I tend to say the same things over and over... If you have a question for me, maybe I've said it before ^-^

Questions by Jo Bowers:

Where did your love of drawing start?
Along with many, many other children I have drawn since before I can remember. My love of drawing really also began when I was very small.
I was captivated by the power that drawing has to give a physical form to the imagination.  I don't feel in any way unique for loving drawing like this.  In fact, as I visit schools now, I am struck by how many children love to draw.  It is often the majority of the class with only one or two who don't want to.  Perhaps the question ought to be, 'why didn't you
stop drawing?  'That is certainly harder to answer and I'm not sure that I altogether understand myself.  Perhaps a clue can be found in the way I hear children talk about drawing when they don't want to do it.  They will say one of two things: 'I'm not good at it,' or, 'I don't know what to draw.'  I find both of these answers really sad because to my eye they are almost invariably false.  For some reason the child will have gotten it into their heads that they just can't do it.  I can relate to this
because when I was small it is exactly how I felt about learning the recorder! I'll bet my strangled squeaking sounded no worse than any of the others but for some reason I felt totally at sea with it.  Rightly or wrongly however, I believed that drawing was something I was good at and I never lacked for nonsense in my head to pour out onto the page.

Who or what provided you with inspiration when you were young?
My mum and Dad played an excellent version of good cop, bad cop with my drawings.  My mum thought that everything was great; my dad thought that there was always room for improvement!  But they were both up for looking at things whenever I wanted to show them my pictures and very encouraging towards me.  My real inspiration was and still is all the fantastic stories and characters that make up the world of human imagination.  I love stories!  The stranger and more fantastic the better! One of my favourite films when I was a boy was David Lynch's 'Dune'.  The projectionist got the reels muddled and we
watched it in the wrong order.  It was one of the most confusing, intense and dream-like experiences of my six year old life.

How did you end up becoming a children's illustrator?I love to draw and tell stories. I have done it compulsively throughout my life as I have said.  I was looking for some role in life that would let me carry on doing these things. When I got into a correspondence with a publisher at art college (after I'd sent them a story called, 'The Monster Zoo', which they found interesting though they described it as horrifying and Kafka-esque!) I kept sending them story after story.
Eventually I sent them one called, 'Slow Loris', which they liked enough to offer me a contract.
I like to think that adults still secretly want to be able to read stories with
pictures but the market is mostly aimed at children.  So far that is where I have worked the most.  Also I think I didn't grow up so much myself.

Did the writing come before the illustration or vice versa?
I began as an illustrator.  That's what I did my degree in and that is where my passion is.I don't like picture making for its own sake though.
I like it for its capacity to tell stories.  Whilst drawing is my first language I get a similar joy from writing stories, speaking them, acting them out or even playing narrative games. When I am creating a new story I will switch between writing and drawing throughout.

What books did you particularly love as a child? And why?
I especially loved comic books when I was growing up.  Tintin, Asterix, The Beano, The Dandy, Dick Tracy, Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper from 2000AD, I could go on... I would get totally lost in all of them.
They are a like a super-concentrated version of everything I am interested in.  If you are a
story junkie who loves drawing then it shouldn't be much of a surprise that you find comics fascinating.

What was your dream as a child?
Oh, I didn't just have one dream! No-one does.  I wanted to do all of these amazing things that were happening in the stories I loved.  Failing that I wanted to make stories about amazing things for other people to love.

Croc and Bird explores the lovely friendship between a very young bird and equally young crocodile. Are feelings and friendships themes
that you are drawn to as a writer or do you see the themes of your work as different ones to this?

No, it is true that friendship and family are central themes in my work.
I believe that for a story to work well the author needs to be emotionally invested in it.  I find that these themes really resonate with me.
I also tend to prefer stories where the character's emotional responses drive the plot.

One of your most recent projects is illustrating a retelling of The Selfish Giant. Can you tell us a little about how that came about and what it was like working on this?

