Whenever Sumner gets asked “who’s the most talented person you’ve ever worked with?” there’s only one answer: “Rob Biddulph.” Back when they worked together in the magazine biz, Rob was an innovative, multi-award-winning art director (responsible for zeitgeist-defining titles like SKY and the NME before his storied run on the Observer Magazine). Now Rob’s an innovative, multi-award-winning and wildly-successful children’s author/illustrator and no-one could deserve that success more. Because, as you’ll hear in this week’s edition of Hard Agree, Rob Biddulph isn’t just an amazing talent, he’s a genuinely nice guy who truly believes in community – the architect of the immensely popular #DrawWithRob, a series of twice-weekly draw-along videos designed to help parents whose children were forced to stay home from school due to the coronavirus pandemic – now used as a learning resource by thousands of families across the globe.
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Rob Biddulph – Interview
Rob Biddulph: [00:00:00] I’ve been fine. I haven’t been ill at all. I haven’t had, I haven’t had it, you know, none, none of my family have so, you know, touch wood, you know, so far so good from that point of view. But yeah, it’s been, you know, from a professional point of view, it’s been the busiest time of my entire career, I would say, which is entirely accidental.
Andrew Sumner: That’s all is all as a result of your amazing tour with Robyn initiative.
Rob Biddulph: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. So it was yeah, it’s so strange the way it’s all the way it all happened. I mean, literally right at the beginning of the pandemic. So back in March, 2020, I was sitting on the sofa. It was a Sunday night.
We’re watching the news, me and my wife. And they were talking, I think they were just talking about the schools were about to close in the next week or so. And so I just thought. You know, I’ve got three daughters. I know how hard it is to keep them entertained. You know, in the summer holidays, suddenly all these parents are going to be stuck at home with kids for months on end.
You know, we don’t know when it’s going to end. We don’t know how long this is going to go [00:01:00] on for. I think I can probably do something, you know, to give them a bit of respite for maybe half an hour or so, if you know, a couple of times a week because what we do as children’s authors, one of the big parts of the job is, you know, basically you sign your book.
Everyone’s happy champagne is brilliant. And then about a week later, they call you into, you know, in my case, hopper Collins, HQ, and they say, right, you need to develop an act you’re going on the road. Right. So suddenly I found myself on stage and I’m not even kidding you at the Royal festival hall at some it was a literary festival there and you know, there’s two or 300 kids in the audience and I was on stage.
You know, entertain the troops for now. And no one told me what to do. So I just sort of got on with it and I’ve found that if I started drawing on stage early on, you’ve sort of got the kids then, you know, cause they figured that age, they think drawing is a superpower. And, and so what I would do is I would show them how to draw some of my characters, you know, do a, like a step-by-step drawing on stage.
And this was back in [00:02:00] 20, 20 15 when I first signed my book deal. And and you know, I was always amazed at the kids where they hold their drawings up at the end, though, these would be little kids, three, four years old were distilling these really brilliant drawings. You know, they didn’t necessarily look that much like mine, but that’s the beauty of it, you know, these lovely drawings.
So I thought, right, what I’ll do, I’ll just do exactly what I do at my life or my live show. And I’ll just record myself doing some of these drawings and do it like a step-by-step drawing along for the kids. And so I had the idea on that Sunday. Came out here into my studio on the Monday recorded, the first video took two or three times just to get the tone.
Right. That kind of thing. Then I put it up on the cell recorded on the Monday, put it up on the Tuesday and I’m not kidding. On the Wednesday night I was on news at 10. It was, it was mental. It was totally mental. I mean, you couldn’t, there’s no way you can predict that, that reaction. And I still don’t really know why, why people reacted to it so strongly.
I think part of that. The timing, you know, I’ve got the timing just right. When, when parents were really looking for something for their [00:03:00] kids to do. And part of it was, I guess I’m probably, I’m just quite good at talking to kids.
Andrew Sumner: I would say they’re exceptionally good at talk to the kids and. As a proud viewer, I would say that what it really is is, is it’s a, your innate ability and the fact that you, you you’ve developed, you’ve developed this app that you’ve done then transferred into, you know, the video universe.
But I think you’re tremendously engaging. And, and I think you’ll ability to interact with your useful audience is unbelievable, mate. It’s fantastic. You know, And I had an experience recently where I did an hour long interview with one of your observer stable mates, Chris redoubt. Yeah. Yeah. And I’m such a nice bloke and incredible.
He’s re illustrated you’ll know this is a recent illustrated an edition of the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. [00:04:00] So I did an hour on forbidden planet TV, where he came on and Neil Gaiman, who I know from the whole comics arena, he came on and talked about Douglas Adams, his great friend, and Chris just visually annotated conversation.
And I found myself increasingly not asking any questions, because I was just like set into the magic. That exactly like with your magic, the magic of watching him just create illustrations very simply and quickly. And I was overwhelmed by it. It’s like going through the round window and play school. And that’s exactly what it’s like watching you enjoyed Rob it’s amazingly your gift, your ability to touch those kids is second to none.
I’m telling you.
Rob Biddulph: Yeah. Oh, well you might want to rephrase that, but like, you know,
Andrew Sumner: she was coming into my mouth. I was like, yeah. That’s that’s yeah. It’s all. It’s all, it’s all very loaded era. Isn’t it? Yeah. Ability to speak to them
Rob Biddulph: is incredible. That’s very nice. If he’s saying Chris is unbelievable. I mean, you can, [00:05:00] he does these, does these live things on Instagram and on Periscope, things like that.
And it’s just mesmerizing, isn’t it? I mean, I mean, I can draw, you know, I can draw, but I look at him and I just think, oh, I just don’t, you know, The way he just, I dunno, it’s, it’s incredible. We started in such a small way. Just this thing just kind of grows out of nothing, doesn’t it. And you know, I love watching it.
Andrew Sumner: It’s the simplest. I see what he does. It seems with only a few brush strokes, he seems to completely have the character of what he’s doing.
Rob Biddulph: It’s deceptively simple, isn’t it? Because it isn’t, I can promise you, it’s not at all simple, but his, and it’s his, it’s just little things with him. It’s the quality of his line, you know, and his mark-making is just incredible and he’s lovely, sharp, and depends on, I sort of obsessed with the way that he sharpens pencils.
