Lydia Monks took two years to establish herself as a children’s illustrator, having graduated from the illustration and design course at Kingston University with a first class degree.
“It was very disheartening and time-consuming, pestering all the same publishers again and again. They were always encouraging, but they felt my stuff was too sophisticated for children’s books and some of them thought my use of collage was scary and adult.”
As soon as one publisher “gave in,” as Monks puts it, the others followed suit. Now she is turning down more work than she takes on. She’d had three book offers in the week that I spoke to her. Five years ago it was a very different story. In between treks to half a dozen publishing houses she did freelance work for ES Magazine and Tatler, a leaflet for Natwest and graphic design work for companies such as Kellogg’s and Mothercare.
The turning point for Monks was her book I Wish I Were A Dog. It is about Kitty, a cat who has come to the conclusion that dogs have more fun than cats, until her young owner points out all the advantages of being feline.
It’s colourful, bold and witty, and unless she cut down on the use of collage to please potential publishers, not even a bit scary. It went down equally well with both my kids, aged three and nine.
Written by Monks without a commission, I Wish I Were A Dog was published by Reed (now Egmont) in 1998 and has proved to be one of the best-selling children’s books of the past two years, picking up a bronze in the Smarties Book Awards last year.
“Stories that I write tend to be [about] things I find entertaining. I don’t have kids so it’s just a question of keeping myself amused. The stories tend to be an excuse to draw the pictures.
“The people who do well in illustration tend to be very individual. You’ve got to be true to yourself and stick at what you’re good at. Publishers can be restricting and prohibitive when you start out – I was not to draw any dogs’ bums – but it’s a different story once you’ve arrived.”
Would she consider moving into a more adult market? “I can’t imagine doing something specifically for an adult market. I suppose I just hope my books will appeal to adults as well as children,” says Monks.