How many books have you had published?
So far I have 25 picture books and 8 chapter books either published or about to be published. For most of those I am purely the illustrator, but for When You're Not looking! and the forthcoming Spookydoo Castle, I am the author too.
Did you write and draw for fun when you were at school?
Yes, I have always written, mostly for no specific purpose, just for the joy of it, and have been known to perform my poetry in pubs! But I have always drawn even more. I used to be insufferable in primary school, showing all the others in my class how to do it. My family are all pretty artistic so I got endless encouragement and, since I have always been a shocking attention seeker, that made me do it all the more. Now, because I illustrate for a living all day, I mostly draw for fun when I travel and always carry a sketchbook to record where I've been. These little books are my most treasured possessions and totally irreplaceable.
Have you always earned your living as a writer and illustrator? If
not, what else have you done/do you still do?
Although I write picture books and would like to write more, I see myself mainly as an illustrator and I have always earned my living from my drawing. I did my degree in Printed Textile Design at Middlesex University in North London. Fortunately I moved straight into illustration after university, as I wouldn't have made a very good fabric designer - my textile designs were generally massive illustrations of things like dead crabs or piles of shoes!
When was your first book published and what was it called?
The very first one was The Show at Rickety Barn, written by Jemma Beeke, which was great fun to draw. I had particular fun with the cows juggling crockery. It was published in 2000 by Gullane.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
had to do a lot of new work as the portfolio of my previous illustration projects was not suitable. It took about a year to create a new folio of children's book illustrations to show to publishers. Gullane offered me Jemma's text soon afterwards, and things have gone from strength to strength ever since.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
This is what I always get asked by children when I do school visits and I really don't know the answer! I suppose When You're Not Looking! is special to me because it's all mine. The one I've had most fun with recently was An Itch to Scratch, as it features a poor gorilla with an itch right in the middle of his back where he can't reach it, so all the drawings are of him contorting himself. I had to pose in the mirror for the drawings, twisting myself into knots.
Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
This changes all the time. I'm not one for nostalgia, so prefer newer books to old favourites from my own childhood. For picture books I particularly like The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Niel Gaiman and Dave McKean, and My Favourite Thing by Emily Jenkins and Anna-Laura Cantone. When it comes to older fiction, I think Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials takes a lot of beating.
How long does it take you to illustrate a book?
It takes me about 4 weeks to develop the characters, design how the pages will work and then draw the whole book in line - the 'roughs'. The publisher usually takes a couple of weeks to consider, and make any suggestions for possible changes. Then it takes me around another 6 -7 weeks to rework any alterations and create the final illustrations in colour. So altogether I am working on a picture book for around 3 months. Of course that's just the illustrations - it takes at least another year before it is available in the shops!
Do you have a working routine or do you just write/illustrate
when you feel like it?
I write when the mood takes me or when I get a good idea, but I like a fairly strict regime for my illustration. I start the day with an hour at a gym (you get very little other exercise doing this job). Then I work from 10.00 until about 6.00 most days. I don't usually work at weekends unless I'm away doing a festival appearance.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
It's best to go with the flow for the first draft, whether that's writing or illustration - just letting the ideas pour out. Going back and tuning it all up, adding funny details and making it work is a real pleasure for me.
Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
I have been part of the same tiny writer's group for over 10 years. We are called The Electric Tomatoes (after a poem I wrote a long time ago) and we meet every Tuesday evening to write for pure pleasure. We are not allowed to bring things we have written earlier, as most groups do - the whole point is the challenge of coming up with something new on the spot, on an arbitrary subject we pull out of a hat. We then read out for each other. It's always fascinating how differently we each interpret the starting point. It's not supposed to help, it's supposed to be fun, but I suppose it is good practise.
Do you have an agent?
Yes, PFD. Amongst other things, they are rather good at squeezing more money out of publishers!
Why do you like writing and illustrating for children?
I don't have children of my own, so people sometimes wonder why I have chosen to work in children's books. I suppose I love the idea of opening a colourful window into another world that is sometimes quite like ours and sometimes not at all, but that always takes you on an adventure and travels an amazing distance in such a short space.
How do you get your ideas?
That's another one children always ask (along with 'How old are you?' and 'Do you know J.K.Rowling?'). Ideas come from ordinary, everyday things that are happening all the time all around you. The trick is to notice them.
Which comes first
- the words or the pictures.
Obviously, if I'm illustrating someone else's story, the words are all finished before I begin. When I have an idea for a story of my own, the words still come first but, because I am an illustrator, the pictures keep jumping into my head as I'm writing. In my case they are usually funny pictures and that can then give me more ideas about where the story might go.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Try not to underestimate children or write down to them. Write for the child inside yourself.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
I love visiting schools. The one drawback to an otherwise fantastic job is that writers and illustrators spend too much time on their own indoors, so it is lovely to get amongst the children and share their enthusiasm about books.
Have you won any awards or prizes?
Mr Strongmouse and the Baby, written by Haiwyn Oram, has been nominated for this year's Red House Children's Book Award. I am thrilled, particularly because it is one of the few awards voted on solely by children. Open Wide! written by Tom Barber, was nominated for the same award in 2005.
For more information about Lynne Chapman and her books, visit her website.