You have these huge long legs. And I’m, I actually borrowed though for, I might talk about it a bit later, but I’ve written a middle grade book and there’s a very important pencil in this story. I based it on one of Chris’s pencils, cause I’m so kind of obsessed with the, you know, the equipment and the brush pens and everything that he uses because he really [00:06:00] is the master.
Lovely lovely. Chapter 12.
Andrew Sumner: I’ve loved the chat. Now on that lovely chat note, I’m just going to say I’m Andrew Sumner. Welcome to Hardegree. And today it’s my privilege to be joined by the man who is the constant answer to the question for me. Whenever I get asked it, who’s the most talented person you’ve ever actually worked with directly.
And I said that it’s really easy. You know, the most talented person I’ve ever worked with directly is Rob Biddle. And and Rob is the best selling. And multi award-winning author and illustrator of at least 10 amazing children’s books, but not only that and another lifetime in another era, when I was the publishing director of uncut magazine, he was the art director of uncut magazine.
And one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, not only that, but Robin or food’s [00:07:00] right here right now is an incredibly nice man. And it’s my pleasure to see you again, brother. And have you.
Rob Biddulph: Oh mate. I don’t know what to say after all that that is unbelievable. What an intro. I, I, you know, I feel like I’ve got to live up to last, so nice of you to say, and I have to say, you know, work those years, we did a, we did a special, but I really remember that special project we did together.
Uncut DVD. Do you remember? And that was, that was one of my, not the best times that I’ve had in in, in magazines. And it was lovely. You were, you know, a rare thing in the publishing world. The publisher was actually a really nice guy and really genuine because I’m telling you, in my experience in magazines, they were few and far between, so, you know, right back at you, well, you’re very
Andrew Sumner: kind mates and also.
That was also my experience in magazines as well. It’s a fact when I look back upon my really rather long magazine career, they, the thing that typifies is I always got on. As you know, I always got on [00:08:00] really well with my teams I always got on really well. We might total team, but with the advertising circulation guys as well, I loved the people I worked with.
I had a lot of issues with my actual peer group. The people I reported to with one or two exceptions, but by and large, you know, I, you know, I not to dwell on this too much because like yourself, I’m an extreme positivist, but man, I had some, I had some people-based experiences that when I tell people some of the things that I encountered and it happened to me, they think come exaggerating.
No, no, that’s what these people are like me.
Rob Biddulph: I, you know, one day we’ll have to go out for beer and he left to fill me in because yeah, I’d like to hear some of those stories and I’ve got a few that I can share with you too.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. Now I’m sure you have mates and to take you back in that time machine, can we spend just five minutes before we get into the fabric of this amazing career you’ve forged as, [00:09:00] as a creator of children’s books and this unbelievable ride you’ve had over the last 10 years.
Can you get can you just talk a bit as to how you got to that point and how it was, we came to find ourselves working together IP so well
Rob Biddulph: yeah, it was, I, I was kind of, you know, if we go right back to my school days, I was always that kid at school who you know, he, who was the artsy kids, you know, right from when I started at secondary school, I drew all the posters for the, you know, the school plays and all that kind of thing.
And some of it’s kind of pre destined in a lot of ways that I would have a career in the creative arts. Cause you know, that’s what. Really good. It was two, basically I was good at football. I was a very good footballer and I was good sprinter and I was very good at art and I was pretty good at Everett, you know, all the other subjects in between, but they were my two real strengths.
And I did actually, there was a point when I had to choose between football and art and art career actually, weirdly bizarrely. But yeah, I was always going to go to art college, I think, and off I went to art college thinking I was going to be a painter. You [00:10:00] know, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be a, you know, a fine artist.
And then I realized that, you know, there’s no money in it. So I sort of switched over to graphic design. And and on the course, actually, I there was a guy who was the year above me on my course, and also was in the university football team. So there, those two worlds kind of collided there. And he ended up when he left the year before me, he got a job working on just 17 magazine, which was a teenage, you know, it’s a very famous teenage girls magazine.
Unfortunately, there was no, no teen mags around anymore, but it was like a really, it was kind of like the cool girls mag, you know, you had a couple of others that were kind of a bit more kind of saccharin, but just 17 was the kind of the one that was into the Indy kids and all that kind of stuff. And he got a job there and when I left, basically, he got me in as a freelancer there.
And I don’t think magazine design was necessarily something that I always wanted to do. I mean, I loved, you know, I’m geeky enough to kind of be into my typography and all that kind of thing, you know, in quite a big way at university. And when he offered me this [00:11:00] job and I started working there, I realized that it’s naturally, it’s actually a really brilliant and creative and fulfilling career for a graphic designer.
Because mainly because I think, you know, every week you are generating in those days, it was a weekly magazine, I think, oh, it might be in a fortnightly magazine, but on a regular basis, you’re generating all this design content, but it’s then getting put out into the world and, you know, the, the Le the layers you have to go through, there are layers.
You have to go through to get your work out there, but it’s not too bad. You know, it’s not like designing record sleeves when there’s, you know, it takes six months to a year to kind of get something out into the world. And it’s got to go through so many executive decisions and all that kind of stuff.
There seemed to be a bit of a quicker route out into the world for. Work. And so pretty early on, I grew to love it and it’s a hugely sociable, you know, going out every night, you know, it was just, it was just a really, really fun place to be in your, how old was I then my early mid twenties. And so yeah, I started as a freelancer then I [00:12:00] was made like junior designer.
So bottom of the design run. So you sort of learn the basics. You’re the guy who has to scan in, in those days has to scan in the transparencies of, you know, the spice girls or Peter Andre or whoever it was, you know? And then I worked my way up through the, through the rungs and it became, you know, designer, then senior designer, then eventually the art editor of the bag and and like lots of these kinds of creative careers, once you’re on the conveyor, You kind of move around, you get to know other people’s quite a small world, really, and you get to know other people on other magazines.
