Tell us what you have planned for Cheltenham Literature Festival.
In the morning I am going to be painting a mural in the make and take tent, based on my latest book, A Busy Day For Birds. It will be fun to paint on such a large scale for a change, and children will be able to join in and help me paint some beautiful birds.
Then, in the afternoon, I will be drawing live on stage while the wonderful storyteller, Liz Frost, reads A Busy Day For Birds and entertains children in a bird-themed event. There will be lots of noise and fun and imaginative play, as well as seeing how I draw the characters in my book.
Are you a regular visitor to Cheltenham?
I have been a few times. I love the energy and enthusiasm at Cheltenham, but the more festival events I go to, the less time I have to work on creating picture books, so I don’t make frequent appearances.
Do you ever get nervous speaking to a group of children?
Yes, I do, but I also love it. I really want the children to have a wonderful time, so I guess that I put a lot of pressure on myself.
Maisy is 25 years old. Did you ever imagine you would still be writing about her after all this time?
Not really. I can’t quite believe my luck! I used to read Maisy books to my four children, (who were like a little market research team), and now they are grown up, and I am reading Maisy books with my grandson! I am so happy and amazed that a second generation of Maisy readers is coming up. If someone had told me when I first had the idea for Maisy as an art student, that she would continue to be popular in 2017, I would have been truly astonished, and completely delighted.
How do you find the inspiration for new stories for the character?
At the moment, I get inspired by Gabriel, my grandson. I spend a lot of time with him, playing, reading and just observing his daily routine, what interests him or makes him laugh. I sometimes worry that I won’t be able to think of new ideas, but then an idea always comes along in the end.
What do you think the appeal of Maisy is to young readers?
I would hope that children like Maisy because she is a cheerful, fun loving mouse. Her world is happy, safe and colourful. Children can relate to her because she does similar things to them, from ordinary daily routines, to exciting events. Maisy is learning about the world in a similar way to them, about colours and numbers, being creative and having friends.
I hope that Maisy is a warm and reassuring character. I just had a letter from a mum saying how her daughter was nervous about starting nursery school, but after reading Maisy Goes To Nursery, she was more relaxed, even a bit excited. I was so pleased.
Where did you get the idea for A Busy Day For Birds from?
I am a big bird fan! I love watching them in my garden, looking at pictures and watching programmes about them. For a few months, I just wanted to paint birds. There is such a huge variety of colours, shapes and sizes, different beaks, legs, feathers.
Then when I had a huge pile of bird paintings, I started to think about all the things birds do, singing, flying, pecking and so on, and thought it would be great to create a book that could spark a child’s imagination to be a bird, to leap off the sofa and start flying and scratching and singing.
What do you have planned next?
I have a new book coming out next year, called Splish, Splash, Ducky, about a happy duckling who loves to play with his friends in his pond and in the rain. It’s a simple rhyming book, which I was inspired to write during the spring time, when flowers and animals seemed to be bursting with the joys of life. Right now, I’m trying to come up with a new idea for my next book. I have a couple of ideas brewing, but nothing definite yet.
Why do you enjoy writing for younger readers so much?
I really enjoy the company of very young children. They are so imaginative, funny, sweet and clever. They experience the world with such fresh, open, curious minds, and have a huge capacity to have fun and laugh. Children of this age can respond so positively and gain so much from books, so I can’t think of any job I’d rather do than mine.
What books do you enjoy sharing with your grandson?
It’s been wonderful to get all the children’s books out of the cupboard for Gabriel. Many books are even more enjoyable for me now, as they bring back memories of reading them with my own children, or even, memories of looking at them as a child myself with my parents, like Babar the Elephant.
There are the old favourites, like The Tiger Who Came To Tea and Hairy Maclary, and more recent books, in particular we both love books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. They are such a brilliant team, the writing is wonderful and the illustrations are so sweet and full of humour. Gabriel loves books that he can get involved with, opening flaps, singing, pressing buttons, and then when he’s tired we like to read Goodnight Moon.