned but to commission yourself by writing your own material.











 



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