Funny how life imitates art. Sometimes in the most amazing ways. Take Lauren Child, creator of Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and the Ruby Redfort series. As she shows me a photo of her daughter on her phone, it’s hard not to state the obvious. She looks just like one of the characters in Lauren’s books. “It’s amazing isn’t it,” she laughs. “Everyone says it’s like I’ve drawn her.”
Effortlessly elegant in Vivienne Westwood and biker boots, Lauren has suggested we meet in the House of Illustration, a wonderful gallery in King’s Cross where her work is regularly exhibited. It’s hard to believe Charlie and Lola was rst published 16 years ago. It’s been successfully adapted for TV, all over the world, and won her multiple BAFTAs. But Lauren doesn’t take her success for granted. It didn’t happen overnight. After art school, “I wasn’t sure what to do next, a small part of me was hoping I might be ‘discovered’ – one was always reading about people who were discovered humming in supermarkets or looking stylish as they stood on tube platforms but what exactly was anyone going to discover me for... ? I was not a good hummer and I was certainly not model material.” Her work was rejected with well-meant advice that she should try and make it more like someone else’s. Then she saw Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. “He had managed to create something which was very much his – it was beautifully complete as an idea. I could suddenly see that rather than write something that felt like ‘a book’ or ‘a film’, I should write something that felt like ‘my book’ or ‘my film’.”
“When I was little,” she says, “my parents used to join us watching the Clangers and the Magic Roundabout and I wanted to create something that worked on lots of different levels.” She’s managed it. Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean speak to adults and children alike.
For the last seven years she’s been writing the Ruby Redfort crime series. Blink And You Die is the final instalment, written in her kitchen, plot points stuck all over the walls. When the heating broke down she began writing in bed until her editor offered her an office at Harper Collins, “though actually writing in bed suits me – it’s not quite as Barbara Cartland as it sounds, I’m not wearing a little bed jacket but it is cosy.”
One of the books was written in Mongolia when she was trying to adopt her daughter, Tuesday. The adoption process wasn’t easy and Lauren had to fight. “I went out and met her before I was told I couldn’t have her. I ended up staying until they changed their minds.”
Lauren is determined; it was months before she brought her little girl home. “Wonderful Mongolian friends took us to the airport, but as soon as it was just me and Tuesday, things got pretty tough. We didn’t share a common language and I couldn’t explain to her what was going on. By the time we arrived at Heathrow we were both drained, she was completely exhausted and I was a wreck. The longest 24 hours in my life.” That was four years ago. “Now we talk about how we just cried and cried that day. When we got home she wanted to be as physically close to me as possible, often sleeping curled up round my head like a cat. She didn’t want to leave my side. It is hard to prepare anyone for what it will be like when you adopt a child. Each child is different, circumstances are different, and there is a lot you don’t know and maybe won’t ever know but I feel very lucky, I now have the most funny and affectionate little girl.”
Next up is another illustrated book – and Tuesday will be involved in the production. “She’s a brilliant colourist,” says Lauren. She is showing her own creative air in other areas as well. “From very early on I couldn’t dress her. Last week she insisted on wearing her full body leotard to school and this morning she was in her exquisite Mongolian embroidered dress. There’s no stopping her. She is very determined.” Like mother like daughter. An inspirational pairing. The stuff that inspires great literature...
‘Blink and You Die’ Harper Collins, £12.99 h/b. The House of Illustration, Granary Square, N1