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1. What was your route into becoming a writer of rhyming picture books?


I started writing songs through being a busker and performer (at cabarets, folk clubs, children's events etc.); this led to television work as a songwriter; one of my songs was eventually made into a book, which led to book-writing, which then led to performance-type author visits, which in a way feels like being back to busking! I've written two musicals - KING GRUNT'S CAKE and PIRATE ON THE PIER - for adults to perform to children, as well as lots of short plays for schools. Also, I've now started writing songs to go with my books: THE GRUFFALO SONG was a World Book Day book earlier this year (2001) and the ROOM ON THE BROOM song will be one next year.

2. How did you get teamed up with Axel Scheffler?

  We were harnessed together by Methuen ten years ago. Axel illustrated my first book, A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE, which was originally a song.

3. It's sometimes said that publishers resist using rhyming texts for picture books, because of the difficulties of translation and the effect this can have on worldwide sales. Did you, initially, have any resistance to the rhyming Gruffalo?


No, and it's been translated into twenty languages! I think a lot of translators enjoy the challenge of translating verse, though there are always those - notably the French - who translate it into prose. (Incidentally, the French translation of "You'll taste good on a slice of bread" is "You'll taste good on a bed of artichokes"!)

4. Children clearly respond to both the rhyming and the repetition. The latter, in particular, has to be finely judged. Too much, and the repeated phrases lose their impact; too little and children are not able to join in. Is the balance arrived at by insitinct, or by trialling the early versions on different audiences?

  By instinct. I wrote songs for about 20 years before I wrote any books, and I expect that plays a part. I do feel strongly that repetition must be tempered with variety. I remember hating, as a child, those boring stories which went, "And the hen went a little further and she met a sheep, and she said to the sheep, 'Have you seen my egg?' and the sheep said,'No.' So she went a little further and she met a cow, and she said to the cow, 'Have you seen my egg?' and the cow said, 'No'" etc. etc.

5.At what stage does your illustrator see the text?

  When I've finished writing it. Axel is particularly keen that this is the way it should be done, giving each artist the maximum creative freedom. He doesn't breathe down my neck when I'm writing and I don't breathe down his when he's illustrating. (It would be hard to anyway, since he lives in London and I'm in Glasgow.)

6.Can you give any examples of how the final version has been influenced by the artwork?


No, since as I say I finish writing before Axel starts to draw. But on one occasion - for the four Acorn Wood board books (FOX'S SOCKS, POSTMAN BEAR, RABBIT'S NAP and HIDE AND SEEK PIG) - I was given strict instructions by Macmillan to write stories about animals with clothes on. I think this was because Axel had originally wanted the Gruffalo, mouse etc. to be wearing clothes but was overruled!

7. Do you and both leave the final page layout to designers, or do you create the book with a clear idea of where the whole page-spreads etc. will be?

  I think that Axel collaborates with the editor and designer at Macmillan; I don't really have any say in the matter.

8. In 'Room On The Broom' did you know at the outset that the witch and her cat were going to be joined by a dog, a bird and a frog?

  I knew she would accumulate hitch-hikers, but to some extent the rhyming dictated who they were. For a picture book I always have the plot worked out before I start, whereas the teenage novel which I'm attempting to write seems to be changing as I go along.

9. The moment when cat and these new companions arise together from the bog in the guise of a horrible beast and scare the bad dragon away, must have been difficult for Axel Sheffler to portray. Did he ask you to rethink?



  No. Actually, what Axel found the biggest headache in that book was the stormy skies. He sent me a postcard saying "If you should write another children's book and if I should illustrate it, may the skies be blue and sunny." (In fact, the skies in ROOM ON THE BROOM are fantastically atmostpheric.)

10. What is your favourite illustration in this new book?


I think it has to be the one you've referred to, where the witch is swooning in the grasp of the captor dragon who in turn is cowering at the sight of the animals disguised as a dripping, squelching beast. (But a very close second is a beautiful watery picture with rain and willows.)


11. What can you tell us about Dinosaur's Diary, due for publication in April 2002?


  It's in prose! And, for me, it's long! (10,000 words.) It's about a small timid dinosaur who is prevented from bringing up a family by all the bigger fiercer dinosaurs, until she sets foot in a mysterious puddle which changes everything. It's to be published by Puffin in the spring, with excellent line drawings by Debbie Boon.

