How Plymouth children’s author and illustrator Simon James brought The Boy from Mars to life – five years on! Plymouth’s award-winning, million-selling children’s author and illustrator Simon James has so many ideas, he can’t keep up with them: “I have a backlog of ideas,” he explained, “and because it takes such a time – about a year – to complete a picture book, the ideas just keep on growing.”
the reader into the world within the pages of the book, to create a sense of wonder not just for the children but for their parents while they’re reading it to them. “This is where picture books cannot be matched. There are narrative tools I can use to introduce pauses, anticipation, intrigue and tension, so the reader is lost in the narrative. Simply So he has a special ‘Ideas Drawer’, which is turning a page is a device in itself, with the actually a large chest of drawers, where he element of conceal and reveal.” tucks them all away until he’s able to revisit Simon has always loved art and stories them. and was inspired by the illustrations and It was during one of these ‘revisits’ that he cartoons in publications such as Punch stumbled on a sketch he’d made five years and New Yorker. His first picture book was earlier, of a little boy who was dressed as over 30 years ago. He now has more than an alien. The boy was trying to convince his 20 titles to his name. His books have been bigger brother that he wasn’t his little brother translated in over 20 languages and some at all, but was a Martian who’d just landed have won international awards. from Mars. His picture books include the millionThe illustration intrigued Simon. It was time, selling Dear Greenpeace and awardhe decided, to bring the little boy to life. A winning Baby Brains, which was Overall year or so on, and his new picture book, The Winner of the Red House Children’s Book Boy From Mars, has just been published. Award – the only award decided entirely The story is all about a boy called Stanley by children. who flies to Mars when his mum has to go Dear Greenpeace is the story of how away for a few days, leaving him with his dad a little girl, Emily, writes to Greenpeace and elder brother. While he is on Mars, he is for advice about the whale she has in replaced by a naughty Martian who looks like her garden pond: “It’s a universal story Stanley but he won’t eat his vegetables, won’t for his next picture of logic versus imagination,” said Simon. s on ati str illu ’s on Sim clean his teeth and won’t play nicely in the school book about a dog called Mr Scruff “This is a common theme for me, looking playground. at how logic and facts can overwhelm So how did one drawing, sketched several years imagination, but how, through their own innocence and earlier, develop into a book full of charming characters? And creativity, children reach their own solutions and work things how did the story emerge? Chatting in his studio, with ‘work out in their own way.” in progress’ illustrations of a scruffy dog all around him, Some of Simon’s books are set in and around Plymouth, Simon gave us an insight into his process: “I’m a very visual such as Sally and the Limpet, which takes place on Wembury person so my books will start with a little sketch that makes Beach, and the award-winning Leon and Bob, which features me smile and from there, it’s the ideas, the message behind Salisbury Road and Beaumont Park. the pictures and words, that propels me. “The people of Plymouth have been very supportive of my “The words and pictures must have an underlying theme work over the years and it’s nice to have Plymouth in a couple because to me, this is the beating heart of story-telling. But of the books,” he said. “It always goes down well when I visit it’s not about hitting people on the head with it. It’s done in a local schools, which is something I enjoy immensely because subtle, gentle way. I like to see children inspired about books and about creative “And there has to be room within the story-telling to thinking.” allow people to use their own creativity and imagination in Simon is currently working on his next picture book, about interpreting the story, in much the same way that Stanley a dog called Mr Scruff who’s waiting in an animal shelter for uses his own creativity and imagination to solve the problem someone to come along and take him home. When he does he faces when his mum goes away.” find a new owner, he doesn’t seem suitable at all. They’ll Simon doesn’t use digital media, just pencils, pen and ink, never get along, surely? Or will they? watercolours and paper. Thumbnail-sized pencil sketches, For Simon, the future for traditional picture books in drawn side by side to depict facing pages in a book, become this digital age is as rosy as ever: “Oh there’s definitely a individual illustrations on huge pieces of card, before the future for them. Grown-ups enjoy reading them as much as final versions are done to the correct sizes in a dummy book. the children like listening to them. And there is nothing to Finally, when Simon is happy with it, he’ll take the book to his replace the joy of a child and a parent sharing a picture book publishers, Walker Books, for the finishing touches. together.” Every little detail is crafted painstakingly. Who knew that Simon’s books are suitable for children aged 3-8. it took so many attempts to get just the right shade of green Visit his website for information and there are right, when painting a pair of trousers? And nothing is on the contact details for schools to get in touch to discuss page without a reason – it’s all part of creating a scene that a visit. www.simonjamesbooks.com draws children and their parents in: “The aim is to immerse
The Plymouth Magazine February 2018
The 164th edition of Plymouth's popular and biggest circulation "lifestyle" magazine delivered to 45,000 homes every month.