Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

December 7, 2010

Story Spark: Interview with Ian Beck

Despite the snow and ice, 'Story Spark' soldiers on! This season of tales, literature and imagination at The Ark, Dublin sees another series of author readings this weekend and I am delighted to have asked fantastic author and illustrator Ian Beck a few questions about his work and also discovered that he painted the cover for Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. Wow!

Ian will be reading this Sunday, 12th December at 4pm for 7-10yr olds. The theme is 'Wild Woods and Magical Quests'.

1. How did you get involved with writing/illustrating children's books?
I had been a freelance illustrator since leaving Brighton School of Art in the late 1960’s. I worked mainly in editorial, illustrating for magazines and newspapers. One of my regular clients was the Radio Times, and I made a colour drawing for the Holiday Supplement in the very early 1980’s, and one of the designers at the Oxford University Press noted it and thought my style of drawing and general colouring etc might be suitable for a book they were planning for babies. I made a sample drawing, which pleased the editor of the book and I was offered the job. I was delighted because our first baby was nearly two and I had been looking at books with him and wishing I could make something in that field too, but saw no way in, and then hey presto. The editor was a very boyish David Fickling, and the book was Round and Round the Garden, compiled by Sarah Williams, first published in 1983 and still going strong. David later encouraged me to write my own stories as well as illustrating, so in a real sense he is the person responsible for my entire later career.

2. Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from small events in daily life, from chance remarks, from very old cartoons, from huge Hollywood films, from novels, from music of all kinds, from anime, Japanese prints, in fact from everywhere and everything. I think the trick is to recognise a good idea and then be able to nurture and develop it and learn to trust your imagination.

3. How long did it take you to write your most recent book?
My most recently published book was the third one in my Tom Trueheart series of adventures, Tom Trueheart & the Land of Myths& Legends. Bits of it had been floating around in my head while I was writing the second book in the series, and certain loose ends needed tying up etc, certain themes needed to be fully developed. I think it took about eighteen months to write altogether given that I was also working on finishing my young adult title Pastworld at the same time.
4. How often do you participate in events such as 'Story Spark' where you read to your young fans? Do you enjoy it, or do you get nervous?!
I visit a lot of schools and libraries and book festivals during any one year, and I do find it very rewarding. It is very useful to get feedback and discover if readers have enjoyed the stories, and which ones they liked best and so on. Also I think it is important for children to see that stories and pictures are made by people not machines, and fallible people at that who have just had more practice than them. I have done so much of it over the last twenty five years or so that I don’t really get nervous now at all. Perhaps I should?

5. How important do you feel events like 'Story Spark' are in encouraging children to read and be excited about books?
Obviously in the current climate of austerity fear, with libraries being threatened with closure and cut backs all around it is more important than ever for celebratory events to be continued and encouraged. The ability to read and enjoy reading books and stories is a vital and an empowering one and lasts for a whole lifetime. Nothing could be more important, such festivals now and in the future could be the very lifeblood of literacy.

6. Finally, what is your favourite children's book (not your own!), and why?
I have read continuously and obsessively ever since I could read. My favourite books in childhood were the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton with the wonderful line drawings by Thomas Henry. Later I graduated to loving the wonderful Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle and still do. Of more recent books for children my favourite would be Holes by Louis Sachar.

Thank you very much to Ian. To catch him, and other authors this weekend, check out the full Story Spark schedule.

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