Dear Jez
Q & A for Kids




Where were you born?

Are you an old man?

What do you like doing when you don’t write books?

Are you a famous author or just an author?

When do you think you will quit?





Who is your illustrator or are you both?

How can you be an author and illustrator at the same time?

Isn’t it hard doing them by yourself?

What was your first book?

Are you busy all day?

What is your best book by you?

Did you tell the publishers what price you wanted?





Rhyming is so so good. How hard is it? How do you do it?

Where did you get the rhyming words from?

How many days does it take to write one book, huh?

How many languages are your books published in?





Are you really artistic at drawing or not so good?

How did you do the pictures?

Why do you do pictures that give so much information?





When you write a book what do you feel like?

Do you do the words first before the pictures?

Do you care about your story?

Who told you you could write stories?

Were you supposed to write books or not?

Where do you get all these amazing ideas from?

Why are your stories funny?





How do you write a picture book?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What's the best thing about your job?

Where do you write the books?

Would you have liked your books when you were a child?

What books did you like when you were young?





Where were you born?

I was born in a town called Kingston-upon-Thames, which is south west of London in England. The only interesting thing I can tell you about Kingston is to do with horse's legs! In the nineteenth century artists used to paint horses running with two legs stretched forward and two back.


When photography was invented a man called Edward Muybridge took lots of photographs of horses running and he found that the painters had got it all wrong. Horses gallop with only one leg back and one forward at any time (the other two legs are somewhere in between). This changed the way that horses were painted for ever.


Have you ever tried painting a horse? If Mr Muybridge hadn't been born you could still cheat and paint two legs forward and two legs back. It's a lot easier that way. If I hadn't been born you'd have never known that some bears have teddies or that some ducks drive trucks! Now you know why Kingston is an important town. Back to Questions



Are you an old man?

When I was your age I thought that someone as old as I am now, (late 40s), was ancient. So if you are anything like I was, you would probably think that I am an old man.


However as you grow up you will find that your idea of what 'old' means can change. These days I think that you have to be at least eighty to be thought of as old. But then some people live to be over 110 years old. To them eighty must seem quite young! If I really was an old man writing children's books (let's say over 100) I would have to be an old man that doesn't think like an old man. Because to write for children you have to be able to think the way that children think. You have to be able to think 'young people thoughts' which are usually much lighter, more happy and true than 'old people thoughts'.


And if now you're thinking a 'young person thought ' like: 'He's saying all this but he's not answering the question' then I suppose I'd better tell you that I was born in 1959 and let you work out exactly how old I am and decide if, to you, I am an old man or not. Back to Questions



What do you like doing when you don't write books? (Mohammad)

I like playing guitar and writing songs, going to the movies, reading books, and watching my favourite T.V programmes. But not all at the same time! Back to Questions



Are you a famous author or just an author? (Rabin)

I'm not really famous - I am just an author, but I'm famous enough to get a letter from children like you and that suits me just fine. Back to Questions



When do you think you'll quit? (Shikhar)

When my notebooks are all used up and new ideas don't come anymore. Then I'll find something else to do. Back to Questions





Who is your illustrator or are you both? (Shikhar)

I am both. Back to Questions



How can you be an author and illustrator at the same time? (Pierre)

The best way for me to explain is to say that there are two parts to me - the author and the illustrator. The author has lots of ideas; he likes words, stories and jokes. The illustrator likes pens and paints, images and colours.


I don't know why I have two parts to me like this but I am glad that I have. It means that I can create the whole of a book myself instead of just one half of it. Back to Questions



Isn't it hard doing them all by yourself? (Rahul)

I don't do them all by myself because I have the help of someone called an 'editor' who works for the publisher. An editor will check at every stage of the book's production that everything is going well, that nothing has been left out, that all the words and pictures are as good as they possibly can be. Back to Questions



What was your first book? (Subod)

My first book was called 'Bare Bear'. It was about a polar bear whose fur is actually a fur coat which can be taken off, just like his furry boots and gloves.


I'm often asked where I get my ideas from - this one came when I was having a bath. There I was, relaxing in the bubbles when suddenly this rhyme popped into my head:

          'To keep warm in the Arctic air

          a polar bear wears polar wear'

I thought that if I waited until after the bath I might forget this rhyme so I jumped out and, dripping water everywhere, scribbled it down on a note pad. Over the next few days more rhymes appeared until I realised that, together, they added up to a children's book.


