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Guest Author - Sam Usher

Hi Sam,

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 30 years old. I live in London. I draw all the time – I always have done. I play the piano obsessively. I am a swot. I have an 88 year old housemate.

Your first book ‘Have You Seen Sassoon?’ was a great success! What made you jump from studying illustration to writing your own children’s book?

It’s funny to hear it described as a success! I suppose it was fairly successful – shortlisted for Waterstones and Red House Book Awards – but as it was my first book, I just kind of accepted everything that happened as if it were normal. It was a fairly straightforward step from illustration to writing Sassoon – I entered the Macmillan Prize in my 3rd year of art school and the book developed directly from that. Picturebook illustation is the only form of illustration I’ve seriously engaged with – I’ve never got the hang of editorial illustration.

Your beautiful new book ‘SNOW’ is out on the 1st October 2014. It celebrates the special bond between children and their grandparents, is the little boy Sam based on yourself or anyone you know?

I suppose the boy is based on me to a certain extent, but so is the Grandad, and Sassoon. The publishers referred to the boy as Sam, but I refer to him as Boy.

Growing up did you have a favourite author or illustrator that you hoped to be like?

There are five main influences – Hergé, Quentin Blake, Emma Chichester Clark, Sempé and Ronald Searle. My work is a combination of all of theirs, I hope! I think the influence of QB is especially obvious in my work, and I spent a lot of time trying not to be too similar – which my work is, superficially – but now I’ve decided to embrace it. I’ve appointed myself his unofficial apprentice – in the manner of a renaissance artist. He doesn’t know.


Do you have any hobbies outside of drawing and writing that you love to do in your spare time?

I love to play the piano – especially Bach, Chopin and Mozart. It helps me to be more disciplined with my work. You only get one chance at playing a piece through for an audience, and there is a similar parallel with drawing in ink and watercolour – if you get it wrong you have to start again.

In your career so far what has been the stand out moment so far and why?

Sitting on stage at the Red House Book Awards seeing all the children who’d actually read and voted for Sassoon – it’s easy to forget that people actually see your work  – it’s nice to be reminded occasionally – being an illustrator is quite an antisocial job.


Have you had any good advice about writing over the years or top tips that you could share with our budding young writers?

Hmm – it might be useful to know that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing – even after having a few books out, I still wonder where on earth a new idea is going to come from, and I seem to make up a new way of working for each book. Having said that, here are some pointers – be serious; be honest with the people you expect to view your work; take a long view – a few thousand years will do; be interested in people; lastly, make contact with people who inspire/invigorate/challenge you – actually write them letters. Those aren’t things calculated to find you work, but perhaps it’s a good starting point for work that’s going to resonate with people. Also, be content with the fact that you will probably fail at everything you do – I am, and it’s a nice surprise when something works.


What are your hopes and plans for the future in writing? Do you have another new book in the pipeline that you could give us a sneak peek into?

I’m working on a few books for other people at the moment – a picturebook, a series of black and white chapter books, and I’m working on some illustrations for a museum gallery space, which is going to be great fun. There are also some books of my own that I’m developing – at the moment they are rubbish, so you can’t see. They’ll be good by the time they are finished. Also, I have ideas for a few more Boy and Grandad books – hopefully SNOW will do well enough to justify publishing them!