Ruby Redfort

Lauren Child – best-selling children’s author and creator of Clarice Bean, Charlie and Lola, and now Ruby Redfort – will be in conversation with Morag Styles, Professor of Children’s Poetry, at this year’s Festival of Ideas in Cambridge.

Lauren is one of those authors who remembers what it was like to be a child.

Professor Morag Styles

Ruby Redfort is a genius code-breaker, super-smart, ice-cool and gadget-laden. She’s an intrepid detective and special agent. She is also 13 years old and the latest engaging character to spring from the imagination of Lauren Child, arguably one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors.

Lauren will be talking about her writing and illustration on 27 October at this year’s Festival of Ideas in Cambridge, coinciding with the recent release of her latest Ruby Redfort adventure Take Your Last Breath, sequel to Look Into My Eyes. Joining her in conversation will be Morag Styles, Professor of Children’s Poetry at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education.

Described as being able to “put imagination and fun back into the real worlds of childhood”, Lauren often writes about chaotic modern family life. All the challenges and uncertainties of childhood – starting school, homework, harassed parents, fussy eating, nightmares and falling out with siblings – take on a uniquely hilarious and quirky shape when seen through the eyes of her enchanting characters.

Her characters include Clarice Bean, provider of such insightful gems as “Sometimes I think gravity is a pity” and “No ideas are coming into my head. My mind is a blanket”, and Charlie, who on his sister Lola’s first day at school tries to explain why her alligator outfit might not be right: “Alligator is for fancy. For school stripes are nicer.”

“Lauren is one of those authors who remembers what it was like to be a child, as authentically as an adult can do,” explains Professor Styles, “She presents an authentic-seeming child’s point of view, a child’s voice, if you like, with a bit of humorous exaggeration thrown in, as if her own childhood memories are being filtered through the eyes of her characters. That’s one of the reasons why she connects with children and strikes a chord with parents.”

“Writing in any voice, whether adult or child, involves listening and noticing, not unlike being an actor I guess,” Lauren says. “For me, writing is about mainly being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they might feel. When writing from a child’s perspective, the key is to remember how it felt to be a child.”

Publishing her first book in 1999, Lauren has now written over 20. “Perhaps uniquely in children’s literature, her work spans a really wide age range. You might find a child of three loving a Lauren Child picture book or watching Charlie and Lola on TV and then, over the years, working their way through her other books, to be reading them still in their early teens,” says Professor Styles.

Lauren won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in 2000 for I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat a Tomato, the first of her Charlie and Lola picture books, which are now the basis of an animated series by the BBC. In 2008, she launched ‘My Life is a Story’ Campaign for UNESCO’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need. In December 2008 she was named as a UNESCO Artist for Peace, and was awarded an MBE in 2009.

Yet, despite now being an award-winning bestselling author, the path to publishing was far from plain sailing, as she herself describes: “I had made attempts at writing picture books… however it was near impossible to get anyone interested in taking me on as an illustrator of my own words. But what I did learn was something very important: there is no formula. It is pointless trying to imitate and it will be somewhat mediocre if you do.”

“I stopped writing to a formula and instead wrote about something I was interested in, with the result that I stumbled upon my own way of writing.”

As she began writing, she began drawing and “the words started weaving around the figures and sort of became part of the pictures”. And so her distinctive illustrative style was born, each page a visual treat of swirling text and typography that lives and breathes with energy, set amid a riot of colour and pattern, roughly cut-out cartoon characters and scrap-book collage – a style that has now generated stationary, furnishings and even a fabric range at Liberty.

She is celebrated not only for her ‘kaleidoscopic collages’, which provide a visual playground for children, but also for the complexity and multiple layers of her storyline. In Beware of the Storywolves, the character of Herb ‘falls’ into the book, disturbing the fairytales that have already started. As he desperately tries to leave the book, even resorting to cutting himself real holes in the pages, the fairytale characters scold him for changing their story.

“Young children can be quite at home with complex post-modern constructions like this, with its unpredictability and lack of convention. They revel in the concept that a book can be a puzzle they need to solve,” adds Professor Styles. “Enticing young readers to fully engage with books is so important, not just for reading ability but because the books you read as children contribute to the adult you become.”

Asked whether she would like to write for adults, Lauren says: “Very much, it’s just a matter of finding the time and the courage. It’s not that I think it will be harder than writing for children – nor for that matter do I think it will be easier - it’s just a different thing – something I haven’t tried. But hopefully I will one day.”

In the meantime, however, we are sure to hear more from the sassy and fearless Ruby Redfort, as she breaks away from the boredom of normal life, tracks down villains and foils dastardly crimes. To quote Ruby Redfort: “You better believe it, Buster.”

Lauren Child in conversation with Morag Styles will take place at the Festival of Ideas on 27 October 4:00pm-5:00pm. Ages: 9+. Booking required.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.