I left college about 30 years ago. I was young and full of dreams and hungry to work in illustration. I had no idea what I was doing. I moved to London because that is where all the big publishing houses in England were. I had a portfolio with mediocre work in and a great deal of determination.
The very first commission for a magazine was for Microsoft Magazine. This was in the days when fax machines were young, home pcs just weren’t, answer phones had been invented.
I went on to do lots of work for newspapers, Radio Times, New Statesman and some jackets for books, all the time touting my folder around hustling for work. And when I did a piece I would often be in tears sending it away knowing that it wasn’t good enough, always expecting it to be rejected. I moved to Bath. London was too full for me. I need space around me, green fields. These days I need the sea.
Audrey Peckham was a teacher who took a bottle of milk from a doorstep and was put on remand.
At the time I would take my folder in to children’s publishers, trying to get work. I also haunted Cosmopolitan and other glossy mags and did get work for Country Living and Taste Magazine amongst others.
I preferred working for New Statesman.
My memory of the above illustration is vague. I think he wrote to New Statesman to say how much he liked the picture. They told me that they had sent it to him, and I had a letter from him thanking me. At the time I had absolutely no idea who he was.
I also worked on book covers and between the magazines I was working for and the publishers of books it seemed that where ever I went Cliff Harper had just been there. I loved his work, still do. Always just missed him. Serpents Tail commissioned quite a few covers. I still like this one, for Beer in the Snooker Club.
I was such an ignorant creature in those days. At least now I have some idea of my own depth of ignorance.
I loved the film Birdy written by William Wharton. When I was listening to Kaleidoscope on radio 4 and heard a review for the hardback of Pride I threw every lion picture I had ever done at Penguin in the hope that this jacket would come to my desk! I must read both books again some time.
Going through old work I found this, an illustration brief for Radio Times.
Still working on covers, but have a better idea of what I am doing these days. I love this book. Especially the story 26 Monkeys and the Abyss. Now I work for publisher in America on cover art. Now we have broadband, computers, skype. Shame the trains don’t work as well as they did then, when I would pick up a brief from Bath station on a Friday, cycle home, work all weekend, cycle to the station Monday morning and send a black and white illustration by Red Star back to London where it would be picked up by a courier and delivered to the office.
The US covers for the Hobb books came yesterday. Slightly different from the UK in design, but interesting.
So, I carried my strange dark images into children’s publishers and they shook their heads and sort of sighed at my lack of cutessines, and showed me the door. Eventually I went away to Australia for a year and came back painting. I did images for greetings cards, with a bit more joy in them! And then I had a phone call to ask if I might be interested in working on a picture book. I said yes. I said that I was having a baby the following week but would start it after that. I barely noticed the slightly worried intake of breath as the editor tried to decide whether I was naive or insane.
I started my first picture book with baby Tom balanced on my shoulder, doodling away in a sketch book, trying to learn how a picture book worked, its mechanics and design. And after a few months produced my first, in retrospect terribly flawed creature.
A few books later I am still learning every time, beginning to get the hang of it, half way through one book, three coming out next year and a new one jumping at the edges of my mind. Most of my books are just books, not children’s book particularly, though because they have pictures in them some grown ups think they are. The new one will be along the lines of Can You See a Little Bear, for young ones and mums and dads and teachers and babysitters and aunts and uncles and grandparents to share and enjoy. I hope.
So, this blog post really is to say happy birthday to my 20 years spent in children’s books. I don’t know how many I have done, but they are published in about 14 or so languages. People tell me that their children sleep with my book under their pillow. This is the best review I can ever get. It means they have taken them into their hearts and dreams. I love the thought of parents in lands far away sharing my words and pictures in quiet close moments with their children.
On Thursday between 6.00 and 8.30 I will be in Hachards in London signing books and talking. There are mince pies and there is mulled wine. And there will also be Axel Scheffler who illustrated one of my favorite picture books, You’re a Hero Daley B written by Jon Blake. Lots of others too on all the floors of this amazing shop.