I felt very fortunate to attend Tuesday evening’s celebration of the two IBBY UK nominees for the international Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2012. It was wonderful to listen to John Burningham and Philip Pullman talking about their lives and their work.
I loved hearing about Burningham’s failure to pass an art exam, and about the chance encounter on Waterloo Bridge that despite this led him into graphic art and illustration. His recollections of his friendship with Jan Pienkowski were very entertaining: they spent lots of time playing canasta. But of course, it was his insights into his books that were really special. Once he has an idea for a book, he does dozens of mapped-out pages until the text and the pictures gradually coalesce. Mr Gumpy’s Outing has always been one of my favourite picture books, so I was delighted to hear about its inception, particularly how My Gumpy’s iconic house arrived pretty well fully formed in his head. Burningham has been producing fabulous books for children for nearly fifty years. He gave great pleasure to the audience when he said that he will keep going as long as he can, and will only stop if he finds he is repeating himself – something that I am sure will never happen.
I have been lucky enough to hear Pullman a number of times. He is a compelling speaker. I had not realised that the brilliant Ruby in the Smoke originated in one of the plays that he wrote for his pupils years earlier when he was a teacher, and I was very interested in his not entirely favourable response to the TV adaptation. The late Victorian period is evidently one that Pullman finds enormously thought-provoking, and it was good to hear that he intends to return to Sally Lockhart in the future. Of course there was lots of discussion about His Dark Materials. Pullman said that the most thrilling moment he has ever had as a writer was when he came up with the notion that children’s daemons change, while those of adults remain the same. He also explained that for him the most important thing is the voice in which his stories are told, something he sees as more fundamental than the plot. He is going to return to Lyra too, though not before he has finished his current re-tellings of Grimm’s tales.