In this captivating and darkly funny tale, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell have twisted together the familiar and the new as well as the beautiful and the wicked to tell a brilliant version of Snow White's (sort of) and Sleeping Beauty's (almost) stories.
The book is a beautiful work of art.
About the Author
Chris Riddell is an acclaimed British artist who lives in Brighton, England. He has written and illustrated many books of his own, including Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and Ottoline Goes to School, and has illustrated, for Bloomsbury UK, The Graveyard Book; Coraline; and Fortunately, the Milk; as well as The Sleeper and the Spindle.
Date of Birth:November 10, 1960
Place of Birth:Portchester, England
Education:Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Chris Riddell
UK children's laureate Chris Riddell always carries a sketchbook. Every day he draws something in his life his Tuesday morning cooked breakfast, Laurie Penny's fantastic glasses, and a picture of himself swathed in a cap, captioned in his spiky, precise handwriting: "Off to hold court in the Edinburgh Yurt . . . "
Through these sketches, he keeps his fans up-to-date on his activities and adventures as illustrator, storyteller, human rights and environmental campaigner, political cartoonist, and children's laureate.
I met him in a chilly gazebo, reminiscent of county shows where people compete to make the best jam or cakes, on the penultimate day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
His warmth was immediately apparent, and throughout the interview it became clear that Chris is a natural storyteller, with an uncanny ability to spin everyday occurrences into entrancing yarns.
He is also deeply humane and had spent the morning campaigning for Amnesty International, helping them to raise awareness of Iranian artist Atena Farghadani, who has been jailed for twelve years, for drawing Iranian politicians as monkeys and cows. Hope Whitmore
The Barnes & Noble Review: You were working with Amnesty this morning?
Chris Riddell: Yes. I sat outside the Parliament and set up these easels, and drew.
Amnesty wanted to demonstrate freedom of expression, and a brilliant way to do that was to set up all these easels and say, "Anyone in this country can draw anything they like, so come and draw anything you like." It's this powerful demonstration of freedom of expression, because this Iranian artist has been jailed for creating a cartoon that was critical of the Iranian government.
BNR: So drawing can make quite a powerful political statement? For example, you work as a political cartoonist for the Observer drawing [former UK prime minister] Gordon Brown as a little Superman, and that kind of thing.
CR: Oh, I had such an extraordinary moment just today, Hope, when I went to the author's loo, and this man came walking toward me and said [puts on a deep, whisky-ish Scottish accent], "Is it unoccupied?"
And I said, "Yes, yes it is." And it was Gordon Brown.
I opened the toilet door for Gordon Brown, he stepped in and closed it. But the thing was, I looked at him, and I thought, I know that face so well because I've studied and drawn it so there I was, faced with one of my characters. And it was a very strange moment.
BNR: Did he recognize you?
CR: No. We've met a couple of times at receptions, but he meets a lot of people. Of course he wouldn't recognize me, but he's a very charming man, because he's a politician, and you know, they have to be charming, and he's lovely, I shook his hand afterward, obviously. I hope he washed them.
And I was thinking, I just met Gordon Brown. What a lovely thing.
BNR: As a political cartoonist and someone who is passionate about freedom of expression, you were badly affected by the Charlie Hebdo killings in January. I saw your pictures the "I have no words" image, of a cartoonist at his desk, drawing, and the images of Marianne, the symbol of France, holding her wounded subjects and proclaiming, "Liberté."
As a cartoonist this must have been very difficult. Did it feel personal?
CR: Oh, completely. I mean of course, of course, because we're coming back to freedom of expression and it's this idea that you can be killed for drawing. And that's an extraordinary concept, that notion that you were not allowed to draw. It's the ultimate human right that has been destroyed, and I think it's tragic, absolutely tragic.
We need to all of us need to respect each other, and that's an important aspect of this. I don't think you should cause offense just because you want to cause offense because this is a thing you can do, but at the same time, nobody deserves to be killed for a drawing.
And in my cartoons that I did on the subject, what I wanted to convey, in a sense was a human response. I wanted it to be about sorrow and I wanted it to be about compassion. I wanted it to be the opposite of what the killers had in their mind, which was to destroy life. I wanted it to be affirming, and the drawings I tried to do were figures that were comforting one another.
