Authorgraph No.220


t’s been a ridiculously busy two and a half years for Steve Antony since he graduated from his MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. He’s packed in eight published picture books, chart-topping success, a major children’s book award and appearances at festivals all over the country – he almost can’t

quite believe it himself. While to the outside world he appears to have burst onto the children’s books scene from nowhere, the 39-year-old Swindon-based author-illustrator sees it rather as the culmination of many years of hopes and dreams, rejections and hard work.

‘A few years ago I was working in a call centre, and dreaming of this happening,” he says. ‘It might seem to other people as if it was an overnight thing; it wasn’t at all. It’s been a big mountain to climb and I’m still climbing that mountain.’

Steve Antony Interviewed

by Michelle Pauli

exasperating world, also captured the hearts of parents of tantrummy toddlers everywhere (and became huge in Taiwan).

Monster in the Hood is just out. There’s a third, festive, Queen book, The Queen’s Present, out next month in time for Christmas, and a third Panda tale, Thank You Mr Panda, coming next year. It’s a hectic time for Antony and, when we meet in Swindon Central Library, his head is full of the book he is currently on deadline to finish. But the words come tumbling out, from the excitement of meeting his literary heroes and the fun of lurking in the green room at the Hay festival to the joy of being sent pictures from small fans of his work (he brings some along to show me – ‘Look! They’ve just read Monster in the Hood so they’ve all drawn pictures and it’s just so fantastic to see this. That’s their amazing work – I just put the seed out there and it grows and becomes something else and means different things to different people and that’s what’s so remarkable, something I hadn’t anticipated.’)

Antony also brings a fascinating array of sketchbooks and idea books to explain the process of dreaming up and creating a picture book. The Queen’s Hat was inspired by one simple image he saw in a newspaper, of the Queen holding onto her hat on a windy day. He immediately had the idea of her running around chasing her hat, followed by a butler, guards and, of course, a corgi. ‘A very, very simple, story, pure fun’ as he describes it. With its red/blue patriotic colour scheme, the book also marked another important turning point for Antony – his relationship with colour and, more specifically, his colour blindness.

It all kicked off in May 2014 when Hodder Children’s Books published The Queen’s Hat, a gloriously bonkers tale of the Queen chasing her hat around London landmarks. It was swiftly followed by Please Mr Panda, a morality tale of a grumpy panda with a passion for politeness, which saw Antony crack America when the book was chosen by the Barnes and Noble chain as the first of its Story Time books and was read in 654 stores simultaneously one day in January 2015. Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles is a simple but powerful exploration of war and peace, while his Betty the gorilla series, Betty Goes Bananas and Betty Goes Bananas in Pyjamas, which perfectly depicts a toddler’s exasperated and

His red/green colour blindness was diagnosed when he was a child and it used to be a source of frustration. ‘I can remember vividly a teacher asking me why I had coloured the sky purple. And I was annoyed at myself at getting it wrong because I was convinced it was blue,’ he recalls. ‘I used colour pencils because they were labelled but even then I really struggled because you can have a whole range of yellows and the yellows merge into dark browns, or light browns even, and there’s a bit where I can’t quite tell where the yellow stops and the brown starts or when it turns into green.’

Antony’s growing confidence with his art and artistic process changed that, although the animals in Mr Panda are specifically black and white creatures because of his colour blindness.

‘I realised, actually, the possibilities are limitless if I just see being colour blind as a positive as opposed to a hindrance. I used to really envy people who can just pick up some paint and then paint the grass – they know the rules and they know how to break the rules.

8 Books for Keeps No.220 September 2016

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