Today, I am delighted to welcome Duncan Beedie and his new picture book, The Last Chip, to Childtastic Books as part of his blog tour. We’re even luckier that Duncan agreed to answer some questions for us!
What the book’s about
Percy is one hungry little pigeon. His tiny tummy rumbles but he can’t get any food because every time he spots a scrap, he’s chased away by bigger birds. But just when he’s about to give up hope, someone special offers him her very last chip.
The Last Chip is a poignant picture book. It has all the colour and humour of Duncan’s other stories but the message at the end stays with you even longer than the environmentalism of The Lumberjack’s Beard and the manners of The Bear Who Stared. We’re living in a time when, unfortunately, more people are relying on food banks and charities for food and shelter, and this makes The Last Chip even more relevant and touching … and a good way to start a conversation about homelessness and hunger with little children. I’m not ashamed to admit I nearly shed a little tear at the end of the book, hoping that Percy, and his newfound friend, would find even more cheer and kindness in the future.
And now… over to Duncan Beedie!
1. Tell us a little about your past. How did you first get into writing and illustrating children’s books? Why this rather than another type of writing or illustration?
Drawing has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember. Any Christmas or birthday usually involved me getting a new sketchbook and felt tip pens. My parents clearly knew this was a positive way to placate me, as I was never happier than when I was gripping a pen and drawing my favourite film and cartoon characters.
As a child I was a huge fan of Jim Davis’ Garfield comic strips and I began to draw my own three panel strips featuring a hapless character called Dave. It wasn’t until later inspection as an adult that I realised they were far less funny than my 10 year old self perceived.
After meandering into English Literature at university, my craving to get back into drawing needed quenching and I ended up doing a post grad course in 2D animation at UWE in Bristol. I worked on children’s TV programmes and websites before eventually making the shift back towards more traditional illustration…and here I am.
2. What type of artwork or media do you use in your work predominantly?
I always start out with pencil and paper. The annual trend of receiving sketchbooks and drawing implements for birthdays and Christmases hasn’t died off, thankfully. However the bulk of my artwork is done digitally. As I began my career in animation, I still like to use Adobe CC Animate for my colour illustrations. I find it very easy to use and it ticks all the boxes. I then export the flat colour art to add texture and shading in Photoshop. It’s less orthodox than using something like Adobe Illustrator, but it works for me.
3. How did you come up with the idea for The Last Chip? Did the image come to you first or the idea?
With all my story ideas, the image of a character always comes first and then a story evolves from there. The Last Chip followed an almost identical pattern to The Bear Who Stared. I created an illustration of two pigeons sizing one another up over a chip – one large and fat, the other small and puny. I liked the simple comedy in their comparison. Some years later I was looking at the print and the puny pigeon stood out. A story about overcoming adversity began to take shape.
4. Do you prefer to write about animals rather than humans?
There’s no straight answer to this. While my books mostly feature animals, I’m always writing about humans. That’s the beauty of children’s books. You can use bizarre animals and general silliness to draw attention to very ordinary (and extraordinary) human situations.
5. I always feel sad when I see pigeons – their scruffy appearance and the dismal fate they seem to have in life. No one I know understands this and thinks they’re dirty pests. Do you feel empathy for pigeons? Is this why you chose to write about them?
I can’t say I either love or hate pigeons. I agree that few things tug on the heartstrings more than a scrawny pigeon limping along on gnarled stumps where its toes used to be. I often wonder where their toes went. Did another animal gnaw them off, or did a particularly hungry pigeon indulge in self-cannibalism?
There are two exceedingly healthy looking wood pigeons who often visit my garden. They sit on the fence and gorge on the bird feeders that are meant for the more vulnerable birds. All they do is eat and copulate noisily. It’s hard to feel sorry for them.
6. It’s lovely to see that a percentage of sales of The Last Chip will be going to support The Trussell Trust. Why did you decide to do this, and is there a link between The Last Chip and homelessness?
As the story took shape and became more of an allegory for hunger and homelessness, it became a matter of common sense more than anything else. This story came about primarily because of my feeble attempt to explain homelessness to my daughter. I realised I simply couldn’t find sufficient words to explain it to her. Then it dawned on me that I might be better suited to addressing the issue in a picture book.
My editor selected the foodbank charity The Trussell Trust, as food poverty is a ghastly shadow that is stretching over far too many families in the UK, and it fitted with the overall theme of the book. I am also selling original prints from my Esty shop with all of the profits going to the homeless charity Caring In Bristol.
7. Out of your three children’s books to date, do you have a favourite? Or perhaps a favourite character?
Oh, talk about Sophie’s Choice! That’s callous. Come on Sam, you’re better than that!
8. Who do you admire in the world of children’s literature – in writing and illustration (and/or both)? Who was your favourite author and illustrator when you were growing up?
I daren’t admit this, but… (whispering) when I was growing up I wasn’t much of a reader. I did spend a lot of time burrowing through comics though. I started with The Pippin before graduating onto The Beano, then 2000 AD and Viz as a teenager.
Now, as a parent and self-confessed picture book lover, both my and my daughter’s shelves are bowing under the weight of some real treasures. There are too many to mention, but I’m a big admirer of Shaun Tan and Lane Smith (who isn’t?). I recently bought the sumptuous The Liszts by Kylo Maclear and Júlia Sardà, but Pam Smy’s Thornhill remains my favourite book of 2017.
9. Do you have more ideas in the pipeline for more picture books?
I do indeed. My next title with Templar will chart the voyage of a brave moth who ventures to the moon – coinciding nicely with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. It’s imaginatively titled ‘The Moth Who Went To The Moon’. And I’m currently toying with an idea for a sequel to The Lumberjack’s Beard. Big Jim Hickory is a character who keeps calling out to me.
10. What advice would you give for inspiring writers and illustrators who may be reading this?
It’s hard to come up with new ideas, so don’t be afraid to revisit your old ones. There’s a story to be found in most characters if you look hard enough.
A huge thank you to Duncan for his interview, and for Templar for the review copy and putting us in touch.
If you would like to see some of Duncan’s artwork, and perhaps purchase a copy to help the homeless through the charity Caring in Bristol, please visit Duncan’s Etsy store at: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/DuncanBeedieArt
Tomorrow, the blog tour will visit Magpie That, at http://www.magpiethat.com. Do pop by to take a look!