Tuesday 25 October 2016

An interview with Paul Van Loon and Axel Scheffler....

To celebrate the release of The Horror Handbook, Alma Books caught up with the author, Paul van Loon, and the illustrator, Axel Scheffler.

A bit about Paul van Loon and Axel Scheffler

A highly successful children’s author from the Netherlands, Paul van Loon is best known in the English-speaking world for his Alfie the Werewolf series (published by Hodder in the UK). Originally an illustrator, Paul became a writer by accident when he could find no one to put into words a story he had thought of. He is never seen without his dark sunglasses, which has led to rumours that he is a vampire.

Axel Scheffler was born in Hamburg, Germany. He studied History of Art, before moving to the United Kingdom to study illustration at Bath Academy of Art in 1982. Since then he has worked as a freelance illustrator in London. He is best known for the children’s books he has illustrated through his partnership with author Julia Donaldson. Together they created The Gruffalo, which has sold over five million copies, in almost 50 countries throughout the world. He lives in London.

Paul van Loon

Q. How old were you when you first started writing?

I was 22 when I wrote my first story. I had made a drawing and I thought it needed a story. I didn’t have any writer friends at that time, so I wrote the story myself. And so I discovered that I really liked writing.

Q. What was the inspiration behind The Horror Handbook?

I had written several books about vampires, werewolves and other grisly characters and I thought that my readers would like to learn more about all this horror stuff...

Q. Out of every book for children you’ve ever written, which was your favourite and why?

Ooh, that’s a tough one! I've written eight books about a ‘horror bus’ (De Griezelbus). Together they sold over a million books and made me famous in Holland and I love them. The same goes for the books about Alfie the werewolf. I've written 17 books about Alfie. I've lived with him for 20 years now and he just won’t get out of my head. He just sits there and waits for a new story, so I guess he's my favourite character.

Q. If you were to recommend one of your children’s books for a child to read, which would it be?

Again, it‘s Alfie, I think. He’s a loveable little werewolf.

Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?

It was a book about a little gnome who lived in the woods and his name was Paulus (Paulus de Boskabouter). He had my name and I loved the stories about Paulus and his friends and foes, particularly the witch Eucalypta.

Q. What is your favourite book now?

I love ‘Where the wild things’ are from Maurice Sendak. I read this book when I was 18 years and it showed me the beauty of children’s books again.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young writer, what would it be?

Read, read, read. Write, rewrite, rewrite!

Q. Do you have a special place where you write?

I have my own room full of books, guitars, film props from films that are made of my books, puppets and secret cupboards. It’s a bit like a museum. Somewhere in there is also my computer and an old desk. There I write my books, mostly at night, when the moon is full.

Q. If you could organise a dinner party to be attended by characters from books, which three guests would be at the top of your list?

Of course my little friend Alfie the werewolf and I would like to see Winnie the Pooh. And Dracula... I think that would be an interesting and a little dangerous combination.

Axel Scheffler

Q. How old were you when you first started illustrating?

I can't remember when I first drew something – as a small child. It depends what you mean by “illustrating”. But if you mean illustrating a text, it was a bit later than that… I’ve drawn since I was a child, and I’ve been illustrating professionally since 1986.

Q. What drew you to The Horror Handbook?

The Horror Handbook was published in Germany first – about twenty years ago. I thought the text had a nice humorous touch and I enjoyed illustrating it very much.

Q. Out of every book you’ve ever illustrated, which was your favourite and why?

I don’t have one favourite book. I like some more than others – usually the more quirky ones like Highway Rat, Stick Man or The Smartest Giant in Town.

Q. You’ve illustrated books in many languages – do you have a favourite language to work with?

I’ve only illustrated books in three languages – German, French and English; although, of course, some are translated into many languages afterwards. I don’t really read French very well, so that’s a bit more difficult. To illustrate a text it doesn't matter to me which language the text is in – as long as I have some understanding – however, I think English is a great language for picture book texts.

Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?

I think my favourite was about a little bear called "Petzi" – it was originally a Danish comic strip (but without speech bubbles). The cover is on my new website – Petzi is a bear with red dungarees with white dots and has many adventures with his friends which include a penguin and a pelican. This would’ve been my favourite when I was five or six.

Q. What is your favourite book now?

I don’t have one favourite book but many. Nowadays I tend to read less fiction, more non-fiction, in German as well as in English.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young artist, what would it be?

If you mean an illustrator – I feel it's a little self evident but: draw lots, go to museums, be curious, look at lots of (good) illustrations.

Q. Do you have a special place where you draw?

I work from home, in a studio at the top of the house: there is chaos, and I wish there was order. Every now and then I tidy my desk, but three days later it looks the same again. It used to be even smaller – I bought a bigger one, but the mess just grows with the table surface. I have given up hope that it'll ever be tidy.

Q. Your most well-known project to date is The Gruffalo – were you inspired by anyone in particular when creating it?

I wasn’t inspired by anything – it’s not based on somebody I know! The Gruffalo is just a furry monster… he’s sort of how I imagine monsters, living in deep, dark woods, with a name like that.

Q. If you could organise a dinner party to be attended by characters from books, which three guests would be at the top of your list?

I’ve got no idea! I think I’d probably invite the three little pigs, so they can shelter from the Big Bad Wolf.

Alma Books are really excited to be publishing The Horror Handbook

Alma Books

and are running this fabulous monster story competition 

There's a fabulous chance to for children to write their own monster story, and for the five winners to have their story printed in a special book, signed by Axel Scheffler. If  you are interested, you can find more information on that by clicking here 

A bit about the book...

What happens to a vampire when he dies? How does somebody become a werewolf? How can you protect yourself from witches? All of these questions and more are answered in this book, which will finally give you all the information you ever wanted to know about ghosts, zombies, monsters and all kinds of creepy-crawly creatures that give us the heebie-jeebies.

Full of tips, anecdotes and trivia – and delightfully illustrated by Axel Scheffler – Paul van Loon’s The Horror Handbook is a fun and fascinating reference book for all fans of scary stories and things that go bump in the night.

Available from Alma Books and all good book stores

Huge thanks to William at Alma Books for the opportunity to feature this delightful book and to share not just the interview with this fascinating  author and illustrator, but also for the chance to feature some of the amazing drawings from The Horror Handbook.


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