Oct. 11, 2021

S1 Ep25: Interview with writer and illustrator Jason Cockcroft... and our own amazing artwork

We welcome super talented (and all round super nice chap) writer and illustrator Jason Cockcroft on to the podcast to talk about his latest book, We Were Wolves. And, not to be outdone by Jason's fancy pen work, we try and draw a cow.
Jason's artwork - https://www.thelittleyellowbird.co.uk/
We Were Wolves book - https://www.waterstones.com/book/we-were-wolves/jason-cockcroft/jason-cockcroft/9781839130571
 Music by Dano Songs


no i'm not doing it

i'll do it give me a biscuit thank you you're listening to the failing writer's podcast what if you want more feeling i'm going to need another custard cream please

all right chaps hello hello hello everybody hello how are we all all right yeah not bad yeah feeling a lot better thanks very much for asking

let's get in with the question that we should be asking every time yeah what have you been writing this week fellas uh david you said you had something like you had made it sound interesting i wouldn't say it's interesting but i have written something well i started off i think i said that my next thing was going to be i was going to write the second series of anything for you the radio yeah i did i did stuff no no i've abandoned it for now oh okay sidelined it not abandoned not abandoned it's just put it on the back burner i i've planned out brilliant well thanks for the update dave john what have you been writing so i've planned out the series and i started writing the first episode and then just last week i suddenly had a revelation about um the spooky war book my dad's book the remembrance day thing that i because i finished the draft of it and i put it aside and i was going to leave it for a while and then i just suddenly had an epiphany about how to not completely rewrite it but to to rephrase it as such right and yeah and i thought it was such a good idea that i had to just start writing it so i did i started doing that wow and it's basically just changing the point of view of the whole book so all the action and everything that happens out there yeah so that's just a just a quick tinker ten minute tinker i did think that but it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that yeah um but it's just it's just a change of who is actually telling the story ah so who's telling the story no are you allowed to tell me yeah well basically my dad although not actually my dad but the sort of character that most closely resembles my dad right um the sort of so he's the leader of the cadet force in 1989 but uh much like my dad my dad uh spent a few years working at the local heritage center surrounded by sort of different memories of things in the town and they did displays about the first world war and that sort of thing so i had this idea of uh the whole story being told from the point of view of somebody in like the now basically looking back on it with all the sort of or all the memories of uh of the time and the little sort of relics from the first world war yeah i like that yeah so it becomes the so-called they the detective a detective or the police finds some human remains and they're trying to figure out who it is and uh through this through this investigation all the story of the stuff that happened in 1989 is dredged up alongside the sort of the old stories from the first world war as well which informs it all so i like that you know what i like about that as well is that uh it being somebody's memory you're never quite sure what they've sort of made up and what yeah what i mean it's unreliable in the race exactly yeah yeah and it just it just makes it so because there's so there were so many little bits that were sort of important to the story but you couldn't really build a whole chapter around them but if you've got somebody who's just talking about their memories it's really easy to get those little details in in really subtle ways yeah yeah that sounds really good that dave that's great yeah i'm quite excited by it so you're actually inspired to go back and start again so have you have you gone right back to the beginning you're literally like okay page one chapter one so i'm doing that and i'm trying i'm also um because another upcoming episode we have is sort of reviewing some writing software so i'm using a different bit of writing software which makes it even more exciting and i'm writing some totally new bits and i'm importing some bits from the old version and sort of changing it about um so yeah i'm quite i'm quite infused and excited by it so i'm going to try and get as much done as i can whilst i i'm actually still excited before the novelty wears off yeah definitely and it becomes a drudgery again but yeah no i'm i yes but it's weird i just haven't had a moment like that in ages where something suddenly occurs to you and you go oh my god yeah well you did exactly the right thing then you walked away from it and let your subconscious exactly yeah mull it over and then just wait for that yeah well it's because all like the things that we've done when we did the log line episode and other things that sort of revealed i was about to ask you that have you rewritten the line i'm working on that in a minute because that sort of revealed how the story wasn't working yeah so i've had all these things in my mind about what the problems were and what the issues are um and then this is sort of the solution just popped out of nowhere which addresses all those things so i'm going to write the log line from the you know from the viewpoint of the new angle oh good news buddy so yeah that's exciting for now like you haven't got enough uh writing to do at the moment sorry yeah there's nothing nothing else on is there oh that's very pleasing yeah what about what about you guys i uh do you know what i have been writing i've been uh i've been trying to outline the murder mystery book that we're supposed to be writing for nanowrimo in november i thought how the hell am i going to manage to write a book in november if i don't actually plot it out properly so i've started doing that i've actually really been enjoying that i've um i've found i don't know if this is how people tend to write their crime uh mystery thrillers or whatever but i just started by putting down basically writing down all the suspects and what their relationship to the dead person at the beginning is and how and the reasons why they might have wanted to kill basically their their motives for killing yeah and i'm not even 100 sure who's killed him yet i just thought let's work out a few people yeah and then sort of take it from there and actually it's a brilliant starting point i don't know if um you know if that's that's probably it's probably standard isn't it that's probably how you're supposed to do it it's quite an interesting take in it though isn't it i think they call that what they call that the prior method where they'd gather you're basically metaphorically gathering them all in a room bringing people into a room yeah i i think you're probably right but suddenly all the little stories yeah yeah and threads all seem to be kind of coming out as i'm writing everyone's motivation so it does it does seem to work quite well and a lot of those people are all connected to each other in sort of secret ways as well and that's all quite interesting so yeah i've been really enjoying that yeah i bet i guess good to know all these little hidden secret uh links between the characters it's all the sort of stuff that you know is the author but the reader doesn't know that's right it informs everything isn't it you slowly drip feed to the reader yeah so i've been doing that i've also been working on the marriage show uh the happy marriage show with katie yeah that's been very nice that's our monday morning uh slot at the moment we've been uh been working on that and coming up with a few ideas so nice it's been it's been busy wow productive yeah very productive uh and that in amongst all the uh we have been very busy with the podcast as well so it's uh yeah i've probably been i've probably been more busy than i have been for literally years probably since i was a teacher i would say i don't think i've worked as hard since i was a teacher what about you tommy what we've been doing hang on hang on when were you a teacher uh did you not know as a teacher it was a long time ago to be fair maybe i did know but maybe so long ago that i've forgotten um not far fresh out of fresh out of uni i taught i took a level uh theater studies and film studies for a couple of years yeah yeah i did know that it almost feels slightly bilious don't you dave how cool teacher john would have been fresh out of uni yeah kids these are sandals that's what i'm wearing to class you can call me john yeah i wish that would speaking of teachers in schools i feel a bit like you know if you're in class at school and you knew the answer to a question or you're always like right everyone suggest something and and then because you come around last your suggestion has been taken my answer is pretty much the same as john's i was doing exactly this exactly the same mindset of if we're going to do narrow we were right more then i am going to have to plan stuff out so i'm actually planning two different books what um and and then i'm gonna well i'm not gonna write them both at the same time with yeah i'm gonna plan them both up do the whole beats save the cats pants in planning things and what have you and then just choose which one to go so you've got two eye this this isn't so one of them is based on the like the first chapter of the murder mystery we did yeah and the other one's totally fresh no the other one's um a reworking of the one that kind of stalled that i was doing the uh murder mystery without them oh yeah yeah yeah yeah so that kind of that kind of just hit a bit of you know it just kind of grinds to a halt and i think that was pretty much because it wasn't planned out past some ridiculous things and i did say after i read the now take off your pants book that i was gonna plan it and this is the this is that time now i've got around so i figured yeah i'm gonna i'm gonna plan both of them out and then i can just go do you know what actually i'm on that one oh oh yeah and then they're both planned out for the future well that's a nice day having it but no i thought exactly the same as john thought you know yeah because i can i can write a lot of words quickly i'm i'm pretty good in terms of churning stuff out i think i've been well trained from my time writing radioactive during someone walks and goes oh this is on air in 20 minutes