And so then I went from just 17 to like, it was a unisex style magazine called sky magazine, which I used to read when I was a bit younger and I really, really loved it. I also used to read it. Yeah, it’s great. It’s sort of movie, it’s sort of a bit of everything, wasn’t it? But it was like, you know, it was, it was slightly different.
So at the time, you know, FHM was huge. Loaded was huge. And I wasn’t, I wasn’t really, I wasn’t a fan of those magazines, but I really liked sky. I really liked the thing that was a little bit more kind of stylish fashiony and musically and [00:13:00] filming and that kind of thing. So that was kind of my dream job.
So I went to the sky and then from there I went to then that’s when I went over to IPC at the time. And I did I did I did a special project over there. Like it was a kind of a, we were trying to launch in urban music magazine. And it didn’t didn’t come to anything. During my time there a couple of the couple of the big weeks noticed, noticed that I was pretty good at design and they basically they offered me the editorship of the enemy which again was a magazine or a paper in those days that I’d I’d read in my youth and Yeah.
So I found, suddenly found myself as the art director on the enemy. And that’s where, you know, that’s probably where Apple’s first crossed.
Andrew Sumner: That’s, that’s absolutely where we first encountered each other mate. Yeah, for sure. And that was, I, I don’t know, maybe this is a rose tinted glasses deal, but I think that was kind of, it was, it was one of, you know, magazines have eras within them that I, you know, these, these periods of time, which, you know, when you look back, you think, man, that was, that was a great [00:14:00] era.
And I think, I think that ear on the end on the. Which was a great one. Actually, I, I really not, not withstanding what we were talking about earlier about the caliber of people who run publishing companies in terms of the, the extended group of people that we both worked with at IPC at night, I really enjoyed myself working there.
I mean, it, in the years that I was, I think I was there about five years or so. And in that period of time in those men’s and music movie titles, you know, really find a home and a bunch of like-minded individuals. And it was such a feel good vibe, 90% of the time, I
Rob Biddulph: think. Oh yeah, definitely no question.
And I’ve still got so many friends from my time, my time at the end of me because I was like, you know, I, in a way I was lucky you’re right. It was a great time for music, you know, strokes, white stripes, kind of. Yeah. Although I remember, do you remember that there was a big thing, you know, the new rock revolution, that was the big, that was a happy kind of shouting thing on the enemy and, you know, I don’t think that’s that [00:15:00] that’s particularly dated very well.
I mean, if you don’t hear much from the dots and these ladies see you. Yeah.
Andrew Sumner: Most of those bands with the, the in front of them have not really stood the test
Rob Biddulph: of time. Not really, but, but at the time, but at the time, you know, it was super exciting and, you know, it was like, you know, there’s a lot of being back at university.
It really was, you know, there was, if you wanted to, you could go out, there was gig, you know, they put that thing on the door every day of gig gigs. You just put your thing down, you’re on the guest list. And it was it was a really fun time and so many unbelievably talented people pass in through the enemy, the enemy and uncut stores in those days.
And yeah, I’ve got, I’d made, I made loads and loads of friends for, for life. And I was lucky because I joined the enemy when it was sort of on its, it was slightly it was, it was, it was just a little bit tired I think. And it needed a bit of a reinvention. And and I was able in my first year, Sooner than that.
And the first six months or so, I was able to do like a top to tail redesign and I was given pretty much I was [00:16:00] given carte blanche to kind of do what I thought was right. And and it made it, it made a big, you know, made a big impact and a big difference in our, you know, we won a few awards and that kind of thing, and it kind of really yeah, really it really, it was a really fun, it was a really creatively, satisfying place to be at the time.
And so what they did this will definitely be where we started working together because they made me the group art director of the music titles. And I think in nominally, the men’s titles as well, although I didn’t really have much to do with, with loaded or nuts or anything like that. But but yeah, and that’s when we started.
Andrew Sumner: I mean, uncut was, it was, it was I I’d written for the, for the enemy quite a lot in the, in the nineties, but not actually about music class. If you recall, I was always a massive movie fan and I used to write for the enemy about films. And then I, you know, a big part of what I loved about uncut. Is that generally speaking back then it was two [00:17:00] thirds music one-third movies over time, the movie content dial down.
But one of those projects that you touched on before that we worked on was uncut DVD, which was really about them taking the sort of nascent DVD, boom, and using as a backdoor to create the movie magazine that we’d always wanted to say, I want to send winter was wanting to see I’m talking about you and me, Alan Jones, Michael Bonner.
It was basically what do we want out of a movie magazine? And it was, it, it was a relatively short-lived title, published three issues. But man, that first issue that we put out w is probably my favorite thing I ever did when I was at IPC. Would that great cover of a shot from Magnum force where he’s so good, so good.
Rob Biddulph: Well, it was sort of third designer, but it’s a dream project. I mean, there’s so many amazing, there’s so much amazing photography around, around those classic films. It was, you know, as well as brilliant film stills to be working with. But I remember we did a feature on like, there was there was like loads of backstage [00:18:00] pictures from the mist.
The misfits was that’s exactly right. This, these pictures. I mean, you probably knew them. You’re much bigger film buff than I am. You knew these pictures, but I hadn’t seen them before. And it was just, you know, we would do, you know, we would have like 15 pages just Butler. These pictures were just little captions, which for a designer is just kind of.
Brief. So, yeah, that was fun. That was really fun. I mean, it’s a real shame. It didn’t last for longer, but, you know,
Andrew Sumner: yeah. It was brilliant. It was brilliant while it lasted that first issue also had a, it was around the time that Batman begins, came out. So we also had that, that Batman article, which is a Batman retrospective, which I wrote and you designed it again.
So there was so much light in the shadow in that one issue alone. Cause it was like a crash course in 70 years of cinema. And that’s what I loved about it.
Rob Biddulph: Yeah. Me too nice. Yeah. Such fun, such fun. And I think I remember doing also at that time, you know, we had to, we had to sign non-disclosure things by getting [00:19:00] appropriate.
It’s fine to talk about it now, but we did what we did. There was a time when they were going to launch rolling stone.
So that we did, I spent a, quite a long time on that. I mean, was in my head, it was like six months or so with Paul, Paul Leicester. And and a few of the few people sort of came in and out of that, that, that project room, but that was amazing as well. And I really did think that that was gonna happen.
