We quiz Claude In The City creator Alex T Smith
Alex T Smith spills on the beans on his own mischievous hounds, his signature style and his clumsy tendencies...
Can you summarise the plot of Claude In The City in ten words?
A little dog visits the city and foils a robbery!
Are you a dog-owner yourself?
Yes, I have four dogs. Although they are so small they only make up the size of one big dog. I have two Chihuahuas, Billy Bongo and Benji Boy, a 14-year-old (slightly grumpy) Yorkshire terrier called Lucy Locket and... well we have a Bella Boo! She's supposed to be a Yorkshire terrier/Chihuahua cross, there might be a bit of Jack Russell in there. She’s like a large chihuahua with big, blinky doe eyes!
Do they have secret lives? What do you think they get up to when you’re not looking?
They get up to quite a lot when I AM looking! They are all quite naughty. I’m sure they have secret lives. I think the Chihuahua boys are probably secret agents in training (they both have James Bond style bowties they wear for special occasions). I think Bella Boo is secretly an artist as every time I turn my back she steals something from my desk or waste paper basket and rips it to shreds and arranges it in her bed like it’s a collage. And I think Lucy Locket was once a very famous film star but is now in retirement!
Characters in the book seem to have descriptive/straightforward names e.g. Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes. If you had such a name, what would it be?
That's a great question... I suppose in some ways I am Mr. Shineyshoes, as I do actually have shoes very similar to the ones he wears in the book ( and they are very shiny!). But I think my wife would say that my name should be Mr. Clumsy or Mr. Tripsovereverything as I seem to have a knack of breaking things and/ or falling over. A lot!
Claude has a trademark beret. What’s your signature item of clothing?
I do wear quite striking glasses a lot of the time – they are a bit Buddy Holly meets Eric Morecombe – so maybe they would be my signature item, although I do love a long-sleeved striped top...
In the book, Claude is mistaken for a doctor. Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else? Any funny consequences?
When I started visiting schools I was regularly mistaken for a work experience boy and the teachers talked to me about what jobs I would be doing that day not realising that I was there to draw pictures! I must look quite a bit older now as that hasn't happened for a while. Although in the last school I went into some of the children thought I was their teacher’s husband which was a strange thing to think as we didn't have the same name and she was a ‘Miss’!
Who has encouraged you to develop your talents?
Lots of people. My family - my mother used to draw for me all the time when I was little and my father read me stories. Later on, when I was at university, he became a highly skilled ( and very useful) dummy book maker as I hated doing it. I’m incapable of cutting anything in a straight line and quite messy when glue is involved. My granddad was a writer and wrote me a story every school day for several years when I was a little boy. That was very inspiring. I have two nephews and a niece who are great critics and tell me exactly what's good about my stories and pictures – and what is not quite right! Also my wife is good. She’s got a good eye for things, so if I'm struggling with a picture she usually glances at it and knows just what is wrong.
I was also very lucky to have some brilliant art teachers at school who were interested and eager to help me and were very supportive of my work ( they still are actually!).
What tips do you have for budding authors/illustrators?
If you want to be an illustrator you just have to draw and draw and draw and not worry about what people think about your pictures. I don't think there is ever a right or a wrong way to draw - you just need to find your own way and go for it. If you don't like your own work, no one else will. The same goes with being an author. You must keep writing and never dismiss any idea because you don't think people with like it or get it, someone will. I keep a sketchbook and am constantly doodling ideas for pictures and scribbling story plans. Also keep an ear out for funny or interesting things people say – you never know when they might come in useful!
Who are your favourite illustrators?
I have lots and lots. I really love the Eloise books, illustrated beautifully by Hilary Knight. The characters are so well drawn and funny – not to mention stylish. I also like Mary Blair, who worked at Disney in the Forties and Fifties. Her work is full of pattern and style. Other favourites would be E H Shephard, Janet Ahlberg, Sempe, Edward Gorey and Helen Oxenbury as well as contemporary artists such as Natalie Russell, Sara Ogilvie, Julie Monks and Leigh Hodgkinson.
How would you describe your style?
Well I'm influenced a lot by the Fifties so I think my work is a bit retro and I hope it's stylish. I really enjoy working out what all the characters will wear and what the world they live in looks like. I think this comes from my interest in costume and set design in films. I also hope my work is funny. I like drawing funny things which I think is why I enjoy working on Claude so much.
Alex T Smiths' Claude In The City was Highly Commended in our Junior Design Awards category for Most Promising New Talent
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