Tag Archives: Chris Riddell


I won’t even pretend to understand what’s going on in France, but it can’t be ignored.

Cartoons are something you tend to remember. Pictures stick in your mind longer than a novel might, and any accompanying words will stay with you longer as well. But generally you don’t need words.

There are old cartoons that I still ‘take out’ and think about every now and then. Like the (humorous) one of new Swedish prime minister Fälldin in 1976, greeting a surprised Fidel Castro. Or the one of the grounded Russian sub and its defecting sailors in the south Swedish archipelago in 1982.

And the heart-rending one by Steve Bell after Dunblane in 1996. It’s very hard to forget.

Below are a few I’ve seen on facebook this week, by Sarah McIntyre, Chris Riddell and Albert Uderzo.

Sarah McIntyre

Chris Riddell, Je suis Charlie

Albert Uderzo, Moi aussi je suis un Charlie

Goodwill, to some

Before we all succumb to Christmas cheer and goodwill, I can’t resist mentioning this, to anyone who didn’t already read it in last week’s Guardian Review.

I love Lucy Mangan. I have, for some reason never managed to like Russell Brand. I have worried – probably unnecessarily – that I’m being unfair in this. I really like Chris Riddell and I have a strong admiration for Neil Gaiman’s work.

I envy Lucy’s power as a Guardian reviewer (although, where is she most of the time? I miss Lucy!), and the fact that when I want to be mean on Bookwitch, I run it past Thumper’s mum first, and then usually resist my urges. You can always say nothin’ at all.

So, it cheered me immensely to find Lucy writing this about Russell’s new book: ‘Chris Riddell’s tumbling, vigorous, plentiful illustrations give the book a beauty it does not deserve and a coherence the text does not deliver. It pains me to think how often he must have had to read the thing…’

I agree that illustrating Neil’s new children’s book was most likely a more satisfying task. I don’t know what The Sleeper and the Spindle is like, however. For some reason I receive very few books from this publisher, and after considerable email exchanges last year about Fortunately, the Milk, I ended up buying a copy. I feel sufficiently raw after that experience, that I will not mention this new book to the publisher.

It must have been something I said. This time I consulted with Thumper’s mum and she reckoned it was all right to write what I’ve just put in this blog post. But I’ll stop here.


At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.

Goth wins Costa

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

Congratulations to Chris Riddell for winning the Costa children’s book award with Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. Both Ada and the poor little mouse deserve this. And so does my favourite political cartoonist author.

(I have to admit I suspected Chris would win when I saw that Josh Lacey had reviewed the book for the Guardian on Saturday.)

Winning such an award is no less than you would expect for a book that has ‘shiny purple sprayed edges … foil endpieces, … ribbon bookmark, … footnotes in the margin.’ It is not just a pretty book. It’s an intelligent one, as well. It is a book that makes for a good read whatever your age. And in times of need you can always stroke the sheer purpleness of it.

Chris Riddell

It would be very nice indeed if Chris could go on and win the ‘full Costa’ on 28th January. More power to children’s books!

Learning and playing

For the very young Nicola Killen has written two new boardbooks on Noises (as if children need help with that!), and on Opposites. Both books have liftable flaps which makes it a lot more fun. The Noises book is fairly obvious, inviting parents to roar like lions. You know the drill. The Opposites are more varied, and it’s not only small versus big.

I am increasingly realising Offspring were deprived at that stage.

Nicola Killen, Opposites and Noises

As the readers get older, or maybe just more capable, you can move on to alphabet books. Kelly Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky (they almost manage the A to Z with their own names…) have written a slightly different one; Z is for Moose. Yes, quite.

It is slightly crazy, with a moose who is impatiently waiting for his letter ( and I bet the mouse was too), and then trying to slip in wherever he can. Queen Victoria wasn’t amused.

Kelly Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky, Z is for Moose

Counting Sheep by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell isn’t exactly your normal bedtime book either. Here you have a boy who doesn’t settle for counting sheep and then falling asleep in an obliging way.

The book is a little like a board game and there is so much happening I’m not sure anyone will be sleeping. Learning to count might well be a success, however. Although, once you’ve looked at all the fantastic detail in Chris’s illustrations you could possibly feel a little sleepy.

Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell, Counting Sheep

More adventurous games for readers in Kristina Stephenson’s Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Wizard’s Whisper. It’s a bit of a wild goose chase, actually, but all is well in the end.

Kristina Stephenson, Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Wizard's Whisper

Fortunately, the… whatever

Guinea pig?! I felt more like a cow. (No, don’t say it.)

Unfortunately I had been reading about cows on my way in to Manchester, on a most unwitch-like train, i.e. one that didn’t leave hours in advance. I felt so little inclination to go and hear Neil Gaiman yesterday afternoon, that I cut it finer than one should with British style rail travel.

Unfortunately, that was totally fine. I arrived at the Dancehouse theatre with 15 minutes to spare and thought it was going swimmingly. After which thought we ended up penned in rather like cattle, waiting forever to be allowed in. Stairs and reception and café filled up with eager Gaiman fans, plus a few small children (whose event this really was).

I decided that if things got any worse I’d just go home again, wondering why I’d come in the first place. I like Neil Gaiman. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like crowds, and he collects them. But I can put up with crowds if treated humanely. I wasn’t alone in waiting it out on the other side of the doors, near the toilets. Fortunately, once we were allowed up the stairs, my number seat was the right number seat and so I was allowed in. (But we still had to wait for everyone to be seated, and the whole event was train-like in running half an hour late.)

Why was I not keen? Everything about this book has gone not to plan. Publisher didn’t send me a copy. I had to buy my own when that became evident. The complimentary ticket for the event didn’t materialise, so I had to buy my own at the 11th hour. The crowds, as I said. The fact that there is no way I’ll stand in a queue for three hours to have a book signed. The fact that I’m old and grumpy. And a cow.

You could say that the whole thing was threatening to curdle. I decided not to get my camera out. I’d just sit there and ‘not be on duty.’

But, you know, once Neil came on stage he worked his usual magic. He is a born entertainer, and he does events so effortlessly that even I started to feel all calm and relaxed and almost happy. His voice is nice to listen to.

Neil Gaiman

(This is a photo of Neil. Try to imagine a red curtain in the background, and that his hair doesn’t hang down across his eyes quite so much. In which case he almost looked like this.)

He said we’d be guinea pigs. He wanted to test read a longer piece from Fortunately, the Milk… than he usually does. Lying in training for Westminster on Tuesday, when he has to read it all.

As for himself he is obviously a goldfish. Or two. He’s the dad who was exchanged for two goldfish. In a way the milk book is simply a continuation of the goldfish book, and an attempt to come up with a positive book for dads.

Neil talked about his very young book, Chu’s Day. Cute pandas who sneeze, apparently. Only, I didn’t hear – didn’t know – the title, so when he asked what we thought the next book would be called, I felt Wednesday seemed appropriate.

Btw, I didn’t take notes.

He recounted how it came about that Chris Riddell would illustrate Fortunately, the Milk…, this the shiniest book in history. And Neil is about the only one who doesn’t find the charicature of himself all that amusing.

Then it was question time. Say what you want about his fans, but they ask good questions. Not all of them were fans, however, so a pattern developed where the person doing the asking qualified how fan-like they considered themselves to be.

One question was about Terry Pratchett, and in the end we all felt we were privy to some personal secret (and I don’t mean ‘when Terry slept with Neil,’ which he did, when they were both younger and poorer and didn’t buy the hotel first if they had to stay somewhere), and that’s a great skill to have. Neil even made the last rather pedestrian question sound exciting, because he was able to make the answer really special.

At the end of all that, ‘we will do some signing.’ Though Neil reckoned it would be best if he signed, until his head fell off, and the rest of us waited patiently in line.

Well, I didn’t do that, so I have no idea how long his head stayed put. Here is a photo someone took earlier, showing what Neil looks like when signing.

Neil Gaiman

‘Did you enjoy that?’ said the adult to the small child behind me. Small child said nothing. This was not a small child event, whatever the organisers say.

Now me, I did enjoy it. In the end. Neil always delivers. But I’d be happier without the crowds.

From winegums to whisky

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.

Chris Riddell

Ghost of a Mouse

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.

Chris Riddell

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.)

Mary Shellfish

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.’

Chris Riddell reading to a cross-section of his fans

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.’

Proper fan boots. And socks.

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.

Chris Riddell signing queue

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.

Chris Riddell with fan

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.

The Witch Way Bus

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.