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24 September 2014

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    Drawing from Katie and the Monkey
    One of James Mayhew's illustrations

    Chapter and verse on James

    James Mayhew lives in Herts where he writes and illustrates children's books. He tells us all about it.

    Perchance to Dream details

    The exhibition of James Mayhew's work runs from Saturday January 15 to Saturday February 19 at Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Broadway, Letchworth Garden City.

    The gallery is open daily 10am-5pm, closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.

    Admission is free. More details from the gallery on 01462 685647.

    Did you always want to be an illustrator?

    I always loved drawing and painting and I loved looking at books that told stories. But it wasn’t until I went to art school that I decided to be an illustrator.

    How many books have you written and illustrated?

    I have illustrated 50 books and I have written 20 stories.

    Do you prefer writing or illustrating and why is that?

    I really enjoy both! I think I was more confident about my illustrations when I first began working, but with time, after I had written more and more stories, I became more confident about my writing too. In fact, although I trained as an illustrator, I have recently written stories for other illustrators. Of course, I’m still very critical. Some days I can’t do either!

    Which is your favourite book and why?

    My favourite is my latest, BOY (published by The Chicken House) about a prehistoric cave boy. I got the idea from watching my son grow up and discover the world around him. The book holds many wonderful memories for me.

    Do you work at home?

    James Mayhew
    James Mayhew

    I have a studio where I do most of my work but of course I work at home too because I work all the time. I am always thinking about stories and pictures and how to make them work.

    What sort of process do you go through when you illustrate a book?

    First of all, the story must be written, by me or someone else. Anyone who reads words without pictures will see pictures in their imagination. It’s the same for me. I have to try to capture on paper what I see in my head. It’s not all that easy! I use sketch books a lot to plan things. I sketch from life and obtain reference from.

    I try to choose materials - paints and paper - that suit the task. There’s usually a period of experimentation. Then I do rough drawings and send those to the publisher for approval. Only then can I start the finished artwork. It'’ a long process, but it all begins in the imagination. It’s like day-dreaming (something I did rather a lot of at school). I’m a professional day-dreamer!

    Do you read much? Who are your favourite authors?

    I confess I read a lot less since becoming a parent! But I do try to read when I’m not too tired. I love the feeling of being lost in a book, being transported somewhere else. It’s more private and personal than a movie. As a child I loved Maurice Sendak’s books and when I was older, William Price’s adventure books and the Moomins by Tove Jansson. Also folk-tales and legends, and Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (very different to the film!)

    Recently I enjoyed Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Susan Price is a good writer - I loved the Ghost Drum. As an adult I read lots of biographies and things like gardening books. For fiction, I mostly read classics. I love F Scott Fitzgerald and I’ve recently turned to Charles Dickens - I grew up in Blundeston where David Copperfield’s fictional birthplace is. And there’s always Shakespeare, of course.

    How long have you lived in Letchworth and what brought you here?

    Three years - although we were previously in Baldock, just a mile down the road. We settled here because my wife worked locally and her Italian parents were settled in Letchworth and needed her more than my parents (in Norfolk) needed me!

    Do you like exhibiting in your home place?

    I hadn’t really thought about it before my exhibition opened at Letchworth Museum - although I was obviously flattered when the museum approached me. But it was wonderful to be able to invite so many local friends and colleagues to the exhibition and I was really touched that they came and supported me.

    What inspires you?

    All sorts of things. My son. Memories of my childhood, dreams, observing other people, visiting school and working with children ... it’s endless.

    What are your plans for the future?

    Katie has fun exploring famous paintings!
    Katie and the Sunflowers

    I have just finished a book called The Knight Who Took All Day and at the moment I am illustrating some ghost stories by Martin Waddell. I’ve also written a story for a wonderful illustrator and friend Jackie Morris. I’m visiting schools and I’ll be teaching a few days at Cambridge Art School. And there’s to be a sequel to Boy ... so lots of things!

    What do you like doing when you’re not working?

    Actually I never really stop. I’m always thinking about a story or an illustration. But I enjoy the usual things - TV and cinema. I’ve got a garden that needs digging and a house to decorate. I spend time with my family as a priority. And for sheer indulgence I like Grand Opera - Italian Bel Canto or the Russian operas. And my favourite singer is the legendary Roumanian soprano, Nelly Miricioiu. I listen to her recordings when I need a buzz.

    last updated: 31/01/05
    Have Your Say
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    The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

    Ashley Symons (ex-ickleford school)
    i really enjoy your books and they totally rock! good read and very imaginable.

    andrew and jessica
    hi its andrew and jessica from ickleford school we wanted to ask u some questions about you books.what book did u enjoy illustrating the most?and how much books have u written or illustrated(aprox)?.and has your cat ever given you insporation for 1 of you books and if he/she has wat book was it? we love your katie books and your website aswell.


    Sophie and Rebecca
    hi this is sophie and rebecca from ickleford school year 5. we really like the look of your books and love your website. we especialy like the book boy. is the book bast on your boy? we like the katie storys because we think it is funny that she is in lots of the famous panitings.

    Sam and Tom
    Will you be writing/illustrating any more books soon? From Sam and Thomas

    Frankie and Ciaran
    hi we are frankie and Ciaran and we realy like your books and illustrations and writing I like one of your Katie storys xxxxxxxxx by the way love them

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