After much flapping, we've found him!
Duncan Beedie, author of The Last Chip, tells us what inspired him to write the story of his little hero's triumph over adversity and the kindness of strangers.
We take a look behind the scenes, finding out what it's like to work as an author and illustrator, and chat to Duncan about being shortlisted for this year's Children's Book Award.
Why did you choose to become an author/illustrator?
Before writing children's books, I worked for over a decade in animation. So storytelling has always been an important part of my career in some shape or form. It wasn't until I became a father that I really wanted to transfer my love of storytelling to picture books. My daughter's picture book library grew and grew, and reading them to her rekindled my appreciation of children's books. It felt like a very natural progression.
At what age did you start writing and drawing? Have you always loved stories?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I loved watching cartoons as a kid and I spent many an hour sprawled out on the floor, drawing my favourite TV characters. I'm not afraid to admit that I was a tad lazy as a reader when I was young, but I was an avid fan of comics such as Pippin, The Beano, and 2000 AD when I was a bit older.
My love of comics as a child no doubt informed my choice of career in terms of being a visual storyteller, and I think they are an invaluable literary resource for kids.
Please give us a brief description of your book which has been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s book awards.
The Last Chip is quite simply a story about a hungry little pigeon looking for something to eat. He endures a few hardships along the way in the form of bullying ducks and a giant pirate seagull, but ultimately, an empathetic homeless person comes to his rescue. Given the book's message, my publishers kindly agreed to donate 10% of the profits from sales to The Trussell Trust, supporting food banks across the UK.
What inspired you to write this book?
The idea of a hungry pigeon simply came from observing one on a railway platform one afternoon. But the book's message was inspired by a conversation with my daughter when she was four years old. She had seen someone sleeping rough on our high street and asked “why is that man's bedroom outside?”
I tried to offer her a sensible, reasoned explanation, but quickly realised that there is no simple answer as to why anyone in our country should be without a home or shelter. If she was observant enough to ask the question, then I felt that it was only right that I address the subject in my book as best I could.
Where do your ideas for new books come from?
It really does vary. The Last Chip is a bit of an anomaly, as usually an idea just tumbles out of my head when I'm not expecting it. I find gazing out of a window and daydreaming helps. The smallest and seemingly most inconsequential observation can sometimes render the seed for a good story idea.
What does it mean to you to know that your book was voted for by so many children for this year’s award?
It's genuinely overwhelming. It's staggering to know that that many children have read one of my books, let alone taken the time to vote for it in a national competition. As a freelance writer/illustrator, you are often oblivious to the life your books take on out in the wider world, outside of the studio or room in which they were created. To know that The Last Chip has been selected by so many children makes me immensely proud.
Which books or authors and illustrators have inspired you throughout your life and who are your favourite authors now?
I was a big fan of the Mr Men series when I was little and seem to remember having the entire series on my bookshelf – I realise the series has grown substantially since the early 1980s. I also had a huge number of Jim Davis’ Garfield books, and they inspired me to draw my own three panel comic strips.
Nowadays I read a fair bit of Joe R Lansdale and whatever people see fit to buy me as birthday or Christmas presents. In terms of picture books, Shaun Tan, Lane Smith and Júlia Sardà are just a few of the authors and illustrators who continually catch my eye.
Where and when do you choose to write your books?
When I am first scribbling down an idea, I am at the mercy of the time and place of the moment: it could be 3am after waking up unexpectedly, so I try to have a scrap of paper and pencil relatively close by. Generally, I try to stick to sensible working hours and write and draw from my studio in Bristol, which I share with an animation company called Sun & Moon Studios. It’s comforting to be working alongside other creative folk, as being an author/illustrator can be quite a solitary business.
If you were to offer a child who likes to write stories a piece of advice – what would it be?
Whatever you are thinking, no matter how insignificant it may seem, get it down on paper... anything – the back of a receipt, an old cinema ticket, whatever is lying around. It may not seem worth it at first, but ideas and concepts can take on life when you come back and reread them days, weeks, or months later. Storytelling is a very organic process. Many of those ideas may not come to anything, but you just need one to blossom.
Artwork from the Last Chip
Duncan has kindly shared some of the pages from the Last Chip so we can share them with you.
Vote Now for Your Favourite
You can now vote for your favourite Children's Book of the Year award.