12. Are you and Axel Sheffler at work on another collaboration yet?

  Yes. He's just finished illustrating THE SMARTEST GIANT IN TOWN (which Macmillan will publish next autumn), and I'm pretty sure he will also illustrate THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE which I wrote earlier this year. I am also writing for some other picture-book illustrators: Harry Horse is to illustrate ONE TED FALLS OUT OF BED, which is for slightly younger children; Joel Stewart, who won the Macmillan illustration prize, is working on THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH; Lucy Richards has just finished the gorgeously vivid pictures for NIGHT MONKEY DAY MONKEY, and Nick Sharratt is to illustrate CONJUROR COW. But my partnership with Axel remains particularly precious to me.
13. How do you approach the writing of picture book verse? Do you sit down at a computer and at a set time, or is it a question of awaiting inspiration?

  I have to await inspiration, and it often takes a year or two for the seed of an idea to germinate. Only then can I sit down and write - but I use a notebook and pencil before I switch to the computer. I have to do lots and lots of crafting before I'm happy with the rhythm and rhyme - and doodling seems to help, which you can't really do on the computer.

13. Are there rhyming texts by other writers that you particularly admire? Were rhyming books important to you as a child?

  When I was five my granny presented me with THE BOOK OF A THOUSAND POEMS and this was the most influential gift I've ever received. I loved rhyming poems as a child - in particular A.A. Milne and Eleanor Farjeon. (She lived quite near me in Hampstead and I cunningly introduced myself when I was nine by taking round a Harvest Festival basket of fruit from school. She always sent me Christmas cards with poems in after that.) I became addicted to Shakespeare when I was twelve and understudied the fairies in an Old Vic production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. I knew the play off by heart and irritated my family by quoting from it constantly.







14. A huge number of picture books have been published this year. What do you see as the essential qualities a picture book needs to stand out from the crowd?

  I suppose "originality" sounds too obvious. What I always looked for when choosing books for my own children was a really good story, preferably with some underlying and satisfying truth (though I hate it when this is done preachily), with a clever twist in the tail, vivid memorable language and pictures which as well as being striking first time round also yield more and more with every read. It's a tall order!





BIBLIOGRAPHY (October 2001)


  • THE GRUFFALO A rhyming picture book illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
    ISBN 0-333-71092 This book won the 1999 Smarties Prize and a 2000 Blue Peter Book Award and was 2000's bestselling UK picture book.
  • THE GRUFFALO BIG BOOK As well as being a classroom-sized version of THE
    ISBN 0-333-90176-2 GRUFFALO, this contains the Gruffalo song, play, and other activity ideas.
    book and tape pack This consists of THE GRUFFALO book plus a tape of the story
    ISBN 0-333-90722-1 book and tape pack and the song, recorded by Imelda Staunton
  • THE GRUFFALO SONG A special World Book Day book, still available
    ISBN 0-333-96222-2
  • MONKEY PUZZLE A rhyming picture book with illustrations by Axel Scheffler.
    ISBN 0-333-72000-8

    POSTMAN BEAR Four board books with flaps and rhyming texts,
    ISBN 0333765 672 for very young children
    ISBN 0333765 680
    ISBN 0333765 699
    ISBN 0333765 702

    ISBN 0-333-90337-4

in press or with contracts

  • THE SMARTEST GIANT IN A picture book to be illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  • ONE TED FALLS OUT OF BED A picture book to be illustrated by Harry Horse
  • THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH A picture book to be illustrated by Joel Stewart
  • THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE A picture book to be illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  • ROSE'S HAT A picture book (no illustrator on board yet)

Egmont Children's Books

  • A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE A rhyming picture book with illustrations by Axel Scheffler
    ISBN 0-7497-1778-5
  • THE NURSERY COLLECTION An anthology of ten picture books,
    ISBN 780749 740559 including A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE
  • FOLLOW THE SWALLOW A "Blue Banana" book for beginner readers
    ISBN 0-7497-4097-3

in press or with contracts

  • NIGHT MONKEY DAY MONKEY A picture book illustrated by Lucy Richards, to be published in
    April 2002
  • SPINDERELLA A "Go Bananas" book for beginner readers
  • THE WRONG KIND OF BARK A "Go Bananas" book for beginner readers

Ginn Educational

(all titles available through Customer Services, Tel. 01865 888000

TURTLE TUG These four plays are based on traditional stories.
THE MAGIC TWIG Each one has four parts. They are part of "New Reading 360",
THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF levels 305 (Primary 2 upwards)
GRUFF CRIED WOLF are also available as Big Books.

