In the last year I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting our current Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell twice! For those who aren’t familiar with the Children’s Laureate it is a position which is awarded every two years in the United Kingdom. The position is awarded to a “writer or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.” A few of the past recipients include Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Fine and Quentin Blake, who was the first to be awarded the position in 1999. For those who are not familiar with Chris Riddell, SHAME ON YOU! He is my favourite illustrator and one of the most significant figures in the world of children’s books.
Over the course of his career so far Chris Riddell has won two Kate Greenaway Medals and three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes! He is the co-author and sole illustrator of The Edge Chronicles, which I believe is one of the greatest fantasy series for children out there. He has illustrated books written by some of our very best authors such as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book which spent a staggering 61 weeks inside the top ten on New York Times Bestseller list! Riddell was even chosen to illustrate new editions of books by Rudyard Kipling, J. M. Barrie and R.L Stevenson, which just goes to show how well regarded his talent is. However, Riddell’s talent is not limited to his skill for illustration. The Ottoline series, the Humphrey series, the Goth Girl series and a host of other books are all authored by Riddell, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat even being nominated for the Carnegie Medal!
It was late 2015 when I first met Chris Riddell. It was a busy day at Blackwell’s Bookshop with lots of customers buying lots of books, which is of course exactly what I like to see, but by one o’clock I was more than ready to get some lunch. I ran into the staff room, wolfed down a packet of crisps, grabbed my bag and joined the back of the queue which snaked around a considerably large section of the shops basement. This queue of course, was for the Chris Riddell book signing. After about twenty minutes I was at the front, grinning like maniac and trying to think of the perfect thing to say to someone who has inspired you more than most people on the planet. I went with “hello” which Riddell greeted with a friendly (possibly nervous) smile.
I showed him my old copies of Muddle Earth and Beyond the Deepwoods he gasped and said “Oh Rob! You have no idea how happy this has made me.” It made me feel less ashamed of the state they are in, tattered from years of re-reads. I believe he was so happy because I had actually brought with me some really old copies of his books instead of buying the newest titles which were stacked on a table beside him like everyone else. We spoke about Neil Gaiman, as I had my Good Omens t-shirt on which features Neil Gaiman brandishing a flaming sword in one hand and The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch in the other. He told me he always draws Neil like Gandalf, this wise and mysterious wizard and himself like a hobbit following him around all over the place. It was great! I got my copy of The Graveyard Book signed too!
The second time I met Chris Riddell was just over a month ago at the 2016 Oxford Literary Festival. Due to already having my books signed I hatched a plan to have an excuse to go speak to him again without seeming like too much of a fanboy. I found a pencil sketch of his online, printed it off and asked him to sign it. He said no. Instead he got me to write down my address and said he’d send me something special. A few weeks later a coloured high quality print of the same sketch arrived in the post! It cost him £4.95 to post it to me and I have no idea how much the actual print is worth. He actually spent his own money to send a gift to one of his fans! Absolutely class.
Here’s the print! The quote is from Neil Gaiman.
So that’s the story of how I met Chris Riddell twice. I have been fortunate to meet may authors and illustrators, but meeting Riddell has by far been my favourite meet to date. If you ever get the chance to see him then take it! People sometimes say you should never meet your heroes because so often they never live up to how you imagine them to be. Maybe that’s often true, but in this case one of my heroes surpassed my imagination and left me inspired and feeling closer to a world I truly love.
Find out more about Chris Riddell here: www.chrisriddell.co.uk
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