Ross Collins is from Glasgow, Scotland. He is the author and illustrator of our feature January 2020 picture book, What Does An Anteater Eat? I’ve been a fan of Ross’ for many years and was thrilled to use his book There’s a Bear On My Chair in our very first Marmalade Picture Book Box back in 2016. What I love most is his sense of humour both in writing and illustrating. When I did my research for this interview, I was pleased to discover Ross is just as funny as his books. If you have an opportunity, visit his website at rosscollins.net.
MARMALADE BOOKS (MB): One of your primary teachers told your parents that you should go to art school. What were you like as a student during those early years? Is this where you perfected swinging backwards on chairs?
ROSS COLLINS (RC): I’d perfected swinging backwards on chairs long before that. I’m very gifted in that area. My time at Glasgow School of Art was a mixed experienced. It gave me the space and time to develop my art, focus on what field I might like to work in and to learn from and enjoy my friends there. On the other hand I didn’t get on with the tutors who had little respect for the art that I liked so that was a bit of a struggle.
MB: You graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1994 and in the same year won the prestigious Macmillan Children’s Book Prize for your first book, The Sea Hole. This must have been incredibly exciting. Were you able to strictly illustrate and write from that time on?
RC: It was amazing to win the MacMillan and it really helped me to get my foot in the door of the industry. Being Scottish at first I wouldn’t tell the publishers that I was trying to see that I’d won it (we don’t like people who blow their own trumpet here) but I soon realised that it opened doors so started to mention it. I drew for a lot of magazines and newspapers for about a year after leaving art school but then finally the children’s book work took off, I got a good agent and I’ve never had a real job since. I’m very lucky to do something I love for a living.
MB: You’ve illustrated and/or written over an amazing 130 books, many about animals. I take it you must love animals. Do you have a favourite?
RC: I’ve always loved animals. I think if you can’t empathise with animals it says something about you as a person. It’s hard to pick a favourite animal they are all so amazing in their own ways. I have a real soft spot for sloths and manatees but I guess you can’t beat a dog for an animal that you can really develop a relationship with.
MB: I read that you are a cat juggler. My cat, Marmalade wanted me to ask you to elaborate on that.
RC: My lawyer has advised me not to comment on this.
MB: I was interested to read that in 2015, you supported a campaign to give illustrators equal prominence to writers. Can you tell us more about this campaign and do you feel that five years later a difference has been made?
RC: I’m not sure if it was a ‘campaign’ rather than just a few nice authors and disgruntled illustrators pointing out the obvious. The fact is that a great deal of children’s books depend as much if not more so on the pictures as they do on the words. However, historically the author’s name will always take prominence and sometimes the illustrator will be mentioned as an afterthought or sometimes not even credited. There should really be more parity. A basic example is that on Amazon an illustrator cannot easily list all their picture books together - but an author can. I’m not sure there has been any difference made since the campaign.
MB: You have won many awards and honours over the years. Is there one that means the most to you?
RC: I can’t name one - that wouldn’t be right. Naming a few seems boastful but I’d like to say:
The UKLA Award as it’s voted for by teachers and I owe teachers so much.The Amnesty International Carnegie Honour because having my work recognised by such an important organisation was just amazing. And The Scottish Children’s Book Award as it’s voted for exclusively by thousands of children and ultimately it’s their voices that matter. Oh - and the Award for Talking about All the Awards I’ve Won. That’s a good one.
MB: Have you ever been to Canada?
RC: I have! But I’d love to see more. I visited Montreal a long time ago when I could barely afford a muffin in your country. I got freaked out as everyone was speaking French and my talents do not lie with languages. A few years ago I also visited Vancouver which was wonderful. There were lots of great memories from that trip but one of my favourites was seeing the way the Canadians identify their police dogs - nose prints. It’s still one of my favourite photos.
My thanks to Ross Collins for this interview. What a wonderful gift you have to make kids (and adults) smile and laugh. Pat Oldroyd
*cover photo of Ross Collins by Chris Close