Five series: ‘I used to fantasise about my books getting published and what it would be like but being asked to do this was beyond my fantasy,’ he says.

‘It was also

challenging, encapsulating the much-loved characters and doing the story justice.’

Another recent, and

huge, point of pride is being appointed Patron of Reading at Swindon library.

Libraries have

always been an important part of Antony’s life and he credits the Draw 50 series by Lee J Ames – books that he’d take out of Alamogordo library each week and pore over – with helping him learn how to capture a character’s personality with as few strokes as possible.

Which is something I never had because I’ve never really known the rules in the first place. So I’ve made up my own rules. That’s what I’ve done with my books. I look at colour differently. I don’t think of it as ‘the grass is green and the sky is blue’, I think about what the colour means in the book, what is the intention of the book. I try to think about colours more intentionally rather than just colouring in. So I think about colour at the beginning of the book. It can almost influence the book as well.’

With The Queen’s Hat, the colour scheme has fed into what he describes as ‘a very British book’ with its iconic landmarks and a certain kind of humour. For Antony, it’s also a very nostalgic book, harking back to the homesickness he felt as a young English boy living in the States. ‘There were so many things I missed about England, little things like cobbled streets and Flake bars and Walkers Crisps,’ Antony remembers. Although he was born and raised in Swindon, he lived in New Mexico from the ages of seven to 16 after his parents divorced and his mother, also an artist, married an American.

The family moved back to the UK at a difficult time for Antony as he was too old for school and too young for college and times were tough financially. Living alone in Swindon, he started at college but had to drop out and work in a supermarket for two years, saving up to continue his education. Art college followed but then a nine year hiatus working night shifts in a call centre, ‘which was fantastic because it allowed me lots of time between calls to draw. Sometimes I would continue drawing while I was on the phone to a customer so while they were moaning about their blocked drains, I was doodling away on autopilot.’

An offer of voluntary redundancy came and he grabbed the chance to pursue his passion via Anglia Ruskin’s celebrated MA. It was daunting in many ways but Antony knew it was his great opportunity: ‘I didn’t have a plan B. I knew that if it didn’t work out I was pretty screwed, to be honest.’

It was clearly the right risk to take. He left Cambridge in 2013 with three picture book dummies, which were all snapped up, and by the following spring he was working full-time as a writer and illustrator. Unusually, perhaps, he thinks of himself as a writer first and foremost who would much rather write for someone else than illustrate someone else’s words. The exception is when he was asked to illustrate a new cover for Enid Blyton’s Five Have a Wonderful Time, as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Famous

‘When I was a kid we couldn’t really afford to get that many books and we certainly were never able to afford the whole series of those books. Without the library, I wonder whether things would have turned out how they have for me – it was libraries that held the books that fostered my love of drawing. When a library shuts you, essentially, are locking the door to this world of limitless possibility,’ he says.

It’s a long way from Alamagordo to doing live sketching of The Queen’s Hat in the window of Foyles but, with his boundless enthusiasm and sheer joy in being able, finally, to do the job he always dreamed of, Antony’s taking none of it for granted. ‘These are such special moments,’ he says. ‘It’s been a long journey but I’m still on the journey. This is isn’t the end of a journey, this is the beginning of another journey which is really exciting.’

Books mentioned The Queen’s Hat, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444919158, £6.99pbk The Queen’s Handbag, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444925548, £6.99 pbk The Queen’s Present, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444925630, £11.99 hbk Please Mr Panda, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444916652 I’ll Wait Mr Panda, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444916676, £6.99 pbk Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444920109, £11.99 hbk Betty Goes Bananas, Oxford Children’s Books, 978-0192738165, £6.99 pbk Betty Goes Bananas in Pyjamas, Oxford Children’s Books, 978-0192738196, £6.99 pbk Monster in the Hood, Oxford Children’s Books, 978-0192739797, £6.99 pbk

Michelle Pauli is a freelance writer and editor specialising in books and education, and former deputy editor of the Guardian children’s books site.

Books for Keeps No.220 September 2016 9

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