Known principally as the creator of Charlie and Lola – a series of hugely popular children’s picture books as well as a BAFTA-winning CBeebies animated TV show – writer and illustrator Lauren Child, who appears at Ryedale Book Festival next weekend, has written and/or illustrated more than thirty books.
In fact, Child’s character Clarice Bean – a thoughtful, slightly put-upon middle child in a boisterous family (who also has a series of books of her own) – was her first published creation, but it was the arrival of cute brother and sister Charlie and Lola in I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat a Tomato 15 years ago that heralded Child’s big break.
It won her the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in 2000. Quirky, imaginative, humorous and beautifully illustrated, the Charlie and Lola books quickly became bedtime story favourites for children and parents alike, then came the TV series and a global phenomenon was born. The books have sold in their millions worldwide and have been translated into 19 languages.
This month sees the publication of the first Charlie and Lola book in five years, One Thing, a charming picture book about the joy of mathematics, but Child hasn’t been resting on her laurels in the meantime. She is incredibly prolific – aside from Charlie and Lola, the Clarice Bean series and numerous picture books, more recently she has been working on a six-book deal of young adult detective thrillers featuring 13-year-old code-breaker and special agent Ruby Redfort.
Child attributes her drive partly to the fact that she was into her thirties before success came. “Originally it was something as simple as the fact that I came to it reasonably late,” she says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my working life. A lot of my friends seemed to know what they wanted to do from quite early on and I think that focussed me, especially when it started to take off.
“Although it was more gradual than people imagine. I got success with my first book and I think that just made me think ‘why not stick with it and see what happens’. You are enjoying it, you need to really work hard and it will allow you to do other things. I started to say yes to pretty much everything. I loved doing it and I wanted to experiment with different styles of writing and drawing.”
The genesis of the Ruby Redfort books is unusual – Ruby was first referred to in the Clarice Bean series as Clarice’s favourite fictional character.
“I kept getting all these letters from children asking if the books were real,” says Child. So she decided to write them.
“It is a lovely way to make a book, although it is also slightly daunting because you want the stories to be what the children want to read.” Writing the books has kept her occupied since 2011 – she has one more to deliver which she is about to start work on – and it has been, she says, an enjoyable experience but not without its challenges. “I have loved it but it’s also agony because they are very plotted,” she says. “I would love to write more for older children but probably not crime for a while.”
She has been delighted to get back to Charlie and Lola after a five-year gap. “I have really missed illustration,” she says.
“As much as I love writing, if I had to choose one or the other, I would find it hard. I find illustrating very calming. You enter a different world – it allows me to completely forget everything else that’s going on.
“And I think having had the break it has made me become a better illustrator.”
• Charlie and Lola’s One Thing is published this week by Orchard Books, £11.99; The Ruby Redfort books are published by Harper Collins. Lauren Child is at Ryedale Book Festival on October 11 at 3.30pm, tickets £10 from www.ryedalebookfestival.com and include a birthday tea for Charlie and Lola.