I showed it to a publisher (the company that helps turn your words and drawings into a finished book) and thankfully they agreed. In 1984 Bare Bear was published. (It was runner up for the 'Mother Goose Award' which goes to someone's first ever published story).


Bare Bear taught me to always have a notepad on me just in case an idea for a book turned up. They remind me of the exercise books I used to write stories in at school. Back to Questions



Are you busy all day? (Mohammad)

All day except the evenings. This is how it is when you are grown up and have a job. Does it sound horrible to be working so much? Well it doesn't have to be. If you have a job that you love doing, then working is just as enjoyable as playing, just in a different way.


(There is one bit I don't enjoy and that's when the publisher tells me I have to finish the pictures by a certain time. I don't like to be hurried). Back to Questions



What is your best book by you? (Subod)

If you mean which is my favourite then I would say it is whichever book I am working on at the moment. So at one point or another they have all had their turn of being my favourite.


I don't have any overall favourites; I like them all as much as each other. I'm sure you have a favourite though.


Which do you think is my best book and what in particular makes you like it more than the others? Back to Questions



Did you tell the publishers what price you wanted? (Alex)

No, they told me what price to charge for the book. Most picture books are around the same price. Someone has asked me how long it takes to write a book. Now you know, do you think it is too much or too little? Back to Questions





Rhyming is so, so good. How hard is it? How do you do it? (Isabella)

I think rhyming is good too, that's why I often use it in my books. It's not really that hard when you get the hang of it. You can start by looking at one of my books and picking out the words that rhyme. For example, look at Balloon. It starts:

          Billy saw it, Mummy bought it

          Man threw it, Billy caught it.

Did you spot the rhyme? See if you can get all the rhymes right to the end of the book. Just let your ear listen for words that sound the same even though they begin with different letters.


The rhyming words are at the end of the sentence but sometimes you will find a third word in the middle of the sentence which rhymes too. Can you find the group of three rhyming words in Balloon?


Once you have a feel for what a rhyming word is it’s easy to do. In fact it's so easy that sometimes you do it when you're not even trying. Did you spot the rhyme in the last paragraph?


Finally in our lesson on rhyme, did you know there is such a thing as a 'half rhyme’? It's called a half rhyme because it's not a full rhyme. It doesn't sound exactly the same as the other word but it's so close that we often don't notice. There is a half rhyme in Balloon - can you find it? Back to Questions



Where did you get the rhyming words? (Grace)

I get most of them from my head. Most of them are in there- you just have to know how to find them. I'll share with you a trick I use which helps me: Get a piece of paper and write down every letter of the alphabet. Take the word you want to find rhymes for (how about CAT) and take away the first letter (Leaving AT). Now run through each letter of the alphabet putting it in place of the C. By the time you've got to B you've already found another rhyme. How many more are there?


If I don't find the rhyme I want using this method I use a 'rhyming dictionary'. It's like a normal dictionary but instead of looking up the meaning of a word - you look up other words that rhyme with that word. Isn't it fantastic that someone has bothered to do that? It must have taken them ages. Back to Questions



How many days does it take to write one book, huh? (Shikhar)

When you do something with great care it can take a lot of time. Some people are surprised how long it takes me to make a book. Including words and pictures from the first idea to the finished artwork it is usually about 7-9 months (between 210 and 270 days).


I spend a lot of that time working on the black and white roughs in the early stages. This is a very important time because you are laying the foundation for the whole book. Each decision that you make is very important and can't be rushed.


For example if I move an eyebrow by just a millimetre it changes the expression on a face. A different expression gives a different message about what the character is feeling and that can alter the meaning of the story. You don't want a character looking sad when in the story it is clear that he should be just looking shy.


I know that once I have handed my artwork in to the publisher to get it printed I won't get another chance to change it. I always think its funny that it takes me nine months to create a book and only five minutes for someone to read it. It doesn't matter because if you have taken the time to put the care and detail in there - people can read them over and over again.


Some things, like computer games, are meant to be fast. Other things, like growing up, you shouldn't rush it. You should enjoy every moment of this! Back to Questions



How many languages are your books published in? (Alexander)

So far it’s about ten. It's fun seeing your book in different languages. Look at all the different words for my book HUG. Kram (Swedish) Knuffel (Dutch) Mau (Spanish) Calin (French) Schmusen (German) Coccole (Italian). I can't even write the Japanese or Korean titles. Back to Questions





Are you really artistic at drawing or not so good? (Akash)

If you like my drawing then you could say I am good at drawing because at least you like it. But maybe not everyone likes it.


