Saturday, 9 September 2017

Chris Riddell Phillipa Pearce Lecture

This is the fourth Phillipa Pearce Lecture I've attended in a row, one of the most thought provoking and entertaining and the first given by an illustrator.

Chris Riddell is the recipient of three Kate Greenaway medals and amongst other accolades, was the ninth Children's Laureate with his stated goal: To show how much fun can be had with drawing. He's a champion of libraries, so it's fitting that I am attending the sell out event with the inimitable Rosie Pike, school librarian and organiser of the excellent Bishop's Stortford Literary Festival. Chris recognises her post lecture, in the signing line. Rosie gets a hug!

As the doors open Chris is already on stage. He's a man with slightly quizzical eyebrows in a soft blue jacket and shirt who sits sketching as the hall at Homerton College fills, his hand dancing across the paper below a visualiser. He sketches people - His publisher, sitting in the front row, illustrations to unwritten books and a parody of Trump - Donald Ear trumpet and his fake shoes. A reminder that Chris is a successful political cartoonist for The Observer.

He's a self-effacing, humorous and gracious man who keeps the audience enraptured as he delivers his entertaining lecture, 'The Age of The Beautiful Book.' His own, first beautiful book was an illustrated bible. (He was the son of a vicar after all). They were so loaded with colour and style it was as if,
'Don Draper had emerged from Mad Men and turned the bible stories into an advertising spread.' He was a voracious reader when he got the hang of it, further influenced by the Tenniel illustrations in Alice in Wonderland, Ladybird books (before they became ironic) and Pauline Baynes beautiful illustrations for The Chronicles of Narnia (although for years he thought Aslan was a lion called Alsation). The illustrations enhanced the text and cast a mysterious story telling spell over the young Chris.

He's a new and enthusiastic convert to the world of social media, after an incident with his mobile phone in the washing machine led to him being upgraded to a smart phone. He tweets his drawings
and draws as other people talk, constantly in conversation hand to page, filling notebooks and annotating published books, drawing around the text, filling the blank space with expressive and beautiful sketches. Tweeting his work had led to illustrating the books he want to illustrate, like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. He would now love to illustrate Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. (Peake's estate take note).

He believes,

'Far from replacing print, technology has sharpened our appetite for beautifully created books.. children are now reading more and want to read print... books furnish the room and the mind.' his own works are examples of these beautiful that burst from bookshelves. The Goth Girl series production evolved from a meeting with his publishers in the, 'Department for Making Beautiful Books' (which sounds like something out of Harry Potter, but is in fact the Production Department) where he asked for blackboard black on the cover, foil, varnish and William Morris style end papers and a miniature book in an open envelope within the back cover. The production department begrudgingly agreed, 'I suppose you'll want sprayed edges as well?' they asked. Chris didn't know what they were, but thought they sounded good. So when his publisher brought a first copy of Goth Girl along to a reception at Downing Street Chris was attending, he was delighted, only to have to sign it and hand it over to the daughter of George Osborne, begrudgingly, and to then sacrifice a second copy to the daughter of David Cameron. Imagine the anguish!

Congrats to Homerton College and the Phillipa Pearce Lecture series for pulling off another great event. Next year they are moving to a Spring schedule and have Frances Hardinge and Jacqueline Wilson lined up. Afterwards it was off to the Great Hall for a glass of 'Writer's block' book signings and a meet up with fellow SCBWI's after. I'll be back for more next year.

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