On meeting my favourite illustrator EVER… Chris Riddell

So I hear Charlie Bucket was pretty stoked when he found his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Well, Moontrug found her own golden ticket recently. Granted, she didn’t find it inside a chocolate bar (she found it on the Oxford Literary Festival website) but she was just as excited as Charlie Bucket. Having grown up getting lost in the amazingness of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, Moontrug finally got a ticket to hear him speak. BOOM.


The best-selling illustrator of the Edge Chronicles and author of the award-winning Goth Girl, Chris Riddell, grew up in Bristol. His Dad was a vicar and while he delivered loooooooong sermons about peace on earth and loving thy neighbour, Riddell spent the sermon doodling knights chopping each other’s head off and sketching dragons hatching from eggs. And even then he was ‘selling’ his work: to 103-year-old Mrs Stock who would give him wine gums in return for his drawings. Ever since, Riddell said he felt he ‘needed’ to draw.


Before fledgling dragons emerging from eggs and Banderbears charging through the Deepwoods, Riddell learnt to draw naked people with tutor Raymond Briggs (uber cool author who wrote and illustrated The Snowman), or, as Riddell described it, ‘in Bath I encountered the horror of naked people.’ And then came his meetings with publishers. Riddell got out his sketchbooks, expecting publishers to leap up and hand him a story to match them but they simply said: ‘So where’s your story?’ Riddell admits he panicked. ‘I had no story. As far as I was concerned, nothing interesting had EVER happened to me. I went home that night and racked my brain. I thought back to being a child and realised that the thing that had frightened me the most was the thought that something dreadful was hiding under my bed at night. So I wrote that story, except I turned the things under my bed into gorgeous creatures, to give the story a twist.’


Riddell’s most recent book, Goth Girl, has been an absolute hit (see here for Moontrug’s review) and Riddell spoke about the characters with us: ‘Lord Goth was based on Lord Bryon – a sort of Gothic version of Harry Styles: “mad, bad and dangerous to know” and Ghastly Gorm’s landscape gardener is based on the wonderfully named Capability Brown. I’d love it if I’d been given a name like that – Inscrutability Riddell!’ Or Probability Moontrug? Oh, and as an aside, Riddell also mentioned that Lance Armstrong should be made to do the Tour de France on one of Ghastly Gorm Hall’s hobby horses. Too right.


We asked Riddell where he dreamt up his incredible creatures and stories and, like Roald Dahl, he writes at the bottom of his garden: ‘You see, Roald Dahl only had a shed,’ he jokes, ‘I have a converted coach house.’ There Riddell starts with a landscape, a map, and during the course of his books he lets his characters explore the map, and his stories unfold. GENIUS. So what can we expect from Riddell’s next book? Well…. All I can say is, step aside Great British Bake Off. Riddell’s filling Ghastly Gorm Hall with celebrity cooks and French gourmet vampires. The Ghastly Gorm Bake Off is on – and Moontrug’s tummy is already rumbling…