I love Chris Riddell's art, and I've had the good luck to go to his events in the past and to see him drawing live, so was hoping for more of the same.
Chris had invited along some friends, Cressida Cowell (Author and illustrator of the 'How to Tame Your Dragon' series), Liz Pichon, creator of Tom Gates, and Posy Simmonds, who I know best for her creation of 'Gemma Bovery', (a graphic novel, modern take on 'Madame Bovery)
Chris's drawings of Cressida Cowell,
Liz Pinchon and Posy Simmonds
As we all filed into the auditorium to take our seats, Chris was making sketches of audience members. Sadly I wasn't one of those who was illustrated! (he also reassured everyone that they were not late, he just started early!) He then sketched his guests, from memory, before bringing them on stage.
Chris also introduced another, special, mystery guest - 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman'.
Liz Pichon explained that she had started out as a graphic designer before moving into picture books, and the writing the first 'Tom Gates' book, while Chris drew our attention to her beautifully painted fingernails and customised shoes. I'm not familiar with the Tom Gates books but they are clearly very popular, and it was interesting to hear about her creative process. She mentioned that Tom's dad is based on her own dad, who used to embarrass her, as a child, by turning up to collect her from school in his old gardening clothes (and showed us a card she made for him when she was young)
The next guest was Posy Simmonds, who showed us some of her sketch books, a recent one with beautifully detailed sketches of people in the street, and also selection of things she created when she was at school, including a comic strip murder mystery, drawn when she was 8, a spoof 'Observers book of Gurls' including a section on 'How to make yourself look excessively common' and a women's magazine she created while at boarding school, including careful illustrations of girls in bikinis, advertisements for imaginary products, and a short story which, she explained, got her into trouble, as it contained bad words, and a married woman with a lover!
She finished by showing us a sketch book which was the basis of her picture books, 'Fred', which involves cats and funerals..
Chris then introduced Cressida Cowell, explaining that he first met her when he was 'on a hot date with the Duchess of Cornwall', on a bus, and that Cressida was there to, and was not only managing to keep her balance on the bus, but also looking very glamorous and drawing things at the same time!
She told us that the 'How to Train Your Dragon' books were autobiographical... that as a child, her parents took them to a remote, uninhabited Scottish island every year, where there were ruins of Viking era houses, and she learned that the Vikings believed that Dragons were (or had been) real, and it started from there.
She also explained that she was inspired by Roald Dahl, and his willingness to have terrible things happen to people (for instance, James's parents (James and the Giant Peach) are eaten by a rhinoceros),and that her drawings are the kind which show readers they are "in the hands of a lunatic, who might do anything".She also explained that the books are about growing up, and that as they go through the serious, the style of the illustrations changes, they become less funny, and more difficult to draw!
She told us that she is working on something new, coming out in the autumn and set in the Iron Age.
Chris's final guest was Neil Gaiman.
Chris explained that he sees Neil as 'the Wise Wizard Gaiman', and pictures him arriving in robes to invite Chris (hairy feet and circular front door) on an adventure, which may involve Asgard, or London Underground, or Volcanoes and Time Travelling Dinosaurs. Neil claimed that he asked Chris to illustrate FTM "A very silly book" and that Chris got his revenge by drawing the Dad in the book as Neil.
Neil had brought along 'Odd and Frost Giants' to show how gorgeous Chris's illustrations are, and claimed that Chris 'sneaks around' and illustrated things he's written, and he only finds out when they pop up on his facebook or other social media.
It was a lot of fun, and did feel, as the title said, like a conversation between friends, rather than a scripted event.