I worried a bit. Who would come to hear Chris Riddell speak at Waterstones Deansgate on a Saturday morning? (Not doubting his charm; just wondering.) The answer is: many of his most fervent fans, of all ages. I had not realised Mr Riddell is another of these cult people, with a huge following. I am an idiot.
So, this artistic phenomenon walked into the events room and started drawing a dead mouse (I have often wondered what happens to these works of art left behind so carelessly by people who think nothing of what they’ve just doodled…) with a Japanese brush pen (that’s his drawing implement; not drawing a mouse with a pen), as he was introduced, at this event which was primarily about Chris’s newest book Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.
Saturday’s audience laughed early on, marking us out as a good audience. The doodled dead mouse was to be proof he’d been. Or something. Chris began by showing us his family photo album, complete with his brother wearing nappies. Their father was a vicar, and to keep Chris quiet in church every Sunday, he was given pencil and paper and he drew pictures for the elderly lady next to him. (According to his mother this lady was the same age then [he reckoned about 103] as Chris is now. 51.) She paid him in winegums.
Then it was on to Chris’s random sketch books, featuring ugly men with large noses. I didn’t know that drawing pretty princesses is a lot harder, which is why he doesn’t. His now nappy-free brother buys him really huge and beautiful sketchbooks in Cairo, which is also fairly random information about random sketches.
Now that he has discovered Tumblr, Chris puts his random sketches on there, and whenever authors whose book covers he has doodled want to buy them, he charges in whisky. (I’ll want him to do mine, if I should ever have a book. Starting a home distillery now.)
Chris told us about Lord Byron and his gang, and everyone else who had inspired him, ending up as thinly disguised characters in Goth Girl. Then he read to us from the book, before showing us the book’s shiny purple sprayed edges and the foil endpieces, the ribbon bookmark, and the footnotes in the margin, which all children’s books must have, finishing with a small ‘film’ of the hobby horse race which gives him a ‘stupid amount of pleasure.’
Drawing for a living is a hard life. He commutes to the Edwardian coach house at the end of his garden around 11 every morning, getting started around 12, watching tax deductible Sky television all day until he commutes home again. Where he might well relax and draw a bit. So he either works all the time, or not at all. ‘It’s possibly the best job in the world.’
Getting a wee bit carried away he told us most of the plot for the next Goth Girl book, featuring hairy hikers and bake-offs and the 39 crepes.
He is bad at replying to fan letters, but if you do get a letter back, you should expect a doodle of a cycling fish on the envelope. Chris is known as the loony at his local post office.
Some time ago someone organising a round table event in Vancouver (although the table was long and rectangular, apparently) calculated that Chris had illustrated 163 books (which caused the girl behind me some concern, because she was only up to fifty or so of them), but this figure is bound to have risen slightly by now. (I’ve been concerned for Chris. He seems to draw all the time. Just as he admitted. It can’t be healthy, surely?) He can’t even remember all the titles.
Finally came the signing, and oh, the shame of it! I had gone for restrained, so had fewer books than others, and was thereby shunted further to the front of the queue, not being entitled to be last… The diehard fans had also been restrained as regards number of books brought along, but it was a completely different ball park of restrained from mine.
I refrained from asking him to Nell Gurgle my copy of Fortunately, the Milk… and since Goth Girl had already been signed, Chris simply added a bit to it.
And idiot that I am, I didn’t recognise his lovely publicist Catherine (to be fair, she didn’t recognise the grey old witch I’d turned into, either), which is dreadful, seeing as she once led me expertly from my Ealing hotel to her office, early one morning. (See, I’m such an idiot I need leading.)
As I exited Waterstones, my shame was lifted slightly by the sight of the bus that went past. Witch Way. Appropriate.
But I will definitely have to mend my witch’s ways and get better acquainted with more of Chris’s work. Or is it leisure? Whatever.