Liz Pichon: 'I can honestly say I feel like I have the best job in the world!'

Published on: 11 July 2016

Author, illustrator and friend of BookTrust Liz Pichon talks about her Tom Gates books, summer holidays and how she started out as an illustrator.

The tenth Tom Gates book, Tom Gates: Super Good Skills (Almost..) sees Tom go on holiday with his family to a slightly underwhelming holiday camp (with hilarious results). It also features tons of cool drawing and writing holiday activities for you to do.

Liz Pichon: Tom Gates

The Tom Gates books are so popular and have such a recognisable look. What do you love most about creating them?

Everything, really! I can honestly say I feel like I have the best job in the world! At the moment I'm writing the next book, and every time I sit down to start a new Tom Gates book it's really exciting to think, 'What can I do now?'

I love being able to do different things with the books - like with this one, making an activity book with pages for kids to draw in, song lyrics, and poems. There's literally something different on every page.

Tom and his family don't have the most glamorous holiday ever in this story - what's the worst and best holiday you've ever had? Is Pine Tree Villas based on anywhere in real life?

Ha! Maybe a bit! When I was young our family used to have holidays in a caravan in Littlehampton and I know my mum certainly never had the best time. She had to do all the same stuff - cooking, looking after us - in a much smaller space!

I remember listening to the rain in the caravan and hearing my dad snoring at night, but even when the weather wasn't great we always found something to do.

The best holiday I've ever had was this year when we took the kids to Antigua for a week - we'd never been anywhere like that before. The kids unwrapped their bikinis and sun lotion on Christmas Day and we flew off on 2 January! It was absolutely like another world. I've still got a recording of the tree frogs on my phone that I listen to every now and again to remind me!

Can you remember the first thing you ever drew? Did anyone else in your family encourage you to write and draw?

I can! I remember the first picture I did that my mum pinned up on a board. It was the first picture I did with oil pastels - not wax crayons - and the colours were fantastic.

I drew a smiling tiger with the yellow, with red stripes over the top. From an early age I'd get presents of new pencils or paints - even at secondary school those were the things I loved best, like some Caran D'Ache pencils or some watercolour paper. And my friends thought I was weird, like, 'Was that all you got for Christmas?'

Mum was very creative - there was always a project going on in the house. She was fantastic at drawing but she had no confidence in her skills; she was also great at crafts - patchwork quilts, pressed flowers, dressmaking, everything.

She used to send me out to get the flowers from the neighbours' gardens with a pair of scissors so she could press them - I think she thought that if she sent me to get them I wouldn't get told off!

What advice would you give to a child who wants to start drawing or writing - but doesn't think they're any good?

Just copy things - find pictures you like and trace over them. You learn a lot about drawing by tracing things. Try out different materials - pencils, paints, watercolours, pens, all sorts. Same with writing. Don't be frightened of making mistakes.

Children are so afraid of getting things wrong, but that's how you learn, by getting it wrong. I'm hopeless at spelling but that doesn't matter. Also, as far as writing goes, I do more work in editing afterwards. I would say for writing and drawing: do what you love and keep at it.

What was your favourite thing to do in the summer holidays?

Swimming! I used to live near the Lido at Parliament Hill Fields in London. My dad and I would swim there for free early in the morning. He used to work for Rowntree Mackintosh, the sweet manufacturer, selling sweets to sweet shops, so sometimes he'd be working down by the seaside and I'd go with him in the holidays, and after he'd been to the sweet shops we'd go swimming in the sea.

You used to design album covers before writing children's books (which is a SUPER COOL job too!) If you had a band - what type would it be and, most importantly, what snacks would you have at band practice?

Hmm! I think the fewer members in a band the better - Ed Sheeran and Adele have got the right idea, I think! Bands are always falling out with each other. Although that would mean it was quite lonely on tour! Maybe a band like ABBA - great songs, colourful clothes, lots of fun. And we'd eat FAB ice lollies.

Liz's most recent book, Tom Gates Super Good Skills (Almost..) is out now.

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