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Lauren Child Interview

Tuesday, 12 June 2001

Children's illustrator Lauren, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal for her book I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato, is one of the most popular illustrators to emerge in recent years. We caught up with Lauren to ask her a few questions about her work.

Jubilee Books: Two of your books, Beware of the Storybook Wolves and I will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato, have been nominated for this years Kate Greenaway Medal. Were you suprised when you heard the news?
Lauren Child:
Yes, I was very suprised. I found out when Orchard phoned to tell me that I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato has been shortlisted. Hodder phoned me soon after to congratulate me but I thought they were talking about the Orchard book which I thought was very generous of them. It was only about a week later that I realised that they were talking about Beware of the Storybook Wolves.

What was your training as an artist?
I studied illustration at Manchester Polytechnic for a year but I was really disappointed with the course so I left and took a year off then I went to another college, The City & Guilds (now the London College of Art) to study decorative arts, but I didn't enjoy this course much either.

When did you first realise that you wanted to become an illustrator?
I didn't really it was almost by accident. I spent a long time trying to do different things, but I knew that I wanted to get into design for children. I didn't know quite how to break into it though so I spoke to a friend of mine who had a business manager who agreed to look at my portfolio. All she suggested form looking at my work was that I write a book, hearing this from her gave me a lot of confidence to do it. 

What was your first job as an illustrator?
All kinds of things, I did some illustrations for the Radio Times and the Yellow Pages, I also did some business cards and things like that for friends, my first book illustrations were for a book by Penguin.

What is the best thing about being an illustrator?
It's difficult to say what the best thing about being an illustrator is, but the best thing about ebing an author illustrator is that you can invent your own world, if you're the writer as well as the illustrator you can change the writing to suit your illustrations and you get to design your own world in books. It's also nice to see the book itself, with so much design the work is transient or ephemeral.

What books do you remember liking as a child?
One that I always say is the Shrinking of Treehorn by Edward Gorey. I also like Betsy Byers books, there were many picture books I liked but it's difficult to remember them all.

Amongst contemporary illustrators and writers, whose work do you like?
Someone I recently discovered is Russell Ayto, I really love his work, I know him through working with Orchard Books, Lydia Monks, and an American writer and illustrator Margaret Calver.

Did you have a favourite subject at school?
Yes. It's really old fashioned but I liked Latin, I really liked the classical studies side of it. I loved learning about Pompeii and the Roman Empire. I also liked English.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests other than illustrating?
I'm really interested in film. I like pretty much anything, all for different reasons, but I love the Cohen brothers films and Tim Burton. I'm also interested in design, a lot of Danish designers who are quite popular now although I don't have a specialist interest. I also like architecture and I have a lot of books on the subject as I find them useful as reference when I'm drawing to pick a piece of architecture or furniture and translate it into my work.

The character Lola in your book I will Not Ever Never eat a Tomato is a bit of a fussy eater, are there any foods you don't like?
When I was a child I was a bit of a fussy eater. Now I don't like yoghurt at all and if someone serves me it as a pudding I really don't know what to do. I'm not keen on cheesecake either, anything with that sour milk taste!

Do you have a favourite place to illustrate?
I do all of my illustrations at this office (Big Fish Design Agency) I work for them answering the phone and just being here in general. I find it really disciplining being at work from 9 to 5 everyday. Writing is a different story because there are too many distractions at work so I write at other times.

Many of the characters in your books are very keenly observed, do you base them on people you know?
Yes I do, the characters are not necessarily one person but a mixture of various people or I might use one element of somebody.

You have also illustrated books by other authors including the Definitely Daisy series by Jenny Oldfield, how does the process of illustrating someone else's stories differ from illustrating your own?
I find it much more difficult because you're not in on it from the beginning and you're trying to fit someone else's vision. In the case of the Definitely Daisy series I did ask Jenny to provide me with outlines of the characters. I find it hard to get into someone else's working the same way because as a writer and illustrator I'm able to change my own text or move things around so I feel a bit more restrcited in that way, I dont feel like I'm a natural illustrator of other peoples text.

How long does it usually take you to complete a book?
About two to three months usually, Beware of the Storybook Wolves was the quickest, it took six weeks from start to finish.

Do your stories begin as a set of images or as a story?
Nearly always the story comes first, sometimes I might see someone who would maje a good character so you get some visual idea or inspiration, with Charlie and Lola, Lola is based on a real little girl I saw when I was in Denmark, so I drew her before I wrote the story.

Are you concious of your audience when you are developing your books?
Not really, I try not to think about it too much, I think that it makes you too self conscious and if you start thinking about it too much it stops you doing what you want.

Quentin Blake is clearly an influence, who else has or continues to influence or inspire your work?
Quentin Blake got me really involved as a child, looking at his work and really enjoying picture books with his work in, in a way he was more of an influence by just making me interested. I would say that when I look at certain illustrators I can see hhow they've influenced me, one example is Ronald Searle, I've been very influenced by him in quite a subconcious way. Not so apparent is Edward Gorey, there's something about the way he positions the characters and designs the actual picture.

Do you use computers in your work?
Yes, with the book I'm working on at the moment I'm doing it all on computer. I do draw it first but I scan it all onto the computer. This is the first book that I've worked in that way. I have done some drawing on the computer but mainly I use it for scanning and printing.

Which of your own books is your favourite?
At the moment it's my new book What Planet are You From, Clarice Bean which is out in September is probably my favourite. I really enjoyed writing it, I had the feeling of having a really good blend, for me they're the best illustrations I've done so far.

You have another new book coming out, My New Bed?
Yes it's a novelty book for slightly younger people, it's taken a long time to get it published because difficulties in production as it's a novelty book.

What are the ingredients that you think help to make a successful book?
I think that it's very good if it can appeal to adults as well as children, they not only buy the books but they also have to read them. I aslo think that books shouldn't be patronising, they shouldn't talk down to them, I think children are incredibly intuitive.

Thanks to Katrina Webb and Nancy Cooper at Hodder.