Small talk: Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne, the Children’s Laureate, has written more than 40 books. Born in Sheffield in 1946, Browne worked as a medical illustrator and a greetings card designer before publishing his first children’s book in 1976. In 2000, he became the first Briton to win the Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator’s Award for services to children’s literature. He is married with two children and lives in Kent.

Who is your perfect reader?

I don’t like narrowing my readers down – there’s not a particular age or gender or nationality. I suppose I’m aiming at the child I was.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, a love story about jealousy.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Ian McEwan’s Solar. And it’s unusual to laugh in a McEwan book – or is that a bit unfair?

What book changed your life?

Gorilla (1983), because of its success. It was the seventh book I made and I had finally got the hang of how picture books worked.

Where do you write best?

At home in my conservatory where there is lots of light. I’m mostly drawing and painting – the words and the pictures develop together.

Who are your literary influences?

Maurice Sendak is the daddy of them all when it comes to picture books – the words, the rhythm, the psychology, the design.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

My dad, because he died when I was 17.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My father encouraged me to listen to the words of a song called “Nature Boy”, recorded by Nat King Cole. It said: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Which literary character most resembles you?

My character Willy the chimpanzee. He’s loosely, unconsciously based on me. He’s a chimp in a world of gorillas.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

A Rembrandt self-portrait.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by the US author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

With great difficulty. Maybe making films. It wouldn’t be easy though.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Los Roques off Venezuela’s coast.

What do you snack on while you write?

Coffee, tea and bananas.

Can you remember the first novel you read?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Most children have a natural surrealism in their imaginations; I felt like I was discovering a world I already knew.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It means I’ve got the best job in the world. I love to go to work. Most people lose their natural creativity at about five or six – but not me.

Anthony Browne’s memoir, ‘Playing the Shape Game’, is published by Jonathan Cape

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