But first, let’s get to know Norman the Norman from Normandy in Philip and Tom’s own words!
Philip Ardagh: Yes, I can… Thanks for asking… Oh, you actually WANT me to describe my story in 5 words? You weren’t simply asking if I were able to? Sorry. My bad… Ready? Well, here goes then: Big sword. Small Norman. OUCH!
Tom Morgan-Jones: Philip’s story is… Funny, touching, a riot, chucklesome, accidental and did I mention funny? It’s very funny, and it has such heart too, it really does. But this is more than five words, jings. And to describe my illustrations in five words well… inky, colourful, action-packed, adventurous & inky. That again was more than five words, can you tell I’m the illustrator and not the writer of this particular book?
Can you tell us about the particular inspiration behind the story?
PA: Far too few children’s books have boys riding almost-wild boars, and accidentally chopping people’s heads off.
TMJ: I’ve always been a big fan of Philip’s writing and it’s always a real pleasure to illustrate his work, he writes with charm and giggles. I can’t think of anybody else I would rather work with, until I answer the question later on about who else I’d like to work with, of course.
And now on to Philip and Tom, themselves!
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing their own stories?
PA: Don’t talk about writing, don’t blog about writing, don’t create mood boards about writing, don’t spend ages thinking up your pen name, don’t dress up your pets as characters you’d like to write about, and don’t go practising your autograph for the signing sessions when you become an award-winning author… actually DO SOME WRITING instead. The more writing you do, the more words you have on paper and – hopefully – the better writer you’ll become. Writing is about writing. The rest is what comes later. And, oh yes, ENJOY yourself!
TMJ: Write, don’t wait, pop stuff down, don’t be precious to begin with, get into the swing of it and keep writing, there’s no point in waiting for tomorrow. It won’t happen if you don’t start somewhere, and you can start anywhere.
If you could take a long train journey (and/or have a drink) with any writer or artist, living or dead, who would it be – where would you go/what would you drink?
PA: I would like to spend some quality time with Charles Dickens on a (steam) train to Edinburgh, in a private carriage. (He was in a terrible train crash in 1865, where 10 people died and around 40 were injured, so I’d probably wear a mattress and a crash helmet just in case he brought any railway-related bad luck with him.) He could drink what he liked – port, I’d imagine – and I’d drink raspberry juice in a crystal cut glass.
TMJ: I was lucky enough to meet the illustrator Fritz Wegner and I got the chance to have some very happy lunches with him. He kindly invited me to the Chelsea Arts Club and I got to ask him all about his life. He was such a warm, mischievous and charming soul. We drank red wine and it was most delicious.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
PA: I am very lucky to have collaborated with some fabulous folk. They include Sir Paul McCartney (the ex-Beatle), Axel Scheffler (who drew The Gruffalo), Anne Wood (co-creator of The Teletubbies), and – of course – the brilliantly bonkers Tom Morgan-Jones who illustrated Norman the Norman from Normandy. I’ll tell you who I’d also love, love, LOVE to collaborate with, though: the movie star Cary Grant. But he’s dead now, so probably wouldn’t say much.
TMJ: Well. There’s that beardy genius Philip Ardagh, I’ll never say no to collaborating with him. I’d love to work with Michael Rosen, John Agard, Phil Earle, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Meg Rosoff, Anthony McGowan, well this list could go on and on, I would also like to be paired with a fantastic author that the world hasn’t heard of yet…I don’t know who they are, but will when the time comes…
What’s the nicest (or worst!) thing anyone’s ever said about your books?
PA: Lyn Gardner, then children’s book reviewer in The Guardian, gave the most glowing review I’ve ever had. It was for my first Eddie Dickens book, Awful End, and ended:
“You can look at this book as an examination of: 1) the absurdities of the English language; 2) the absurdities of the 19th-century novel; 3) the absurdities of the way the English treat their kids; 4) the absurdities of the absurd. A child will enjoy its daft ness at 10, will get the references at 14, and will know that it is all true at 18. Brilliant.”
That book ended up being translated into over 35 languages. I couldn’t ask for more than that!
My father, on the other hand, read one of my early children’s novels and pointed out a typing error. *Sigh*
What is the best recent book you’ve read (for any age – or more than one if you pick an adult book)?
TMJ: I read Anthony McGowan’s Brock last week. Excellent teen writing. I’m looking forward to reading Pike and Rook now. Picture book wise, I’ve been enjoying Jon Klassen’s work recently, both his writing and illustration. His illustrations for Ted Kooser’s House Held up by Trees are beautiful. And I keep rereading Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch, he’s the chap that illustrated The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business. Duck is such a moving piece. Being a bit dyslexic I often start a book and then hop about between books, so I’ve got a few books on the go at the moment, Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson, Being There by Jerzy Kosinski, Empire of Blue Water – Henry Morgan and the pirates Who Ruled the Caribbean Waves by Stephan Talty and Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton. I would have put Dave on my list of folks to work with but as he’s an illustrator as well as a writer I’m not sure it’s the done thing to suggest I illustrate his work, either way he’s a fine chap and a good egg.
(and a cheeky extra from Philip!)
5A* If you were a book, which book would you be?
* See what I did there?
I would be a cookbook, so I could snaffle some of the ingredients when the cook wasn’t looking. *Burp!* Pardon ME!
ABOUT PHILIP ARDAGH
At 6ft 7in with a big bushy beard, favourite children’s author Philip Ardagh is a familiar sight at book festivals and events from New York to Wigtown. He has written several award-winning children’s books, including The Grubtown Tales series, which won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.
ABOUT TOM MORGAN-JONES
Tom Morgan-Jones is an award-winning illustrator. His work is widely and internationally published, and includes everything from illustrating children’s books and buses, to magazine design and satirical board games.