and is get it written on mountains and stuff so i can do the volume of it but obviously you need you need that plan i know what you're doing first yeah yeah yeah yeah so the actual volume of writing for nanowrimo anymore doesn't bother me but yeah sat there going oh what's next after getting stuck in this one yeah it does so yeah that's uh yeah that's what i mean i think especially for a murder mystery because it is like a intricate jigsaw puzzle isn't it you've got all these pieces you gotta kind of fit together and if you don't have a sort of road map of how that's going to work he could could come unstuck fairly quickly i think yeah and yeah and i think you'd miss out on layering in the stuff as well wouldn't you yeah yeah i mean yeah you even basically by not doing that you're giving yourself one or two extra edits yeah yeah yeah during terminals although after listening to jillian's interview i'm uh i'm kind of okay i think just getting it done and maybe potentially just deleting it yeah just deleting it because you you will inevitably get ideas out of it yeah it may be better yeah and it's almost like you will just remember the best bit yeah it's like a civ it's like sieving it out isn't it you just end up with a good stuff i think you've got to be okay with it haven't you got to be okay with just going back to the start isn't it mad that after 40 years of inactivity uh by the end of this year we're gonna have a whole library of books yeah ready to go and stuff i think all the other stuff all bits and bobs of things we've done with the podcast but then that was literally the point but it wasn't there so i think we need to get in touch with jonathan ross and book the slot really aren't we for the new year yeah definitely definitely definitely um so well done well done well done everyone well yeah congratulations congratulations on thinking about what we're going to write small steps well so but the big news of the moment though is the competition have you checked our emails uh yes we've got a lot of entries haven't we just actual entries for our competition i know it's quite exciting oh it's brilliant and they're all dead exactly what i wanted as well but they're all dead like varied and they're taking different angles and some of them are like once yeah yeah what some of them might make you go yeah it's really good really good but we could do with some more entries really yeah well yeah keep them coming always the more the merry i assume there's a lot of people out there listening right now that are busy beavering away on stuff and they'll be like what people have sent them in already what on earth but when when is the deadline isn't it the 22nd of october it is yeah one minute one minute to midnight one minute's the witching hour so you've got on the 22nd of ourselves still time unless you're listening isn't it unless you're listening to this after the 22nd of october

