James Davies is the author and illustrator of Long Dog (Templar), a heartfelt, quirky, hilarious picture book about a canine who is ‘different’. He has also published 4 picture non-fiction volumes, Meet The… in which we learn about the Romans, Ancient Egyptians, Pirates and the Ancient Greeks. These last two came out in January 2019.
James is from Wales, but now lives and works in Bristol. We are delighted that he answered our questions.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve got a lot on the book pile! I’m reading the Barry Loser series while I start writing my own middle grade series, to see how it’s done. I’m also reading everything I can find about myths, legends and monsters from all over the world, which is my favourite subject!
Could you tell us how you got into writing and drawing?
I’ve been writing and drawing for as long as I can remember. My nan has a collection of all my first drawings – for some reason I liked making stories about angels being made from empty baked bean tins? Drawing is just something I’ve always done, but it took a little while to discover what I wanted to do with my drawing skills. I tried a bit of everything but then in University I made a picture book for the first time. That was the start of it all!
Where and when do you work?
I work almost every day. I don’t really have a schedule, as some days it can take a while to really get going! I’m very lucky to have a great studio, Dove Street, here in Bristol. I share the space with lots of great illustrators, so it’s a very inspiring place to work. At weekends I work at home, but my fat cat can be a bit distracting.
A lot of your drawing is done on computer/tablet – is this more complicated than using pencil and paper?
Yep, I do almost all my work digitally, with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop on a Windows PC. If you’ve only used pen and paper before it can take some getting used to, but it’s how I’ve worked for about ten years now. There’s just so much you can do with different brushes and effects when you work digitally, it’s so inspiring! It’s also much, much, much easier to make changes to artwork, which happens quite a lot. When I first started I was drawing things on paper then scanning them in, but working straight onto the computer makes the process much faster – and I like working as quickly as possible. Recently a lot of my friends are doing all their drawing on an iPad, so I’m wondering about making that move too.
We understand you moved away from illustrating for a while – what brought you back?
I think it was probably all that scanning! I was working in a style that I didn’t really like, and felt a bit fed up of drawing the same fluffy animals when I wanted to draw spikey goblins. I think it’s good to step back a bit sometimes and do other things. I had some fun adventures and some boring jobs in the time I wasn’t illustrating at all, but eventually I realised that illustration was what I enjoyed doing more than anything else in the world. So I started drawing dragons and goblins in a way I enjoyed, and it went down really well. And now here we are, five books later!
You’re clearly a cat person (hello Audrey!), so how come you ended up writing a book about a (long) dog?
Oh, I’m a dog person too! I grew up surrounded by all sorts of animals – cats, dogs, goats, horses, and an owl at one point – so I’m inspired by them all. Long Dog came about from a series of ridiculous book ideas I drew one day. Something about a really long dog was appealing to me, so I kept working on him, and he just kept getting longer.
Audrey says hi, by the way!
Which books, authors, illustrators and artists inspire you?
My favourite books are still the ones I read as a kid. Not Now, Bernard McKee is still a huge inspiration to me. I love the style of illustration where everything is flat and a bit strange, a bit like the Mr. Benn cartoons. Everything Roald Dahl ever wrote still amazes me – I really love his nasty short stories for adults too. Terry Pratchett, of course, and Allan Ahlberg. And just so many more…
How are you inspired by Wales?
I was very lucky to grow up in the heart of the Brecon Beacons, so I was surrounded by stunning landscapes and wildlife. My parents rescue animals, and I’m still inspired by every broken pet we’ve had. It’s hard not to be swept up in the language, legends and history of Wales. For someone who loves mythical beasts and ghosts as much as me, there’s a lot to work from!
Your website and twitter feed are full of one-off characters – goblins, dragons, hares and lots of random doodles. Where do these ideas come from and do they ever develop into stories?
I never really plan what I’m drawing, these characters just seem to come out when I sit down to draw. I guess I’m just a bit goblin-obsessed…
Some things I just like to leave as one-offs, but then others lend themselves to stories. I’m slowly working some of the barbarians I’ve been drawing recently into quite a weird story.
Your Meet The… history series is brilliant. We love the Egyptians because of the mummification, which book is your own favourite?
Thanks! I love doing those books, and have such a good time making them. My favourite is probably the Ancient Greeks, I really like the orange colours and they were such an interesting culture. Plus, I got to draw the Minotaur!
What’s the strangest fact you’ve uncovered in your research?
It’s gross, but I did enjoy researching the diseases and injuries a pirate might have to deal with, in Meet the Pirates. Peg legs would have looked cool, but would have been agony! Especially after the ship’s cook had just chopped your leg off…
Will there be more? Have you considered Meet The Welsh?
I’m taking a little break from the series to do some different projects for a bit, but I’m sure they’ll be back soon! The Vikings are calling. Meet the Welsh would be fantastic, too!
What’s the weirdest doodle you’ve ever done?
Errr… let me see… I had a phase of drawing scary witches that might have been a bit TOO scary. They’re locked away now though, now all my witch drawings are a bit friendlier.
What illustration ambitions do you have?
I just want to get better all the time and do more and more. I’ve had an incredible time for the past two years working on the Meet the… books and Long Dog, and am excited to see what turns up this year and beyond!
What can we expect from James Davies next?
More non-fiction in various formats, which is mega exciting! I love working on non-fiction, the world is so bizarre and fascinating. More books generally, really. I’m planning to make some fun animations with a friend soon, too.
Huge high-fives to James and Audrey for answering our questions and for being an all-round top bloke (and cool cat). You can see more of James’ illustrations by visiting his website. To order any of his books, visit Templar’s website. Audrey is yet to have her own social media platform.