Christopher Llewelyn is the author of the fabulous Tyranno-sort-of Rex, one of our favourite picture books, as well as How Does the Giraffe Get to Work?
I set out to learn a bit more about this budding children’s author, and he kindly agreed to be interviewed!
First, a bit about yourself, your family and home?
Not a lot to tell really, no super-powers or exotic ancestry. I’m from Wales originally (born in Merthyr Tydfil, brought up just outside Llandrindod Wells) and after living in a variety of places around the UK (during which I studied for a History Masters and worked at too many jobs to list), I moved out to New Zealand in 2003. I now live in Christchurch with my wife Holly. No children, no pets – unless you count the single sleepy fly that is currently trying to see out the winter in our bathroom.
What is the first book you remember falling in love with? What made you love it?
As a child I had two particular favourites; one was Flat Stanley and the other was Winnie the Pooh (I’ve always felt a strange affinity with Eeyore). However, the first time I remember getting that feeling where you physically struggle to put a book down was with Alien by Alan Dean Foster. I was fourteen when I read it and wasn’t able to watch the film as it was an 18 Certificate (and it was back in the day when hardly anyone had a video recorder… or at least that was the case in mid-Wales), but I loved the fact I could read the book. The book did scare me silly; but I guess a book is only ever as frightening as your imagination allows it be. It was also the first time I put music together with a book, almost as an accident, because I played a bootleg tape somebody had given me of the The Cure live in concert over an over while I was reading, and even now whenever I hear the song A Forest I’m transported straight up to the Nostromo (the spaceship in Alien). I still have a habit of coupling music with books, especially when I buy a big chunk of a book like The Kills by Richard House, which I read while listening over and over to World to Come by Maya Beiser (I’d recommend both).
What was the last book you read?
I buy most of my books from second hand stores so I end up with quite an eclectic collection. I like the feeling of walking out of a shop with six or seven books to read, which I couldn’t afford to do with brand new books. Buying books like this means I’ve never really been loyal to any one author, as I just pick up things that look interesting (and I do tend to judge a book by it’s cover). The last book I read I did actually buy new in a bookshop, and it was Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I really really enjoyed it, in fact I don’t think I can recommend it highly enough. The writing is amazing, just at another level to anything else I’ve read recently. You know it’s a good book when you get to the end and wish there were another 300 pages. I usually have two books on the go at the same time, one fiction and one non-fiction. The latest non-fiction book I’ve read is Upright Thinkers (the human journey from living in trees to understanding the cosmos) by Leonard Mlodinow, which I would also say is definitely worth a look (if you like that kind of thing).
Is there a special place you prefer to write from?
I do all my writing at home, but I tend to go for a walk early in the morning before I start. I have a good memory, so I’m able to work a storyline through in my head while wandering along the beach, or up in the hills, and retain it all until I sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). I find this a good way of working as it means you’ve already got something ready when you sit down to write, rather than trying to come up with an idea while staring at a computer screen (very uninspiring).
How did you choose your illustrator, Scott Tulloch?
I didn’t choose him. Scholastic put us together, which I’m grateful for as Scott’s work is fantastic, and I think his illustrations lift the text to another level. I’ve only actually met him once, but we got on well and seemed to have the same ideas of what we want to achieve.
How do you work with the illustrator on your books? Is he part of the creative process from the start?
Scott only gets the books once they’ve been written, and then it’s all down to his imagination. He does send the sketches through at each stage, and is pretty receptive to feedback… though to be honest he’s the one with the experience and is very good at what he does, so any suggestions from me are usually just if I’d had an idea for a particular line in the text.
Did you want to be a paleontologist as a child? Do you have a passion for dinosaurs?
I think I had the normal amount of passion for dinosaurs as a child… which means a huge amount. They’re just so amazing and, like 99.9% of children, my favourite would have been the T-Rex. However, now that I’m older I don’t really understand why it is that children seem obsessed with the animals they should be most scared of, like the T-Rex and Tigers. You’d think there would be an evolutionary response to steer clear of any creature with teeth bigger than your head. As an adult I still have an interest in dinosaurs, but more as part of an all encompassing fascination with the history of life on earth.
I understand that you are just starting out in the world of picture books. Are there more in the works?
I hope there will be more books. I have a stack of completed stories, but at the moment it seems that what I want to write and what the majority of publishers are looking for is quite different. But who knows, maybe somebody out there will see the reason in my rhyme.
Well, I certainly hope that more of Christopher’s books get published! Tyranno-sort-of Rex is an adorably funny picture books that any little dino fan will love. Check out the read along videos on Youtube for even more fun.