Artist of the Month June 2018 – Chris White
Our June artist of the month is poet and illustrator Chris White – a hugely experienced and hilarious performer – every primary school should have the pleasure of a visit at least once!
Please note for transparencies sake we must point out that the above photo may have received some tweaking via Photoshop…
What a Visit From Chris Entails
Chris can work with all primary aged pupils – nursery up to Year 6, and even with some Year 7’s if required.
Chris’ workshops are an explosion of creativity and imagination. Even the most reluctant writer will find themselves being drawn along (literally) as Chris shows how, when it comes to being a writer and illustrator, that there are no roghts or wrings.
The workshop kicks off by finding something to write about. A character is created using the ideas of all participants. The stranger the idea the better! Step-by-step the drawing is created and, before you know it…TADAAA! You have a brand-new character in front of you using the power of pencil, paper and playing around.
The next step is to write about it. Is it an animal? A person? An alien? Well, whatever it is then it needs a poem writing about it!
Chris and class will then begin to write a poem, bit by bit and line by line, until the imagination is really flowing and off you go…finish it off yourself…write…write…write!
By the end of the workshop, all participants will have an illustrated poem to show for it, hopefully igniting the spark to write and draw their own creations.
It’s fun, it’s lively. It’s interactive and it’s creative. There’s drawing, there’s writing, there’s discussion. It’s a feast of imaginative ideas wrapped up in a workshop.
You may need to lie down afterwards…
What Schools Have Said About Chris
‘I wasn’t looking forward to it…but it was brilliant!’
Ryan, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘Good motivation to get children interested in books and poetry’
Miss Nicol, Birmingham.
‘Funniest poet I have ever seen, and I learnt things!’
Mikey, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘I didn’t know poetry could be that good!’
Olivia, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘Magnificent, brilliant and joyful!’
Class 4KW, Birmingham.
‘You’re visit is already remembered as legend!’
Irene Epp, Head Teacher, The American School of Kinshasa.
‘Chris was a hit with the kids and the teachers. It was a pleasure to have him at our school. His energy and presentation style wowed over even the most jaded student. Everyone participated in his workshops, including the teachers. Now poetry and drawing are at the forefront of the students’ minds. Chris is a miracle man.’
Schutz School – Egypt
Interview with Chris White
Chris White is a writer. Illustrator and performance poet.
He has had many poetry and story books published since his first, ‘Bitey the Veggie Vampire’ in 2000. As well as scribbling pictures to accompany his own work, Chris illustrates for other authors too, including Brian Moses, as well as providing pictures for apps and websites.
Chris has featured at many festivals across the globe, including The Edinburgh Fringe, The Edinburgh Book Festival, The Sharjah Children’s Festival, The Doha Book Festival and The Cheltenham Book Festival.
His poetry performances and writing workshops have taken him all over the world to places such as China, Russia, Vietnam, Egypt, Dubai, Jordan and even The Congo where he taught a class how to write a poem in a cave!
Chris has had his poems and pictures broadcast on BBC TV and radio and worked for the British government and the British Council on various projects.
Please visit http://www.veggievampire.com for more details…
How did you come to join Authors Abroad?
It was so long ago I can hardly remember, but I’ll try…
Authors Abroad was a brand-new outfit operating out of a cardboard box somewhere in Yorkshire. I think the only other author on their books was a lady called ‘Martha’ who would read her poetry whilst juggling plums. I have no idea what happened to Martha. If you are out there somewhere Martha, please get in touch. Anyway, Authors Abroad sent their carrier pigeon (Simon) to deliver an invitation to me to join them in their quest for global domination. I was a young, desperate author waiting patiently for my shot at the big time. It was a marriage made in heaven. It was a bit like Nick Fury recruiting Avengers…but with a pigeon. That’s how I remember it anyway, but my memory may be a bit hazy.
What do you enjoy most about visiting schools?
When there is a free dinner.
No, sorry, I mean it’s awesome to meet so many fantastic people on my school visits. The teachers are lovely (most of them) and to get to meet the most creative, open, excited and sparky young minds around is an absolute joy. It never ceases to amaze me that, with a little gentle shove, children’s minds can be so brilliantly creative. Lots of people moan that the art of being creative and imaginative is being lost in the kids of today, but they just need the right encouragement…and I’m your man!
Experiencing children that complain ‘I caaaan’t draw…I caaaan’t write a poem!!’ coming up to you after a workshop or performance with a huge smile and proudly thrusting their work into your face is a moment that never gets old.
What’s the best trip overseas Authors Abroad have sent you on?
