Scotland is sending some of its best authors and illustrators away. But don’t worry; it’s done with the best intentions. Next week Scottish illustrator Ross Collins will take part in the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour run by Scottish Book Trust, sharing his top tips for illustration with more than 900 pupils in Nottinghamshire. So it’s a little too far for me to tag along, which is why I twisted his arm and made Ross answer some questions instead.
Here he is, and using my best judgement, I’d say he’s mostly telling the truth. Probably.
How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?
I’m slightly ashamed/delighted to say that the first book I wrote was published. I entered the MacMillan Book Prize in my final year of Art School with my book The Sea Hole. I was lucky enough to win the competition and the book was published. It was a great door opener with publishers, and kick started my career.
Best place for inspiration?
Inspiration tends to come anywhere at any time, when you are least expecting it really. I have had a couple of bits of inspiration when I’ve been dog walking alone in the countryside when I have space to think. The idea for the Elephantom (what would it be like to be haunted by an elephant?) came to me walking up a hill by Loch Lomond with my lab Willow.
Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?
I don’t think so. I’m not sure what the point would be – unless I was sent down for crimes against humanity and couldn’t get publishers interested in my picture book ideas anymore.
What would you never write about?
Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?
I met the pope at the Linlithgow librarian’s conference once…
Which of your characters would you most like to be?
That is HARD! I could be a vampire, a germ, the thing under the bed… so many possibilities.
I once wrote the story of Medusa when she was a little girl, dealing with school life. It was called Medusa Jones. Being Medusa would be kind of cool, she had a hard life in my book but at the same time she did have snakes for hair, could turn people to stone (even though her mum said it was rude to do so) and had a puppy Cerberus. Probably the most interesting thing would be being a girl. I’ve never been a girl.
Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?
I’ve had lots of my books optioned for film but it’s a hard thing to make happen.
I guess the closest thing I’ve had to it was when the Elephantom was adapted for the stage by the National Theatre’s War Horse team. That was probably the most magical experience of my life. I was really lucky though, because I was working with the best of the best who completely honoured my book so I had nothing to worry about.
Having your book made into a film would probably change it beyond all recognition which would be difficult, but I think if you accept that early on, then it would be a fun ride to go on.
What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?
As a children’s author you get asked lots of very strange questions that don’t really seem to relate to anything you’ve been talking about. You forget most of them.
Last year in Melrose I was asked by a wee girl if I’d ever bled out of my eyes. It turns out that she once had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop so she started to cry and the blood came out of her eyes. She was immensely proud of this fact. Her mother less so.
Do you have any unexpected skills?
I can remember the lyrics to hundreds of really awful songs when they come on the radio – much to my partner’s dismay.
The Famous Five or Narnia?
The Northern Lights Trilogy.
Who is your most favourite Swede?
It’s shallow, but Anni-Frid Lyngstad was a very early crush. (I should really say some notable chemist shouldn’t I?)
How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?
My partner Jacqui is in charge of that – she has a serious book collection and everything is alphabetisized. Occassionally she allows me to add my books which I just put into three categories, Art, Film and Children’s books..
Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?
This sounds like a shameless plug, but I’m being honest when I say one of my most recent books, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, by Will Mabbitt. It’s about a wee girl who is kidnapped into a future populated by animal pirates. I only read the first chapter before I signed up to do the illustrations.
It’s probably the funniest book I’ve ever worked on – it’s funny, it’s dark, it’s icky – it’s everything an eight year old boy would love. I’m delighted to say that I am currently working on the third of her unlikely adventures. In fact I really should be doing that now…
If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?
That’s like asking whether you would rather lose your arms or legs – what a horrible question.
I’d hate to give up reading as it’s such a pleasure visiting the worlds that other people create. I suppose if I gave up writing then at least I could keep illustrating which I’ve done since I was three so it wouldn’t be that bad. Just don’t try to take illustrating away from me!
He’s a rebel, that Ross. I like him! His choice of Swede is pretty good, too. Correctly spelled, even. (That’s early love for you, I suppose.) And the whole thing leaves me still as unsettled as far as Linlithgow is concerned. Now maybe Loch Lomond, too.