This week’s spotlight is shining on the marvellous Meg McLaren, who has been talking to Helen Mackenzie Smith about prison breaking pandas, what happens when a dinosaur and little girl become BFF’s and all things magic! Meg graduated from the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art in 2013, and has since returned to her native Scotland, to Inverness, where she is attempting to rebuild her natural Scots’ resolve against the cold… Her debut picture book Life is Magic will be published by Andersen Press in March 2016.
1) What inspired you to start drawing and writing for children?
I was living in rural South Wales and we had a really tiny bookshop where the fiction section merged straight into the children’s section. I knew nothing about picture books, but one day I came home with a copy of Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and I instantly fell in love with picture books, flat-out obsessed with them. They just made sense to me and I knew that I wanted to make them, too.
2) What comes first: The drawing, the character or the story?
Sometimes a sketch will spark a story idea, sometimes it’s a book title or character name that I think of and then draw someone to go alongside it. It really depends but it always happens in my sketchbook. I think best while I’m drawing.
3) What artist’s tool could you not work without? What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?
Pencils. Any old HB will do. I love the variations in line that pencils create, so I try not to lose too much of it in the finished piece. I also do a lot of screen printing and I like to colour my digital images with printed textures.
4) If you weren’t an illustrator/author what would you like to be?
I’d like to be a printmaker or design theatre sets.
5) If you could collaborate with any other picture book writer/illustrator, past or present who would it be and why?
I have a very long list but if I could just make tea and pitch them ideas, then I’d like to loiter around Jon Klassen and Isabelle Arsenault. Their work is so beautiful and so unlike mine. I’d love to see what my world looked like through their eyes.
6) Who is your favourite picture book hero/character?
Max from Where the Wild Things Are because he’s so vivid. I feel like I know exactly who he is, and he’s just like me.
7) What’s your favourite word/colour?
I love the words nonchalant and lackadaisical. My favourite colour is grey. A little bit of grey in a paint colour fixes everything!
8) What was your favourite book when you were growing up?
I don’t remember a specific title, but I read a ton of Tintin and Asterix books. Also Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. It was all comics.
9) What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I actually do eat an apple a day (because I like apples, not because I’m avoiding doctors).
10) What has been your career highlight so far?
Making my first picture book, Life Is Magic. That was my goal for such a long time that it seems ridiculous to have actually achieved it.
Bonus question: what classic book of any genre would you most like to illustrate?
Something like Animal Farm by George Orwell appeals to me, or Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. That would be a dream job.