I don’t, I still, to this day, I don’t really know. I guess the numbers just didn’t work, you know, but like, again, you’re working with, you know, the best of tography in the world, the best rice in the world. And it was just, I loved that. It was the only thing. You didn’t come to fruition, but
Andrew Sumner: it’s great to have that ride nonetheless, internally.
And then, and then ultimately, you know, your success on the IPC portfolio that brought you to the attention of, you know, other quality publications, and you ended up coming to the art director of the observer magazine.
Rob Biddulph: That’s right? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. [00:20:00] I mean, there was a, so I was doing my job. My job at IPC was really, really fun.
I was. Yeah. But what was happening was they were, they were started, I dunno, what it was, whether it was a company wide policy, but they started to sort of farm. Cause I worked with Steve Sutherland, you know, that, you know, of course, you know, Steve, you know, legendary Sutherland. So me and Steve would sit in this little office and they would sort of people from all over the company, but come to us and say, right, can you ever look up, I don’t know, angling angling times or now magazine or whatever it was.
And you would sort of go in for a month or so, and sort of try and suggest, you know, the teams maybe had been there for a long time and they just needed a bit of a freshen up. So you go work with their teams and, and it was, it was, it was, it was nice in some ways. And it was good to kind of, you know, think about totally different subject matter to anything that I’d ever worked on before.
And from a design point of view, I think I probably learned quite a lot, but it wasn’t really satisfying. Creatively. And so when [00:21:00] the observer came knocking, I think that was about 2006. Again, it was one, you know, I’ve always read the guardian, which I, the observer, it was one of those. It was one of those situations where it was like, well, you know what?
I think it’s probably time, you know, I know it always wonder up until that point. So I was what I was in my early, early thirties then. And I’d always wondered what happened to everybody who was older than older than me, who weren’t. I mean, who weren’t publishers, who were weren’t on in the, kind of in the boardroom.
And the answer was they went to work because I went for this, this, this atmosphere where it was like being, as I said, being back at art college to being sort of in the grownup world, you know, there was no music in the office and, you know, you know, lots of very serious and very. Let’s not be about the Bush, very posh kind of public school types talking very loudly.
And when I first went there, I must admit, I was a bit like, sorry, my dog is barking. I’m just going to let it go. Now this is, this is written go, Hey, ringing.
Andrew Sumner: The great name happens to be named after my favorite beetle. Oh [00:22:00] really? Yeah. It was 81, about two days before.
Rob Biddulph: So yeah, so when I first started the observer, I thought, oh, I’m not sure that these are these my people, but pretty soon, you know, when you’re working on a small team. So I was on the observer magazine, you know, you get to know the different, you get to know the different characters and you know what? I absolutely loved it.
I really, really loved it. And You know, I got to in my time is there for nine years, I did that. Right.
Andrew Sumner: Really? Is that how long you were there for
Rob Biddulph: me nine years? It’s the longest I’ve ever been on any, on any magazine by, you know, almost twice as long as anywhere else. But I loved, I loved it. I loved the subject matter again, you know, you’re really all working with some of the best writers in the world, photography you’ve got access to the best photography, the best photographers, cause they’ve got the pull of the guardian and the observer is unbelievable.
And again, I had, you know, they gave me carte blanche to redesign the mag two or three times in my tenure there. And and I, and I, and I really, really loved it. And again, you know, I they were my people, you know, and I’ve got so many. For life from that place that I’m really, really thankful [00:23:00] for,
Andrew Sumner: How wonderful mate.
It’s interesting. Isn’t it? The passage of time, because we were, we were talking off camera about how long it’s actually been since you and I’ve had a chat. And what happens is as your life stumps on the accelerator, what you think has been two or three years actually turns around, but it’s a decade.
And what have you. I was hanging with my dad this weekend do is who’s 89. And and he was, he was talking about stuff, blah, blah. But I guess, wow. I guess it was five years ago. No, damn. That was 35 years. Yeah. And it happens, you know? And so I had no idea that you’d been there that long man
Rob Biddulph: totally elastic, isn’t it.
Especially with you know, with Fe you know, cause we’re Facebook friends. So, you know, I sort of feel like, you know, I know I’ve got a handle on what’s been going on in your life because that’s the way it is with so many people. So, you know, when you bump into them and say, well, we haven’t seen each other for 10, 15 years.
You’re like, well, no, that’s not true. I saw you at your daughter’s birthday party.[00:24:00]
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. That, that that’s very well observed, mate. And how did you transition into how, how did your first. Come about before you answer that question. My impression from the outside is that, is that you started, you hit the ground running at a very high level straight away. Like you explained it on the scene with blown away immediately.
One like the, the Waterstones children’s book prize, you know, in a normal like career, I would read your, your career arc. So I’m very familiar with all of your books. And I, I have to say often deployed the most present to my army of younger relatives. Oh yeah. Yeah. And they’re always very well received, you know, until I think I’ve bought every single book you’ve ever written mates.
And if I haven’t bought them for myself, I bought them for people to whom I’m related. But in my minds, I thought the narrative was, well, you know, you did blown away. You did go. [00:25:00] And then. Oh dog out and it kind of exploded and that would be the normal art for somebody. And while our dog was in, in in fact, did you know, it was incredibly highly considered and rewarded.
In fact, you knocked it out of the park with your first book, you know, so to me, that is how did that, what did that, how did it all come together and how did that ride feel?
Rob Biddulph: Well, I wish it had been quite as simple as you make it sound, but it really wasn’t what happened was so I got, I don’t even know when it was, it was probably when my, so I’ve got three daughters and when my middle, the middle daughter, when she was about two or three.
You know, we bought these picture books to read them a bedtime and you know, and I’d done a bit at back at art college. When, you know, I think in between wanting to be a fine artist and transitioning to a graphic designer, I’d mucked around a little bit within Australian, I’d done some children’s book, illustration projects and that kind of thing.
And and I would read these books at bedtime to kitty and and [00:26:00] I sort of think sometimes I think, God, this is how the hell did this get published. This is a terrible, terrible book. And of course those ones are always the ones that the kids want you to read every night. But then there was a couple of books that.