There are many types of drawing and just as some people like one pop group and not another, so people prefer one style of art to another. It’s good that we are all different and have different tastes. Can you imagine if the only ice cream you could get was Vanilla!


In the end I do drawings that I like and if other people find them tasty - that's fantastic. Back to Questions



How did you do the pictures? (Thomas)

I depends which pictures you are talking about. If you lay some of my books out you can see that in different books I sometimes use different styles. How many different styles can you see? Which books share the same style?


Different styles often use different materials. For example in the Bear books I use watercolour paints and a crayon line. In the Duck books I use an ink line from a fountain pen and markers for the colouring in.


Some people say that whatever style I use in a book you can always tell it was done by me. Do you agree? Back to Questions



Why do you do pictures that give so much information? (Luke)

Picture books are made up of two parts: the words and the pictures. They are both used to tell the story - to give information about the characters and what is happening to them.


Some of this information is best said in words - either in what a character is saying or what the narrator tells us. (The narrator is the voice which is telling the story). Some of the information is best said in pictures. For an example have a look at the page in Fix-It Duck where Sheep's caravan unhooks from Duck's truck. The words tell us:

     'It unhooks from the truck and rolls on straight ahead'

but the picture gives us a lot of other information. You could make a list of all the other things it is telling you.


If you think that most of the page of a picture book is taken up by the picture - then you'll know why a lot of the information needs to be in the illustration. Back to Questions





When you write a book what does it feel like? (Robyn)

This is a very good question and like most good questions it is rather difficult to answer. I will try to answer though, because sometimes when you have a go at doing difficult things - that's when you learn the most.


Writing a book feels like... having a river in my head which I can dive into. When I dive in - it is exciting, refreshing and a little scary because I have no clue where it will take me. Some times it takes me nowhere in particular but I don't mind because I've still enjoyed the ride. Back to Questions



Do you do the words first before the pictures? (Stacey)

When I am working out a new book - the words come at the same time as the drawings. When the author part of me thinks of the character and some words to be said the illustrator part sees what the character looks like and sketches the character saying those words. But these are not the final pictures; they are just rough ideas of what the final picture will look like.


It's only when I'm sure that all the words are in the right order and all the characters are in the right place that the illustrator part takes over and comes up with the finished illustrations.


So the words come at the same time as the rough pictures but not at the same time as the finished ones. Back to Questions



Do you care about your story or other stories? (Akash)

If you do something and you don't really care about it then you'll never do it very well. Say for example your Mum tells you to tidy your room, when you'd much rather be watching T.V. Do you think the room will end up very neat and tidy? Perhaps you'd throw a few things out of sight under the bed to give the impression it was tidy and leave it at that. Most likely you wouldn't do a very good job at all.


On the other hand if you think of something which you love to do, which you care about - maybe it's building models, using your computer or skateboarding - then you don't mind taking a lot of time and care doing it because it means a lot to you.


This is how it is with me and my stories. I care about them very much and because of that I put a lot of care into them (see the next question).


When you put lots of care into something it gives that something a certain 'specialness'. People can feel the care you have put into it, they can feel its 'specialness' and this can make them feel good. You must find out what you care about. Let's fill the world with special things. Back to Questions



Who told you you could write stories? (from Subod)

When I was your age I used to love the exercise books at school which had one blank page opposite every lined page. This was like an invitation to me to write a story on the lined page and draw the illustrations for it on the blank page. Nobody told me I could write the stories that I came up with - I just knew that I could.


I'll to let you into a secret. When people get older, sometimes they forget that they 'know' how to do things. So instead of writing a story that's in their head, singing a song that's in their throat or doing a dance that's in their body they have a thought which only grown ups have which says 'I can't do this'. And so they don't.


Young people like you are much more sensible. They know that they can do just about anything they really want to do. I'm sure there are many wonderful things which you know that you can do. Don't believe anyone who tells you that you can't do them. Back to Questions



Were you supposed to write books or not? (Akash)

As a young boy I used to spend hours and hours lying on my belly drawing and writing in sketch books. When I saw that my family, friends and classmates liked my stories and pictures I began to realise that I had a talent to draw and write. Because that talent was there - I think I was supposed to use it. Otherwise, what is the point of it being there?


