Ross Collins's primary teacher told his parents that he should go to art school. 13 years went by until he was finally 'old enough' to get into the Glasgow School of Art. Can you believe that? - 13 years. On graduating he won the Macmillan Prize for his first picture book. Since then he's illustrated over 100 books for children and written a few of them too. Several of them have won enormous glittering awards which he keeps in a box in Latvia.
When he's not creating children's books he enjoys working on character development for animation studios like Laika and Disney. He also likes walking in the Scottish glens with his partner Jacqui and son Ridley, and his dog, Hugo.
We Disagree About This Tree (Nosy Crow Books)
The argumentative and endearing duo, Mouse and Bear (There's a Bear on my Chair, There's a Mouse in the House), are back in a new Christmas story, We Disagree About This Tree. We asked author and illustrator Ross Collins to tell us what makes these two characters so appealing, and why he keeps returning to them, plus what inspired the latest episode in their path of friendship.
Q&A with Ross Collins
1. Can you tell us about your life as an author and illustrator?
I've been writing and illustrating children's books for 27 years and have produced about 140 books in that time. That makes me feel terribly old and yet somehow I still look dazzlingly young and handsome…
I love to illustrate other author's stories and bring their worlds to life but there is a wonderful feeling of ownership when you write and illustrate your own book. I love creating humorous characters and it's especially rewarding when you hear that a child has connected with your work.
I've been at this a while now but I still get excited when I'm drawing and I nail the right expression or my paint creates a happy accident or I make myself laugh. It's a great job - if you would call it that.
2. What happens in your latest picture book, We Disagree About This Tree?
Bear brings a Christmas tree home and Mouse tells him to sit back and relax and he'll decorate it. Bear doesn't appreciate Mouse's decorations and does it his way. They end up in a battle over who can do the most outlandish decorations until it all goes horribly wrong...
I had a huge amount of fun coming up with new horrific ways they could use traditional decorations to mangle a tree...
3. Who are Bear and Mouse and how did they come to be? Who came first?
Bear came first as I really wanted to do a book with a bear and nobody had asked me to do one. I started to think of bear rhymes and when I came up with 'There's a Bear on My Chair' I thought 'Whose chair is it?' and I came up with Mouse. They start off as adversaries in 'There's a Bear on My Chair' and 'There's a Mouse in My House' and by the end of the second book they become friends which is the starting point for 'We Disagree About This Tree'.
4. What brings you back to this twosome, what makes them such a great picture book duo?
I love doing Bear and Mouse books. They are such an unlikely couple, different in scale and in attitude. I love the drama of pitting them against each other and watching the sparks fly. I also love the challenge of investing as much emotion as I can into the body language and expressions of these characters.
I'm not sure why they are so well loved. Perhaps it's fun for children to see their own frustrations acted out by a silly mouse and bear.
6. Why did you want to write a Christmas story for them? How does your own Christmas tree decorating go?
I've never done a Christmas story so I thought it was about time. I've never really enjoyed the books about the 'magic' of Christmas and thought it would be more fun to do something about what most people recognise about Christmas in that nerves can be fraught at this time of year.
Putting up a Christmas tree always looks lovely in the movies but the reality is that humph-ing a tree home is difficult, the fairy lights get tangled or don't work, there are pine needles everywhere and then everyone disagrees with each other's decorating styles. I thought this was the kind of Christmas Bear and Mouse would have. But it does turn out happily at the end!
7. Do you doodle or write the text first for your books?
I always write first. Without a good story the illustrations are pointless. I'm always imagining the characters in my head as I write but it's not until I've finalised the text that I put pencil to paper and by then I pretty much know what my characters will look like.
8. How challenging - or fun? - was it to write the text for this book? Why did you decide that all your rhymes would end in 'ee'? (Readers - look out for interesting words like 'incendiary' and 'manatee')
The challenge of all these books is the one rhyme rule. It's really hard! I wanted the book to be about a Christmas tree and 'ee' has a lot of rhyming opportunities. The fun to be had is seeing unusual words that rhyme and then wondering how you could fit those into the narrative. It takes you in unexpected directions and will hopefully be fun and will surprise the reader.
9. Once you've nailed the text, how do you create your illustrations? Which is your favourite spread in this picture book?
I work traditionally using watercolours on paper and then a charcoal pencil for my line work. the artwork is scanned and then I decide with my editor on good colour choices for the backgrounds which we drop in using Photoshop.
My favourite spread is definitely the one with the fairy manatee on top of the tree. As soon as I saw the word 'manatee' in my list of rhyming words I knew I must have it as I love manatees and I knew that nobody would expect to turn the page and see a bewildered looking manatee, dressed as a fairy, weighing down a Christmas tree.
10. Can you tell us about the space where you do your work, and your favourite thing about it? What else are you working on currently?
I work from my home in Glasgow. I have a corner room on the top floor of a tenement building that I use as my studio. It's South facing so has great natural light and I can see across the entire city while I work. It's great to make me feel connected to the world while I'm at my desk.
I'm currently working on two books about a gullible rabbit. The first is called 'No Swimming' where he meets a monster who has dubious intentions. I'm really enjoying it as again I love the characters that I've created. I hope other people will too!