And it made me just, it just sort of, I just had a, I basically had an epiphany. I’ll tell you what, there’s this guy called Oliver Jeffers, who is just unbelievably talented. And he’d written this book called it’s called the incredible book, eating boy. And what he’d done was he’d gone. It, must’ve gone charity book charity to lots of, kind of old bookshops for charity shops.
And he’d found loads of really old leather bound books and he’d take them all apart and he painted his illustration sort of onto these textured covers. And so it sort of, in one way, you could read it as a regular kind of picture, but, but in another way, it was like a proper work of art. These illustrations are absolutely peaceful and the levels of design he’d done all this hand, drawn typography and the level of design and you know, all the things that we’d learned about on on in, in, in magazines, you know, [00:27:00] negative space, all that kind of thing, composition.
This was all in these books as well. And I suddenly started looking at them as really nicely designed objects, really nice works of art. And I did, I had this epiphany, I thought, oh my God, this looks like a really amazing thing to do. I’m going to have a go at writing a kids book. And and I had no, I’d done a bit of writing here and there, little bits and pieces when I was on just 17, I used to do, you know, I was one of only two guys on the magazine.
So they gave us this, the letters page to do, they call it male bonding, spelled a N a L E. And it wasn’t the problems page I should add. It was the, you know, please gonna have a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio page and we would write funny answers and stuff like that. And I did that for a few years. I’ve really, really loved it.
So I’ve done a little bit of writing here and there. You know, not, I wasn’t confident at all that I could do it. So what I did, I decided to hide behind kind of a riving mechanism. I thought, well, I’m pretty good. On some reason I knew I was quite good at writing, you know, limericks in people’s birthday cards, in the office and stuff.[00:28:00]
So I thought, right, I’m going to have a go, I’ll write a rhyming story that way because of hide the fact that I’m not a professional writer. And I knew I could do the the illustration side of things. So I just thought, right, I’m going to have a go at writing, writing a story. And I thought, well, what am I going to write about it?
My and my daughter, Casey, used to come up with all sorts of like all kids. Do, you know, they could just come up with these crazy notions. And one of them was. She got a dog one Christmas maybe munchings about two. And I said, right, what are you going to, what are you going to call this dog? And she said, oh, nothing.
And I said, well, you got to give this stolen name. And she said, no, her name is nothing with a capital letter, nothing. And we’ve got a stole nothing. And you know, we suggest all these other names. She was like, no, no, no. And I thought, right, well, that’s a good start for a very simple kind of children’s book idea.
You know, it’ll go has a dog. Sisters suggested lots of ideas and you can write a nice, basically wrote a poem. And I illustrated this book around that and a friend of mine, I knew that I knew how it worked. You had to get an a, you know, you couldn’t just send an unsolicited manuscript to the [00:29:00] publishers because they just didn’t basically, they got, they get.
It turns out everyone wants every illustrator that wants to be a children’s book in Australia. So they get, they would get totally deluged. Good submission. So you first you have to find an agent. I looked up online, it said it’s really hard to get an agent. Fortunately, I knew, I think it was one of the mums at the school, knew an agent who they put us in touch.
And and I sent my, I sent this book idea off to them. She rang me straight up. Send a bottle of champagne to the friend who put us in touch and said, this is brilliant. You know, we’re going to do this. This is, I think you are absolutely brilliant. I’m sorry. Oh my God, this is so easy. And I spent, I probably spent about six months, you know, tweaking, you know, changing the drawings, character here and little line there.
And then just when we were at the point where you, we were going to submit to publishers, she turned around and said that her boss didn’t want to have any picture book artists and illustrators on their roster. I dunno why. And she was, she was lovely, but she was very apologetic and said, we just can’t take it forward.
So that was a bit of a kick in the teeth. [00:30:00] When I literally thought that I was about to be published. And second. So then I had to, I started again, I found another agent. I wrote another story about this time is my, the same daughter had an imaginary friend who would only turn up whenever she was in trouble.
So, you know, if she spilled a drink in a room, it was never her. Guy, Kevin. Yeah. So I said to, I said to her, right, what does Kevin look like? She said, right. Well, he’s really big and furries from his vanilla colored and he’s covered in pig spots. He’s got one teacher started saying all these things and I was literally like, right, is this what it looks like?
And then the thought that’s a brilliant idea for a story. You know, the flip and I had this flip reverse where the child goes into the imaginary world and they sort of become the imaginary friends. And I thought that’s a really nice little flipper. So I wrote this story and got a new agent this time.
We got in the room with every single publisher in London. Literally everyone liked it. And I found myself sort of working up slightly different versions with all of these publishers, but no one would quite commit [00:31:00] to signing me. And it was so frustrating. And this went on for about two years, you know, literally working up different versions and I couldn’t get this book over the line.
And honestly it was quite, it was really quite dispiriting. You know, in a way I’d rather, I just didn’t get anywhere and actually getting so close. And, and in the end it was, I just couldn’t take, because I was literally, I was just, you know, you find yourself just watching your email, refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh.
And it was actually, I don’t think it was particularly great for my mental health. So I decided to step away from it. And I took six months off and just kept constant because all of this time I was working on the observant. So this was all stuff I was just doing in the evenings and weekends. And I thought right, forget about it.
Totally. I’ll come back in a month or two and start again. So I gain, I changed my agent. I got a new agent whose name is Jodi Hodgins at United agents. She’s my current agent. And when I went to see her, nothing against the other two that I’d had, but. It was like, you know, I can, I could see [00:32:00] clearly you see how to, she had a really smart vision for what I should do.
And she said, which I dunno why I’d never thought of this before, but she said, right, we’re going to take the book that you’ve written out this book, Kevin. But I also, I just want you to draw a portfolio of children’s books, staples. So just draw a pirate scene, draw an alien scene, draw a space scene, you know, things that kids might like to see in a book.
And just take that along with you. Like, you know, like a portfolio, you know, like I would have taken a long when I was being interviewed for our college and I dunno it was so it’s so obvious and, and you know what, that’s what paid off in the end, because in my portfolio I’d done like a page full of animals and I’d done this portfolio in about two or three months.
