EVENTS An Afternoon with Lauren Child

Last week, SCBWI-BI's Candy Gourlay interviewed Children's Laureate Lauren Child at the Manchester Literature Festival. Gill James reports.

"Can you work out where I got the patterns from?" Lauren Child points to a picture displayed on the large screen. In one we see a tweed jacket, in another a pattern on a pretty dress and curtains.

"You made them up?" says one child.

"You copied them?" suggests another.

"They’re the inside of envelopes," Lauren explains. "Did you know that the insides of envelopes often have patterns on them?"

They do? They do. The talk was on Sunday and it's now Wednesday. Ever since I've been fascinated by my mail – even the junk variety, because I've begun to wonder how Lauren would use the insides of these envelopes in her pictures.

It's amazing what we don't see that is all around us. And that is a big theme for Lauren Child. Each of our children's laureates has brought something new to the world of children's books and children. It's Lauren's mission to allow and encourage children to dawdle and dream. "They need to have time to stare out of the window," she says.

She explains that we need to get away from screens, phones and tablets. Children as well need time away from the rigorous testing and the pressures that our education system brings. We need to look at the world. Later, when members of the audience ask questions we hear the inevitable: "Where do you get your ideas from?"

"They come at me from the air." Yes, we all know that she is right. It is in those moments of doing nothing, when we daydream, when we stare through the window or maybe, when we're doing the ironing, walking the dog or standing in the rain waiting for the kids to come out of school, all accompanied by dreaming, that we have our light bulb moments.

She tells us more about how she makes her pictures. It's never just a matter of painting. "The noses can be tricky," she admits. "If I can't get the nose right it can be a disaster."

It's a mixed audience at this event. About half of the people in the Grand Gallery at the Whitworth are the children who read her books. The adults are made up of parents, SCBWI members and possibly other writers and almost certainly teachers and librarians are there too.

I personally am fascinated by the number of different fonts Lauren uses in her books and wonder how she makes the decision about each one.

That disparate audience could be quite difficult to manage. Our own Candy Gourlay hosts this event. There are no problems. She plunges straight in and asks "How many of you are here because you have read the Charlie and Lola books?"

Then : "How many of you are here because you have read Clarice Bean books ?"

"And the Ruby Redfort series?"

Hands shoot up after each question.

Candy skilfully leads Lauren through a series of questions that Lauren answers in detail and very thoughtfully.

The questions at the end come mainly from the children and we help Candy spot those who are eager but shy.

"How old were you when you wrote your first book?" asks one young man.

We learn that she was eighteen and that she wrote that first book with a friend. They worked very hard on it and were invited to lunch with a publisher. Ah, isn't that what we all dream of? The publisher was interested in their book but Lauren and her friend didn't follow through in the end. We're glad that Lauren carried on writing.

Then it is time to buy books and get them signed.

"Now Lauren will make her way to the back of the room and when you can go I'll tell you," says Candy.

We all wait. As soon as Candy says "You can go now" two long queues form down either side of the room. It's good to see so many people buying children's books.

What a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

As I travel home on the tram I allow myself to stare out of the window and day dream. Yes, a couple of ideas for stories begin to form. Then I find an old envelope in my handbag and yay! it has a pattern on the inside. What could we use that for?

*Header picture credit: inside of Red Cross envelope, by Gill James; other photos: Marie Basting

Gill James writes fiction for children, young adults and adults as well as non-fiction, text books about writing and language learning and academic papers.
She is published by Crooked Cats, Tabby Cat Press, The Red Telephone, Butterfly, The Professional and Higher Partnership and Continuum. She lectures in Creative Writing at Salford University.
She has been a member of SCBWI since 2001. She now lives in North Manchester and joins in the activities of the North West Group.
You can find Gill here:

Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures. Contact her at

1 comment:

  1. A perfect write up of a lovely event. Thank you to Marie Basting for leading the organisation of this.


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