In the world of children’s publishing writer Paul Stewart and writer/illustrator Chris Riddell are among the biggest of big names. They have collaborated on numerous books and their Edge Chronicles series has sold more than 1m copies in the UK and another 1m worldwide. HILARIE STELFOX went to meet them during a book tour
THEY’RE a great literary partnership; count themselves as close friends and first got together outside a nursery school in Brighton while waiting for their sons.
Chris Riddell, children’s book illustrator and political cartoonist, and author Paul Stewart are, for want of a better metaphor, a marriage made in heaven.
They were both fairly well established in their respective fields when they met, but had yet to strike it rich with the sort of sales that provide a comfortable living.
“I knew who he was and he knew who I was,’’ says Chris. “We got chatting while waiting for our sons and talked about doing a book together.’’
That book was A Little Bit of Winter, featuring a rabbit and a hedgehog, a traditional picture book, which spawned a short series.
“It worked well, we got on well and decided that we’d like to do some books for older children as well,’’ says Paul.
The Edge Chronicles were born. With their clever, quirky stories and intricate line drawings they have hit the spot with today’s young readers, who are somewhat spoiled for choice.
Paul, an English graduate who taught English as a foreign language for several years, became a full time writer in 1990 “with help from my wife”.
He is widely travelled and speaks fluent German after spending three years in the country as a teacher.
Both he and Chris have 18-year-old sons and 14 year-old daughters. Chris also has an 11-year-old son.
Their children have been important influences on their books, but, says Paul: “More important for me was having had a boyhood, and I was quite a bookish boy. I write for the boy I was.”
Chris says their children can be their biggest critics. “But you pick up ideas from them about what they are thinking and what they find exciting.
“The books have to be exciting because we are competing slightly against computer games and today’s children are inside so much.”
Chris, whose claim to fame as a political cartoonist is that he was the first person to depict William Hague in shorts (an illustration that the politician subsequently bought), studied illustration at Brighton Polytechnic and has won awards for his work.
He is currently a political cartoonist for The Observer newspaper, a role he enjoys tremendously.
“I’ve always been a bit of a news junkie and it gets me out of my studio one day a week when I present the editor with my ideas,” said Chris.
Both men agree that the last decade has been the ‘golden age’ of children’s books and that they have been fortunate to have been part of it.
“That’s something that has come out of the JK Rowling/Harry Potter phenomenon. It has energised all children’s publishing. Suddenly, in the playground, books became trendy. Now it’s a question of keeping that enthusiasm going,” said Chris.
However, because there are now more children’s titles on the bookshelves than ever before, both writers and illustrators face increasing challenges to make their work exciting, eye-catching and saleable.
“Covers are incredibly important,” says Paul. “There are some fantastic covers around at the moment.” Including, it has to be said, their own.
On a tour to promote their latest offerings, a new Edge Chronicle, Return of the Emerald Skull, and Ottoline Goes to School, written and illustrated by Chris, they were invited to Huddersfield to speak to children at Lindley Junior School and to members of the Kirklees and Calderdale Children’s Bookgroup. In between appearances they signed books at The Children’s Bookshop, Lindley.