still right one just for fun yeah why not but it is very exciting to have a competition on the go but there are lots of other we don't just leave it there and rest on our laurels do we got other exciting things going on we have we have starting with uh a bit of a break from the norm it is it's a bit of a change of direction this weekend it's looking at writing from a different perspective writing with pictures which some might call drawing yeah that could catch under yeah i like that yes but we have an illustrator and writer let's not pigeonhole him no i think you probably do pigeonhole him at some point john but uh i think i might yeah i think straight away let me really take him out of that pigeon hole say he is a writer and an illustrator and not failing it either i think the worst thing you could possibly do if you're going into an interview like this is kind of you know pigeonhole them straight away and just call it an illustrator yeah when they're obviously quite proud of the writing quite rightly quite proud of writing too yeah and secondly i think it's annoying for people isn't it if they've had kind of one big gig that was kind of high profile yeah yeah

years ago yeah yeah don't you certainly don't you don't want to yeah it's not the first time yeah don't dwell on the past yeah the first thing you want to be saying to them yeah so let's avoid that

we are very pleased to introduce um a first on this podcast we've got a book illustrator book illustrator jason cockcroft hello hello hello a mutual friend of ours mentioned you and i thought oh an illustrator that'd be cool i wonder if i've i wonder if i've ever seen any work that they've done before i very much doubt it and and then i went on your website and the first thing i see are the flipping harry potter books yeah so that's uh that's quite a nice thing to have on your cd they were quite quite successful it was quite a popular series wasn't it i'm literally done if you remember them there were there were this kind of fantasy series about is it harry harry what is it yeah it's a long time it was yeah yeah so how did that how did that come about we'll get this one out of the way first then we can move on to it's almost jason it's almost like we've got a list of questions you're fed up of answering we'll go through those first i'm a writer as well yeah yeah yeah but yeah um my career most of it is taken up with illustration yeah if i'm known for anything it'll be because of the harry potter covers and it's just because um i had worked a long time with the publisher at the time bloomsbury i see so they kind of put you forward yeah when it came up they trusted me i could draw things um and i could draw things on time so um those were two fundamental things to do with being a successful illustrator he's competent and quick that'll do are you suggesting they were a quick turnaround uh yeah yeah i think the first one i did in a week around wow i've got a phone call from my agent on the front wendy and then it did the illustration over the weekend blimey curry came i think it was a monday morning climbing wow she's she she is supposed to be really impatient and she jk she's like come on guys i need it fast it did come back to me with a few changes that needed to be made but um yeah all in all it probably took about three days work which was one of the fastest jobs well they're very very beautiful things oh thank you yeah absolutely and so yeah so coming back to your writing i did i introduced you i'd introduce you unfairly purely as a book illustrator but that's not the entire story is it because you are an author in your own right too in fact i am about uh two-thirds of the way through your illustrated novel we were wolves very much enjoying it by the way thank you can you tell us a bit about the book and also why your need to tell that story as well it's the story of a boy and his father who live in an abandoned caravan in the woods in west yorkshire the father has got mental health issues and he doesn't um deal too well with the outside world and they've retreated from it yeah he's an ex soldier isn't he that's right he suffers from ptsd um and the boy is there kind of looking after him um they're looking for a little haven in the woods away from the outside world and the outside world encroaches uh in the form of a local gangster and uh it leads to tragedy um the story came about really because um i wanted to tell a story about the love between a father and son and that's fundamentally the thing so that was your starting point and then you kind of developed this relationship yeah there's not many stories really about father and son relationships and there's danny the champion of the world the roald dahl book which yeah when i was a kid strangely i really didn't like it because it it didn't have any of the venom and spite and horror of the other roald dahl uh stories but yeah read it as an adult lots of raisins in it there's a lot of raisins a lot of drugged peasants yeah you know it's a big thing in the 70s and 80s he couldn't he couldn't

