INSIGHT Lauren Child – from lampshades to laureate

Children's Laureate Lauren Child is best known as author and illustrator of the inimitable Charlie and Lola series, Clarice Bean books, and the Ruby Redford series for older readers. SCBWI's Kate Walker met with her at Chiddingstone Literary Festival 2018 to ask some key questions about her work.

Who or what inspired you to write and illustrate for children?

Nobody inspired me really. I fell into writing and illustrating for children by accident. Although I had always had an interest in illustration, I really wanted to write an idea for a film and I wrote Clarice Bean That’s Me and it seemed to work as a book.

You once made lampshades for a living. Did this inspire you to incorporate fabrics and collage into your illustrations?

Yes, it did. I’ve loved working in collage since I was a child, but I think it meant that I had lots of scraps available to me. Sometimes it’s about using what you see around you.

Do your ideas blossom from the words or pictures first?

It’s everything really. I see in pictures in my head but I need the words as well. As I’m writing I see the pictures but I’m not necessarily drawing at the same time. I think it all comes at once.

Lauren Child (right) with Kate Walker at Chiddingstone Literary Festival 2018

Clarice Bean, Ruby Redfort and Lola are strong females. Which women have inspired you?

There are lots. Nancy Mitford, Norah Ephron, Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking are some of them.

You have a distinctive style. Were you ever afraid to break the publishing norms when you first started making books?

Well no. You have to come up with your own thing, but it doesn’t mean they are going to like it, so you have to be prepared for them not to like it and I think what finally worked for me was just waiting till they were ready.

Which authors and illustrators captured your imagination as a child? 

John Burningham, Quentin Blake, Florence Parry-Heide, Betsy Byers, Nina Bawden, Astrid Lindgren.

Are your books initially inspired by plot or character?


Do you write for a past you or for a future reader? 

I write for me as me, not for past me or a future reader.

You illustrated Pippi Longstocking. How different was that process from writing and illustrating your own books?

It’s daunting because people have their own version of Pippi, both in their heads and in previous illustrated books, as it’s been illustrated many times. But it felt natural. Because I’d read it so many times as a child I knew it inside out, so I had my own take on it.

How did it feel to have your words illustrated by someone else for Maude the Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton?

I loved it. It was really exciting to see how someone else would interpret something you’d written and do it so brilliantly.

Which is your favourite age group to create books for?

They are all so interesting that I can’t think of a favourite.

Are you a plotter or a do you see where your ideas take you?

I have a basic idea of a plot but I do a bit of both and jump around the different scenarios and then pull them together.

How many drafts do you create per book on average?

For Ruby, maybe 30 drafts. It’s because I don’t work in complete drafts. I write pieces so it’s not like a traditional draft. I write in a very unusual way, I think.

What do you want to achieve the most in your role as Children’s Laureate?

I’d like to focus on creativity and the importance of children being able to discover their own creative potential. It’s vital for all of us to be able to create and to explore our world in different ways. I’m trying to talk about that when I can.

If you could go back in time to speak to yourself at the start of your publishing career what advice would you give yourself? 

I did work very hard, in the beginning anyway. I think I really grabbed the opportunity in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have done if I’d been published ten years earlier or even five years earlier. I would say that things change and the publishing industry has got more difficult. I grabbed all the opportunities I could.

Feature image: In 2000 Lauren Child introduced Charlie and Lola in I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato 


Kate Walker is a feature writer for Words & Pictures. She writes MG fantasy as well as dabbling in picture books whenever a character grabs her imagination. Kate lives in Kent with her two children who are addicted to stories just as much as she is.
Twitter: @KatakusM


Carry de la Harpe is features editor for Words & Pictures
Twitter: @Carry_delaHarpe

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