What books did you read as a child?
I read anything and everything I could lay my hands on. Often to escape real life. I was educated in convents during the 1950s. The regimes could be strict, so escaping into books was a great way of discovering other worlds and ideas. There was one lesson in needlework we were read to from Foxe's Book of Martyrs with wonderfully gory engravings. The whole class examined these with glee!
If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
There is no storybook character I would favour above all. As I grew up I learnt the difference between ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, but in my own picture books I have to be each character in order to portray them as best I can.
What is the best thing about reading?
Finding out about things I didn’t know before.
What is your all-time favourite book?
This is impossible to answer… Books have made deep impression on me and have influenced me all through my life, for different reasons: for knowledge, for information, for inspiration, for reflection. This question would be like asking an Illustrator ‘what is your favourite colour?’ My answer is similar - I love them all! They all have a place.
Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
As a young student I once got on a train at Croydon and across the aisle from me sat three young children with their mother and father. Both the adults were listening to the children and talked to them without talking down to them. The whole conversation involved them all equally and when they were not speaking the children listened quietly. The equal, quiet happiness of that family has stayed in my memory.
How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
They were always there in the background, with encouragement with writing and learning, also with painting pictures.
How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
Although I have written and illustrated children’s books all my working life, I do not have children of my own. But, just last week I recommended an inspirational book to a good friend and teacher at a wonderful school called The Lost Words. What an inspiring book!
Fiona French was born in Bath. She was taught by illustrator Charles Keeping at Croydon College of Art and worked as an assistant to artist Bridget Riley from 1968 to 1973. Her first picture book, Jack of Hearts, was published in 1968. Since then she has written and illustrated a number of brilliantly-coloured and imaginatively conceived picture books including Anancy and Mr Dry-Bone and Little Inchkin, many of which remain in print after many decades. In 1986, she won the Kate Greenaway Award for Snow White in New York. She now lives in Norfolk, where she works as an artist. Her new picture book called Wild Wolf is published on 6 February 2020 by Otter-Barry Books.