oh pheasants everywhere but yeah when i was elder and an adult and read it i i just loved the the tenderness of it which i probably didn't enjoy that much as a kid so that that's what i wanted to emulate um in quite a dark yeah it's very gritty isn't it it's very it is very gritty it feels very real as well it's sort of thank you it almost reads like it's loosely autobiographical i would say but it actually isn't yeah it's not autobiographical i mean the the themes are very um important to me um i there's mental illness in my family there's mental health problems in friends and family that i've known and i lost uh my father um ten years ago and he's nothing like um the father in the book and yeah but but yeah is this the it's the loss of him and how the repercussions that i had in my life my family's life and i wanted to explore really so that was kind of the spur for writing the book had you written a novel before that yeah i think i've written about five novels i mean i haven't published any of these uh published a a children's um middle grade novel about 11 12 years ago in the states um which disappeared and sank without a trace and apparently nobody remembers it including me i can't quite remember the plot but again um it was you know it was a fun story about death and grief so there's a theme yeah some things never go out of fashion but yeah i've written all through my career sometimes i've submitted it to publishers sometimes i haven't i wasn't going to submit we were walls to be honest because it's probably the least commercial thing i've written for children at least often for young i don't know how kids like a little bit of death if you do look at more pergo he loves her he loves a dark tale didn't he well i didn't have high hopes for it to be honest i sent it into my agent and um and they liked it um and then a few publishers were interested in it and finally went with uh anderson who were just fantastic and it's one of the best jobs i've ever had and one of the best working relationships i've had so that just the production of the book and how it looks and and you know how it feels as an object as well and it is a beautiful thing it has to be said so did you did you have some of the illustrations when you showed the novel as well or was it just on the back of the writing yeah and when i write i i never really visualize it as an illustrated book even right even when i write picture books um which might seem odd but it says yes that does seem very hard it does seem i'm trying to get my head around this well publishers think it's odd too and when i'm writing a picture book i definitely don't think about the pictures i trust the sound story um and the pictures will inevitably come but yeah publishers have always been fascinated by how unvisual my writing is um but yeah it's a different part of the brain and it's a different discipline and with we were wolves and i didn't even think of it as an illustrated book and it was only when i was discussing it with publishers that we came across the idea do you treat it then very much like if you're illustrating somebody else's book so you know you read the book get a feel of it and then and then the illustrations come from there uh yeah i do try to do that i mean that that's you know honestly because it's my story i was a little bit more selfish and in control i suppose but yeah i try to treat it like every book i've ever illustrated and and work with publishers to to get the best images and the best illustrations for the book this might sound like a bit of a stupid question but what what do you see your job as are you are you simply trying to give us closer representation of the words on the page as you can or do you see it as your job to sort of embellish the words and add to the atmosphere and the characters and stuff yeah i mean you're trying to read between the lines of the story and that's something that's obviously uh within the story but um isn't explicit there that's quite a fine line to walk isn't it it isn't it's it's quite complicated sometimes i mean usually you have a strong or hopefully have a strong brief from the publishers and sometimes not always um you you get to meet the writer and you can discuss exactly what they had in mind yeah yeah and what i've always done as an illustrator it might sound a little over practical and not particularly romantic but um it's the publisher that's employing me so i try to give them what they want obviously they're in a relationship with the author as well you don't get into like three-way battles you can do because sometimes uh publishers don't want you to have a particular relationship with um the author because it's it's easier for them frankly just to just to brief you right and i've had some great relationships with offers and some quite funny ones um there was a job early on where i was doing a covers for a book series for for middle grade and readers and the author had been contracted to do these four books and she'd outlined the synopsis of of each story then i went away to do the covers but in communication with the author and with one of the books she couldn't go ahead with the plot she'd just lost it for some reason she she wasn't interested in the plot synopsis that she did and she she changed it from um i think it was a group of children i think they were looking for the loch ness monster or something like that and she she changed it and to they were putting on a magic show well that's quite a few there were still links it's very much linked ideas yeah it's quite a quite a jump isn't it i love the idea of the book going out of totally

she's a lovely yeah she is a lovely person she's a fantastic writer um but what i don't really realize is that she hadn't mentioned it to the publisher so i delivered a cover beautiful picture of the lot less monster and then going what's this guys doing magic well unfortunately it was the other way around i think they thought i'd skimped on the special effects and it was just just an image of a magic show and they were expecting the loch ness monster and yeah i think they thought i'd gone insane um but i tried to explain what had happened and i think it went okay in the end jason i was gonna say i've got a question it's not really a question it's more of a statement of what i think um do you want me to respond to this i don't know you choose how you want it to go um okay it's i guess it's a compliment really um one of my pet peeves with artists and drawings did you just say just one of your pet peeves yeah tom this is just one just while you're here right artist let me tell you some things that i don't like when they have a set style that they have to do when you look at it you think oh yeah that's that and they kind of live off kind of almost regurgitating one painting on one form your stuff is is like so different really all over no but it's just like and i think that's such a huge quality to have of being able to not just generally someone's not someone's going to get you to do it because they know you can deliver something in the way they want not just because they happen to want oh this needs to be a adjacent cockroft because that's that's his narrow style sort of thing and i just think i i don't know i think artists are sometimes rated highly for having that one yeah i mean your stuff's uh fantastic in terms of that there you go it's not really a question thank you you might see it as a virtue a lot of people don't oh but yeah that's well they're wrong jason they're wrong thank you i'll tell them that thank you i mean i remember the first time i went um and saw an agent when i was still in our school feeling very positive and confident about my work and uh showed him a portfolio and he said you know what i'm going to tell you don't you and i was expecting i'm going to take you on i'm going to give you a thousand pounds you're a genius yeah you're the best thing i've ever seen and he said you've got too many styles and publishers and won't like that because they won't know what you do yeah and you know the negative side of that is you get pigeonholed to do certain jobs but yeah i mean i've always been interested in the in the technical aspects of art and illustration and that means that i want to try different styles i want to fit certain styles to a certain subject matter and so the illustrations in we were walls um is very textured and dark and um i wanted to use black and white illustrations and pen and ink work in that that's something that i've loved from childhood and i just think it suits the gritty nature of the the story do you have a style that you retreat to for your i assume you you draw for leisure and pleasure do you have a medium or a style that is yours no not particular one no um in the past i used to paint oil paintings and canvases and landscapes and portraits um i started off doing comic illustration and so there is a kind of a clean and black and white line that i use that is there in a lot of my black and white work but now i've always i've always changed styles and it's good to have a single style that is recognizably yours and um like i said publishers like that they know exactly who to go to and for a particular book i get that i get that commercially jason i understand that commercially but it's not it's not very clever is it i used to read 2000 id um a comic um science fiction comic yeah kid and that was it john schweitzer we go john and just let dave and jason talk about this and yeah but he's a fan as well yeah let's just have a chat about tooth i'm a massive tooth there's an illustrator called brian bolland yes was just amazing and pretty much every illustrator i think thought he was technically perfect his style just seemed to didn't even evolve he just had that style right at the beginning of his career and it's it's changed a little bit and it's become more precise in some ways but it's it's the same and you can you can see it and i'm i'm jealous of that you know i'd love to have that certainty in my style yeah but at the same time because i can change style so often and i can do lots of different um styles it has prolonged my career and yes you do fall in and out of favor and styles become fashionable and then they become very unpopular and it's made this interview less awkward as well because i would have been saying to you jason's trouble is you've just got one style i probably would have come out with that first off before john even got the harry potter stuff out get the insults in so um can we ask you about your working practices how do you what medium do you use do you do you always draw on a like a drawing tablet or um do you sometimes paint in well i started out um working on watercolor paper that's stretched on an enormous board that i i balanced on my my knees and uh painted like that for 10-15 years until my back couldn't take it anymore i'm not super amazed yeah well it wasn't particularly comfortable and i was advised not to do it um but yeah i about 10 years ago 11 years ago i went completely digital um i do sketch and i still draw uh the black and white stuff um with a a nib pen and ink but then i scan it into a computer and work on photoshop and bring in textures a lot of the color work for the picture box that is purely digital apart from the early sketches and the rust that i i still draw in pencil yeah but but yeah now yeah it's i'd say it's 80 digital yeah is that how that's how most illustrators work these days i'm guessing just yes it's more flexible some people are going back to drawing and painting on paper is that like the resurgence of vinyl back to the animal yeah yeah it used to be it's kind of the purity of it there's a certain romance to it as well and something that you don't get um when you work digitally is that you can't sell the original artwork and so but i think um since digital has overtaken illustration publishers um know that they can ask for a lot more changes as well yeah okay so in the past and i'd work in watercolor and um you couldn't change anything you know if yeah you couldn't mess about with that no you could paint uh if if they wanted you to change a figure um you could paint a patch on another piece of watercolor but you'd literally have to cut it out with a scalpel and glue it onto your yeah your illustration you couldn't change colors you couldn't change composition once you'd you'd agreed on the rough drawing whereas now an illustration is never really finished until it goes to a print because like i say publishers know that you can change pretty much everything everything i illustrate is on a separate layer so i can change the color of every item of clothing every leaf every instantly every object yeah so that is the incredible advantage to working digitally sounds dead easy now you can do it on the computer

