Dog's eye view
PUBLISHED: 10:38 17 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:38 17 November 2015
Catherine Larner meets the creator of Plumdog, children's author and Aldeburgh resident Emma Chichester Clark
“I must have drawn her a thousand times,” says author-illustrator Emma Chichester Clark of her dog, Plum. “She’s a perfect shape, a perfect cartoon dog, she’s very expressive and she is very funny. I love drawing her.”
Everyone who has seen the pictures of Plum on Emma’s blog, or published in the graphic novel Plumdog and now featuring as a new story for children called Love is my Favourite Thing will hope that Emma never tires of sketching the black whoosell (that’s a whippet, Jack Russell and poodle cross).
Everyday incidents, which any animal lover can relate to, are presented in the most exquisite cartoon strips, with pages bordered with a Plum textile design created by Emma for Liberty’s in 2011.
“I used to keep a visual diary of my life where I would draw an interesting event that had happened each day, but it was much more fun when I decided to do it from Plum’s point of view,” she says.
“It made me laugh when I imagined her reactions to things. On walks I would talk to myself in what I imagined was her voice and in the end I had to write down the things she said and illustrate them.”
Remembering how her publishers were urging her to use social media, Emma set about mastering the technology to create a blog and, linking this to Twitter, she soon found that she had a great many followers, including a publisher eager to turn the diary into a book.
“I was very flattered that anyone, other than me, would think it amusing,” says Emma. “It was really exciting because I was doing it for fun. It was from the heart, unconstructed and not meant to be commercial, and yet they still liked it.”
It’s puzzling that Emma should be so surprised by this success. She is one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors and illustrators and for more than 30 years has created the popular Blue Kangaroo series, Melrose and Croc, and many other picture book stories as well as contributing images for various anthologies and collections. She has illustrated books by Martin Waddell, Colin McNaughton, Geraldine McCaughrean and Michael Morpurgo and is about to start work on a book which Quentin Blake, her tutor and the master of illustration, wrote especially for her.
“It’s called Three Little Monkeys. He wrote it for me a long time ago, quite soon after I left college, but I couldn’t do it at the time. I found it again recently and am working on it now. It’s lovely but rather daunting as he keeps wanting to see the roughs.”
Showing work in progress to her former teacher is nerve-wracking for Emma who admits often to having a crisis of confidence.
“Every time I start a new book I think I’ve forgotten how to do it. People take a long time to grow into their own style, I think. When you’re drawing it should be like your handwriting, coming naturally. But it’s taken me for ever to learn that.”
Even so, Emma believes she is now a ‘senior figure’ in illustration. Certainly she has never been more popular. A new Blue Kangaroo book and an illustrated Enid Blyton treasury will be published this autumn, and she has two more books featuring Plum in progress. With increasing demands on her time, Emma relishes days with nothing in the diary, particularly when she is in Suffolk.
“But first of all the dog has to be walked,” she says. And Emma and Plum like most to be by the water. “If it’s low tide in London, we walk along the foreshore and pretend we’re at Aldeburgh.” She and Plum have been visiting the seaside town for some time as guests of friends, or renting cottages to have a quiet space to work. Days in Aldeburgh have even featured in Plumdog and it was Plum’s delight in the sea here that prompted Emma to want to find her own house in the town.
“It was seeing Plum running along the river wall, zig-zagging down to the water one way, and then up and down to the water the other way,” she says. Nevertheless, Plum is always excited to go back to the smells and activities of the city, while Emma prefers to stay in Suffolk.
“I make excuses not to go back,” she says. “In London, everything seems so small and cramped and dark. Here I love the sea and even more I love the marsh, and those fantastically huge skies. I think it does something to your head to have all that space above you. It must make your mind expand.”