BIRTHDAY SURPRISE This play can be acted by 10 children or the whole class. It is part of "New Reading 360", levels 4-6 (Primary 3 upwards)

THE WONDERFUL SMELLS A play with seven parts, based on a Chinese fable. It is part of
"New Reading 360", lower key stage 2
(suitable for Primary 4 upwards)

NAMES AND GAMES An "All Aboard" Stage 9 play with four parts (suitable for
Primary 4 approx)

TOP OF THE MOPS This "Impact" Set B play is suitable for reluctant readers
aged 10-14. It has four parts.

THE KING'S PORRIDGE A Scottish story, published as an "All Aboard" traditional tale
(Set B, stage 5), suitable for Primary 2 readers

COUNTING CHICKENS These are two of four "All Aboard" traditional tales

THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE (Set B, level 2) , suitable for Primary 1-2

THE FALSE TOOTH FAIRY The adventures of a denture-snatcher.
A "Reading 360" pocket book (level 5, third set)
for newly confident readers.
Available in a pack with 3 other titles (by different authors)

MR SNOW Each title is a short narrative poem with a line per page and
SPACEGIRL SUE the whole poem printed out at the end. They are two of the
four titles in "All Aboard" Pattern and Rhyme Set B, level 2),
suitable for Primary 1-2 readers

BZZZ SPLAT - THE IMPACT An anthology of comic verse by various
POETRY BOOK writers, for reluctant readers aged 10-14. Includes my poem, .

STEVE'S SANDWICHES An "All Aboard" play for beginner readers, with six parts

CLEVER KATYA A traditional tale from Russia, "All Aboard" Stage 8, also available as a Big Book

THE NOISES NEXT DOOR A traditional tale from China, "All Aboard" Stage 7

THE MONSTER IN THE CAVE A Key Stage 1 play with six parts, based on a traditional fable.
("Lighthouse" Level 7, turquoise)

STOP THIEF! A Key Stage 1 play with six parts, based on a Japanese story.
("Lighthouse" Level 7, purple)


Heinemann Educational

(all titles available through Customer Services, tel. 01865 888020)

  • WAITER! WAITER! These are both in the series "Rhyme World" (Stage 4).
    THE BROWNIE KING They are comic verse stories introducing children to the spelling of different vowel sounds.
  • THE ALIEN AND OTHER PLAYS An anthology of plays, including A JUMBLE FOR THE QUEEN, by me, with aTudor setting and six parts. Part of
    "Literacy World", Stage 2.
  • PROBLEM PAGE a play for reluctant teenage readers


Rigby Heinemann

(Customer Services tel. 01865 888044)

  • ALL GONE! A play for reluctant readers (juniors with infant reading age)
    in the "Springboard" series ("Springboard Flyers, Stage 3)
  • ONE PIECE MISSING A fantasy story, in the "Rigby Star" scheme
  • JUMPING JACK A fantasy story, in the "Rigby Star" scheme
  • THE GIANT JUMPEREE A play, in the "Rigby Star" scheme

Stanley Thornes

(Customer Services, Tel. 01242 267276)

  • BOOKS AND CROOKS A "Spirals" play for reluctant teenage or adult readers

Oxford University Press

THE KING'S EARS Three traditional British tales, "Oxford Literacy Web" Stage 7,
THE BOY WHO TALKED TO pack A. THE KING'S EARS is also available as a Big Book. THE BIRDS

CHRISTMAS POEMS An anthology, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, containing



in press

  • THE DINOSAUR'S DIARY A short novel for 7-9-year-olds


in press or with contracts

HAMLET Two Shakespeare adaptations for reluctant junior readers

THE TRIAL OF WILF WOLF A Big Book class play


I have contracts for two half-hour plays for a top junior class, one set in Roman Britain, the other in World War Two.



