Lauren Child, the award-winning author of the children's books Charlie and Lola, joined us in June 2010 to answer some of the questions you had about her influences, advice on how to write a children's book, and whether there's a Lola-inspired-fashion range in the works.
Q. Dinkystinky: What children's books do you still remember fondly from your childhood? And do you think these shaped your writing in any way?
A. Lauren: I do remember lots of books from my childhood. A particular favourite was The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey. I loved Quentin Blake's illustrations as a child and particularly Grimble. I also really liked John Burningham's picture books such as Granpa and John Patrick Norman McHennessy, the boy who was always late. There's something pleasantly anarchic about these book that appeals to me. I love the way these stories see things from the child's perspective.
Q. Fairygodmother: What books have influenced you, both as a child and as an adult? Both my niece and I are total bookworms.
A. Lauren: Other influences were, and are: Angela Barrett – work from Snow White and Princess and the Pea; Ronald Searle – Molesworth or St Trinians illustrations; Pippi Longstocking original artwork; Myra Calman – US illustrator – Max in Hollywood; and Sara Finelli – myths and legends book, anything from that.
Q. edam: Is it true that you used to work for Damien Hirst? What was he like? I'm imagining some grim Victorian factory owner who uses artists as slaves to churn out 'his' art but that is possibly a tad unfair. And is it right that you use the same technique - having done the original work, you now use other people to do the drawing and writing?
A. Lauren: I still do all my own drawing and writing. I worked in Damian Hirst's studio for a while between jobs. There were a few of us working there and we didn't really see him much. I was painting spots on canvases.
Q. FromGirders: Where do you get the inspiration for your artwork, particularly the backgrounds?
A. Lauren: I get inspiration for my artwork from all kinds of things – fabrics, architecture, photography. I'm not really inspired by one particular thing. I began to work in collage partly because I found it difficult to plan my illustrations. Cutting things out means I can move things around and change my mind. It also means I could incorporate different textures, photographs and fabric.
Q. thecatinmygymsuit: Gorgeous books! My three-year-old DD is a big fan of Charlie and Lola, and I especially love the illustrations. I wonder if you were subliminally influenced by Mary, Mungo and Midge, as the flat Charlie and Lola live in reminds me of their groovy 70s apartment block.
A. Lauren: That's an interesting one. I did like Mary, Mungo and Midge a lot when I was young so unconsciously I expect I was influenced by it. When I was young I longed to live in the flat – thought it quite glamorous to have a lift. With Charlie and Lola I wanted them to be like lots of children who do live in apartments. It was also very much influenced by Scandinavian life-style.
Q. Charlieandlola: What's your favourite biscuit?
A. Lauren: I love the look of Fox's party rings. They look so yummy. I used biscuits to illustrate counting in Too Small for School.
Q. OneWantsOne: My daughter, who is called Lola, and I love Charlie and Lola! My question is, how did you choose the names for the characters, specifically Lola?
A. Lauren: Charlie and Lola was written about 11 or 12 years ago. I had lots of friends who were beginning to have children and indeed dogs. And lots of completely independent friends were calling their children and dogs Lola, so I thought that it was bound to be one of those names that would one day be popular. It's also got a lovely sound to it.
Q. BertieBotts: What we really want to know is what Charlie and Lola's Mum and Dad are like? We had a long thread about it on here a while ago. Do they wear Birkies?
A. Lauren: I guess I imagine them as quite young and slightly arty, creative types. They are also Scandinavian so would probably be quite green. Yes, they probably would wear birkies!
Q. Icapturethecastle: I read that you based Lola on a little girl you saw on a train in Denmark - I was wondering if anyone has ever written to you asking if their daughter was Lola? Also, would you like to meet that little girl now to see how she has grown up? I also think that it is interesting that she is out there not realising she inspired the character of Lola.
A. Lauren: No-one has ever written asking if their daughter was Lola. She'd probably be about 14 or 15 now so perhaps not recognisable as the original Lola. I often thought that I'd love to meet her, and although I'd be fascinated, perhaps it's a bit of a dangerous thing meeting your muse.
Q. Lawnm01: We're huge Charlie and Lola fans - can't get enough of them. Our set-top box is full of Charlie and Lola programmes, so much so that we can't fit any 'grown up' recordings on it! There seems to be a Scandanavian influence to Charlie and Lola - from some of the names (Soren Lorenson, etc), the style of living (flat), and a few other clues we've noticed. Is there a Scandinavian link.