Wow! There’s been so many. I’ve been very, very lucky to have experienced many different countries, cultures and situations on my visits across the globe. It’s been a wild ride from Dubai to Brunei, from Budapest to Bucharest, from Beijing to Ho Chi Minh! Each trip has had its moments, from falling down a hole in Penang to trying to work out train timetables in Shanghai. Visiting mosques in the Middle East and Buddhist temples in the Far East. Getting lost in a rain forest, having a barbeque in minus 30 degrees on Sakhalin Island, meeting a Qatari princess…the list is endless. So many miles, so many memories and I’m thankful for them all. Who would have thought that writing a few books would take you zig-zagging around the world eh?
But, I think, to answer the question and stop babbling, the best trip was probably the time Authors Abroad sent me to The Congo! I don’t know if it was the ‘best’ trip, but it was certainly the most memorable. Incredible stuff. I still can’t believe I went there. An incredible experience with moments of sheer terror, unbridled joy and I still can’t quite work out how I manage to get on the plane home (without a passport!) It’s a long and twisted story which we haven’t got time for here, involving the American Embassy, an iguana and a driver called Pepe. I’m going to have to write a book about all my travels one day. I’ve already got the title, ‘Poetry in Motion’.
Do you prefer writing poems or drawing?
It depends which one I’m doing. I love them both. Sometimes a drawing comes first and then I write a poem or story about it, and sometimes the other way around. I just like being creative, either with words or with scribbles.
What makes you laugh?
The road layout of Leeds City Centre.
What’s the most random thing you have been asked to draw by a teacher or pupil?
Picture the scene. I’m in Brunei. The school I’m visiting warns me that the Sultan of Brunei’s grandson wishes to purchase one of my books. He has granted me an audience with him, after school, on his own, in one of the classrooms. I’m nervous. What do I do? What do I say? What is the correct etiquette for meeting such a person? I’m just a humble writer from Derby! Where’s Simon? All these questions race through my mind. I calm myself and walk, with the aid of a teacher, into the room, where his Royal Grandsoness is waiting…
But, wait. WHAT?! He is about 5 years old! I’m relieved! I sign his book and ask him if he would like a picture drawn in there too. I was ready for anything. A palace? A peacock? One of his many speedboats?
His Royal Face turns to mine and in broken English blurts…” Hamster.”
I lie on the hotel bed later in the evening thinking, “Well, today was a good day. I drew a hamster for the Sultan of Brunei’s Grandson and not many people can say they’ve done that.”
Where do you find your inspiration?
Sorry for being a dull answer, but, everywhere. In films, in music, just by walking down the street, dreams, too much cheese before bed. Everywhere and anywhere, inspiration is all around you. You just have to let it in.
I like to think of ideas being like fish, swimming around in a big lake. Most will swim right by, sometimes a little one will swim into your head. On a good day, WHOA! You catch a BIG ONE!
What impact do you hope your school visits will have on students?
I just hope that I can switch a few lightbulbs on over people’s heads. I want them to think, well if he can do it then I can too and show people that being creative is within them. Either drawing, writing, dancing, singing, whatever floats your boat. I’d just like to unlock that inner artist that lurks deep down in most people. It’s the best when I get letters from students or teachers saying how they’ve never written a poem or drawn a comic strip before, but now they can’t stop. Job done! When I was at school I was never really shown that a job in the arts could be available to a regular person like me. “Go work in an office or factory” was all I was encouraged to do. It would be great if I could show people that being an author and illustrator isn’t just for well-known people from high-up places, but anybody (with some commitment and desire) can make a living out of the arts. There is another way!
What would you say to a child who said they didn’t like poetry to win them over?
I’d say, you do, you just don’t know it yet. I’m convinced that EVERYBODY likes poetry. Do you like songs? Well that’s just poetry set to music. That advert jingle you can’t get out of your head? That’s poetry that is. That speech from your favourite film that you always quote? Poetry. Poetry is just words put in an order that makes your soul sing. Sometimes it rhymes, so times it doesn’t, but if it makes you stop and smile or think or feel sad or feel anything, then that’s poetry.
Then I’d tell them to go read a Spike Milligan poetry book. If they don’t like poetry after finishing that, then there’s no hope for them…
What’s your favourite career moment so far?
There’s been so many! You can’t beat having your first book published and seeing your name on the front. That’s special. Doing my first Edinburgh Fringe was a highlight too. I like how you’ve put ‘so far’ on the end of the question as I like to think my favourite moments are to come. The best moments though are any time somebody says, “I enjoyed that!” Whether it’s one of my poems or a performance I’ve just done. Just to put a smile on someone’s face for a little while is a beautiful thing.
Are any of the characters you have created a favourite?