I was drawing unbelievably quickly and I can’t, I’ve done this little drawing of this little penguin family, and I can’t even remember doing the drawing, but when I took this book around this time, so this sort of third wave of I’m going out to see publishers. Two or three of them said, we love your penguins.
We love that penguin family. Can you come up with a story for them? And I was like, right. Okay. Let’s think about it. Penguins. They’re a kind of [00:33:00] bird, but they can’t fly. I’m going to write a story about penguin who does get up into the sky. I know he can be out flying a kite on a windy day and ended up getting blown away with this coat.
So I literally, I wrote the story in about a week and I did two or three of the illustrations pretty quickly. And we took it into the publishers and then literally the next day offers to started coming in, you know, and it was just, it’s just one of those things there’s so much luck involved. There really is, you know, the bright, the bright character or the right story idea has to land on the right person’s desk at the right time.
Then you need to be able to deliver, you know, a good, a good book. And that’s exactly what I think happened. And so, yeah, from it, but all in all, I would say it was for at least four years, maybe even five. Not quite getting there. Yeah. And at the same time, you know, having three children and a wife and a job and all that kind of stuff and working all the hours got sentence.
And then, so when it eventually happened and I got offered a deal and I was lucky enough to [00:34:00] have my pick of a few publishers and I chose HarperCollins because I’m that guy that I mentioned earlier, Oliver Jeffers was on their roster and they just seem to have shared the same aesthetic as me. And then when it finally happened, it was like, it was a proper pinch pinch myself moment.
And then as you said, it’s, you know, the first book that book away. It went to one of the world stage prize, which is just like, again, so much luck involved because I know there was one person that the head children’s buyer at the time who was a lady called Melissa Cox really loved the book. And she, I know she really championed my book in the, you know, when they’re sitting around deciding who’s going to win the award, she really, really championed the book.
And, you know, I’m sort of forever grateful to her really because that book, when they won the award, you know, it’s in every wall stones window, a big display, you know, for a month, you know, it was outselling Harry Potter for, you know, only for that month, unfortunately. But you know, it gave me, this gave my career, this huge boost and suddenly everyone.
And the kid lit world kind of knew, knew my name and knew my [00:35:00] books. And so, I was incredibly fortunate to be in that position because believe me, you know, I know loads of Rooney, really talented kids, book writers and illustrators, and they don’t, that hasn’t happened to them. And, you know, they are literally going through.
Book to book, you know, book deal to book deal. Whereas I’m sitting in this situation where I’ve got, you know, I’ve got certain amount of security cause I’ve got, you know, multi book deals and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, so there was a lot of luck involved, but it was a lot of perseverance and kind of in the hard work to get better as well
Andrew Sumner: as the classic five years to become an overnight success thing.
Rob Biddulph: Exactly. That, exactly that, yeah, but it’s a nice world to be and it’s in lots of ways. It’s it’s very similar to magazine the magazine world, but I would say overall, you know, you know, people are about sort of 20% nicer and smiley, you know, not, you know, you obviously a present company excepted obviously, but yeah, it’s a very nice way.
It’s a very nice [00:36:00] world, you know, there’s lots of similar, you know, you have your art, your art people and your production people and your editors and stuff. So, you know, it feels. Immediately, it felt very kind of familiar and and you know, cozy in a way. And so yeah, it was it was a nice, you know, and then, then, then the segue from magazines doing magazines to becoming a full-time kids or for that too, I was still at the observer for the first three books.
Those ones, you mentioned blown away, girl and odd dog out. I was still working full time and it was only after dog out, which I think the old dog, the clincher without dog out was, it was read by Tom Hardy on,
Andrew Sumner: I was going to exactly what I was going to ask you about this because you all three of those first books got on the CBeebies bedtime story because it wasn’t a Chris Kamara Kamara.
Amazing. But, but having, getting Tom hoe it must’ve been, I watched Tom Hardy read your book with a great sense of with a great sense of non patronized [00:37:00] pride. There’s still, that’s amazing, but I thought. What it must be like to be Rob, to be assistant and watching him do this. It must have been a complete
Rob Biddulph: mind blow surreal, totally.
And utterly surreal because that actually, it was my third book, but that was the first one to be on CBDs. And so we got the call through my, I think it’s through the publisher and I I’ve got the email saying, oh, your CBB is one, your book on the, on the bedtime story. And you know, for, for a picture book author like me, that’s kind of the holy grail.
You want it to get on the BBC CBeebies bedtime story. And I was like, well, who’s going to read it. And she said, right, are you sitting down like Tom Hardy? I was like, are you kidding me?
And she’s like, yeah. And and
Andrew Sumner: he’s a big dog lover originally, Tom holiday,
Rob Biddulph: huge dog lover. So yeah, he was obviously, and he’s done a few and there’s quite a few. Dog stories in the, in the ones that he’s picked. But yeah, my wife was like, well, I’m coming to the filming with you. I’m coming to the filming.
But unfortunately neither of us got to go to the filming. [00:38:00] I think he had a pretty much a closed, a closed set when he did them, which is fair enough. But I did think he when I, when I saw it, they sent me a week or so before it was broadcast. And I have to say he read it so beautifully. I mean, they, you know, not, not all of them.
Do you know, all of the celebrity readers, particularly, they’re not really tuned into it, but he just read it so beautifully. And yeah. And it was quite strange being sort of cause what, what, what, what, what would happen is a lot of the big Tom Hardy fans on social media would sort of tag me in on the posts at the beginning.
And so you sort of have this ringside view of kind of what he must a little tiny taste of what he must go to kind of go through every single day of his life. Cause these, these women.
back. It was unbelievable. It was quite eye opening and amazing. That was a, it was an amazing experience. And they, you know, and since then, you know, Tom Hardy is the one, you know, whenever anyone mentions the CBeebies bedtime story, [00:39:00] celebrity thing is always Tom, but you gets the first mentioned isn’t it?