A. Lauren: Absolutely. You are right. In fact Lola was inspired by a little girl that I saw on a train when I was travelling in Denmark many years ago. Charlie and Lola is really influenced by Scandinavian architecture and décor. I've got lots of Scandinavian friends so I often use their names too in my books.
Q. Tootiredforgodtyping: Why did you stop writing Charlie and Lola so quickly, and had them written as a franchise? Were you disappointed from the drop of quality from her original books?
A. Lauren: It's a good question. I didn't really ever stop writing them – I have another six stories that haven't been published yet. It was just that I was so busy working on the TV series that I didn't have time to work on my own books. In terms of the drop in quality - when you sign a licensing deal like that you really no longer have control of it all and it tends to be what happens. There is actually a fourth original Charlie and Lola picture book coming out in October called Slightly Invisible.
Q. MissyBaby: I absolutely love Charlie and Lola and thank you for bringing them into our lives. However, I have to point out one thing where Charlie and Lola went wrong for us! My little girl always ate everything given to her until one day she watched I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato and she decided that very same day to start saying no to anything that had tomatoes in! Also, I've always wondered if the voices for Charlie and Lola really are children, or if they are adults playing the parts of children and you've changed their voices using some technical can-do, or if they just can speak like that anyway.
A. Lauren: Sorry about your little girl becoming fussy about tomatoes. Hope she has started eating them again! The voices of the Charlie and Lola are all real children. I really wanted them to sound real and not adults playing children. There is an immediacy about the way they speak which you can only get from real children's voices.
Q. Mummynotmammy: My questions are about the children who voice the characters. You have said you didn't want to use actors, and auditioned hundreds before choosing the girl who voices Lola. She was obviously very young. How does she learn the lines? Does it need dozens of "takes"? What did you do as she got older and her voice changed?
A. Lauren: We did audition hundreds of children to find the right ones. There have been three Lolas, two Charlies but Marv and Lotta are the same. They don't have to learn their lines but someone reads the line and then they repeat it.
Q. Chimchar: I saw your exhibition in Cardiff museum. It was fab. It was great to see all of the actual little sets that had been photographed for your various books. I hadn't realised that you had done so many books.
Would you ever consider writing or illustrating books for teenagers who don't like to read? Your style is so easy and friendly, and I know of many who would enjoy your work.
A. Lauren: Thank you. That's really kind of you. That is such a good point. I would love to illustrate something for teenagers. It's just such a shame that generally when one gets to a certain age there aren't those kinds of books and it's as if at a certain age we aren't meant to look at pictures.
Q. animula: I know it sounds a bit precious, but my son (now 12) read your picture books and asked questions about their post-modern flagging-up of typeface, and materiality, while my seven-year-old daughter just loves to copy your style. Have you considered doing a child's guide to art?
A. Lauren: Yes, I have thought about doing a child's guide to art with my dad, who is an art teacher. I would love to do that.
Q. CoupleofKooks: Which is your favourite out of all your books?
A. Lauren: I think I like Hubert Horatio best and Clarice Bean.
Q. Sidge: I'd like to ask - are parents deliberately AWOL in your books? Is there a reason for this? Does it make the characters more independent and so capable of more creative play and socialisation?
A. Lauren: It's only really Charlie and Lola where you don't seem the parents at all, though they are references to them. I suppose I wanted the books to see things from a child's perspective – focusing on the things that mean so much when you are little.
Q. Chippyminton: My six-year-old daughter and I are reading your illustrated version of Pippi Longstocking at the moment. Pippi was my hero when I was younger, and I was thrilled to introduce my daughter to your gorgeous artwork. She would like to know if you have plans to illustrate any more of the Pippi books?
A. Lauren: I just did that one Pippi but I would like to do more.
Q. TheOldestCat: My DH wanted to know if you would ever consider a spin-off series for some of your minor characters? We love Bat Cat, Space Family Hudson and Pirate Squidbones and would definitely like to read more about them.
A. Lauren: Bat Cat was always a book in its own right though it hasn't been published yet. I lent the idea to Charlie and Lola as they needed something for C&L to be crazy about and it seemed to fit.
