Q&A with Chris Haughton, all about Maybe
What inspired you to write Maybe…?
I realised that all of my books are quite sweet and I don’t really have any bad characters in them at all. So that started me thinking about introducing one. This turned out to be quite a productive line of thinking because as well as this story I also came up with two other potential stories which I hope to shape up enough to publish over the next while. Adding a threat gives a story an element of danger which I quite liked. I began thinking of ways to ramp that up. The way to best do that it seemed to me was by introducing the tigers to the audience at the start and show more and more signs of them getting closer whilst the monkeys are completely unaware.
How would you suggest primary teachers use this book?
I was very lucky to work with CLPE a few years ago. Charlotte Hacking presented some ideas to use in the classroom to a group of teachers. It was very inspiring to see how picture books can be used in classrooms.
I loved the idea of just revealing some of the pictures and getting the class to figure out what it might be about and what the pictures alone are hinting at.
Charlotte used my book ’SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN’ as the class text. We looked at one image and the class were asked what it might be about. Charlotte had a whiteboard and wrote down key words.
One of the images we did this for was the cover and all sort of words were discussed. ’secrecy/military/outsider/alone/uniforms/sneaky etc etc’ It was a lively discussion as each word was added and some agreed and disagreed.
We did a number of very clever exercise along these lines which led to lively discussions and sometimes discussing the meaning of words. The nice thing about these discussions is that it is the class that are driving them.
When the the book was finally read it was read with a much deeper, critical understanding of the book and I think was very satisfying to the class to see if their interpretation was correct!
During that time I was introduced Mary Roches excellent book on critical thinking in the classroom too. It never really occurred to me that reading between the lines of a text leads to critical thinking. Mary gives some great anecdotes about the discussions in her classroom. Some of them are very funny, revealing about how the child thinks and the often very perceptive line of thinking. It reminded me of the very best classes I had when i was growing up, when everyone in the class is asked to offer their option and there is a lively discussion rather than when it is a didactic, teacher led class.
I have followed Mary’s work ever since with interest. She was recently interviewed by ‘In the Reading Corner’ for those who are interested.
What motivated you to begin a career in writing/illustrating?
I am afraid to say that I had little interest in writing as a child or even as an adolescent. English (and Irish) was my least favourite subject. I loved drawing and science. Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an artist. I went to art college but rather than studying art I studied graphic design. I worked as a designer but I wanted to do more than set type and layouts. I wanted to continue drawing. So I kept moving more and more towards illustrated projects.
Eventually I had set myself up as a freelance illustrator in London. I was getting enough work to survive and pay rent and all I was doing was drawing all day. I was working for advertising agencies and design studios and newspapers and magazines as a freelance illustrator. However, around that time I realised the jobs I was being asked to do all hinged on text. I found that the quality of the text and the humour in it determined the strength of the illustration. Not only that but the copywriters I worked with seemed to be having even more fun than I was! They were coming up with the concepts and the jokes that I would then illustrate. From working with those talented copywriters and authors I began to see what jokes work with what illustrations. Some I couldn’t make work and some I knew immediately would make a great illustration. It was this that made me interested in the writing because i realised it affected my drawings!!
Around this time I also became aware of classic children’s books and especially authors such as Bruno Munari and Beatrice Alemagna and others who were making innovative books that felt really exciting.
I hadn’t really grown up around picture books, I only really came to them as an adult.
What are the major influences in your work and how do you decide on your subjects?
I just try to think of an engaging situation that can be told in visuals. A before and after consequence to an action. This usually takes the form of a kind of pantomime interaction. ’S/he’s behind you!’ in the case of this book and the temptation to go further and further ignoring the danger. Sometimes it's an invitation to the reader to imagine what might happen next when we turn the page. In my book ‘Oh no! George’, George promises to be good but is presented with many temptations. ‘What will George do?’ is asked of the reader before we turn the page. Will George be good? To work well, i think the interactions should pose a question to the viewer.
Which books had a lasting impact on you as a child and why?
I don’t really remember reading specific picture books as a child. I loved fact books on nature and animals and dinosaurs. I also loved Richard Scarry and I do remember we had one of his books at home. And I was obsessed with the Muppets and I had a Muppet annual that I read over and over and the images and characters from that and the Muppet show are still imprinted on my mind.