"Where do you get your ideas from?"

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The most common question writers get asked is "Where do you get your ideas from?"and it's also the hardest question to answer. I don't know about anyone else but I can get ideas from anywhere at any time. I can look out of a train window and see something. I can be half asleep in bed or reading a magazine or listening to people talking and suddenly an idea appears.

Some of the stories in my picture books have quite strong messages yet none of them started off with that in mind. Usually the first ideas for a book are pictures but sometimes it can just come from daydreaming.

Click on the book titles to find out how I thought of these books




up The Paperbag Prince The Paperbag Prince - One day the title - The Paperbag Prince - just came into my head and the whole book grew from that. I didn't know that there was already a book called - The Paperbag Princess - in fact I didn't find out about it until after my book had been published, not that it mattered at all as the two books are completely different. I had the title and then I had to think of a story to go with it and the idea of a old man who lived in a rubbish dump and collected paper bags, developed. Years ago I rented a room in a house where the landlady collected paper bags. I would cook some food in the kitchen, throw the rubbish out and the next day all the bags and tins I'd used would be back in the house. The tins were washed out and piled up in boxes in an upstairs bedroom and the paperbags were tied up in bundles and stacked on top of mountains of newspaper that went all the way up the staircase so that to get to the bathroom you had to squeeze upstairs sideways. The only room in the house that wasn't piled high with junk was the one I was renting.

There is quite a strong environmental message in this book but that only grew as I was writing the story.

up Pictures of Home Pictures Of Home - In 1989 I designed and illustrated a calendar for the German pen company rotring. In 1990 I did a calendar for Leeds Permanent Building Society followed by four more in 1991,92,93 and 95. The Leeds was a wonderful company to work for. They liked my pictures and I had virtually a free hand, provided, of course, my theme was based on houses and home. These calendars came along at the perfect time. They gave me money to live on while I was trying to get established as a children's author. Without them life would have been very difficult as the time I was spending on my books certainly didn't leave enough time for a 'proper' job.

Pictures Of Home is a selection of pictures from the first three Leeds calendars. There was no way I could write a story to go with these pictures so we came up with the idea of getting children to write about what home meant to them. The children were 10 and 11 year olds from Upperby Junior School, Carlisle in the North of England and their writing and haiku verses add a whole new dimension to the illustrations. The cover illustration has also been used as a book token.

up Looking For Atlantis Looking For Atlantis came about because I wanted to do a book that was a cross-section of a house. I had already used this idea in the 1993 Leeds calendar and I wanted to develop it further with the journey of a boy through the rooms of the house. I had to think of a good reason why he would search the house from top to bottom. Just looking for something he'd lost like a book or a cat was not enough. I can't remember where the idea of Atlantis came from. It just seemed to be there one day. Then, as I wrote the story it became stronger and stronger and the whole idea of not knowing where to look for something but how to look for it developed and my original idea of a journey through a house kind of changed into a journey of self-discovery.

up Ruby Ruby - The original idea for this book came from Roger, my barber. There was a book a few years ago called Masquerade and in the book were clues to lead you to some real treasure buried somewhere in England - a golden hare covered in jewels. The book was a huge success and Roger came up with the idea of having a car hidden away for someone to win. He had just finished restoring an old Porsche and wanted to use that, but I thought a vintage Austin 7 would be much better. It had a lot more character and suited my style of illustration. So Roger went out and bought Ruby, a 1934 Austin Ruby. I wrote a story, took lots of photos of the car and did the pictures. I hid six letters and numbers through the book that made up Ruby's numberplate. Lots of people got the correct answer - GHC384 - though all those who thought it was CT1993 were quite wrong. That was just me signing the pictures!

A year later there was a prize draw and the car was won by a vintage car enthusiast from Wales. In Denmark the book was published without the competition and this year it is being published in France where Kevin and Tracy have become Tom and Lucy. If you look at the second double page picture in the book, the man sitting on the grass having a picnic is Roger.

Here are Roger and I with Ruby.

up How To Live Forever How To Live Forever - I saw a photo of the inside of the British Museum library and thought how fantastic it would be to do some pictures based on it. As I looked at the photo with all the old leather-bound books on the shelves I thought they looked like rows of terrace houses and so the idea for the book began to develop. I imagined how at night, when everyone had gone home, the whole place would wake up as another world. The message, that you should live your life now rather than forever in the future, developed as I wrote story.

The British Museum were kind enough to give me a guided tour very early one morning before the library opened. I took a lot of photos in the huge round reading room, which has a bigger dome than St. Paul's Cathedral, and in the 'stacks' which are all the storage areas behind the reading room. It's one of the most visually exciting buildings I've ever been in and I think the pictures in How To Live Forever are the best I have done. (so far)

up The Tower To The Sun The Tower To The Sun - One day I thought of drawing an amazing tower with every type of building in it. The whole book grew from this. Why would anyone construct such a huge building? Even though in reality, the tower in my book would collapse, there still had to be a reason to build it that made sense. I did not start out to write a book about the environment. I hate books that try to shove a message down your throat and I hope in this book I'm not doing that. I am just presenting a possible future and saying - this is how things could end up. It's up to the reader to draw their own conclusions. Some people have said that this is rather a gloomy book and to some extent it is. But I hope they don't see it as a depressing one. It is ultimately a story of triumph even if it is only a personal triumph and doesn't offer any 'miracle' solutions.

This is the first picture book that I illustrated after I came to live in Australia. If you look through the pictures this will be very obvious.

up The Paradise Garden The Paradise Garden - Every time I go to London I visit Kew Gardens. I grew up in Ealing which is just a few miles from Kew and often went there as a child. It cost one penny to get in. I was always entranced with the place especially all the exotic plants in the great glasshouses that I had only seen in encyclopedias. I think it was Kew Gardens that gave me my love of plants, especially trees. When I lived in the north of England I planted hundreds of trees in my garden and when I move to the country here in Australia, I will plant hundreds more.

One day, a few years ago,when I was walking to the gardens from Kew Station, I thought what a great idea it would be to do a book about the gardens and about a boy who went to live there.

If you are in London, you must visit Kew. It's the most fantastic place in London and I believe they have one quarter of the world's flowering plants there in the three-hundred acre site. But it is far more than a beautiful garden, it's a very important research establishment. You can become a member of The Friends of Kew, as I have, and by doing so, help them save the world's endangered plants.

up The Last Alchemist The Last Alchemist - This book probably came from the smallest idea of all. I was working on another book but I wasn't happy with the way it was going.

One afternoon I was sitting reading and the television was on in the background. I wasn't watching it but the word "Alchemy" drifted into my ear and I thought, 'That's it, I'll do a book about an alchemist.' And the whole book came from that.

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