yeah it's not quite like there's a program but um yeah there's not a there's no button that you pressed to illustrate a tree right okay in that case yeah probably not for me maybe another couple of years and we'll be getting getting to that point in terms of the psychology of working is there because writing is a bit of a labor of love isn't it when you're in the middle of it and you're kind of in yeah trenches of it and in the swamp of wading through the mid story trying to kind of glue it all together is that the same with the sort of the illustration and stuff the drawing or is that more i don't know arty one of a better description is it kind of just flowing um or is it the same to be honest i'm probably a more disciplined illustrator than i am a writer right okay so yeah i've come to rely on the discipline of illustration rather than finding a flow whereas with writing as you say i mean some days it's it's just art yeah you know you can't find your way i suppose you've got more of a brief and a deadline for illustrating as well haven't you which probably makes it easier exactly there's there's rules there's a form of how you work and having done it you know for 26 years you know i can illustrate and listen to music and listen to the radio and listen to podcasts now these days he just needs to press a button on his computer to get it done it's a lot easier a lot easier you can't do that with writing with writing i need full concentration and then as you say when it when it comes it's you know it's it's extraordinary that you lose you just lose hours in a story um but yeah when it doesn't it's a real struggle whereas illustration i could do it if i'm ill i could do it if i'm tired right okay um it's it's just become second nature to me yeah memory are you a planner when it comes to writing is you say you like to you know you've got your it's structured out in front of you and you're illustrating do you plan everything to great detail when you're writing i when i started out i didn't and then i started working with publishers and they really liked to have a plan and they kind of taught you how to do that um yeah but i didn't enjoy it because um you know part of the part the enjoyment of writing a story is trying to find out where it's going to go um it's almost like reading a yeah reading a book and you know one of the reasons i write is to explore themes and emotions and and the possibility of drama and incident in life um whereas when you plan something out you know all the twists and turns yeah i guess it's less fun if you already know what happens there's an organic you know evolution that happens anyway i mean once i get to the halfway stage of a novel i know the ending you know because it it just happens naturally that you kind of get a feel of where it's going to go you don't quite know how you're going to get there yeah um but i don't usually begin writing knowing the ending right i want to explore character and setting and the language as well is important to me so yeah um i don't try not to plan it out but uh clearly when you're working with publishers and you might be working with a bug series and it's very important to to know where the end point is going to be sure you write a lot of short stories as well yeah i was uh i was reading i was reading some on your website they they seem like very they're lovely little sort of tableau of they seem like very real moments as well they're quite whimsical um yeah you obviously enjoy writing them are you sort of constantly doing that is that something that you just you just kind of keep chipping away out when you have an idea sure stories are hard yeah um and i don't feel i don't feel i understand them i don't feel i've got a grip of them yet and i think that's why i keep going back to them and again it gives you the opportunity to change styles which is i enjoy doing as an illustrator but i enjoy doing it as a writer too my natural form is novels and novel lengths and stories and i began writing short stories um almost to get into a character or to set up a premise uh not knowing quite where it was going to go and also because of the commitment to a novel is a big one you know yeah yeah six months a year two years you know it takes to to write a novel and that's exhausting sometimes and so it's good just to have a kind of a palette cleanser but yeah i'd say that short stories are the hardest form for me you say you're still you're still sort of learning about the form of short stories what do you think you've learned so far really hard