In no particular order…
Bitey the Veggie Vampire (as it was the title of my first book)
Wang Foo the Kung Fu Shrew (because he nearly got me a TV series)
The Big, Big Guinea Pig (because he got me noticed by the BBC and they used the poem a few programmes)
Stumpy the Pigeon (as he is a scruffy plucky underdog who tries to fly like the big sleek pigeons but ends up doing his own thing. I think I projected a lot of me into that pigeon!)
Do you ever have to heap praise on someone’s work whilst secretly desperately trying to figure out what it is?
Haha! That’s awful! What a terrible thing to ask! Everybody’s creative endeavours are special and unique and brilliant…
Or, to be honest. Yes. All the time.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Did your plans change or are you living the dream?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Still don’t.
I knew I enjoyed writing and drawing but you couldn’t make a living out of that…could you? It’s what other people did. So, I went to work in shops and factories and anywhere that would have me, to pay the rent. Biding my time until the universe aligned, and I could make the dream a reality. Now, I am living the dream! 15 years of writing, drawing, school-visiting, festival-performing and earning a living from making things up! I mean, who else (apart from politicians) gets to do that every day?!
Any career aspirations left to tick off your bucket list?
Lots and lots. I feel like I’m just getting warmed up!
But, here’s a story. If you’d have asked me this a couple of weeks ago then I would have said that I’d like to win an award for something. (I’ve not won anything since the Matlock Scouts summer fayre raffle in 1984.) I’d have said that some kind of recognition would be nice. Maybe one of these book awards that people seem to be voting on all the time…BUT…a week or two ago I was visiting schools in Romania and a few teachers took me out to watch a football match. At half-time, the chap I was sitting next to turned to me and asked the same question, “Any career aspirations left?”
I mentioned I’d like to win a book award of some sort, to be acknowledged in some way for having got away with this for so long. For just somebody in the publishing industry to notice me. The teacher, Paul, then said to me that he had been teaching for nearly 30 years and had seen thousands of children pass through his class over his time at the school. Some couldn’t read when they arrived, some couldn’t write. Many had problems of one sort or another, but he had managed to get all of them through school, to pass their exams and to go on and do great things in their lives.
He then told me how many of those children, or their parents had said a simple ‘Thank you.” None of them. Not one. Thousands of children that he had helped, taught, entertained and made into better people. Not one thanks yet he continues to do it every day.
After he told me that I immediately changed my ego-fuelled answer. You do these things because you love doing them and that is its own reward. Thank you for teaching ME, Paul.
So, having scribbled that off the list…
I’d like to have a lovely, full-colour picture book published (I think that’s going to happen soon though, so watch this space!)
I’d, one day, like to write a serious book. Y’know, about serious stuff. I’ve tried a few times but by page 2 I’ve got bored and stuck a chicken in there or a skateboarding monkey or something. One day, one day…
Just keeping on keeping on is my main goal though. When I had my first book published in 2000 I can remember saying to myself, ‘Enjoy this as it will probably last about 6 months and then you’ll be back to the day job…’ Funny how things turn out innit?
What do you like to read?
I love to read anything I can get my hands on. I veer from just having finished the Complete Works of Proust, to the autobiography of Ace Frehley. I like Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, books about religion and spiritual things, science fiction, Spike
Milligan comic books, Lemony Snickett, Charles Bukowski, Roald Dahl, travel writing, all sorts of wild and wonderful things. I don’t like sticking to the same genre as life is too short, so I try and read things that I’ve never read before just to see what they are like. I just love reading. My writing hero is Hunter S. Thompson though. He lived it and wrote about it afterwards and showed a wide-eyed teenager (me) that you could make a life out of words.
Book or Kindle?
Book. You can’t bend the corners over on a kindle.
Would you rather own a talking giraffe or a flying horse?
Flying horse because I wouldn’t be able to hear what the giraffe was saying up there.
Do you prefer your birthday or Christmas?
My birthday because I don’t have to write cards to everybody else.
Would you rather be able to travel back in time or forward in time?
Ooh, tricky one. Probably forwards so I can see how things turn out. It would be interesting to see if they ever finish the roadworks on the M1.
Besides, I’ve been to the past already.
Beach holiday or action holiday?
ACTION! (but with naps in between.)
If you were Prime Minister for a day what new law would you introduce?
I would pass a law that if you were incredibly rich then you had to give money to vulnerable people, the homeless, schools, hospitals, fluffy animals, poorly people and help them out. (I’m unsure of how I’d exactly do this at the moment, but I’ll work that out when I get elected)
I would pass a law that you have to smile at least once a day (more if you can)
Also, you MUST perform a random act of kindness every day.
More love. More thankfulness. More poetry. More music. More joy. More monkeys. More cake.
Then I would pass a law to banish all Prime Ministers then have a big party. You’re all invited. Especially Martha, wherever she is…
Arrange for Chris to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Chris White, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org