Why did you decide to take up writing children’s books?
If I remember rightly, my first children’s book was about a Teddy who went to the moon. I was about 11 at the time and, surprisingly, it was never published. I went on to become (briefly) an illustrator and contributed to various books on natural history and from there became one of the founding directors of Templar Publishing in 1980. Over the intervening years I've conceived and written many, many books for children – from non-fiction to picture books and all sorts of pop-ups and other novelty titles. But I think I learned a lot of the craft of writing by working on magazines and partworks. There’s nothing like a weekly deadline and I pile of press releases to spur you into action…
What inspires your stories?
I am always inspired to write about nature – you only need to go for a walk in the countryside with your eyes wide open to see something interesting, and I think it’s one of the most important subjects to get children engaged in. But you don’t have to look too far to find fascinating things to write about for any subject – the world is full of marvels in my opinion, and you only need a decent dose of imagination to make a story out of pretty much anything. My current obsession is a guy called Alexander von Humboldt, a geographer, naturalist and explorer, who explored and described much of South America’s landscape and wildlife in the late 1700’s. His whole life was an adventure
What was your favourite book when you were young?
Very tough question! Very young – Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter, although I always wanted to believe that the characters from Wind in the Willows were living somewhere nearby too. Later on, I loved My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, all the Famous Fives and anything by Jack London. I also started collecting natural history books as soon as I had any pocket money to spare.
When you’re not writing how do you spend your time?
I have two dogs, 20 chickens and a big garden so I spend a fair amount of time looking after them, not to mention the rest of the family. I love to paint and have a studio at home where I am trying to find the time to perfect a new technique of painting on silk using dyes and salt to create all sorts of beautiful effects. And I love to read, obviously. But I guess one of my favourite things to do is to wander about in the garden or the wood or the field and just see what turns up. There’s usually something!
Where is Home?
A crumbly old farmhouse on the border between Surrey and Sussex. It was built in 1520 or thereabouts so I’m hoping that someday I’ll find some Tudor treasure buried in the garden.
What’s been the biggest influence on your life?
My dad had a great influence on both me and my sister. He instilled in both of us a love of art, of drawing and of the written word. And he was a great naturalist. He’s still much better at identifying birdcalls than I am. But bringing up my son Harry has been the biggest thing. Not only does having a child of your own bring into sharp focus the things which are truly meaningful to you and the beliefs that you want to pass on, but it also allows you to experience things from a child’s perspective all over again and that was wonderfully useful to me as a publisher. He’s 19 now and currently doing his own version of von Humboldt’s journey round South America, though I doubt he’s going to get any penguins named after him.
New York in December.
Favourite museum/attraction in London?
Any of the art galleries, depending on what’s on, but I still have a great fondness for London Zoo, for the memories of all those childhood trips and their reprise 30 years on with my own son.
Lovely weather and friends to stay, as long as they’re gone by Sunday so I can have the day to potter in the vegetable patch.
How do you relax?
With a good book and a gin and tonic.
Natural World is available from July 7th £19.99 wideeyededitions.com