Inside the Cover: interview with children’s author-illustrator, Rob Biddulph

As we bound towards this year’s Henley Literary Festival, a few favourite authors from this year’s line-up reveal their literary loves, top tips for writing and ones-to-watch for 2017…

Here we speak to Rob Biddulph, one of our favourite author-illustrators. Rob will be returning to the Festival for an interactive event in October as he reveals his new book, Sunk!, with live drawing and plenty of opportunity for the little ones to get creative with their own illustrations.

Can you remember the first book you read? What was it?

There are certain things to do with school that I remember really, really well. For example I can name all the kids in my primary and secondary school classes in alphabetical order. Weird, huh? Another of the things I recall with absolute clarity are the titles of the first four books we had to read in reception. The Cherry Family, Dogger, Toto and The Bread and Butter House. I can picture all of the covers right now. When we’d finished each one Mrs Harris would draw a little picture of the characters on our bookmark in coloured pen. It was a real badge of honour.

If could get your three favourite authors on at a literary festival – and you can be the interviewer or in the front row – who would you choose?

Harper Lee, Richard Scarry and Truman Capote. Good luck with organising that.

The festival is held not long before Christmas; what books from 2017 (apart from your own) would you give as a present?

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is beautiful. The perfect present material for child and adult alike.

Which fictional literary character has made the most lasting impression on you?

Atticus Finch.

You are in charge of Henley Children’s Literary Festival – who would be your first choice of author?

Judith Kerr. She is just so inspiring. And very funny too.

Who played the greatest role in you becoming a writer?

It’s hard to narrow it down to one person. I inherited the creative gene from my mum. She has always painted and I consider myself very lucky to have been brought up in that kind of environment. I never thought of art as merely a pastime. In fact I was always encouraged to think of it as a potential career, even when I was very young. That’s something that I think is quite rare these days. My wife and children have been unbelievably supportive from the very start too. Working evenings and weekends was much harder on my wife than it was on me. And, finally my agent, Jodie Hodges, was instrumental in finessing my style, sorting my portfolio out and, ultimately, getting me a book deal. So it’s been a real team effort.

Book festivals are enjoying a boom these days; why do you think that is?

I think people are starting to realise that it’s very easy to become a slave to the screen and, in particular, social media. Consuming entertainment in that passive way is fine to a point but maybe people are beginning to realise that it’s important to re-engage with it in the physical world. I think that theatre is undergoing something of a resurgence in popularity for similar reasons. Also, a literary festival is such a fun way to spend the day together as a family. A nice coffee, a slice of cake and one of your favourite authors reading to you and talking about their creative process. I can’t think of a better way to pass the time.

Is there a book that has made you laugh out loud, or one that has made you cry?

Well, on several occasions recently the Alan Partridge books (I, Partridge and Nomad) have made me do those embarrassing nose-snort laugh things on the train. Mortifying. I just couldn’t help it. Apart from that, anything by PG Wodehouse will always make me chuckle. He’s just the loveliest writer too. As for crying, I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times but Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird draws a tear every single time I read it.

What is the most memorable question you’ve been asked at a festival?

One little boy had his hand up for ages and when I eventually got to him he said “Do you know where the toilets are?”

Its Desert Island Discs time… what book – apart from the Bible or Complete Works of Shakespeare – would you take to your tropical paradise?

Hmmm. It would have to be some kind of encyclopaedic, illustrated history of art featuring all the great artists of the last 500 years. That would keep the mind active between fishing expeditions.

What’s the best bit of advice you gave been given about writing?

I once interviewed Sean O’Faolain and he passed on advice that WB Yeats had told him as a young man: “Write yourself into yourself.”

Which young writers should we be reading?

Well I’ve just drawn the cover for Jess Butterworth’s debut Running on the Roof of the World. It’s set in China-occupied Tibet and tells the story of a young girl on a quest to find her parents against the sweeping backdrop of the Himalayas. It’s beautifully written, incredibly evocative and absolutely thrilling. And the cover is BEAUTIFUL.


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