Describe your new book.
My first book, Uneversaurus, is about dinosaurs and it is written like a story. It tells the tale of how we know what dinosaurs looked like. Like all good stories there is a mystery, there are some things we don't know, and some things we will never know. Dinosaur skin colour has vanished which means we have to be creative and guess what colour it was. The book looks at some of the wonderful colour in nature and invites children to complete the picture we have of dinosaurs by doing some colouring in. I hope this new approach to a non-fiction book will inspire children to look again at those long lost creatures, to discover how we have recreated them and then choose their own colours for dinosaurs. I want them to know that whatever colours they choose, no one can say they are wrong because the colour of dinosaurs has gone.
What is your favorite family story?
I'm quite good at throwing things so when we go to funfairs my boys always ask me to have a go. On Bonfire Night (5th November) last year, we went to a stand where you had to knock over 8 cans with 5 balls. The cans looked dented and light but they were actually heavy and the dents were not made by the balls, which were soft and didn't weigh much. The public around the stand were unhappy because no one had won anything, it all seemed very unfair. I threw as hard as I could and knocked all the cans over with only 3 balls! The man running the stand came across and scowled at us but we had won a life size tiger and everyone enjoyed watching him hand it to us. We got a lot of smiles as we walked home taking it in turns to balance the tiger on our heads. When my smallest son Arthur carried it you could
hardly see him and it looked as if the tiger was wandering around, a little unsteadily, on its own. The tiger lives at the foot of my son's bed and is called Rocket because bonfire night always has lots of fireworks.
What fictional character would you like to be your friend, and why?
I'd like to be friends with a fictional magician, someone like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. I'd probably be bothering him every day for wild new potions and special powers like eagle eyesight or swallow's wings. Together we could organise some great parties for all our friends. I'd also like to hang out with Fred and George Weasley for similar reasons.
If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
I'd like to live in the film Time Bandits so I could travel throughout history using the map which shows the doorways in time. I'd start with a trip to visit the first humans who painted in caves.
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
A picture book I would recommend is the amazingly beautiful Sadie the Air Mail Pilot by Kellie Strom. Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the U.S.) was so good it made me wish I was young again so I could really live in the book the way children do. I have recently enjoyed reading William Nicholson's Firesong trilogy and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
The best school teacher I had was called Bernard Green; he taught art at the boarding school I went to. He gave me the keys to the art department so I had access to all the paper, pencils, paints, and clay I needed. I could go there anytime to draw and paint whenever I wanted, which was all day every weekend. I owe him a great deal for his trust in me.
Do you read the Sunday funnies, and which are your favorites?
I read lots and lots of comic strips but mainly in book compilations. Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, Calvin and Hobbes, and anything by Matt Groening are top of my list. I read a lot of French comic strips particularly anything by the author/illustrators Franquin, Goossens, Bretecher. A very funny and whimsical cartoonist is the Australian Michael Leuning.
What was your favorite story as a child?
My favourite story from when I was a child was Rupert the Bear. It was a very English series of books with wonderful rhymes and a comic strip format. Rupert lived in Nutwood and it looked like the fields, woods, and streets where I grew up. I loved the fact that Rupert could wander off into his surroundings and bump into a Chinese magician, a mad inventor, an angry creature made of roots, or Father Christmas and
his helpers. It was an amazing mix of ordinary life (I must get home for supper) and the extraordinary (just pop this seaweed and you could meet Neptune).
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
One of my earliest memories is waking up on my birthday in Nigeria and opening my first present. It was the Tintin adventure Red Rackham's Treasure. I still vividly remember the sheer pleasure of lying in bed staring at the cover for ages, marvelling at the shark submarine. Ever since then I've wanted to draw and write, to recreate that feeling for myself and others. I knew when I grew up that's what I wanted to do and that nothing could stop me.
If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why?
I would love to work on a children's book with Bill Bryson, or any of the great scientific writers like Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Steven Mithen... (and many, many more). Non-fiction often has the best stories because they are true.