I was offered a choice of classic texts by Random House a few years back and 'The Selfish Giant' jumped out because of all the great images that where implied by the text.  Some of the others I was offered, such as 'The Little Fir Tree' and 'The Happy Prince', whilst being great stories, had very static centralcharacters and little action to draw.  'The Selfish Giant' presented a huge challenge because of the
different scales involved and also because of the need to show the changing seasons clearly. The text itself was a challenge too.  I had to fit it into a thirty two page picture book format.  In order to
tell the story well I felt I had to omit the original ending with the death of the Giant and the infant Christ.  I knew this might upset people but I felt that in order to tell that story well in this format I just couldn't keep it in.
I recently talked about this dilemma on my blog and I'll repeat some of what I said there.
Even without the ending I found I had to leave out several spreads I would have liked to include were there more room. The story of the Giant's quest to find the boy again, of the boy's eventual return and the Giant's death and ascent to Paradise felt like a whole new tale and I thought it would have needed many more pages to do it justice. In my abridgement and illustration of this story I focus on the character of the Giant.  I felt his journey toward redemption was complete when he gave up his garden to the children. It seemed to me that being able to share the garden is a reward in itself and he doesn't need the further reward of Paradise later on. In fact it has always bothered me that it is possible to see right action in this life as merely an investment in hope of getting something back in the future.  Last and least, I found the explicitly Christian nature of the original ending made it more difficult for me to understand what is in fact an excellent text on one of the great strengths of Christian morality, namely faith in the possibility of redemption. I feel that this is a story that has relevance to all faiths as well as to no faith at all. It is about death and rebirth, about
empathy and love, prejudice and fear, about holding on and letting go and about learning to trust in one another. I feel that those are themes which have meaning for all of us and are not the exclusive province of a single doctrine.  And do you know, I’m not even sure it wouldn’t be a little blasphemous or at the least disrespectful to have Christ as a character in a story!

When starting a new picture book do you follow a similar process each time? And if so, can you give a brief outline?

Not initially I didn't. Nowadays I will spend a long time working on the dummy, keeping the drawings as rough and ready as possible so I am still looking forward to making them into artwork when the time comes but making sure that the narrative is clear and all the important information is coming across. Also I don't waste time on stories that don't have an ending yet! As soon as I think I know the ending I will invest time developing the story. I learned that one the hard way!

Can you share how the experience of blogging supports you as a writer and illustrator? Engages with your audience?

Having a blog has been brilliant.  The process of making books has so much to it that no-one ever sees. Do you know that feeling you get when you are watching or reading something really funny but you are on your own so there is no-one to share the joke with?  A lot of life as an author or illustrator can feel that way. Having a blog is a really great way of sharing those moments without having to go through the firewall of a million publishing meetings.  It is also a great way of finding like minded people the world over.  Being a children's book nerd is kind of a niche interest so you have to cast your net quite wide to find many of us.

What is the best thing about being a writer and illustrator for children?

Being the master of your own time. Sharing the things that you love with others.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer and illustrator for children?

Being alone in a box for days on end.

If you had not become an author/illustrator, what other career might you have chosen?
I would like to do anything that involves telling stories. Film director? Actor? Tour Guide? Used car salesman?
Oh, and I love toys so perhaps I could have been a toy maker? Or ran a toy shop? If they're still looking for volunteers for the one-way trip to Mars I'll put my hand up.  Ah yes, and for that matter if anyone is reading this and would like to give me a job on the new Star Wars films then do get in touch!

Can you think of any questions you'd like to be asked as an author and illustrator? If yes, what are they and how would you answer?
I strongly share the belief expressed in Bruno Bettelheim's 'The Uses of Enchantment', that stories for children should be a safe space for them to explore the challenges and fears that they might face in life.
I feel there is a tendency to try and sanitise children's stories at the moment by taking out the dangerous and the frightening things.
In my view not only does this make the stories themselves poorer but it robs children of something that can really help them.
Bruno Bettelheim himself was a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald so he knew what he was talking about when he spoke of facing fears. I also believe very strongly that stories can teach us empathy and have the power to prevent some of these terrible things from happening in the first place. How many awful things have happened throughout our history because people had no conception of the horror they were
inflicting on others?
Questions by Madelyn Travis for Just Imagine:

 Your emphasis on drawing sets your books apart from a lot of others around at the moment. Did you deliberately set out to do something different?

 It’s more to do with not being able to do anything else. There wasn’t a grand strategy behind it, although I always had in my head that I wanted to do a certain kind of thing and was very fixed on it. I had a desire to express things that were in my mind, and that was how the books happened, so I couldn’t have done it any other way. I have tried in the past to do things a bit differently to fit in a little more with movements that I saw happening but I didn’t get very far with them because I didn’t really understand them. It would never occur to me not to use drawing as my primary medium, so I don’t think I’m quite seeing the world in the same way as other people. I don’t mean that at all in an arrogant sense.

The way you use space is very striking. Could you talk about your approach?

 I started out in picture books with the attitude that anything goes: let’s see what works and what I like using. So I wanted to be experimental in every area - not experimental for the sake of it, just experimental. The
only way you can learn is by doing things. I wanted to keep an open mind about which structure effectively tells the story. I tried to feel free to use it and not be worried about whether it looked absolutely perfect and appropriate.
 I would have my story in whatever format and then the question I’d ask myself would be: how can I best get this story across with the tools at my disposal? And one of them is the rhythm and the pace of the pictures in the book, whether you have a series like a comic or a full page double spread bleeding off the edges, whether you have a lot of background scenery or hardly any at all. They all affect the pace of the visual story and the amount of information that it’s communicating, and you can manipulate them to help you tell the story that you want to tell.