So I do feel very I feel very honored that I was one of, you know, I was, one of my book was one of the first ones that he read. He said, my name
literally is that, that that’s happened. You know, crazy, crazy. No, I,
Andrew Sumner: I, that that’s, I really thought that to be in your response because when I saw him say you’re there and I was like, oh, I know him. That’s what I might do. Well, it’s it just, it’s just unbelievable. So I agree with you. I think he did. He did a great.
Great job. Really. I think he really accessed the BC, the beauty of the book. And you now you’ve got 10 books under your belt, your most recent one to be published. I think it was dog
Rob Biddulph: gone. Is that right? Yeah, they’ve gone. Yeah. Another dog one I’ve done, you know, I’ve written quite a few dog based stories, but they’ve gone was that we could be, I think where’s the Ringo he’s behind me now, but yeah, we just [00:40:00] I bring those only two years old, so he was kind of, you know, I was just new to the.
Dog walking and, you know, all that kind of stuff. And our lives were very much, you know, my kids are slightly older now, so we’ve basically done that classic thing of getting a, getting a puppy, you know, to re you know, somebody have somebody who actually wants to be around us. And yeah, so I was used to the world of dog walking and I just thought, you know, and it was pretty clear from quite early on that it’s not, it’s not the humans that are in charge of the dogs, you know, basically whatever he wants, he kind of gets, you know, we, you know, we clear, you know, you pick up this poo after, you know, it was quite, it’s crazy, you know?
And then, so I thought last night, you know, this is the thing with kids, books, picture books, you just need a little kind of kernel, a little gem of an idea and you can, I, you know, it’s quite nice to be able to extrapolate a little, you know, story arc out. And so I thought, right, we have we’ll have a dog who loses his human on a dog walk, and that can be, that can be the story.
Yeah. And then you’d like, you, you try and kind of, you know, subtly weave in a little kind of, I’m [00:41:00] not a model. I don’t like the word moral, but a little kind of message for the kids to kind of take home from the story. And yeah, that’s, that’s what we did. And it was, it was really fun to draw, you know, like I included loads of my friends in there’s a, there’s a big scene at the end with loads and loads of dogs and dog walkers in there.
And I’ve got lots of my parents were there, my brother’s in there. You know, loads of our friends and lots of the dogs would be on the walk. So it’s always fun. It’s fun to do that.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. Wait, it’s wonderful. I don’t know that recently you’ve been working on, is it the advance is the adventures of parcel you’ve been working herbs itself or
Rob Biddulph: it is that, but they called it, I guess, because what they’ve done I think is take the original book.
So possibly the lion for those that don’t know was a Michael Bond creation of. Paddington thing. And I think there’s a TV series. It’s slightly predates me. Actually. I think it came, it was like maybe the end of the sixties. Yeah, it
Andrew Sumner: is. It’s totally, yeah, it’s totally my era. It was one of those five minutes.
Stop motion, animation type two has done very much. Like [00:42:00] they, they made pretty much like they made Paddington maybe from a, just slightly earlier here, the Herb’s those, and they’ve gotten this, this past end of the line. There’s still the dog there’s Belladonna, which, and and that, it’s a thing that I watched constantly when I was about six years old, a minute minutes right there in my cerebral cortex mate.
I was blown away on us and it’s like, man, I can remember all the songs and everything, you
Rob Biddulph: know? Yeah. See, that’s the thing I can’t, I can’t remember the songs I deal with. I remember there being. TV show called possibly the lion, but it just, whatever reason I didn’t, I just don’t, I didn’t know any of the songs.
I didn’t really know the characters apart from parsley and deal with the only two that I remembered. But yeah, it was I mean, again, quite an honor to be asked to, to illustrate, illustrate the book. I did get to meet Michael once about a year before he passed away. One of the, you know, the hydrocodone summer parties, cause obviously we shared the publisher and he was just the nicest chat with very, you know, all these guys, all these guys who are, you know, the, [00:43:00] the, the you know, the classic picture book authors that I’ve met.
So I’ve met him and I met Judith Carr who wrote the target, who came to see, and they’re just so generous with their time. And they’re so. You know, they knew my books, again, this thing where you just can’t quite believe that these people have read your books and he was just such a nice chap. So when they asked me to do it, which was about a year or so after he died, you know, of course, I’m going to say, yes, there is a total honor, but I was, and I think actually the fact that I didn’t really know the TV series too well, actually worked in my favor because, you know, You know, there were certain things in the book that had to be tweaked for a modern audience that I understand.
Yeah. And and and so I was a bit, I was slightly worried cause obviously we designed all the characters from the way that they looked in the TV show and I was slightly worried that certain kind of diehard fans would take against it. But actually it’s been pretty, as far as I know, it’s been really well received and it’s a really lovely object, you know, they’ve done amazing work with the production values, you know, [00:44:00] lovely kind of Wimbledon in bound hardback with, you know, lovely foils and all sorts of things like that full color illustrations throughout.
So, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of Rob in that book. I put a lot of work into it and yeah.
Andrew Sumner: Amazing mate, just amazing. And I think, I think people, I think people do really understand when you’ve got to take something, can usher it into the early 21st century. I think everybody gets, you know, why you have to do those things, you know, unless they’re completely divorced from reality, it makes complete, they’re just some things that you can’t do and say.
Yeah. I mean that we’ve all had those experiences of reading children’s books, rereading children, books of yesterday. And it’s like, oh,
Rob Biddulph: I’m not sure what I would’ve given the dog that naming it.
Andrew Sumner: Exactly, exactly. It’s the Dambuster syndrome. I it’s exactly that. So, so we talked a little bit at the top [00:45:00] of the conversation about the Genesis of your amazingly successful dual with Rob project can YouTube twice weekly draw along series. So we covered off the beginning of it, but of course it just blew the roof off.
It must’ve so exceeded your expectations. So I, when you, when you first looked at the numbers, it was incredible, but you actually break the Guinness world record for the largest ever online art class.
Rob Biddulph: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Back in may 20, 20. Yeah, we did a bit. I was approached to do it. Actually. There was a, there was a I think it was a bunch of kind of entrepreneurs got together and wanted to do this.
I mean, I think they’d seen draw with Rob and they, they thought this is a really good way of, you know, raising quite a lot of money for NHS charities to actually go for a world record attempt. So they approached me to do it and I thought, yeah, sounds like a great idea. And it was really, it was really fun actually.
