One of the featured books in our Bookroo picture book box this month is Good Knight, Bad Knight, by Tom Knight.
Tom is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator from the east coast of England. In addition to writing and illustrating his own children’s books, he has also illustrated many more.
Tom and his wife Tabby live near Colchester, England, with their two sons. Together they share a passion for gardening and decorating. Tom is also a talented graphic designer and has created many beautiful prints. Tom is also a musician.
We hope you enjoy the interview and the chance to learn more about Tom and his work! The interview has been edited for clarity.
Bookroo: How did you get the idea for Good Knight, Bad Knight?
Tom: Good Knight, Bad Knight was a culmination of several things. Firstly I grew up on a farm, and spent a lot of my childhood romping through the hedgerows with a stick pretending to fight dragons and goblins, and building castles from bales of straw. Maybe I had delusions of grandeur because of my name, but it seemed inevitable that my first picture book would be set in the medieval world. I also grew up in the shadow of several high achieving cousins who made me feel slightly scruffy and inadequate. I think those feelings of jealousy are quite acute when you’re a kid. Often we use others as a yardstick to find our place in the world. Finally I have two boys, and I noticed that when one was being naughty, the other would go out of their way to be extra nice! We never seemed to have a Good Knight, Good Knight situation...
Bookroo: At this point, you’ve done more illustrating for children’s books than writing them, but you’ve now also written a couple as well. How do you enjoy the writing versus illustrating?
Tom: Writing vs illustrating is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, having been secreted in our local public library for months trying to get the further adventures of Good Knight, Bad Knight written. When I sit in front of a blank piece of paper with a pencil in my hand, it’s all excitement and potential. When I’m staring at a blank Word document with my fingers hovering over the keyboard, my mind goes blank and panic starts creeping in! The writing process is much harder, and therefore much more rewarding when I get it right. Sometimes writing makes illustrating feel a bit like digging a hole or building a wall. With drawing, I can just get my head down, and at the end of the day I have a stack of drawings to show for it. With writing, I could potentially go home with nothing but a paragraph, which I will probably delete anyway.
I work from home, and distractions are never a problem for me when I’m illustrating. When I’m writing, however, suddenly there are distractions EVERYWHERE, lurking round corners and hiding in the rafters. I have to lock myself away in the quietest corner of the library if I want to get anything done.
Bookroo: What difference is there between illustrating a story you’ve written and a story from another author?
Tom: Illustrating a story I have written myself is much easier. I think in very visual terms, so by the time I sit down to illustrate my own words I usually have a clear picture of what the scene looks like in my head. Illustrating other people's words is always a bit more of a challenge, because you worry that your drawings won’t look anything like what the author had in mind. Fortunately I have worked with some very lovely authors, and no one has complained yet!
Bookroo: You and Tabby share an interest in gardening and the outdoors and even have a company together that combines those passions with your talent in illustration. What do you enjoy about gardening?
Tom: I enjoy the physical aspect of being outdoors, with damp knees and my hands in the earth. There have been scientific studies showing that bacterium in the soil stimulates seratonin, which is why gardening makes you feel happy and relaxed. I find the world of botany and horticulture quite confusing though. Luckily Tabby knows exactly what she’s doing in the garden, so usually she just tells me what to do and I can concentrate on listening to the birds.
Bookroo: What other interests or hobbies do you enjoy?
Tom: My mum is a musician, so I grew up surrounded by instruments and have been playing music for as long as I can remember. I used to play the double bass in an orchestra, and then moved on to playing guitars and basses in bands. I also played the banjo and harmonica in an old time string band. We had great fun, even though we were a bunch of white English boys playing mostly African American music from 100 years ago. What we lacked in authenticity we made up for in enthusiasm!
Bookroo: What does an average do look like for you?
Tom: We get up at 6am, and I’ll try to do some life drawing exercises while I drink my morning coffee and my brain wakes up. Then I have to make sure the boys go to school with their shoes on the right feet and clean teeth, and by 7:30am everyone has gone and the house is MINE. This means I can do a morning workout without anyone laughing at me. After that I’ll have breakfast at my desk, working out the days tasks and replying to any outstanding emails. If it’s a drawing day, I’ll crank up a podcast or audiobook, and hunch over my drawing board until lunchtime. I try to go for a walk or cycle into the countryside, but in the winter i usually end up munching a sandwich while watching old music videos on YouTube. Then it’s back to the drawing board until it’s time to cook dinner for everyone. We try to have dinner at the table, and then maybe watch some tv together in the evenings. If I have a deadline, i usually go back into the studio. This is the curse of working from home - it’s difficult to switch off!
Bookroo: What are you currently reading?
Tom: I’m currently reading a book called Transcription by Kate Atkinson. I’ve enjoyed all of her books, but her last two were fantastic. This current one is great so far too.
Bookroo: Do you have a favorite children’s books?
Tom: That’s a big question! It’s probably The Hobbit, because it’s the first book I can remember that transported me to a different world. I loved Tolkien’s illustrations too. Other favourites were The House At Pooh Corner by AA Milne, and The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I also loved Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge stories, and I think Where The Wild Things are is as close to perfection as you can get in a picture book.
Bookroo: What advice do you have for parents and others who are trying to raise readers?
Tom: Instilling a love of reading and stories has always been very important to us as a family. We tried to read to the kids every night ever since they were tiny. That way, children will always associate stories with a feeling of warmth and safety, and then later they can use stories to broaden their imaginations. We all have to fight the battle against phones and tablets taking over. Sometimes it’s fine to let them win too (they can be great baby sitters when your attention isn’t totally focussed on the kids!) but I think it’s good to try and keep screens out of their bedrooms. Bedrooms should be a place for books! Also it’s important to sell the idea of reading as a treat, and not a chore. As the great Frank Zappa said, “so many books, so little time!”
Bookroo: We’re a community of book lovers. Do you have any recent or upcoming books you can tell us about?
Tom: I’ve just finished illustrating a book called “In The Dead Of The Night” for Little Hare in Australia. It’s written by Arthur McBain, and it’s a cracker! Hopefully just the right mix of spooky and sweet. I have also written two books about the further adventures of Good Knight Bad Knight. The first one is called “Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Big Game”, and is out already with Templar, and the second is called “Good Knight, Bad Knight and The Flying Machine”, and I’m just about to sit down and do all the drawings for it. They are chapter books for slightly older readers (6 – 9) and you will find out what Good Knight and Bad Knight’s real names are! I’m not going to tell you here though, so you’ll just have to read them.
(All images courtesy of Tom Knight)