Hello David! Welcome.
Hello. Thank you for having me.
One of our favourite books of yours is ‘Lights on Cotton Rock’. Could you tell us about what inspired the character, Heather?
That’s very nice of you to say. Lights On Cotton Rock is one of my personal favourites too. I grew up watching Science Fiction films like ‘ET’ and ‘Flight of The Navigator’ so it was a really brilliant to be making my own Sci-Fi story.
However, even though the story is about aliens and spaceships the book is probably the most personal piece of work I have made so far. The character of Heather is loosely based on my mum. She went through a lot of emotional ups and downs throughout her life and she felt that she had to put a lot of her dreams on hold for us.
Sadly my mum passed away last year, but I was really happy that in the past few years she reconnected with her artistic side and had the chance to rekindle a lot of those dreams that she had when she was younger. One thing that she did was join a local art class in her village and she was suddenly producing lots and lots of really beautiful water colour paintings. In fact, around this same time I asked my mum to draw a picture for Lights On Cotton Rock’ It’s the drawing that Heather creates for the alien at the end of the story (also FYI, my son Ben-who was six at the time, drew the picture Heather draws at the start of the book when she is was younger, so it’s quite a family affair that book).
Mum was super proud that her drawing was in an actual real-life book. When it was published she took ‘Lights On Cotton Rock’ into her art class and showed it to everyone and had to do a little talk about it.
I read the book to a class on World Book Day recently and I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat when we got to that page.
Your new book ‘Peace on Earth’ looks incredible! Could you tell us a bit more about the story?
I illustrated a book with the author Smriti Halls called ‘Rain Before Rainbows’ a couple of years ago and I absolutely loved the experience. Smriti and the art director of the book gave me so much creative freedom to just let my imagination run wild. When the opportunity to work with the same team on a second book came up I absolutely jumped at the chance.
‘Peace on Earth’ has a similar, whimsical feel to ‘Rain Before Rainbows’ but this time it is set around three good friends and their wolf companions.
They set out on a fun adventure together, but soon tensions start to boil over and the group have a blazing argument that threatens to destroy their friendship and end their great journey together. The story looks at how true friendship can move past the many obstacles we all face with the special people in our lives.
I’m really proud of what we have created with ‘Peace on Earth’, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
When you are in the beginning phases of a new idea do you ever have a creative block and if you do, can you share any practices you have that help you become inspired?
Yes. It happens a lot. My advice is to take yourself away from the project. Go on a walk or a bike ride. Forget about being an author and illustrator for a while. Just do something else. The ideas usually start to flow again when you are not actively thinking about them.
Also, have a sketchbook nearby and just start doodling. Most of the ideas for my books have come about because of a good old doodling session.
What is your creative process when writing and illustrating a book? Does the story start with a message you want to get across or does it start with the illustrations?
It usually starts with the illustrations. I will have a good idea of what the story and the overall message will be but the visuals generally come first. For me personally I just find sketching the pages out really helps form the story much more than writing and re-writing.
It is so important to have a source of inspiration especially in creative fields. Is there anyone that stands out to you that inspires you?
I’m not sure that there is any one person who stands out. I find that inspiration comes from lots of places. Other illustrators such as Lorena Alverez and Sydney Smith are really inspiring me at the moment with my current projects. Albert Uderzo and Quentin Blake are some of my life long influences. Their work has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. But I think we also find inspiration in music and film. Steven Spielberg has maybe been one the biggest influences on my books. His way of using light to help convey the emotions of a story is definitely something that I have incorporated into my drawings.
We love books and getting children reading here at The Lit Co. We are curious, if you could only read one book for the rest of your life what would it be?
Oh my that is a very tricky question. I think it would have to be ‘The Midnight Fair’ by Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Gieorgio. There are two main reasons why I would choose this book. One is that it is absolutely one of the most beautiful books of all time and it gives me so much joy every time that I look at it. And the second reason is that I always find something brand new in the artwork with each read, so I don’t think I could ever get bored of this book.
We have read that you taught in school for 10 years. Do you think teaching provided you a baseline for creating such moving stories? / How has teaching influenced your stories and career?
Yes, I was an art tutor at Bedford College teaching older kids art, design and media. I started teaching there not long after I graduated and I thought that I would do it for a few months to help pay off some student debts. But – totally unexpectedly – I really fell in love with teaching. Being surrounded by lots of creative people was really great. Helping them develop their ideas was really fulfilling and it’s been great to hear from so many of my old students about what they are doing now and how they are using what they learnt in their lives and careers.
I guess where teaching has most informed the books that I make now is with the natural empathy that you have to bring to the forefront of your mind when dealing with so many young people during a very formative moment in their lives. I mean, at the beginning I wasn’t a whole lot older than some of the students and I was only just out of the education system
myself, so in many ways it might have been easier to relate to a lot of what they were going through. But everyone that I taught had their own unique situation and background, they were all going through their own journeys, and it was important for me to be appreciative of that. It’s very easy to see a class of 30 students as one group, but obviously that group is made up of individuals each with their own stories going on outside of the college.
So yes, I think the idea of having empathy for people is definitely a crossover between being a teacher and being a storyteller.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young child aiming to be an illustrator, what would it be?
It’s no big secret really, and possibly it sounds too simplistic but just keep drawing. You don’t necessarily need to do it every day, but as much as possible. Get a sketchbook and just get drawing. Make good drawings. Make bad drawings. Learn from them all. Draw from your imagination, draw from real life. Copy your favourite book cover. Come up with a new cover. Draw comics. Draw portraits. Draw pictures that tell a story in one image. Draw yourself in a mirror. Draw with pencils or paint or maybe on a computer or an iPad. Basically, just keep drawing. Eventually you will get so good at drawing that people will take notice and then, who knows, one day you might even start to get paid to draw. And if not, you’ve still had a really fantastic time drawing and doing something that you love.
We are always looking at your social media for announcements. Can you give us a sneak peak into what is to come?
I’m very excited that over the next year I will be working on a lot of great books with some really incredible authors, some of whom I have worked with before and some who it will be our first time collaborating.
But I’m also really excited that I’m getting the opportunity to make a lot more of my own author/illustrator books which I can’t wait to get started on. I’m in the very early planning stages of each of them at the moment but I should be able to reveal more very soon.
What I can say is that some of them will be picture books – which I will always love making- but a couple will be more for a Middle Grade audience. They will still be illustrated throughout but will be in more of a chapter book format. One of them might even be a graphic novel, or at least that’s the way it seems to be shaping up.
It’s all totally out of my comfort zone but I can’t wait to make a proper start on them all. I’m actually really looking forward to the next couple of years and doing a few projects that are a little bit different.
So yes, watch this space!