Like Marianne cradling the wounded artist. I wanted to say, "These drawings are about love, not hate." That was a key issue. It was a horrible, horrible thing for all of us, and for me as an artist, and hopefully my response was a human one.
BNR: And you're also interested in the Arctic you're currently doing the artwork for Island by Nicky Singer. Can you tell me a bit about that?
CR: It's amazing. Because you know what? I was at Waterstones, because with my children's laureate thing, I get to go to Waterstones and draw on walls and things so I went to Waterstones in Brighton and I was drawing on a wall, and I turned round and there was my old friend Nicky.
So I said, "Have a coffee," and Nicky told me about this book Island that had been a play at the National Theatre.
I thought, This is brilliant, this is a really brave thing to do, and such an important issue. And I thought to myself, How can I help? And she was talking to me about it, and I suddenly thought it might be nice if maybe I offered to do some illustrations.
I've just done the cover, in fact, last month. And it's going to look lovely.
I realized, Hope, I've just praised my own work like that, I just mean that we we're able to do what we want to do with it so it's going to be hand-lettered, the whole cover is taken up with the face of a polar bear just looking at us, so it's going to be, just really nice.
I really hope to raise awareness of Arctic drilling and what is at stake.
BNR: What's it about?
CR: Well, It's a book set against the backdrop of global warming.
What it does, which I think is so clever, is it takes a sort of Inuit culture and the notion of spirit life and connection with the environment, and it links that into the modern world and what we've lost in the modern world.
And there's a boy who, in a sense, goes on a journey. He arrives on this island being depressed because he can't get the Internet, and his mum, who's a scientist, has dragged him all this way on an expedition, and he ends by really appreciating and having this visionary sense of Inuit culture, and what is happening to the earth in terms of global warming. It's fable-like, but in a good way. It's like a very tough fable. I mean, it's very lyrical, but it's not soft. It's got a hard core, and I think that's great, and you know, that's Nicky at her best.
BNR: You've also worked with Neil Gaiman and Paul Stewart. You're working with Gaiman on something at the moment, how is that?
CR: I'll tell you exactly how it is Hope. It is fantastic, as you might imagine.
I think of Neil as Gandalf, in his robes, with his staff, and I'm sitting outside my house with my round front door, and Neil comes along as I call him "the Wise Wizard Gaiman" and he says, "Do you want to go on an adventure?"
And I say, "Yeah!"
Then we go on an adventure, and I'm never sure where we're going or what we're going to do, but I know it's going to be great like Sleeper and Spindle, which was an amazing thing, and just came out of nowhere.
So Neil called me up quite recently, and I was on the train to East Croydon, and he said to me "I've just written a story. Can I read it to you?" and he read me this story, on the train. I wanted to stop everyone else, putting up one hand and going, "Quiet Please, Neil Gaiman's reading me a story here."
And I loved this story he had written.
And he said, "Maybe just think about it. Maybe you'd like to do something with it," so I just said, "OK, send it over in email," and he did, so I've just been playing with that.
We don't know what we're going to do with it. It might be something. It might not be something. But Neil's like that, he just says, "Let's see what magic this is going to turn into."
Because he's a wizard.
BNR: What's it about?
CR: I can't possibly tell you, you see, because it's very, very hush-hush at the moment, but Hope I'll let you know as soon as it becomes something.
BNR: You've also illustrated Guilliver's Travels, back in 2004. That's a classic. How was that?
CR: I loved it. I worked with Martin Jenkins, who did a retelling of Gulliver, a really, really nice retelling. I'd read Gulliver as a student the original Jonathan Swift version and what Martin did was he really brought that language the Swiftian story he really made it accessible for kids now.
And there were bits in the Gulliver story that I'd forgotten and they were such wonderful things, and it's such a visual story, and a lot of what I've done afterward, for example The Edge Chronicles a lot of that came out of Gulliver's Travels. Paul [Stewart] and I have talked about that, and the Floating City of Santefrac is straight out of Gulliver, it's Laputa, and in a sense The Edge Chronicles have been all about characters traveling it's an absolute Gulliver journey.
BNR: So, you and Paul have this as a template?