Secret lives seem to be a theme of Slow Loris and While You Are Sleeping.

 When you’re making up stories you make up stories that mean something to you because they resonate with you, or you wouldn’t spend the time on them. If you’re not interested in the story you’re telling you run out of patience, so there must be something there, but it’s not conscious. It’s probably something to do with the nature of being an illustrator anyway, because the main body of your communication is between you and a piece of paper, so in a sense you are leading a secret life.

What technique did you use on the double page spread where Slow Loris moves fast? It looks like a photo but it probably isn’t one.

 If you’ve made a decision to do your whole book in inks and then you do a good pencil drawing you’re going to have to ink over it to fit in.
  I realised that if it’s all drawn by the same person it will have at least that in common, so whenever I come up with a drawing that’s right, that’s all I need. There was a drawing in a sketchbook drawn from a real slow loris that I thought was perfect for that spread. It’s a very small pencil drawing that I did in the zoo. I scanned it into the computer and enlarged it and then put a photoshop zoom filter on it. They’re frowned upon - people are snooty about them and for good reason – but it worked.

Where did the name Beegu come from?

 It was a dog’s name. I quite like using animal names, because you get a pet and give it a name, and as you’re living with them you discover that that name doesn’t quite fit. If it were a child it’s too late, that’s the name you’ve given them. With a pet the name modifies over time to suit their character. The dog’s name was Ziggy for a while and it went through this evolution process and ended up being Beegu. It was perfect for the alien because it sounds like bijou and she’s like a little shiny jewel, but it’s got that “beep beep” alien cliché thing and the sound goo is one of my favourite sounds anyway, because there’s a certain anarchy and freedom and messiness which I like my characters to have.
How did you decide what she would look like?

 Originally it was a story about a big alien. It was more obviously identified with me. I’d done that alien with three eyes and a couple of antennae, to be obvious about it. I didn’t want the design of the alien to be original. It didn’t 
need to be. It came out looking a bit distinctive because I didn’t put anything else in. She has three eyes and two antennae, but there’s not much else going on. So when it was scaled down to be a baby alien she had this pleasing simplicity about her which seemed to fit the story. She has the minimum signifiers to show that she’s an alien and the rest is plain and simple because that’s the kind of character she is.

In the illustration where she is jumping rope and has the hula hoop round her ears it looks like you used several different materials.

The drawing is an ink drawing much smaller than it appears in the book and I photocopied that to enlarge it to roughly the right size, then it was painted with watercolour and gouache.
 It’s got some accents on it with water-based oil paint so it’s got a layer like grease over the top.

Although you use bright colours now and again, you often use a fairly muted tonal palette, which is quite unusual in books for young children.
 That might be down to ineptitude. I don’t mean to be so dark; it just comes out that way. A very strong dominant colour is a very strong presence on the page, and if you’ve got a great sea of screaming orange on a page it’s actually shouting louder than the drawing. I didn’t want people to be looking at the colour unless it had a function, unless it was part of the story. It’s not the world that those drawings live in. But it might just be that I’m not very good at painting.

Do you prefer to work with any materials in particular?

 Every material has a slightly different effect, and I don’t mean that in terms of what comes out. It makes you think and draw in a different way. So if you’re using a dip pen you know that you can’t fudge. If you want to use a half-tone, you’re going to have to hatch it or paint it on afterwards and that makes a change to the process, so when you use ink you’re making a specific statement. Pencil tends to be my favourite. You get a wax pencil and the waxiness adheres to the paper in a pleasing way, so you get a bit of tactile feedback, so it’s more of a touch skill than a sight skill. With charcoal you’re encouraged to make a much bigger mark. Unlike dip pen, you can really fudge. It suits drawing bigger, messier things. Things have more presence on the page with charcoal and you get where you’re going quicker as well which is useful.

You have an unusual technique where you oil the paper and apply the paint on the other side of the paper. How did that come about?
 I did that on While You Are Sleeping. It was to do with preserving the line drawing. I considered transferring the drawings onto a clear film and painting behind them. There was a necessity to have colour work, but the thing that I mostly enjoy doing is the drawing, so there’s a separation between the two. I finish the drawing and colour it. It wasn’t a problem with the previous book because I used black line. But While You Are Sleeping is red chalk drawings and you can’t paint over them or you lose the drawings, so I came up with that method to keep the line visible, and it had other effects which suited that book. Because the colour is slightly obscured by the paper, the pictures have a hazy quality that looks a bit dreamlike.
Did you do much drawing at university or was it something you learned beforehand?