i mean there's a rhythm to them um and once you get the rhythm and in the same way as novels uh when i first started writing for children i think the first thing i wrote was a 300 page kind of fantasy epic set in victorian london and so there's there's a pacing to that that's very different than a pacing to to a 30 page or a 15 page or even a one-page short story and i find that really interesting yeah yeah are you working on anything at the moment writing-wise yeah i'm a bit blurry-eyed and exhausted today because um i've been looking through the copy edit of my latest um young adult novel how close to finishing is that sorry that's a copy yeah so that's it's got the final draft and so it's just um tweaking the last few lines in the last wow it wasn't going to be about the loch ness monster his decisions

yeah it's a 100-page uh novel about a boy learning a magic trick are you allowed to tell us about it i'm not allowed to say much but um it should be published in the spring by anderson press so and it will be an illustrator who's going to do the illustrations i'm going to get someone really good this time that last bloke was rubbish but i reckon i reckon tom could do it now couldn't he so

you probably can't explain because it's something you do but um i just can't i can't draw i'm terrible at drawing that connection that bit between people's brain and their hands in terms of just doesn't i can't understand it yeah do you understand it no no just none of it just it just happens yeah i mean i i i thought i thought i was a bit of a freak to be honest because it seemed to come from nowhere no one in my family really drew but then i realized very late in life that my dad was um very creative and when he retired he started sculpting and he was you know from being a normal working-class bloke to sculpting he's gone full belt they're going to score religious icons and stuff so yeah he was clearly creative we were just hiding here um and my mum she was she loved her when she was young so it was there it was just hiding because i feel i feel very much the same way as tom i can't draw either that's why i find it i find it difficult to sort of picture things as i'm writing and i find it even thinking about it now it's difficult to comprehend that you don't have a sort of image in your head as you're writing that uh that the the illustrations come along later still seems very strange i think it's again that's a discipline i think when i started i probably did think very visually i thought you know again i love film and cinema so i thought well it's not much different than watching a film but um clearly it is you know i think you you can fall into the trap of building up a very visual scene that just doesn't communicate itself on the page without an illustration yeah and and so it's the idea of you know killing your darlings with writing there's scenes that i've written which in the in the film would be you know the big special effect number yeah uh but on the book it doesn't translate in the book it doesn't translate um because it's it's a it's a literary medium so so yeah i i think i've stood clear from it to be honest i think again it's a discipline that i've learned um not to be too visual and um to again to let the form find its own way um and then if it needs to be illustrated afterwards then i just switch on that part of my brain again that must is that also true with graphic novels because i know you've worked on some graphic novels as well are they are they other people's uh writing that you've no it's no it's always been yours apart from when i was when i was 10 when i was straight some of the kids comic and that was quite a good action but yeah they were we had creative differences and never worked again um but that seems like something where you really have to be thinking visually you do yeah sometimes there's no words it is literally just yeah and yeah that is more like a screenplay where you're you're having to direct the action on the page as well it's not just the dialogue and the the voiceover um but it is stage direction yeah and that is that can get really complicated yeah but again because um most of the stuff i've just done for myself um i can change the writing while i go along if i come up with a nice image i can't quite do that with the um the illustrated i'd be like

i'll not have horses in this one the entire story's about a horse and i don't care yeah warhorse tom it's not now it's war cow i can draw a cow illustrate another author's work that they're not too open to you changing things right now no imagine not yeah i think michael maperga especially he's very fierce about these i remember i remember your story about jk when you phoned up jk rowling and said well what if he wasn't a wizard doing magic what if he was the loch ness monster i thought i had legs that i do but apparently it would have been a very different story better better or worse we can't tell because it never happened now but you

