I had just been promoted to the first rugby team. It was a perfect, wonderful coming of age. My brother was already in the team, and my father had come to watch us. We went home, and my father died in front of me. Horribly, in about half an hour. He had a heart attack.
Worrying can be a kind of caring, and as such is a healthy part of a balanced emotional life.
The first things I remember drawing were battles – big sheets of paper covered in terrible scenes of carnage – though when you looked closely, there were little jokes and speech bubbles and odd things going on in the background.
Writers are articulate. Artists find it more difficult.
Force me to choose my best book, and I always come back to ‘Gorilla.’ It was the first time I felt I understood what picture books could do.
I see ‘Hansel and Gretel’ as a breakthrough book for me, and one of the reasons is because I started to apply meaning to the hidden details.
Having a memoir and a retrospective of your work running almost simultaneously when you’re still alive does feel a bit posthumous.
Pictures are as evocative to me as smells.
I never want to make a child worried or afraid, and I don’t think I do. My pictures are born from the belief that children are far more capable and aware of social complexities than we give them credit for.
M dad was a boxer, so he had this fierce, physical presence.
I’ve always felt that I was a bit of an outsider to the British children’s-book illustration scene, because I don’t work in line and wash.
As a child, I’d always liked cowboys and Indians stories where there were two layers – gruesome in the foreground but funny in the background.
From 17 to 21, I was obsessed by sport and art. In art, I loved the pre-Raphaelites and Rembrandt first. Then I discovered Salvador Dali, and it was like finding something I already knew.
I use a little brush only for really small details. Over the years, I’ve started to use a much larger brush.
Everyone can draw when they’re five. Most of us lose the ability.
A lot of my characters are underdogs or sad or lonely, but I had a comfortable, golden sort of childhood.
Picture books are being marginalised. I get the feeling children are being pushed away from picture books earlier and earlier and being told to look at ‘proper’ books, which means books without pictures.
I didn’t have picture books – there weren’t many around when I was a child.
Stories come to me and I don’t know where they come from, but afterwards I can look back and say, ‘Oh yes, that’s got a little bit of me, or a little bit of my own son in it’. That’s where ideas come from.
I grew up with an older brother who was always stronger and faster and better than me at everything, but I was close enough in age to try and compete, so we had a competitive childhood.
I don’t like narrowing my readers down – there’s not a particular age or gender or nationality. I suppose I’m aiming at the child I was.
Maurice Sendak is the daddy of them all when it comes to picture books – the words, the rhythm, the psychology, the design.
Most people lose their natural creativity at about five or six – but not me.
When I was a boy, I was a worrier, and so was my son, Joe. I used to tell him that worrying meant he had an imagination and that one day he’d be pleased.
Stories come to me in mysterious ways, more like dreams than reasoned creations.
The first thing I put down on paper is a storyboard, like a film director.
Something happens to our creativity as we go through the education process; most of us lose touch with it.
When I talk to children, I show them a typical drawing I made when I was six and point out to them that when I was their age, I didn’t draw any better than any of them.
The illustrations in picture books are the first paintings most children see, and because of that, they are incredibly important. What we see and share at that age stays with us for life.
As adults, we’ve seen so much before that we often turn the pages of a picture book without really looking. Young children tend to look more carefully.
My dad never decided what he wanted to do; at times he fought in the army, was a teacher, a boxer, a light engineer, and a then a publican. My mum was a traditional housewife and mother. They showed my brother and I unconditional love.
Although I have two good Anglepoise lights, I much prefer to work by daylight.
Most of the day I work standing up, as I once read somewhere that it’s the best position for the back.
I’m impressed by the way some illustrators develop their images on computers, but it’s too late for me to start, and I’m still in love with paper and paint and pencils.
What excites me about picture books is the gap between pictures and words. Sometimes the pictures can tell a slightly different story or tell more about the story, about how someone is thinking or feeling.
Gorillas remind me of my father. He was a very big, physically strong man but also very sensitive.
One day, I found my dad’s dressing-gown in an old suitcase, and it transported me back to when I was five and thought he was a god or a superhero who could do anything. After that, I wrote my first positive book about fathers, about my dad.
After art college, I got a job as a medical illustrator, and I was pretty good. I had to imagine what was going on in the operations because the photographs just showed a mess.
Many adults that I have met in my time believed that picture books are ‘babyish’. I hope I have changed minds on this, as I set out to do.
I find it incredible and outrageous that public and school libraries are being forced to close – we’ll all pay the price in the long term.
Never forget that children are at the heart of everything we do. Respect them, listen to them, talk to them as equals, and care about them.
Inspiring passion in children for books, and the world of imagination and creativity fuelled by them, is a fundamental reason for why the Children’s Laureate post exists.
I played rugby from the age of 10 until my late twenties; an unlikely player – small, quiet, long-haired and ‘wiry.’
One of my main decisions when accepting the job of Children’s Laureate was that I must continue working on picture books. If I don’t write and illustrate for some time, then I begin to question who I am.
As a father, I understand the importance of the bond that develops through reading picture books with your child.
Children will come out and listen to a writer whose books they like. They don’t need a government agency or a medal that says ‘laureate’ to continue that.
Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.
As a boy, I devoured comics but never saw what we now describe as a picture book.
I grew up in Yorkshire, and once or twice a year, we’d travel over the Pennines to see my cousins in Cheshire.