Q. thereistheball: To what extent are your books written for parents/with parents in mind?
A. Lauren: They're not really written with parents or adults in mind. I never really think about my audience but write what interests me. I do hope that adults will enjoy reading the books too.
Q. Babster: My eldest adores Clarice Bean and named two of our chickens Clarice and Betty. She would like to know, why did you name the dog Cement?
A. Lauren: That's a really good question. It was actually a typo – the dog was supposed to be called Clement after Clement Freud but the 'l' was missing. Then someone said it was a great name for a dog so it stuck.
Q. Bamboo: Me, daughter and her Dad would love to know if you have any more Clarice Bean books planned? We love them and have read them many times over!
A. Lauren: That's so good to hear. It was always my intention to do more Clarice Bean picture books, though I had always planned to do three Clarice Bean novels. There is actually a spin-off Clarice Bean series coming next year for Ruby Redfort.
Q. PfftTheMagicDragon: Do you have any control over the merchandise? I would love to see more stuff that is not very pink. My son used to have a blue Charlie snakes and ladder T-shirt and he loved it, but all I can find now is pink Lola clothes. Boys like Charlie and Lola too! We went to see the play at the weekend and we loved it, my son was totally mesmerised.
A. Lauren: Really glad you liked the play. For the pink thing, we have really tried not to have too much that is pink. With the clothes, I don't have any control over that but for the other merchandise we have tried really hard not to make them pink.
Q. FrigateBird: Is it true that you signed an appallingly one-sided deal on the franchising and licensing of Charlie and Lola and so didn't make much cash out of it? Because by rights you ought to be a squillionaire, if only based on the amount of Charlie and Lola products, books, DVDs, clothing, toys etc in our household alone.
A. Lauren: No, I haven't made lots of money from the deal, though it has certainly made me better known and helped my book sales hugely. I would say that these kinds of contracts are really tricky, and I'd advise anyone to get a really good lawyer to comb through the detail.
Q. treacletart: We're particularly fond of your Polly Borland collaborations, especially Goldilocks - any plans for any more? Also think Hubert Horatio seems hugely under-rated. My daughter and I would really enjoy a Lauren Child fashion and home range. I want super-cool clothes like Lola's. Similarly interior textiles and papers too! I'd also like some replica pink milk glasses and curly straws.
A. Lauren: Very good to hear. Hubert is one of my favourites too and I'm planning to do more with him. Would love to collaborate with Polly Borland on another project and we've got lots of ideas but just need to find the time. I would love to do a fashion and home range. Clothes are a real passion of mine, and I'd love to design some fabrics and homeware. I recently did a textile design for Liberty that they are launching next year in their Tana Lawn collection.
Q. etchasketch: I love the illustrations for Charlie and Lola/Clarice Bean and also for the Pippi Longstocking book. What was your route to ending up with a career in illustration and do you have any tips for anyone who would like to pursue a career in this field? I am currently an art teacher, but would love to know how to go about children's book illustration.
A. Lauren: I didn't really plan to be an illustrator and actually left art college because it didn't seem to work for me. I got into illustrating by accident and not design. Perhaps it is harder now than it was to get a publisher as they don't seem to want to see unsolicited work anymore. It takes a huge amount of determination – not just because of the rejections. My advice would be to try and come up with your own unique style and voice, and just keep trying.
Q. Lovebeing34: What advice do you have for someone who has an idea for a children's book?
A. Lauren: My advice would be to try to come up with your own unique style and voice, and just keep trying. Another piece of practical advice is to listen to what publishers say about your work and read the Authors and Artists Yearbook as there is so much in there about how to try and get published.
Q. Italiangreyhound: I know your work is lovely and maybe that is the secret of your success, but how do you get your foot in the door of children's writing; any tips, please?
A. Lauren: It's very hard to get published. It took me five years. I was lucky and did get an agent but it was 4 years after that when I was first published. So much of it is about luck and then suddenly you get a break. Don't give up.
Q. thislittlesisterlola: Obviously we love Charlie and Lola here - hence the name! As someone who has studied children's literature, I wonder did you find the writing of the books came easily to you or did you get writer's block? If so do you have any tips in overcoming it?
A. Lauren: Every now and then I go through times of feeling quite blocked about my writing and illustrating. I often work on several things at the same time – a novel and a picture book for example. It just seems to be something that you have to go through and it usually passes. Some writers saying going for a long walk helps or listening to music.