Can you tell me about your work?
When I was six years old a teacher asked me what I wanted to be and I said an artist. I was very slow learning to read, I didn't learn to read properly until I was somewhere between nine and eleven. I couldn't pick up the hang of it, couldn't read fluently. Whenever I wrote stories at school they always came back covered in red pen so I thought I couldn't be a writer. I illustrated, mostly books and magazines. I got into children's books by accident and have been there ever since. Recently I've been writing for other people to illustrate and that's such an amazing feeling. James Mayhew is working on one of my books at the moment and having my words taken and pictures put to them by someone else is an incredible feeling.
Is it different to illustrating your own work?
Oh yes. At the moment I'm working backwards on one book, The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, it's based on paintings I've done over 17 years, Christmas cards for a musical charity. I had a great idea that I should put them together and I could write words to go with them. I thought that would be easy, because I always have a narrative in mind when I'm producing the picture, but actually its one of the hardest things I've done.
How do the two roles work together?
It's wonderful to be able to write and illustrate, it's a very different thing to illustrating somebody else's book. If you are working on two together yourself, as the book develops things change, words can change the pictures and pictures can change the words. If you have control over both, it's much more difficult. Sometimes you find that when you put together the illustration you lose words because you don't need them anymore.
Does it affect the descriptive language?
Yes it does. When I go to the publisher I usually just present the text. Obviously I have the images in my head, but for them it's just space. Sometimes they look at the text and say 'I can't see the story' and I say 'the story is in the pictures'. I've been very lucky with the editor I've worked with for 20 years, we have built up a language of trust. If present her with a text like Tell me a Dragon, which many publishers turned down because they said there's no story, she could see the value of it. It's now sold 15,000 copies in the UK alone. It's good when you find an editor who can trust you and your art.
It's national library day; why do you think they are important?
When I was a kid I didn't have books in the house, we used to go to the library. I love having exhibitions in libraries, more people will see your work and it makes it more accessible. Last year I was asked to design 12 library cards and the brief was really open. Three have owls and keys on them because I always think of books and wisdom, so it's like a key to a master treasure house of knowledge. I really believe that libraries changed my life, if I hadn't had the access to books through school library and normal libraries I wouldn't be able to read. Most of my work is informed by reading, even my illustration. I owe a massive debt to libraries. It is wonderful to escape into books and I still do that now. I didn't have any guidance of what to read, that came through schools and libraries. Closing libraries should be a crime.
How did you get to where you are now in your career?
I stayed on at school and did A-levels, I did Art, History and English but I didn't do very well. I knew I wanted to do illustration so when I left Art College I went to Bath Academy to do a degree in it. Then I went to London, toured around magazines and publishers, and knocked on doors, then got work with different magazines. It was difficult because Art was where kids who weren't good at doing anything else were put. People say 'but you are too clever to do art'. But you have to be quite clever to do art really. You can make a living as an artist, but you do have to work hard. As well as being creative, there's an awful lot of business that you have to deal with.
I didn't want to work for someone else, I wanted to paint, just so long as I earn enough money to live on. I did a part-time job while I was building up. Then when I was 27 I got commissioned to do some cards so I quit my part-time job, thinking I'll get another one when I need to and I haven't needed to since.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love putting paint on paper. I've realised it's the act of creating that I enjoy, I love it when I'm doing it. Painting is my favourite, putting colour on paper and making shapes. And I love writing. You know when you are reading you get transported somewhere else and the whole world falls away around you? Writing is like that but ten times more. I love it when you catch a story - no when it catches you - and everything falls away, for a while you are somewhere else. Utter escapism.
What are your plans for the future?
I have five books out this year, two are republished ones that have been out of print so that's really nice. And the Robert Macfarlane book, which is amazing. It's a joy to work with, it's going to be a big book, and I think it's going to change a lot for me.
Want to know more about being an artist? Find out on the arts careers website Creative Choices here