 I studied illustration at Brighton University. You were encouraged to draw there. I did regular life drawing, but the emphasis was more on generating original content and training your mind. We were taught print making and various craft skills, but it wasn’t a craft-based course. The ethos is to liberate young minds rather than to shackle them to a method so they don’t teach method. I think it’s kind of frowned upon now to teach drawing as though there was “a way”. You’re encouraged to find it within yourself. But it does have this unfortunate side effect, which is that people are afraid to share information that feels like craft skills. When it came to etching or screen printing there was never any doubt that you had to know a certain few things or you were never going to come up with a print. With drawing you know that you’re going to come up with something, so there’s not a feeling that things have to be done a certain way.
 In my work what I was trying to do was be able to express the kind of stories and feelings that I have in my imagination, and the only reason that I tried to become better at drawing was that I saw it as a liberating thing rather than a constricting thing. You acquire a skill to be able to express something as well as you can and get as close as you can to what you want to say.

Who are your artistic inspirations?

 My favourite is Honore Daumier because he is like what I was talking about with the charcoal: messy, full of body and presence on the page. There’s a literacy and eloquence in making a mark on the paper, and he’s got this kind of liquidity to his mark making which is very pleasing. All the drawings are nice and sculptural so that you feel you’re looking into a space and seeing into a world rather than looking at a drawing which is filtered through him, so it doesn’t exist in a real sense but it takes on a reality.
 Rembrandt does something similar but he tends to hatch a bit more, so like in those etchings he manages to combine nice chunky shapes with beautiful eloquent tiny little marks so the rendering of light on a face or the rendering of a whole head of hair, you don’t tend to see that done so well very often.
 Winsor McCay did the Little Nemo strip comics around the turn of the century. He had a phenomenal talent for creating worlds and drawing almost anything. You feel he had the power to draw anything that came into his head and that’s something I’m quite envious of.

Interview for MA Children's Book Illustration: 

1. Which type of Illustrator would you consider yourself to be? Someone who prefers drawing from observation or someone  who enjoys doodling out of  imagination?1.  I don't think I like that distinction!  If I have to choose I spend more time drawing from my imagination than from direct reference but all of that imagined drawing is informed by previous observation.  I consider myself to be a narrative illustrator and I will do whatever I need to tell the story well.

2.Tell me if observational drawing is essential to your practice and if  you draw from life regularly.
2.  Observation is the basis of all figurative or representational drawing.  It is arguably also the basis of all abstract drawing depending on how you define observation; however, the discipline of consciously studying a particular subject through close observation is not something you have to do to be able to draw.  I consider it important and believe it to be one of the best ways of learning and developing in drawing.  I go out and draw from life about three times a week most weeks.  If I am in the development phase of a project I do it a lot more.  If I am in the final stages of artwork I will probably do it a bit less.

3. Does drawing from life feed your imagination? If so, in which way?
3.  I believe that imagination is not a process of creating from nothing but rather a collaging or recombining of elements from the world.  As such, observational drawing can be a great way of learning and exploring new combinations and adding new fuel to fire your imagination.  I like to add imaginative elements to my direct observation by adjusting scales, compositions, anatomies etc whilst keeping all of the drawing entirely from the forms in front of me.  That is to say drawing only what you see but changing where it occurs on the page in relation to other elements.
4.How do you create your characters? Does Observational drawing help you creating your own characters?

4.  I don't have a system for creating characters and it will vary from project to project but as a general thing I tend to go to an inspiring place, a museum or farm or zoo or somesuch and draw the things that remind me of the character as I felt them when roleplaying the story in my head.  Then I will go away and see if that can be sustained through repeated drawing without reference...

Student questionnaires for the MA dissertation.  link to audio files


  1. Hi Alexis,
    Our wonderful Year 6 students have done a novel study on your beautiful Beegu and would really love to share our final outcomes with you - is there any way that we could get in touch or send you a link to our educreations?!
    Thank you, for both your wonderful story and any possible contact,
    All the children and teachers in Year 6
    Catherine Junior School,

  2. Hey Alex,

    Your work is absolutely amazing ! Is there any way I can get in contact with you to discuss some charity work I would love for you to help out with ?

  3. I am an elementary school librarian in the US. I brought Beegu home to read this weekend. I am so glad I did! What a beautiful book that brought about so much emotion in me as I read through it. I am looking forward to sharing it with some of my classes as a lesson in kindness and acceptance.