Double act


The Cambridge Literary Festival is on at the moment and last weekend I did an event with my old friend Chris Riddell. We’ve been talking about doing something together for a long time but had never previously managed to sort it out.

The event was styled as a ‘Sketch Off’ but it wasn’t really that. I think we’d have had to have had some sort of split screen for it to work. I’d have lost such a duel in any case. Chris has been drawing as performance for years now and its not something I do at all. So I think we strayed away from the brief a bit – but entertainingly I hope.

I’ve known Chris for almost thirty years now. I first met him when I was his holiday cover (alongside Dave Simonds) at The Economist in 1990. When he came back they decided there was enough work for three cartoonists and I stayed on. We worked side by side, pretty much every Wednesday, often late into the evening, for six years.

We also worked together on a long-running strip cartoon – Bestiary – in the Independent on Sunday (I wrote the words and Chris drew the pictures) and it was Chris – who was already established in children’s books as well as newspaper cartooning – who suggested I write a children’s story and having suggested it, took what I wrote to his editor, Annie Eaton. That resulted in the publication of my first book – Dog Magic! – by Transworld. I’ve been a writer ever since.

Chris has become hugely successful in children’s books of course, both as writer and illustrator (the only one to win the Kate Greenaway three times). I’ve known a few people in my life whose careers have taken off spectacularly and there always seems to be an element of good fortune mixed in. With Chris though, I think it really is about undoubted ability combined with a huge amount of hard work.

I am definitely jealous of some of the opportunities that come Chris’s way – but never jealous of Chris himself. He has absolutely earned those opportunities. And to say he has been supportive of my work is a monumental understatement.  From regular pep talks over the phone to promoting me on social media, he is tireless in that regard.

So if you came along, I hope you enjoyed listening to us burble on about Andrew Marr, Bridget Jones and the disembodied arm of Benelux – and I hope we get the chance to do it again sometime.

Thanks to Niki Rogers for the photo