People – Nick Sharratt

Deborah Grace catches up with the award-winning children’s author and illustrator ahead of his appearances at Chorlton Book Festival.

Are you looking forward to Chorlton Book Festival?

Can’t wait! I lived in lots of places growing up, but spent my teenage years in South Manchester. I always love coming back. I’ll be meeting lots of school children, sharing my books with them and we’ll all be doing some drawing. We’ll just be having a great time together.

Earliest memory?

Seeing Winnie the Pooh in a department store in Plymouth when I was around three or four. At that stage of my life I thought that Winnie the Pooh was real. I remember he had a honey pot on his head! I absolutely love the EH Shepherd pictures in the Winnie the Pooh books. They’re amazing! The two go hand in hand – the words and pictures – but it’s the pictures I love most of all.

When did you start drawing?

I’ve always drawn for as long as I can remember. I’m not from an artistic family (a lot of my illustrator friends are) but my mum and dad could see it was something I loved, so they made sure I had lots of paper, pens and pencils and they gave me lots of encouragement. My grammar school was fairly academic and there wasn’t too much time for drawing. I managed to wangle it, so I could do art instead of PE which was absolutely fine by me! So, during games period I would just sneak into the art store cupboard and work alone.

Which characters have you most enjoyed illustrating?

Of my own books I really enjoyed doing The Shark In the Park. Timothy Pope and Mr Pope were really fun to draw, primarily because of Mr Pope’s 1950s quiff hairdo. If it’s a character I’ve illustrated for another author, it has to be Tracy Beaker. That was the first book I worked on for Dame Jacqueline Wilson.

How did you set about illustrating Tracy Beaker?

I read the story and let it sink in. I tried to make sure I followed any description Jackie put in the book so by the time I’d read the story I had a good idea of what the character looked like. I just tried to go back to being a 10-year-old myself, the same age as Tracy, and to draw her the way I’d have illustrated my own work at that age. She’s a very real character so children can relate to her. Like all of us she’s a mixture of things; she has her good days and bad days. She’s very imaginative and likes drawing as well, so that was great. I exaggerated her hair a bit. It’s not quite as curly in the text as it ended up being in the illustrations. As with Timothy Pope and Mr Pope, hair is a brilliant way to convey personality, so I always enjoy thinking up the best hair for a character. Hetty Feather (another Jacqueline Wilson character) has flame-red colouring and I think her plaits were obligatory. Jackie does love plaits, I have to say! We often joke about it. I think it’s because when she was a little girl she always wanted plaits but her hair was always too short. So, lots of her characters have plaits and they are so difficult to draw!

Proudest moment?

Receiving my gold Blue Peter badge! I went on the programme 20 years ago to present a prize to a competition winner and they sprang the surprise on me. I was thrilled because I’m such a big Blue Peter fan. I watched it avidly when I was a youngster and to be given a gold Blue Peter badge was such a massive honour!

What makes you happy?

My work makes me happy. One thing people don’t believe about illustrating is that it’s hard work – intensive and exhausting. I’ve been very fortunate to have won quite a few awards over the years, but nothing beats the satisfaction of being on a bus or a train and seeing a child engrossed in one of your books. It gives you an incredible sense of delight and is also quite humbling. You’re contributing to someone’s life. The books you read when you’re very young stay with you for life. The pictures remain forever engraved on your brain.

Nick Sharratt will be visiting selected primary schools during Chorlton Book Festival, 20-28 September. For more information about the Festival, visit chorltonbookfestival.co.uk

Picture © Jon Parker Lee