well he's writing that down you can see he can hear it he's writing that down yeah yeah yeah that so i was going to ask you just because i was curious it's been a good reason to ask a question that you know it is yeah um the uh there was a there's a graphic novel it looks like it's set in the war uh what's that for that looks amazing yeah that was that was a book that i was developing that never got published but um i yeah i love that style again there's there's a lot of projects that you work on that uh you love and you're very passionate about but it never happens i've had a couple actually set in the second world war and the second world war is a notoriously difficult uh period especially for children's books um and so it has to be exactly the the right kind of story you gotta do your research as well i did a lot of research on the blitz it all came to nothing um but it's still there in my head yeah so i'm just waiting for the right time so potentially you might finish that it's not it's not a case of uh i probably won't finish that but i might develop the story in a different way right the illustrations would have to be simpler because that's very elaborate work yeah yeah i'd like to illustrate a fully illustrated older book for teens or for adults um there's you know there's a few books that have been out in the last 10 or so years that i've crossed over into the mainstream really from what we used to call children's books into into um adults reading them and yeah comics i've always loved graphic novels so uh i'd like to like to extend that somehow into it a fully illustrated full-length novel that's not a world i've ever got into the whole graphic novel thing if you were recommending like a starting place where where would you tell people to go um well there's there's the obvious one which is um watchmen which um that was the big one was a teenager coming from 2018 so alan moore and dave gibbons were obviously left there yeah brian bolland yeah alan moore did the killing joke um there's the dave mckean and neil gaiman uh books um i love violent cases which was the first time i i saw dave mckean and the first time i read neil gaiman actually um it's more of a little known story it's a very it's based on a new game and short story but i just think it's a beautiful book so right did they work on sandman as well yeah that's right yeah yeah yeah dave mckean is is a genius um so yeah i'd go i'd say look at violent cases because it's not a traditional superhero comic it's more like a a little anecdote um from childhood like i say it's a short story that's just been illustrated and it's it's beautiful cool i'll check it out anything else chaps well they're only one other thing because obviously we've touched on some of the successes that you've had and some of the successes to come in the future but there's one thing we haven't talked about which seems to me to rise above everything else is that you were the recipient of the inaugural blue peter book award it was how did you know that i i read it

and having never owned or met anyone with a blue peter badge i'm intrigued just to know uh what was that for and how did that come about uh no i didn't i didn't get back i got a i got a trophy which unfortunately was made out of glass and i had cats at the time so i feel like i know the end of the story already my cat has smashed it actually i think i think the first trophy was sent to me in the post and it was already smashed and then i asked for a replacement and they sent the replacement and then my cat destroyed

um but yeah it was for a book that illustrated um that was written by jody mccochran who is again a genius writer and a wonderful person um because you've done a few books with her haven't you yeah yeah i had a good relationship with her and and yeah again we worked quite closely so i met her and her books again are very well researched and she's a very intellectual very intelligent writer and so you have to you have to be quite accurate in how you illustrate her books you can't just knock them off in a weekend yeah exactly but yeah i mean i was lucky enough to win that award with her but um it was for her writing uh frankly i think a bit like the harry potter books is that why you smashed the award for her writing really quite jealous but yeah i mean sometimes sometimes the illustrations are a big selling point with a book i think with picture books um that's the case it's the cover that you know draws the attention of the reader yeah it's an interesting thing do you find there's like a big difference between you sort of front cover illustrations and your book illustrations because i know in a lot of in a lot of comics they get yeah you know they get a particular artist to do the cover and then get someone else to do the body of it and you buy the comic and then you're really disappointed

it's like it's like jason's done the cover and i've done the inside uh yeah yeah i've never quite understood the us process of the illustration i mean it's the same with yeah you know they have pencillers and and inkers and so and i think a lot of british illustrators who went to the states in the 80s and there was a big kind of invasion of us with these incredibly talented british illustrators and i think they found that transition quite difficult um because obviously here they'd pencil and ink their own work and sometimes even do the lettering um whereas there were suddenly there was such a demand um to for a quick turnaround on the work that they only had time for the pencilling and someone else would wow inky and someone else would colour it um i think that could be quite frustrating i think i'd find that incredibly frustrating probably because i wasn't well i'm not confident enough i know i'm technically i'm i'm a very good illustrator but i'm not confident enough in my um pencil work and a lot of my rendering is quite dense and detailed to overcome shortcomings in in my actual drawing um i feel like you're being a little bit modest there no i've seen some of his stuff john it is a bit rough i didn't want to say it before you know a friend's kid did ask me to draw a i think he asked me to draw the drug dog once and yeah he just tore it up and said that's rubbish and i think that is the worst criticism i've ever had and i'm still hurting yeah yeah well maybe maybe we can help you with some worse criticism than that um are these more pet peeves about artists i was wondering whether obviously we need um an image to use as our front cover for the episode um yeah whether you have something to hand or you can just press the button on your computer and do one for your quick doodle for yourself or the failing writers podcast maybe an unused picture of the

guilty looking cat next to him that's the cat there with a thought bubble going why are you not getting any [ __ ] museums now for free are you a bastard i can draw cats not dogs obviously yeah don't let's not old wounds over the dog well thank you very much jason it's really kind of thankful and thanks for having me absolute pleasure you're very welcome thanks for coming i should mention sorry i nearly forgot if um i should mention to our listeners if you want a taster of jason's incredible variety of work have a look at the little yellowbird dot co dot uk and i'll knock your socks off and also his short stories you can check out what's that one love like atoms.com that's like atoms.com yeah brilliant but we'll put all the links in the episode notes anyway uh including a link to uh including a link to the book we were wolves yeah and a link to pet peeves about artists i want yes definitely like why do they wear berries all the time oh that doesn't make sense yeah bouncing around what's your biggest pet peeve about artists jason um like the ones you've worked with or been at college with or whatever or what was that they're very vulnerable to criticism

especially about especially about dogs never listen to children that's true

from 26 years illustrating children's books yeah that is the lesson he's not listening to either that or brutally brutally disfigure his dog to make it look like an illustration what are you talking about that is perfect that is perfect


well thanks very much indeed for chatting to us and uh thank you yes enjoy the rest of the evening cheers jesse bye

