IN THE SHOES OF... Philip Ardagh

What's life like in someone else's shoes? This month Deputy Editor Françoise Price invites author Philip Ardagh to tell us about his day.

Philip Ardagh, decorated for Christmas

I don’t think I really have a typical day as a writer. I don’t mean that it’s different to other writers’ days but that no two days are really the same except on those occasions when I’m in the zone and writing and writing, unaware of all else around me.


What is typical – a constant – is where I write. For the past 30 years or so, I’ve written from home. That originally meant in the bedroom I slept in; later a spare bedroom; then a dedicated ‘study’; and, by the time I’d moved to Tunbridge Wells, I had two rooms in the house: an office and a study. (The study was where I sat in a comfy chair and wrote on a laptop on my lap. The office was full of foreign editions, VAT receipts, Tax returns, etc.)


(Top) Philip at his desk; his office has been described as a Cabinet of Curiosities

We downsized a couple of years, so now I have an office/studio away from our hovel, and it’s at a great location. Less than a mile from home, it’s a 16th-century building directly opposite the gate house to Battle Abbey which leads to the site of – or near the site of – the Battle of Hastings in 1066, one of the most famous dates in the history of England. It appeals to my sense of humour that the Battle of Hastings took place in Battle, not Hastings! My office has variously been described as ‘an antiques showroom’, ‘a cabinet of curiosities’ and ‘a playroom’! The Christmas decorations haven’t been down long.


I don’t have – and haven’t had – a job other than that of a children’s author for over 30 years. It’s been my sole source of income and, as the main breadwinner in the Ardagh household, this means that I’ve had to take the business of writing very seriously, whether funny books or not. I like to be in my office between 9.00 and 9.30am and generally leave around 6.30. That’s not to say I don’t do any more work at home but I like to keep those kind of hours and weekends free.


So let’s take a look at a recent day. I don’t have a literary agent – I’ve never had one – so all negotiating for me is done by me

So let’s take a look at a recent day. I don’t have a literary agent – I’ve never had one – so all negotiating for me is done by me, and I’ve been in talks with CBS about them optioning a series of books I’ve written. This means that my first email of the day is replying to one of theirs which arrived after work (because of the time difference between here and LA). It’s a response to their suggested figures in response to my suggested figures in response to their original offer!


My next email is a BIGGY. You know the part about my saying that I’ve never had an agent? Well, after all these decades, I’ve decided that it might be useful to have one, based in the US and UK, for a project I’ve been working on for a while. When COVID hit, everything shuddered to a halt. No one seemed to know quite what was going on and what might happen next so I took the time to write, write, write.


'One person I keep in regular contact with is illustrator/author Elissa Elwick'

More often not, I get commissioned to write a book without having written it first. I might be approached by a publisher to come up with an idea for a series or I might do the approaching. If the idea is liked, I’ll then come up with a synopsis and a few sample chapters. When everyone’s happy, the book or series is commissioned and then I get down to the serious business of writing them! But during COVID, I actually wrote four complete manuscripts, of about 18,500 words each, for a potential new series. After that, I put together some character descriptions and anything else which I thought might help sell the idea; the plan being to approach the agent with this complete package.


Writing is a solitary business – I don’t share an office/studio; it’s mine all mine! – but one person I keep in regular contact with is illustrator/author Elissa Elwick, via FaceTime (what with her living in Cardiff). We’re always working on new ideas together so it was logical that I ask her if she’d do some sketches of the key characters for my new series proposal, to make it EVEN MORE desirable, and she has. So now, with them in place, along with a covering letter and everything else, my second email – and my first ever request to agent to represent me – is ready to SEND. The nervous wait begins.

'One picture-book in the pipeline with Walker Books is the next in my Sunny Town Bunnies series' 

But no rest for the tall-and-bearded. Next, it’s time to respond to some queries from Walker Books about one of three picture-books I have with them in the pipeline. One is the next in my Sunny Town Bunnies series with the wonderful Ben Mantle. The text for that is written and Ben hasn’t even started the pencil roughs yet, so that’s on the back burner. The second is with a crazy American illustrator who’s between the pencil-rough and final-artwork stages so, again, I can take a backseat there. This third project, with a best-selling UK illustrator, is at the let’s-discuss-the-kind-of-hat-the-character-might-be-wearing stage, so I’ve been putting forward my case for a felt trilby/fedora with detailed reasoning as to why, along with picture samples. I love my job! Another email sent.

'A final quick email about Moomins - Ssh!'


So time for some actual writing, after a quick trip to Number Eighty, the coffee shop two-doors down. I always have a number of speculative projects on the go at once, so I’m fine-tuning two new possible picture book texts – I’m lucky with a high ‘hit rate’ of texts being accepted. One involves a jungle and the other a worm. Both rhyme or they will once I get the text nailed down! The afternoon whizzes by as I tap away at my laptop and scribble away in my notebooks. The building is very old and very draughty and my feet are getting cold, so I put on my overcoat and keep typing. Light fades. Home-time soon. Just time for a final quick email, this time to Macmillan about Moomins – Ssh! – then home.

*Header image by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo


Described by The Independent as ‘a National treasure’ and having ‘invented his own style of Storytelling’ by Michael Rosen, Philip Ardagh has written over 200 books translated into around 40 language. His collaboration with Sir Paul McCartney, High in the Clouds, is currently being made into a film by Gaumont. At 6ft 7in tall, with a bushy beard, he’s a regular sight at book festivals around the world.



Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact
Find her on Twitter (now X) and Instagram


Ell Rose is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at

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