He is a bestselling and multi award-winning author/illustrator. His first picture book, Blown Away, was published in 2014 and was only the second illustrated book in history to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It was read as a CBeebies Bedtime Story by Mark Bonnar in 2017. His second book, GRRRRR!, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal and his third, Odd Dog Out, was nominated for a total of eight literary prizes, winning the BSC Festival of Literature Picture Book Award and the UKLA Student Shadower’s Vote Book Award. It was also read as a CBeebies Bedtime Story by Tom Hardy in 2017. His fourth, Sunk!, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal and shortlisted for The People's Book Award and Oscar's Book Prize, and his fifth, Kevin, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal and shortlisted for the BSC Festival of Literature Picture Book Award and the IBW Book Award. His sixth book, Happy Hatchday, is the first in the brand-new Dinosaur Juniors series, and the second, Give Peas a Chance, published in July 2018. As well as working on his own books he also illustrates for other authors including Jeff Brown (the Flat Stanley series), Piers Torday, Jess Butterworth, SE Durrant and Christian O'Connell. Before he became a full-time author/illustrator he was the art director of the Observer Magazine, NME, Uncut, SKY and Just Seventeen. He lives in London with his wife and three daughters and hasn't given up hope that, maybe, one of them will go to an Arsenal match with him one day.
"About" via robbiddulph.com Profile image courtesy of Rob Biddulph.
As I mentioned above I have a huge list of story ideas in a google doc that I constantly update. They are usually only a sentence or so but it’s a great place to start. Then when it comes to the time that I meet up with my editors (Rachel and Alice at HarperCollins) to discuss future books I can go through my list and select five or six ideas that I think have the most potential. I’ll then spend a day or so fleshing them out a bit before meeting with them and pitching them. Between us we’ll decide on two or three to progress further. It’s a very fluid system. I usually know what my next three books are going to be. In terms of fine-tuning story arcs, my wife (who is a journalist and writer herself) is a brilliant sounding board. Often I’ll be totally stuck on a plot point and she’ll just spot the answer immediately, whereas I don’t think I’d have ever got there.
Ok. Here goes: 1 One sentence idea in a google doc on my phone 2 Flesh idea out to a paragraph and pitch to Harper Collins 3 Take on board initial feedback from my editors 4 Start sketching characters 5 Draw one or two of the initial set pieces that I have in my head (to get a feel for the characters and the story). Usually this is a fairly finished drawing 6 Work out the finished story arc 7 Draw very rough thumbnails of the entire book to get a feel for the rhythm of the story 8 Start writing. This can take aaaaaaages. I write in rhyme so often I can spend a week writing solidly and end up with just one couplet that’s usable. I’m very strict with my text – no imperfect rhymes for me. And the meter has to be absolutely perfect. There is nothing worse than a rhyming picture book that doesn’t read aloud very easily. This is the part of the process I find the hardest, but also the most rewarding (once I’ve cracked it, obviously) 9 Draw a fairly detailed version of the entire book – in grayscale, not full colour. Invaluable for design, layout etc. I’ll often tweak little bits of the story/rhyme at this point 10 Send to my editors and take on board their comments 11 Final artwork. The nicest part of the process in many ways. This can take anything from a month to eight weeks to complete 12 Send artwork to HarperCollins 13 A couple of rounds of proofing and tweaking 14 A blad is made and taken to Bologna/Frankfurt 15 Book published
Most of the design process is done the old-fashioned way in a sketchbook. Then I’ll take it into Photoshop. I draw with digital brushes on a Wacom Cintiq and am quite fastidious about my Photoshop documents. There are LOTS of layers. It means that everything is infinitely tweakable which is great if you’re as indecisive as I am. The brushes I use behave very similarly to regular paint brushes, except you can press ‘undo’ if you don’t like something. You can blend colour, add texture etc just like you can with real paint. It’s a lovely way to work.
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to use two different parts of my brain, one for writing and one for illustrating. I couldn’t choose a favourite – I like each for different reasons. Having said that, as I mentioned earlier the writing doesn’t come as easily as the drawing, so often that part is the most rewarding.
It was a bit scary. I’d worked in magazines and newspapers for nearly twenty years and really enjoyed it, but in my heart I knew that this was what I really wanted to do. Yes, leaving a secure job for something a bit less certain was nerve-wracking but ultimately I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained” so I just took the plunge (with the support of my wife, of course). People kept telling me how hard it was to make a living writing children’s books full-time but that hasn’t been my experience at all. I’m incredibly lucky in that I get offered lots of lovely jobs. You never know how long things in life will last but so far so good. I have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline and I feel very fortunate to be doing this for a living.
Yes. Every single time. My daughters are all slightly older now but they’re still great at giving feedback. They’re very, erm, honest! As I mentioned before my wife is essential to the process. She’s always happy to nip out for a coffee and a little brainstorming session. She’s great!
Winning the Waterstones Prize for my first book ‘Blown Away’ was amazing. I think it was only the second picture book ever to win and as such was a great start to my career. As a direct result of that I have the support of lots of people in the industry and have been given some great exposure. I also love touring, visiting festivals and meeting my audience. There’s no better feeling than meeting a child who tells you all about what your characters mean to them.
I get up early, take my daughter to school and then head to my studio at the end of the garden. If I’m drawing I listen to music and podcasts as I work whereas if I’m writing it has to be totally silent. In fact, often I will head out to write. One of my favourite spots is the British Library - my first three books were written there. I used to pop over in my lunch hour as it’s right next door to the Guardian (where I was working at the time). After a busy morning of draweing or writing I’ll nip inside for a spot of lunch with my wife (if she’s working at home), before heading back out to the studio for the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll nip into central London to meet up with my editors, agent or publicists, and sometimes I might have a school visit or festival to get to. I like to pick the kids up from school whenever I can, or go for a walk with my wife. It’s a very nice working life I must say.
First thing in the morning is always a good time for me. That and from about 4-7pm. I tend to get a bit distracted by twitter or football gossip in the middle of the day.
Ooh, good question. I’d probably say… a nice steak. I’m also a big fan of Japanese cuisine, the full English breakfast and, of course, chocolate. I am the least-fussy eater ever tbh, so anything goes really. Except grapefruit. You can keep grapefruit.
Hahaha. Yes, you’re certainly right about that! My daughters are very keen dancers (ballet, tap etc) so we spend a lot of time watching them perform in shows and festivals all over the country. We also like going to the theatre/cinema, swimming, taking long, windy walks down in St Ives (we visit every year), playing with LEGO and eating pizza. I think we are going to get a puppy later this year so I imagine that he or she will soon be taking up a lot of our time.