Jonny Duddle: I ran away to sea

Our merry band of young writers, The Scribblers, posed some particularly brilliant questions to some of the artists appearing at Hay this year.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you their answers. A big ‘Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of pop’ to JONNY DUDDLE.

Describe your latest book in 5 words.

 Pirates move in next door!

If you had to pick one of your characters to spend the day with, which one would you choose?

 I think I’d spend the day with the pirate Dad. He likes fixing ships, and I like fixing old cars (especially old cars which are half made of wood). And I once lived on a ship for a year. When I finished college and couldn’t earn enough money illustrating, I ran away to sea. It was a big square-rigged ship, and we sailed it around the UK, dressed up in costume and showed schools and the general public what it was like to live on an old ship. I really enjoyed doing the maintenance work, painting, polishing, fixing sails, learning knots and climbing up and down the rigging. The pirate Dad spends most of his time doing fixing the ship in The Pirates Next Door, so I think I’d like to give him a hand. Some might say that he’s not dissimilar to me, and the the rest of the Jolley-Rogers bear uncanny resemblances to other members of my family. I’m not sure what they mean, but that’s what I heard….

Which writer, dead or alive, you would like to collaborate with?

 I’ve been reading all of Roald Dahl’s books with my daughter at bedtime. We’ve nearly run out of books to read, so it would be great to illustrate a new, undiscovered Roald Dahl book. His stories are so inventive and each one is very different. The two big problems are that Roald Dahl is unfortunately no longer with us, and Quentin Blake did such a brilliant job of illustrating his books already. I’m sure if Roald Dahl was still alive, he’d be sticking with Quentin Blake.

There are other classic books I loved as a child that I wish I could’ve illustrated, such as The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (which has lovely illustrations by E.H.Shepard), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (which was originally illustrated by John Tenniel in the 1860’s, but then Arthur Rackham did the most amazing illustrations for the same story forty years later) and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.

As an illustrator, I’ve worked with quite a few authors on book covers and interior illustrations for chapter books, and I’ve designed characters for games and films in great big teams, but I Iike developing picture books all by myself. I haven’t illustrated a picture book for anyone else yet, because it’s my opportunity to write. It’s my opportunity to get my own stories published. I’ll collaborate with somebody one day on a picture book, but I’ve still got lots of my own stories and each book takes ages, because I keep making the illustrations so big and complicated. I think because I aspired to write and illustrate my own books, most of my favourite authors, also illustrate their own books, so it’s difficult to think of someone I’d want to collaborate with, more than I would want to do a book all by myself. But I’m sure I could be tempted. My daughter’s favourite author, Julia Donaldson, perhaps…..

What’s the best thing about writing?

I’ve been writing stories since I was tiny, and most children I know do the same. Writing is all about having ideas and scribbling them down. It’s about making notes, re-writing those notes, re-writing them again, and sometimes again, and (in my case) doodling alongside those notes, until they become a story.

The best thing about writing, is that I can make ‘something’ of all the ideas and stories that fill my sketchbooks, and lie about my studio on scraps of paper. Most of my stories start out as drawings. ‘The Pirates Next Door’ was inspired by the name of my Art Director at Templar, Mike Jolley. On the train back from a visit to their office, I did a very scribbly drawing in my sketchbook of a pirate ship parked on the drive of a normal looking house, with a rowing boat and a treasure chest on the lawn, and a flag sticking out of the roof tiles. I thought if a ‘Jolley’ and a ‘Rogers’ got married, they could double-barrel their name into the Jolley-Rogers, which would be the perfect name for a pirate family. So from some scribbles in a sketchbook and a name, I showed my ideas to Templar. They liked it, and a year or so later, after lots of writing, phone conversations, a couple of meetings, a bunch of drawings and lots of colouring-in, we had a finished book. It’s so exciting to get a package in the post and pick up your own book for the first time. If I had never showed my ideas to anyone, they’d still be on scraps of paper dotted about my studio. But instead there’s a real book, with my story and illustrations and, rather bizarrely, there are people who read my stories to their children at bedtime.

Like my two year old daughter says: “Daddy’s job is colouring-in and writing stories.” To be able to make a living from scribbling and doodling is the best thing ever.

What’s your top tip for budding young writers?

Keep a notebook. If you like drawing too, you could call it a sketchbook, but it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is writing down your ideas when you have them. Five minutes later you might have forgotten them. I have my best ideas when I have space to think. Sometimes it’s when I’m sat in the garden listening to the birds, or when I’m lying in bed when I’ve just woken up, or I’m about to fall asleep. I probably have my best ideas when I’m walking. I like going for walks, especially if I’m having a difficult day with some writing, or an illustration. I don’t always have my sketchbook in my hand, so I’ve started recording ideas onto my phone too.

And show your ideas and stories to other people. They might say something that can make your story better. They might say they don’t like it, but that’s OK too. Ask them why they don’t like it, and if they have a point, maybe you could change it. But if one person doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean nobody will, you might have just asked the wrong person. Some people don’t like my books, but lots of other people do.

Catch Jonny at the festival on Wednesday 6 June, 4pm.

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