David Lucas is a picture book maker in the classic mould. He works with simple shapes and beautiful decorative patterns to create stories that have a timeless feel. His storytelling is deeply rooted in fairy tale and fable, communicating simple but profound truths about our world all delivered with a sly sense of humour.
But amazingly David Lucas has only been making books since 2003, following on from memorable classics like Halibut Jackson, Whale and one of my favourite picture books of recent years, the tearjerking Robot and the Bluebird. His most recent is This is My Rock, the story of a recalcitrant goat who takes ownership of a particularly rocky piece of rock and refuses to let go. It’s like Aesop meets Jon Klassen.
Writing on the Flying Eye Books website David says that the book came out of his own experience of sibling rivalry growing up, combined with one of his favourite books.
‘I loved the Ladybird books when I was small and The Three Billy Goats Gruff was a favourite – I recognized the little goats’ pride in their big brother: I have lots of brothers – I’m the one in the middle in the photo. (My youngest brother John was born few years later.) Having five brothers, I’d like to think I’m an expert on sibling rivalry – and I’ve often thought it would be a good theme for a book.’
So what are the other books that helped shape David Lucas?
The stories my parents told me.
I was a talker and a listener before I was a reader, or a writer. When I was tiny I loved the rhyme of the Old Woman and her Pig. It has such a magical mood, timeless, strange and sinister – a world where even fire and water and sticks are thinking beings – and where a poor butcher is hanged just so an old lady can get home for her tea. I can hear my mother saying it now, on one of those summer evenings when it is still light long after bedtime.
My Dad worked on a non-fiction book for forty years, and sadly died leaving it unfinished.He was a storyteller, but his interest was facts. He told the same anecdotes of his working life or childhood over and over again – and we teased him mercilessly for it as we grew older. But when I was seven, I remember him telling my older brothers (they were 9 and 10) a bedtime story about the origin of the First World War. I listened at the door of my brothers’ room in a mix of awe and jealousy. The next night he treated my older brothers to the story of the origin of WWII. I can remember thinking it wasn’t quite so good(!).
The book that first got me excited about reading.
I had a collection of ghost stories that terrified me when I was 10. It was a boxed set of paperbacks. I had to put them carefully away in their box after reading – the cover pictures were too scary to leave lying around. They were all really good stories by top writers. The Red Room by HG Wells scared me most, I think. I’m fascinated by fantasy and magic, and why some images are so resonant. If something scares us it must be very resonant, tapping into deep, deep layers of the psyche.
The children’s book I read so much that it fell apart.
Well, we had a pop-up Hansel and Gretel that was beautiful – the gingerbread house looked absolutely delicious. It got ripped to shreds. It was illustrated by Vojtech Kubasta and published in 1961 – so it had already been well-loved by my older brothers by the time I got my hands on it.
The book I read as a teenager that blew my mind.
Discovering Tolkien was a great moment. It was amazing to come across such a fully-imagined world and to be able to lose yourself in it. I was fascinated by the really marginal characters – like the wizard Radagast the Brown, who merits two lines at most in the whole of Lord of the Rings.
There was always the feeling that every name had rich layers of story behind it – that the author knew perfectly well, but just didn’t have time or space to tell.
One of my own books.
I’m very glad The Robot and the Bluebird is being reprinted – it means a lot to me – it is a very personal story about loss, being unable to love – and learning to love again. It makes readers cry – which I’ve realized is a far better feeling than making them laugh!
The Lying Carpet, also published by Andersen Press, is a template for books I’d like to make in future. It is a richly illustrated fable – and I am busy writing new fables at the moment. I hope to publish a collection of them soon.
This is My Rock is published by Flying Eye Books.