CR: Not a template, but I think a mood board, an influence, something that's at the back of our minds. So we write about the Twilight Woods, where people can't die. Well, Jonathan Swift had that in Gulliver's Travels, the Immortals, they can't die they just decay. It's a wonderful concept. Jonathan Swift invented zombies. It's great. BNR: You collaborate with other writers, but you also create your own stories, like Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, and Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death. Can you talk about this a bit? How do illustration and story go together?
CR: Well, when I was quite young, I went to see a publisher, and he said to me, "Do you do stories? I'd like to see your stories."
So I said, "Oh Yes, I have a story but I didn't bring it with me."
And I went home and wrote one that night. And that story, I think, came from the fear I felt as a child when I lay in bed not wanting to look under the bed in case there was something underneath. I created a story where there was something under the bed, but it was something so lovely that no child would be afraid to look under there.
And that was when I realized that if I wanted to be an illustrator I had to find stories, and if I couldn't find stories I had to write my own stories, and I've been doing that ever since.
Finding writers who'll write me stories, like Paul Stewart or Neil Gaiman, but when they're busy and I can't reach them I write my own stories.
BNR: You wrote Goth Girl yourself. Where did Ada Goth, come from? She's very lonely, very much an outsider was that a way of reaching out to children who think of themselves as outsiders?
CR: It can be. Of course it can be, but I think that stories are interesting when they look at where characters might be, and I think it's more interesting to take a character's who's in a place where they don't want to be, and the story takes them somewhere. I love that. You invest in a character and what needs to happen for them, and you develop that.
So for Ada, I thought the idea of her being lonely was a good one and that actually her journey is making friends and finding out that she's not alone, and then helping someone who is alone. You know, she helps Ishmael (the mouse) make his transition. And you know, I like that. I like an emotional context to a story.
BNR: I think Ada Goth is beautiful.
CR: I spent a long time trying to work out what Ada looked like, and I did a lot of different versions, and she just didn't look quite right, and then I went to a friend's Christmas party, and I walked into the room and I saw Ada, and it was my friend Lee's daughter Morwenna. She was exactly the right age for Ada, and she had this very amazing, expressive hair lots of hair and she had very firm eyebrows, and I thought that's Ada!
And I said to Morwenna, I said, "Would you mind if I put you in the book I'm writing?" And she looked at me as though I was a bit crazy and said, "Yes, all right."
So I drew my idea of Morwenna, and she is Ada Goth.
Now, Morwenna, I saw her just a couple of weeks ago she's now fourteen very fashionable, but I think she likes the fact that her younger self is in this book, and she'll always be Goth Girl.
BNR: It must be amazing for a child to be in a book in that way. You've just been made the children's laureate (in January of this year) what do you want to do in this role?
CR: Do you know, I'm still working that out, Hope. I mean, I'm at the beginning of something and what I'm finding out is that it's a lot of fun.
I would like to get some people I know together and I would love us to sit down and maybe demonstrate what we love about drawing, so it could be all of us sharing a stage where we all draw together, it could be musicians playing music while we draw and other things happen.
There is a Chinese tradition where a poet will read a poem, some actors will perform a play, and artists will paint on scrolls, and they do it all together, and that is an event people come to see. And I think that is a lovely thing. We should do something like that.
I'd like to see if I can say, "I'm children's laureate, everyone come here and do this."
BNR: And how can you encourage more children to read?
CR: I think one of the really important things is the school library as a haven, as a place where you can almost retreat from school life and you can encounter books you are going to love forever, in this safe haven, that is the school library at the middle of your school, and I want to really celebrate this.
School librarians often get overlooked, when people are talking about school standards and stuff, and I think school librarians are some of the most important people because what they do is, they introduce children to books. They find a book and they say, "You're going to like this book, trust me on this."
And that's brilliant, because what they do is, they create readers. And we all need readers. Everyone who does children's books needs readers to be created, and I think that if we don't celebrate school libraries and the job that school libraries do, we are not going to create the readers of the future, and it's interesting talking about this at Edinburgh, where we're surrounded by readers, and it's lovely, isn't it? But we mustn't ignore the readers coming through. We must always be aware of that.
November 25, 2015