Q When did you decide to be a writer?
A For my fifth birthday, my father gave me a very fat book called The Book of a Thousand Poems. I loved it. I read the poems, recited them, learned them, and then started making up some of my own. Although I wanted to be a poet all those years ago, I later decided I would rather go on the stage. That didn’t quite work out, so I did other jobs – teaching and publishing. But somehow I’ve ended up doing what I wanted to do when I was five years old. I have a theory that this happens to quite a lot of people.
Q When did you start to write books?
A In 1993, when I was 45, one of my songs, A Squash and a Squeeze was made into a book. Before that I just wrote songs for children’s television.
Q Where do you get your ideas?
A Anywhere and everywhere: things that happen to my children; memories of my own childhood; things people say; places I go to; old folk tales and fairy stories. The hard part for me is not getting the idea, it is turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Q How long does it take to write a book?
A It can take months or years for the idea to grow in my head and for me to plan the book. This is a very important part. Then, when I am ready it could take anything between a week (for a picture book) and six months (for a chapter book) to write it. For the Gruffalo the ideas and planning stage lasted a year (obviously I was doing other things too!) and the actual writing took about two weeks.
Q Do you write with a pencil?
A When I’m writing a rhyming book I start off with a pencil or pen, writing in a big exercise book and doing lots of doodles along the way. If the book isn’t going to rhyme I often write it on the computer.
Q Where do you write?
A Mainly in my study which looks out over the busy High Street. But sometimes I write in a train or in the library – and also in my head when I’m out walking.
Q How do you find an illustrator?
A The publisher knows lots of illustrators and they help me choose the one which would suit my words best. Then they show my story to the illustrator to see if he or she wants the job.
Q Where did the inspiration for the Gruffalo come from?
A The book was going to be about a tiger but I couldn’t get anything to rhyme with “tiger” so I decided to create an imaginary monster whose name could rhyme with, “Oh help, oh no!”
Q Do you and Axel Scheffler work closely together on your picture books?
A No. I don’t breathe down his neck and he doesn’t breathe down mine! I write a story and send it to the publisher. Then the publisher sends it to Axel to illustrate. I do get to make comments on his rough sketches but try not to interfere too much – and anyway, I wouldn’t want to as they’re always so funny and brilliant.
Q Do you like being an author?
A I find the actual writing quite hard work. I often get stuck, or feel that I’m plodding along in an uninspired way. But when I realise that a story is working after all it’s a very exciting feeling – and I love doing all the polishing touches at the end (or “tweaking” as publishers call it). It’s lovely when the first rough illustrations arrive and I see how my characters are going to look.
Q How many books have you written?
A I have written 210 books. (90 of them can be bought in shops, and the others are for schools.) So I need a very big bookshelf.
Q What is your favourite book (not by you)?
A One of my favourites is Watership Down by Richard Adams, an exciting story about rabbits.
Q What are your hobbies?
A Walking, singing and playing the piano. I’m also interested in wild flowers and fungi.
Q Do you have any pets?
A Sadly my black cat Goblin died recently (he was very old). I do have a huge fish called Swimmy and quite a lot of other fish (I can’t count them because they won’t keep still) in a pond in my garden.
Q How can we find out where you are performing?
A By visiting the Gruffalo web site. This website also has some good games to play.
Also, if you want to see me telling some stories, you could visit the Storytelling page of this website.