I think that everyone has things which they can do really well.


If you think about the children in your class you could probably come up with at least one special talent which each of them has. (If you can't, it means that either they haven’t shown it to you or they haven’t found out what it is yet.)


When you find out what your talent is, you will realise that not only are you good at it but, because you are different to everyone else, you can do it in a way that no one else can do it. You can do it in your way. And that makes your way special.


Do you know what your special talent is? Back to Questions



Where do you get all these amazing ideas from? I mean because they are unthinkable. (Shikhar)

My ideas aren't really unthinkable because, once upon a time, I thought them! But some of them are quite strange if that's what you mean. Whoever heard of a Duck driving a truck or a bear with his own teddy?


But where do they come from? I can tell you where I was when I had some of these ideas (like in the bath for my first book) but that's not what you mean is it?


I can tell you how I found some of the ideas. For example Duck in the Truck came from me listing all the words that rhyme with Duck. But as for where do I get the ideas, that's a tough question. I think they must come from somewhere in my head.


The real answer is that I don't know, but I'm glad that I do get them because ideas are fantastic things. Can you imagine a world without ideas? It would be unthinkable! Back to Questions



Why are your stories funny? (Amodh)

Because I like things which are funny and it makes the stories much more fun to read. When I was younger I loved watching two comedy actors called Laurel and Hardy who were in films made before they had sound - called 'silent films'. Because there was no sound their jokes couldn't come from the things they said; instead they came from the things that they did. They used their bodies and expressions to make us laugh.


A very simple example of this would be if Hardy was going to sit on a chair, without him knowing Laurel would move the chair. It's funny when he falls down on his bum because we knew this was going to happen but Hardy didn't. (Please don't try this, you could hurt someone!) This sort of physical comedy is called 'Slapstick ' and I use it a lot in my books.


For an example look at the page in It's the Bear where the Bear stands behind Eddy's Mum and Eddy shouts 'It's behind you'. Eddy can see the Bear, we can see the Bear but Eddy's Mum can't. So when she says 'There isn't a bear' and we all know that there is - it's funny. And it's even more funny when she turns round and finally finds out that she was wrong.


When I designed this picture I made sure that Bear was as big as I could make him on the page so that when Mum says 'There isn't a bear '- it's even funnier.


Can you find other examples of these sort of jokes in my books? (Here's a clue - Fix it Duck is full of them).


When you are a writer you have to be able to write funny things but also know why they're funny. What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you? Do you know why it was funny? Back to Questions






How do you write a picture book?

With Hug, as with all my books, the process is totally organic. I may draw a picture and write what the character is saying underneath. Or I may have a great line and I have to start drawing to find the right character to say it. After that it's a process of expanding outwards- seeing where the story wants to go. You have to be willing to try anything. When you've got it right- something inside tells you you’ve got it. Back to Questions



What did you want to be when you grew up?

Since childhood I have always know I wanted to be an 'artist’. What form that was to take was totally open. I just knew that I wanted to paint, draw and write. Children's books must be the only job where you can do all these things. Perfect. Back to Questions



What's the best thing about your job?

The best bit is when a new idea is starting to take shape and you realise that it is no longer just an idea- it is going to be a book one day. I also love doing the actual artwork. The worst bit is... working under a deadline. Art and deadlines do not go together. Because art comes from the timeless. Back to Questions



Where do you write the books?

I work in a studio at the top of my house. It takes me ten seconds to commute to work (depending on traffic on the stairs). Although I work through the day I sometimes find that an evening session is the best time. When everyone else has stopped work I may be beavering away in my own world. Back to Questions



Would you have liked your books when you were a child?

Yes I would have. When I write them I am writing for how I was when I was five or six. He is the best judge of what I am doing. If he doesn't laugh, or get touched by it - it won't get into a book. Back to Questions



What books did you like when you were young?

As a child (and now) I loved the poems of A.A. Milne. (The man who created Winnie the Pooh) I remember reading 'Wheezles and Sneezles' for the first time and thinking - this is brilliant. I love the way he used words. When I think about how I use rhythm and rhyme it makes sense to me now. He was like a beacon shining the light on my path. Back to Questions



With thanks to the children of: S.C.S . H.Q Brunei Garrison, Seria and
Deneholm School, Grays, Essex for the questions used here.

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