Nick Sharratt has loved drawing for as long as he can remember and is now one of the most widely recognised illustrators in the UK. He’s worked in partnership with everyone from Jacqueline Wilson to Julia Donaldson, although my personal favourites are the books he’s created with Pippa Goodhart: You Choose and Just Imagine.
Sharratt has also illustrated several poetry anthologies, but this month sees the publication of a poetry collection he’s not only illustrated, but also written. Vikings in the Supermarket is a zany and eclectic mix of poems featuring tartan moggies, tidy pirates and a queen who loves green. To celebrate Sharratt’s first ever collection of poetry and National Poetry Day I recently had the opportunity to put a few questions to him. Here’s how our interview went:
Playing by the book: Have you found any ways in which writing poetry is similar to illustration? How are they different / similar?
Nick Sharratt: They’re similar in that there’s a huge amount of preparatory work involved for both: lots of rough drawings and lots of rough drafts. They’re different in that when I start an illustration I have a fairly precise idea in my head of how I want the finished image to look and it’s a matter of getting that down on paper, whereas with poetry, other than a vague theme in mind, I usually have no idea of what I’m after, or where the words will end up taking me. I feel a lot less in control. Ideas for lines will pop into my head at the most unlikely times, whereas I don’t ponder on how to resolve illustration issues outside of my studio.
Playing by the book: What helped you most when writing this collection of poetry? Did you have a particular inspiration? Was there a setting that worked especially well? Did you have input from friends?
Nick Sharratt: Witnessing young children’s excitement at a Vikings exhibition in Edinburgh made me keen to do something with Viking characters. Mermaids, pirates and kings and queens are simply favourite subjects to draw, so I worked away until I had poems for each of them. ‘A Tartan Tale’ could just have been inspired by having moved to Scotland a couple of years ago!
I always test out poems on friends by getting them to read them out loud – they are very tolerant and prepared for my grumpiness if the words don’t flow as I want them to!
Playing by the book: Other than your own, what poetry for children holds a special place in your heart? (eg from your own childhood, or that you’ve discovered as an adult)
Nick Sharratt: My all-time favourite poetry book has to be Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids. I was given a copy when I was seven or eight and it was so different to any book I’d ever read, I was bowled over. Fantastically readable and recitable poems, brilliant humour (even if I didn’t quite understand one or two of the jokes until I was older) and funny pictures to boot. I can remember the words to just about every poem.
Playing by the book: In a sense, you’ve come full circle: the first picture book you illustrated was a book of poetry, and now your own collection of poetry is being published. How do you think you’ve changed as book creator (or co-creator) in the intervening 28 odd years? What has changed for the better about the publishing industry? What changes would you still like to see?
Nick Sharratt: It really is full circle: David Fickling was the editor of that first book, Noisy Poems, and now he’s the publisher of this first collection. It’s incredible to think that so many years have gone by. I don’t think that I’ve changed particularly as a book creator. Each project remains an adventure. Starting the illustration work on a new book is still daunting. I’ve yet to land on any trusty formula for coming up with great book ideas, other than to begin by groping around with little more than a sense of what won’t work, rather than what will.
Publishing trends come and go and of course there have been many changes in the world of children’s books but I really don’t feel they have influenced my own work greatly. The goal remains the same: to create books that work successfully with children.
Playing by the book: As a child were there any books you liked to “play” (ie act out, or respond to in some creative way) – my blog is called Playing by the book and is all about my family’s art/craft/dramatic/playful responses to the books we’ve read. So were there books which took over your imagination and you made “real” in some sense? If so, could you share a little about them and what you did?
Nick Sharratt: Oh dear, I’ve really struggled to think but I can’t recall any games inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Stig of the Dump, The Railway Children, or any of my favourite childhood books. My brother, sisters and I were pretty imaginative and created lots of games based on 70s TV programmes like It’s a Knockout, The Generation Game and Dr Who, but not on what we were reading. Maybe that’s because TV watching was a shared activity but for each of the four of us reading was a personal, private matter and we had quite different tastes. Although we were keen readers I don’t remember us ever discussing our books together.
There’s no doubting, however, that poring over the illustrations in my books is what triggered my ambition to become an illustrator myself.
Many thanks to Nick Sharratt for stopping by Playing by the Book today and taking the time to answer my questions. Wishing Nick and you all a very happy National Poetry Day!