"I was born in Sheffield and moved to a pub near Bradford when I was one. As I got older I apparently used to stand on a table in the bar and tell stories to customers about a character called Big Dumb Tackle (whoever he was). I spent much of my childhood playing sport, fighting and drawing with my older brother.
I went to a grammar school in Cleckheaton, then studied graphic design at art college in Leeds. My father died suddenly and horrifically in front of me while I was there and this had a huge effect on me. I went through a rather dark period which didn’t sit very happily with the world of graphic design. After leaving college I heard about a job as a medical artist and thought that it sounded interesting - it was. I worked at Manchester Royal Infirmary for 3 years painting delicate watercolours of grotesque operations. It taught me a lot more about drawing than I ever learned at art college, and I believe it taught me how to tell stories in pictures. I thought that it was probably time to move on when strange little figures started appearing in these paintings, and so I began a career designing greetings cards. I continued to do this for many years working for the Gordon Fraser Gallery.
Gordon Fraser became a close friend and taught me a lot about card design which was to prove very useful when I came to do children’s books. I experimented with many styles and many subjects from snowmen to dogs with big eyes to gorillas. I sent some of my designs to various children’s book publishers and it was through one of these that I met Julia MacRae who was to become my editor for the next 20 years. She taught me much of what I know about writing and illustrating children’s books.
In 1976 I produced Through the Magic Mirror, a strange kind of book in which I painted many of the pictures before I wrote the story. I followed this with A Walk in the Park, a story I was to revisit 20 years later with Voices in the Park.
Probably my most successful book is Gorilla, published in 1983, and it was during this period that I was badly bitten by a gorilla whilst being filmed for television at my local zoo.
I have published 50 books, and amongst the awards that my books have won are the Kate Greenaway medal twice, and the Kurt Maschler ‘Emil” three times. In 2000 I was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, an international award given to an illustrator for their body of work. I was the first British illustrator to receive the award. My books are translated into 26 languages and my illustrations have been exhibited in many countries - U.S.A., Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, France, Korea, Italy, Germany, Holland, Japan, and Taiwan, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting these places and working with local children and meeting other illustrators.
In 2001-2002 I took a job as writer and illustrator at Tate Britain working with children using art as a stimulus to inspire visual literacy and creative writing activities. It was during this time that I conceived and produced The Shape Game.
From 2009-2011 I was the Children’s Laureate."