i think it's probably a good thing that we ended it there isn't it because it was getting better yeah mutilate the child's dog then that'll go yeah okay okay so chaps are you are you genuinely that bad at drawing yes oh god awfully yeah i can't draw i can't write i mean you know like my handwriting is dreadful i feel like we should i just just don't have that connect between some vision coming out my head to being able to translate it into into drawing yeah i just i literally don't understand how properly artistic people can draw something and you know like when they're doing layers of things something in the foreground and background of what to draw first or how that doesn't work mess that up it's like if someone says uh draw a dog i can see a dog in my head but it's really hard to translate that into a picture why would it why is it hard if you can recognize a dog draw a cartoon dog i can see a picture of a cartoon dog in my head and you should be able to trace it shouldn't you almost now out your mind there must be a pathway between the brain and the arm that for some people actually work yes but for us just doesn't yeah yeah like i'm exactly the same i can see what i want to draw but that doesn't work i don't if i put a pen on the paper but then i don't know because even if i just put a pen on a piece of paper it smudges like even before i so you just no matter what i'm trying to write in a drawer it's just a smudgy i think i've just got meat hands that don't with no dexterity at all this doesn't necessarily work for the podcast but i really want to do a quick experiment uh and just can we just draw something really quickly and we'll just post it up on the website or right now just write yeah just draw something do it like anything no you've got to give us yeah he needs to give us a subject so we need to draw the same thing yeah okay let's draw a cow all right we'll all have a go and then we'll uh what's happened to each other i've got all right just a cow yeah a cow just a cow this is how bad i am at drawing i've literally just started trying to draw a cow drawing a nose that looks a bit too much like a pig's nose and then rips

oh jesus i got quite big

it's not getting any less donkey like oh that looks a bit cowlick you know how is it picasso that used to do those pictures in one swirl one without the pen leaving the paper i should i've just drawn half a cow like that that looks a little bit like a horse donkey this just looks so much what if the thing is if you'd have said draw a horse you would have nailed it but this cow oh i had to walk past cows every day on the way to school as a kid and oh it's a horse that's terrible

oh nice big other thing oh yeah

otherwise it's back leg would have been in front it would have had two legs on the same side basically uh would give an unstable camera how do i make this knot look like a horse now i don't think i can hang on i i've got it i've got it i've got it dave you can't just write cow and put an arrow point towards it no i haven't written cow i have not written cow there we go cow look at that freaking cow every day of the week mine looks like a cow that's run into like an electrified fence really hard or something it's just really nice the front is pretty oh my god okay i'm taking a photo mine looks like something that a five-year-old kid would draw and then go that's not very good i'll do another one right here i'm going to send you mine now he's mine i've just seen yours and now i don't feel so bad about mine but that's good

yours does look like a nice horse this does look like a nice horse with massive odds that's good john oh bloody hell john that actually looks like a cow yeah sorry we agree we agree my mine's probably the best i'm pretty sure yeah i'm pretty sure that is the best i think it's got the most personality got something of the eeyore about it uh it has isn't it it looks a bit difficult yeah yeah but why has he got why has he got a tusk

tommy yeah what's happened to his ears what

did you not think cows had ears what about its neck why is it a body with a head on the end i think i just lost it when i got to the headband didn't i yeah i started see i started with that and uh you should have stayed with the head you see that's what i mean i went downhill from there yeah doesn't tell me things like this but i started with a horse's head did you start with the teeth

it's got really good teeth that day well they you know spend all day chewing i like how you've given yours um like separate breasts dave

they were very much yeah that's very much an afterthought

well there we go yeah well yeah i think we've proved the point there how to bring this illustration special to a perfect end and if you want to see them just uh pop along to failingwriterspodcast.com and go to the blog and you'll find it yeah and then leave it leave us a review not just of the podcast but of our individual artwork as well yeah yeah or send us send us a picture of your cow and and uh that's a good idea maybe the future podcast we'll discuss it oh well that's lovely isn't it so what we've got coming up next week next week we are going to have our brainstorm oh yes which is which is like a whole new chapter in this podcast bit of a separate adventure that's going to be running through yeah this is kind of an ongoing one as well isn't it yeah so we'll leave that we'll tease it we'll tease it forward let's not give away too much yeah have a listen next week and uh join us on a journey of probable failure almost certain failure yeah but until then dear listener um goodbye goodbye oh hang on don't forget oh don't forget if you like the podcast mention it to like-minded folk you know send a little tweet out if you want don't hold don't hold it all inside yeah yeah share the love share it around enter the competition into the conference 100 pounds and then spend that hundred pounds on stamps and send people letters telling them to listen to the podcast it's only fair

cheerio then everybody for listening goodbye

where's everybody gone

Jason Cockcroft Profile Photo

Jason Cockcroft

Jason Cockcroft was born in New Zealand, and raised in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He graduated from Falmouth School of Art. He is the illustrator and author of over forty books for children, and he illustrated covers for the last three books in the Harry Potter series.

Jason has been nominated for the Kate Greenaway award and he won the inaugural Blue Peter Book Award. He is also an accomplished watercolour artist and portrait painter.

When he’s not drawing and painting, he’s usually drinking tea and staring out of the window at nothing in particular. He’s very happy to live in a beautiful city that sounds like church bells, smells like chocolate and is invaded by Vikings all year round.