Children's Television

BBC "Play School" 1974-88 Songs
Funny Face
Crow and Fox
Tortoise and Hare
There Go the Feet
A Squash and a Squeeze
The Wind and the Sun
Old Man's Hat
Wish I Were In Your Shoes

BBC "Play Away" 1974-78 Songs
Old Man's Hat
Luck of the Game
Amazement Arcade
Friendly Relations
Get There
Watch That Space
U.S. And Them
1976 Calypso
Wheels and Hands
Elementary, My Dear
Watson Something's Become of
the Tune I'm Humming

"Play Board" 1975-76 Songs
Mouse and Lion
Tortoise and Hare
Crow and Fox
A Squash and a Squeeze

Southern Television 1977 Song
Lola the Kitchen Cat

BBC "Corners" 1989 Song
Lucky Black Cat

BBC "Thinkabout Science" 1990 Songs
One and a Half
Guinea Pig
Two Wheels
Pond Watch*
Tree Home

1991 Songs
Push and Pull
Stop and Start
Give It Some Go
Get a Wind Up
Heat In! Cold Out!
Canal Rap
School Garden
Going to the Moon 1
Going to the Moon 2

BBC Playdays,"The Playground 1989 Songs
Stop" Funny Face

1991 Lizzie's Rollerskating
If I Could Fly
Lizzie's Hiding Song
Lizzie's Clothesline
Leapfrog, Hopscotch
Something Tricky
Lizzie's Christmas Eve

1992 Light Up
Say It With Your Hands
Clown Joey's Song

* Programme nominated for a BAFTA award

BBC Playdays,"The Why Bird 1992 Songs
Stop" Bus Driver
Funny Face
Hide and Seek
Disguise Song
Listen to the Sound
Cheering Up the
Clearing Up

1993 Being Better is Best
One Plus One
Do You Have Enough
Betty's Birthday Song
Turn up the Music

1994 Silly Slipper Stomp
Keep on the Go
If you Sniff
Play a Trick
Animal Swap
Office Cleaning Song

BBC Playdays, "The 1995 Song
Roundabout Stop" Crow and Fox

BBC "Superbods" 1991 Songs
What's Your Colour?

Instrument Inside

BBC "Melvin and Maureen's 1992 Songs
Musicograms" Everywhere You Go
There's Music
Band Song

1993 Stringing Along

BBC "Words and Pictures" 1993 Song

2001 Story
The Gruffalo

BBC "Music Makers" 1994 Song
Playing Around

Channel 4 "Rat-a-tat-tat" 1994 Stories
A Squash and a Squeeze

1999 The Gruffalo

BBC "Number Time" 1997 Song
First Things First

BBC "Step Inside" scheduled for Stories
2001 The Gruffalo
Monkey Puzzle

BBC "The Tweenies" 2001 Story
A Squash and a Squeeze


Children's Radio

BBC Radio 5 "12345" 1991 Song
Funny Face

A Squash
and a Squeeze

BBC Radio 5 "The Song Tree" 1992 Songs
Crazy Mayonnaisy
Three Waves

BBC Schools Radio "Time and Tune" 1994 Song
On The Pier

BBC Radio Scotland "Hopscotch" 1992 Songs
Winter Walk
1994 Exercise

1993 Scripts
Who Are You?

1994 A Day Out

BBC Schools Radio "Play Time" 1994 Story
A Squash and a Squeeze

Moving Away
Cleaning Song
Gardening Song

BBC Schools Radio "Something 1996 Song
to Think About" Let's Go

BBC Schools Radio "Counting 1998 Scripts
Time" 2000 Just One
Two New Shoes
Little Bear IsThree
Four Fine Feet
Five Gold Rings
Eggs-actly Six
Steven's SevenTeddies
Eight Skates for
Spinderella Skittle Number Nine
Ten Busy Fingers

BBC Schools Radio "Stories 1998 Story
and Rhymes" A Squash and a Squeeze

BBC Scotland "Hop Skip and Jump" 2000 programme based on
ideas from my book "Monkey Puzzle"


© Copyright 2001 ACHUKA