An Interview with Mark Chambers

Stinky: My owner, Ben, has taken me to school a couple of times, and there is a boy in his class who never listens to the teacher and is always doodling in his books instead. Were you a doodler when you were at school, Mark? 

Mark: Well Stinky, firstly it's great to meet you finally. I've heard a lot about you, not all bad, mostly about nibbling people's fingers, pinching carrots and leaving your droppings on the carpet but if we're being honest who hasn't done that! When I was at school we had a fantastic art department where we made clay pots and papier mâché heads so I spent a lot of time in there doodling and scribbling all sorts. I also doodled outside of my art lessons, sometimes on school desks (don't tell anyone!) I remember when I was very young I was into drawing spaceships with big laser beams being fired out of them, now I get to draw pirates, dinosaurs and hamsters like yourself so I can't really complain one bit! Being a professional doodler is surely the greatest job ever!

Stinky: In the ‘Stinky and Jinks’ books and in your picture book Pigeon Poo, there’s rather a lot of poo. When you were a kid, did you ever think that you’d be making a living by drawing poos? 

Mark: This is very true Stinky, I do seem to be the illustrator to turn to if a picture book has poo or trumps in them. Pigeon Poo is naturally FULL of poo, Noisy Bottoms is bursting with smelly air and the Toilet Tales involves a captain and a princess of the toilet, not to mention your books are full of the odd dropping that you've just left lying around, you really must clean up after yourself! When I was growing up I wanted to be a chef, a fighter pilot, a professional Golfer and a master Lego builder but earning a living by drawing poos tops all of them!

Stinky: You’re not too bad at drawing hamsters, I suppose, although you haven’t really captured my rugged good looks, if I’m honest. But, apart from me, what is your favourite (and least favourite) animal to draw?

Mark: That is a good question and I appreciate that you think I'm not too bad at drawing you, I do try my best you know! I have to say I like to draw pretty much everything but I do prefer to draw trolls, giants, pirates and monsters, which boy doesn't!? I've recently been drawing a giant wearing a very fetching pin-striped suit which is for a book that will be out later in the year, you will have to pick yourself up a copy. When it comes to things that I least like to draw it has to be horses or people sat around a kitchen table. So horses sat around a table would be my ultimate challenge, far too many legs!!

Stinky: Whereas I enjoy more serious fiction (ie, without pictures), Ben loves comics, such as The Beano, and Ben’s dad can often be found chuckling at comic strips like ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. Did you read comics when you were a kid? And what illustrators do you most admire now?

Mark: That's interesting as I always had you down for a picture book type of hamster, you learn something new everyday! I loved comics when I was growing up, especially The Beano and The Dandy, so Ben and I have something in common. I was into the Bash Street Kids and what Dennis the Menace used to get up to, poor Walter the Softy, I think I lost count of how many stink-bombs Dennis threw at him! I think my love of drawing characters definitely comes from reading all those early comics. I was always copying the drawings and making my own up, I even had one of them featured in a copy of The Beano. I was also a massive Star Wars fan (bit before your time Stinky) so loved the concept designs that Ralph McQuarrie and Doug Chiang came up with, sheer genius! When it comes to picture book illustrators I like various scribblers such as Tony DiTerlizzi, John Howe, Alan Lee and also the very well known Sir Quentin Blake, even you must of heard of him!

Stinky: Did you have any pets when you were a kid? Did you make them sit still for hours and hours while you drew pictures of them?

Mark: I did have some pets when I was growing up, yes, although, you're not going to like this but I never had a hamster I'm afraid. I had a rabbit, a dog and two cats, when I was that bit older we had chickens as well. You'd have loved the chickens I'm sure of it, one was called Pecky Fla Fla. I'm not so sure you'd have got on with the cats however, I once found a live wild rabbit cowering in the bathroom that one of them had caught so a hamster would have been right up there on the menu I'm sorry to say Stinky. Maybe you could have shown them your angry face to scare them off or put your tutu on to make them laugh themselves silly! I also didn't have to make them sit still for hours and hours, the cats especially, were quite happy to lie there doing nothing as cats tend to do. I'm sure hamsters can be lazy as well!

Stinky: Ben is terrible at drawing. I mean, really terrible. He can’t even draw faces. His ears are wonky, his eyes look all googly, and his noses look like bananas. Do you have any advice for him?

Mark: I know Ben's ears are wonky, his eyes are googly and his nose looks like a banana but what do his drawings look like!? :) Sorry Stinky, for a minute there I thought you were being rude about Ben. If I had any advice about drawing faces I'd say start with some simple shapes to begin with and add the details from there. Circles for the head and ears, dots for eyes, a semi-circle for a nose and a big smile. Not a 'nana in sight if you draw like that. Then you can become more adventurous and add details like hair and freckles that Ben has, although have you noticed Stinky how his sister always has her hair in pigtails, just an observation.

Stinky: A typical day for me is sitting around in my cage, thinking, occasionally nibbling some food and going for a run on my wheel. It’s extremely boring, to be honest. What about you, Mark? What is a typical day like for an illustrator? Do you have a wheel you can run around on if you get bored or stressed?

Mark: My typical day would be starting it off with a large mug of tea, there is nothing like that first cuppa of the day. I'm sure you love that first sip from your water bottle in the morning. Then it's time to read my emails that I've received and after that start on the book commissions that I have on. Recently I've been drawing more of you for your next book, giants, pirate children, tigers, a boy and his pet pig, dinosaurs and kids playing Football. So it's been very busy indeed!! Mostly due to the upcoming Book Fairs but unfortunately these aren't the kind of Fairs that you can win goldfish or massive stuffed toy monkeys. I'm popping down to London for the London Book Fair so I may bump into you at the Templar stand, I'll even buy you some nibbles. I tend to finish work around 6 - 6:30pm and then it's home time to cook dinner. I don't have a wheel though I'm afraid but maybe I should get one to de-stress after a long day, do they even do human-sized hamster wheels?

Stinky: Good luck for the Sheffield Children’s Book Award. I hear you’ve been nominated twice (for My Hamster Is A Genius, and Pigeon Poo). Thanks for answering my questions and keep working on your drawing – I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon. 

Mark: I'm sure so too, thank you, I'll keep trying anyway and maybe I'll be as good as you someday! It's been a pleasure meeting you and answering your questions, give my regards to Ben and the family and I look forward to seeing and hearing about all your upcoming adventures. Who knows what you'll get up to next!? :) Oh and if you see Mr Lowe, tell him to write more stories…..they're pretty good afterall! :)

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