AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • James Davies

    James Davies

    MEET THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS
    MEET THE ANCIENT ROMANS

    BIG PICTURE PRESS

    FEBRUARY 2018


    MEET THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS and MEET THE ANCIENT ROMANS are part of a new introductory series to Ancient civilisations; the highly illustrated books provide a great introduction to these people and will be particularly appealing to reluctant readers.

    Each book introduces the reader to the everyday lives of these Ancient people, including what they ate and wore and where they worked, their key gods and buildings, and the civilisations' rise and fall, with timelines given at the end of each book.

    What makes these books stand out is their presentation with bold spreads, snappy text and cartoon-style illustrations that are packed with information, detail and plenty of humour.

    We asked author and illustrator JAMES DAVIES to tell us more about the 'MEET THE...' series:


    Q: What did you think of history as a child and how were you taught it ?

    A: I was fascinated by history as a child and was amazed that people who lived so long ago could be so clever! In school, I loved the gruesome details of mummification, and we took lots of school trips to museums, ruined castles and Roman fortresses. I'd fill folders with leaflets and drawings about places I'd visited, wondering what it might be like to live in a Tudor mansion or a Roman villa.


    Q: What did you want to offer in these books that was different from other history books?

    A: It's very easy to get confused when learning about history. There are so many dates, names and places to remember! I wanted to make books that told the stories of ancient people in a way that was easy to read and fun to look at.


    Q: Why did you choose these particular periods to feature and how did you go about researching them?

    A: Ancient Egypt and Rome were the civilisations that captured my imagination the most when I was a child, so when the chance to make these books came up I knew exactly who I was going to write about. I knew about mummies, gladiators and emperors, but there was a lot of research to do. I spent days and days in the library, going through piles of books and writing down everything that I found most interesting. I learned a lot!


    Q: What are your favourite 'fun facts' for each of these periods - were there any surprises as you did your research?

    A: There were lots of surprises! I enjoyed learning about everyday life thousands of years ago, from Egyptians keeping their food in holes in the floor (not to be confused with the toilet!) and Romans writing on curse tablets to tell the gods who'd been mean to them and get revenge.


    Q: Each of the spreads has a different focus, for example, Clothes, Hair and Makeup or Mummification sections in Meet the Ancient Egyptians, or Gladiator Games and The Theatre in the Ancient Romans. How did you choose which aspects of life in these times to focus on?

    A: Without the internet, planes or real schools, life for everyone was pretty different back then! When it came to choosing what to focus on, I wanted to talk about the smaller aspects such as where people lived and what they ate, as well as enormous gladiator events, crazy rulers and mischievous gods.


    Q: You also cover a huge sweep of history with each book, and provide useful timelines at the end. Was it hard to condense the information?

    A: Very hard! Whenever I came back from researching in the library I'd have lots of exciting information to write about. I worked with my excellent editor to cut the text down and focus on only the most interesting facts. I used the pictures to show even more information.


    Q: How did you decide on your style of illustration and colour palettes for these books?

    A: To match the snappy text and make the books nice and bold, I kept the illustrations to a very limited palette and reduced everything to basic shapes. Both the Romans and Egyptians had a lot of beautiful paintings and patterns that inspired the style - from shield designs to hieroglyphics, there was a lot to work from.


    Q: Were the images created digitally?

    A: All my work is made digitally. Working only on a computer makes it easier to move characters around, or experiment with colours. I still try and make everything look handmade though, so everything's a bit wonky and messy.


    Q: There was a lot to illustrate, too - how did you decide what was going to go on each page?

    A: I thought about what would be the most fun to draw and look at. Sometimes this ended up being the grossest parts of history - mummification, surgery and combat were probably not very fun to go through, but I had a great time illustrating them!


    Q: There is also lots of detail and humour in the illustrations - how hard is it to make history funny?

    A: I had a great time making history funny. From the crazy Roman emperors to the Egyptian baboon policeman, it was often easy to poke fun! I made everything a bit more ridiculous, but I still wanted to show how amazing these cultures were.


    Q: Is there anything that you find hard to draw?

    A: I have always found horses very, very hard to draw. I'm quite fond of the horses in these books though, even if they are ovals with legs!


    Q: What are you working on now and what will your next Meet the... books be about?

    A: My next book is a picture book about a very long dog, and then I'll be looking to Meet the... Pirates and Ancient Greeks!


    Q: How would you like teachers to use your books in class?

    A: I hope these books make it easy to get straight to the facts and provide a funny introduction to important parts of history which still affect us every day. By keeping the text short, there's a lot to discuss and learn more about! Would they like to be a gladiator? How would it feel to discover a hidden tomb in the Valley of the Kings? I want the books to capture children's imaginations so that they're eager to learn more.


    Q: What kinds of things do you like drawing when you're not drawing Romans and Egyptians?

    A: I draw everything I can think of, all the time! I seem to draw hundreds of pictures of my chubby cat, and I'm very fond of drawing skeletons. My cat appears in both books if you look closely, and there are quite a few skeletons in them too!


    Q: What are your top tips for any children who are thinking they might like to be an author / illustrator?

    A: Keep practising! Write about everything that interests you most even if it seems silly and strange - sometimes that's the best kind of writing! Draw pictures of your favourite cartoons, your family and your wildest inventions.

    I think I have the most fun job ever, so have a great time creating whatever you dream up.