IN THE SHOES OF… James Mayhew


What's it like to be in someone else's shoes? In this series, Deputy Editor Fran Price invites an author or illustrator to describe a typical creative day. This month, we share footwear with illustrator and author James Mayhew.

James Mayhew and faithful friend Diva


I’m a terrible insomniac. I’m often awake around 4am, especially in the Summer. I don’t really have a typical day, each day depends on the tasks ahead. I may be writing or illustrating a book, or preparing for an event, like the concerts where I paint with an orchestra, or preparing for a festival, or a school visit… so I begin the day by trying to grasp which day it is and what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m a great believer in lists – I love them (unless I lose them, which does happen) and I need paper and pens or pencils to jot things down, so have several options around the house.


Right now I’m illustrating a book with my husband, the Spanish artist Toto Martinez, but he won’t be up for a few hours yet. As I like to say, he keeps “Spanish Time” – he gets up late and thinks 9pm is the best time to eat dinner. But we get along famously despite our different hours.


I’m not one for breakfast these days. I am having a go at the intermittent fasting idea, which for me means skipping breakfast. I don’t miss it. I think I only ate it out of habit, rather than hunger.


Although my days are often very different, having a dog brings structure. Diva is half miniature Sausage Dog and half Jack Russell and very much lives up to her name, but we adore her. So tummy rubs, and a breakfast for her at least, start the day nicely. She has two walks a day and I love them. They are such good thinking time for me, and living on the Suffolk/Norfolk border we are surrounded by glorious countryside which keeps me both sane and inspired. I’m always seeing something new, the light in the trees or distant colours on meadows, and wondering how to capture them in paint…

Diva will settle in one of her many favourite places

After the walk, Diva will settle in one of her many favourite places – often on my desk in the window overlooking the garden. Or she may sleep on my shoulders…



I tend to keep fairly organised hours whatever the day holds. Toto is up now, and he’ll have his own tasks, but later today we need to get together and look at the book. The deadline is looming and there is still much to do.


The book we are working on is an LGBTQ twist on the fairytale of the Frog Prince. It’s called The Frog’s Kiss and will be published by Scholastic in June 2023. It’s Toto's story and I wrote it down for him, and we are jointly illustrating it. It must be fairly unique for a gay married couple to be collaborating like this. For me, this project isn’t just about me creating work I’m happy with, but also about nurturing Toto through the process. Having taught for many years at Cambridge School of Art on the MA in Children’s Book Illustration, I can call upon those skills to some extent – but it’s a bit different when you are married to your apprentice! The roughs took a long time, planning the pages and what will go where illustratively speaking, and working out how the collaboration would work. We’ve been very much supported by our fabulous designer at Scholastic, Zoe, and our editor Linas. Having a team you trust and feel comfortable working with makes a huge difference.

Our joint illustrations for current work-in-progress The Frog's Kiss

Right now I’m illustrating fairytale figures that appear in the story, but only the faces and hands, because I’m leaving the costumes to Toto. He studied at the London School of Fashion, so that’s very much his forte.


The technique we are using involves painting first, using emulsion paint, then drawing on top with coloured pencils. It’s a complex technique in many ways but it’s versatile and allows us to both contribute to the illustrations in a way we feel confident about.


I think confidence, or something resembling it, is so important with any creative activity; insecurities (I have many!) are so destructive. Even after 30 years of illustrating, I don’t have very much confidence and question everything, so when I find a technique that I enjoy and feel happy about then that’s a huge help.


12 noon (ish)


It’s lunchtime and I’m properly hungry now. Shall we see what Toto has prepared?

What will Toto be cooking for lunch?

Happily for me, Toto has his own tapas business, so there is always something special waiting!


1pm onwards


I’m trying to get Toto to knuckle down to the illustrating now. We each have a spare bedroom as a studio, and for some reason I’ve ended up in his studio, and he’s in mine. Never mind, as long as we meet the deadline, it doesn’t matter.


We lay out all the illustrations, some still work in progress. I like to get them all to around 90 per cent finished, then go over them at the end to do the finishing touches, which makes things more consistent. We go through them all and annotate with notes about the things that need attending to. It’s a complex book, with Toto’s costumes and other elements like a castle, which have not only had to be imagined, or designed, but now made consistent from page to page. Neither of us work digitally, so nothing can be copied and pasted, all is crafted by hand. It takes many hours, weeks, months to illustrate a book, which is why the proximity of the deadline is now quite scary.

The River Waveney in Bungay where we take Diva for walks



Diva’s dinner time, followed by walk number two. As I’m feeling pressed for time, Toto will take her himself. I’ve suddenly remembered that I am supposed to make a little film for an orchestra I’m collaborating with.




Diva is back, and settled in my studio. Toto is preparing dinner, and I’m finishing off the film. One positive thing to come out of the pandemic has been the new skills acquired, like editing films for promotional content.



Time for a Martini, says Toto. Who am I to argue?



Dinner is earlier tonight. Albondigas. Delicious.

Albondigas for dinner. Delicious



I’m tired and it’s going to be a late night. It’s dangerous, working when tired. I lose judgement, and the temptation is to throw things in the bin and start again.


Toto is working hard too, each of us in each other’s room, running across the landing now and then to compare and check.



We have to admit the book will not be finished tonight, but we are are feeling genuinely excited about it. A kind of magic is happening – I love that feeling when the illustrations almost take over somehow. But Diva is tired. We all are. Time for bed.


I’d like to say I read before I sleep but I’m too tired most nights. I make a few important notes about details I’m worried about. I check the calendar to see where I need to be tomorrow. And I turn out the light.


Toto is already fast asleep. Shall I get up and take one last look at the illustrations?


I decide against it, and close my eyes.

*Header illustration by Alex Crump. All other images courtesy of James Mayhew.


James Mayhew is an award-winning illustrator, author, concert presenter and storyteller. He has been creating children's books for over 30 years. His many titles include the classic best-selling Katie series, Ella Bella Ballerina, Koshka’s Tales and Once Upon A Tune. As well as his publishing work, he collaborates with musicians and symphony orchestras, including BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, presenting concerts that incorporate music and art – created live on stage, in time to the music. 
Instagram: @mrjamesmayhew



Alex Crump is an illustrator based in Wiltshire, with past careers as both a teacher and a zookeeper, as well as other current side-lines of storyteller and charity/museum educator.
Instagram: @alexcrumpillustration


Fran Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact:

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