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.
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
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
What memories from childhood do you have of
books and reading?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I visited publishers, hawking my portfolio around.
What were your feelings on your first book being
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
I was delighted because the fee paid off my student overdraft
and I’ve worked at Walker Books ever since.
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
Which artists and authors have influenced and
inspired your work?
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.
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
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
Which contemporary children’s book illustrators
do you admire and why?
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!
Michael Foreman, Chris Riddell, Peter Bailey, because they can
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
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.
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
How do you visually interpret the creative world
of other authors?
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
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!
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
What is your preferred media for illustration?
I love black and white pen and ink illustration.
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
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?
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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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
What inspired the concept for each of your series
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.
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.
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?
According to Charlie, about four hundred years!
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.
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?
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
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,
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?
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.
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!
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
Can you explain a little about the relationship
between the process of writing and illustrating the book?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Ottoline and the yellow cat is essentially a picture book in novel
form – a picture novel.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
Initial reaction has been great so far. I have had a lot of positive
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?
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.
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.
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
Each of these series is set to continue, so what
concepts do you have for the series as a whole?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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?
I think the main challenge is always with yourself, to constantly
try and improve the quality of your work.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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
Do you receive much feedback from your intended
readers? What is the most unusual question you have been asked
and how did you reply?
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!
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/
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!
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?
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.)
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.
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.