We did it live by a YouTube. So, you know, just boringly from like a technical I’d never done any [00:46:00] YouTube live stuff before. So I got, they literally put me in touch with like the big, the big guns at YouTube and was, they were telling me how to sort of work out all the technical side of things, which has actually stood me in really good stead since then.
But that’s kind of by the boy. But yeah, it was, it was nerve wracking. It was nerve wracking because, you know, you’re setting yourself up for a bit before. Cause there was a big buildup for this world record attempt and we had to get, I think it was 16,000 unique users had to join in with me, for, for us to equal the world record.
Yeah. And so I remember sitting there on the day. So bear in mind, it’s the pandemic. And you know, I’m on what I’m sitting here, where I am now in my studio, totally on my own. And I’m sitting there, I’ve got my phone set up, I’ve got this arm thing. I’m holding my phone, which is pointing down on my piece of paper.
And I’m on the screen of my phone. I can see how many people are. So this is like five minutes, 10 minutes before the event’s due to start. And they sort of put this screen up on YouTube saying how many people are sort of joining the waiting room. And with five minutes to go, there were like [00:47:00] 2000 people in there and I’m thinking, oh my gosh, this is going to be publicly humiliating moment of my entire life.
And then of course. You know, people are told it starts at 11 o’clock. They turn up at one minute to 11 don’t. They ensure enough, the numbers just went. They just started going up one minute before and I watched them ticking up and then sort of the opposite thing happened because it went way past 16,000.
It went to like 60 pounds. Was it 40, 40, 40 5,000? Was it 45,000? Yeah, that’s right. And and then at that point I started, you know, I’m an arsenal fan. I started picturing the, you know, the Emirate stadium full of all these people sitting there with their pens and pencils. I was like, oh my God. And I have this, I had, one of the organizers will be in my, in like an earpiece.
And I said to her, like, she started doing a countdown 2019. And when she got to tell him, I said, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not doing it shatter. So,
but yeah, it was, it was really fun, but he was against the real cause, you know, I’m basically just talking to myself in my, in my little office, drawing this [00:48:00] whale and you know, I had to keep people there for. I think people had to be there for like 40 minutes in order to count for the world record. And that’s quite a long time just to be talking to yourself and while you’re drawing.
And so, you know, my voice did start to go a little bit at the end, but yeah, in the NTL, we had 45,000, I think it’s 45,000 households, which we record was about 120, 150,000 people joining in with me live and is even now when I take the dog out for a walk, I see the little drawings of the way it was still, you know, there’s sort of bleached by the sun, but they’re still stuck in people’s windows.
And that’s, again, it’s quite, it’s just quite surreal. You know, the whole thing has been the whole tool with rock thing has been. Weird. I think that’s the word I would use. It’s been very, very strange
Andrew Sumner: gloriously,
Rob Biddulph: weird gloriously, weird fantastically with, I mean, I went to in-between lockdowns. So in October last year, when there was sort of, they sort of, they, do you remember?
They sort of, they, they, we, we were freed up a little bit. We could do a few little bits and pieces. I did. So another thing, another [00:49:00] strange thing they get children’s authors to do is we go to bookshops and we paint on the windows to get us to, you know, literally draw our characters on the windows.
There’s a big kind of like promotion for the book. And it’s the thing they really like. And I guess they get people to come and watch you as you do it. But I thought, because it’s a pandemic, no one would turn up to watch me. But this was my first experience of going out into the world since, you know, the whole drill with Rob thing.
And I was standing on the, in the window of a bookshop down in Dallas and just like, I don’t know how many, like a hundred, a couple of hundred people just turned up, but just like standing there staring at me. Standing in this, you know, I felt like an animal in the zoo while I was sort of painting on this window.
And and it was quite bizarre and all these kids had come with their folders full of all the drawings they had done. They knew every single drawing. And we had to sort of do a little impromptu outdoor siding afterwards. And the owner of the bookshop said, you know, we haven’t had this many people since JK Rowling came to do a signing and it’s just quite a bizarre situation to be in because I’d always done pretty well in my live [00:50:00] events.
But this, it just sort of, I think it’s sort of gone to another level now because you know, they’ve seen your face on or seen your hands drawing pictures of penguins on YouTube and it’s, you know, I’m an influencer now, I guess.
Andrew Sumner: What, what sort of following do you have now on?
Rob Biddulph: Well, I know I think it’s been, the videos have been viewed about six or 7 million times.
I mean, like these inmates and I’m, you know, I’ve got, you know, my, all my social. Followings have all gone through the roof since I started. So you can see, you know, when I talk about, you know, when I talk about a new book that I’ve got coming out, you can literally see if you can quickly go onto Amazon.
You can see it moving up the charts. It’s quite, it’s quite bizarre to have that kind of direct relationship with people who are buying your product. I mean, Collins are absolutely over the moon about it, all this
Andrew Sumner: I’m sure though, because, but I think you’ve, I think the, one of the reasons, one of the things that’s so great.
The [00:51:00] purity of what you’ve done is I know you, and I know you haven’t sat there and done that thought, how do I put this thing together? I can, you know, make a bit of extra cheddar. You, you, you you’ve, you’ve actually approached it because you’re trying to give something back and to build a much positive on the glorious side effect of that is it’s worked really well for your career as well, but that’s not why you do
Rob Biddulph: it.
No, I did get a tool. I mean, literally, as I said at the top, I didn’t, you know, It was just because I’ve got, I know how difficult it is to keep kids occupied when they’re stuck at home, you know? And so, you know, I’ve never charged, I haven’t charged for any of it at all. You know, it’s all totally free and it’s all available for anybody who wants to look them up online.
We’ve done nearly a hundred videos now. But yes, it has had you know, I guess, you know, it’s like the old Bugsy Malone line, isn’t it, you know, you give a little love and it all comes back to you. And that honestly was, well, certainly it wasn’t, it was announced altruistic thing that I did. And I say to my wife, even now, because when I [00:52:00] first sort of muted the idea of doing it, she was like, really?
You sure about that? And I say, so now, see, I told you, I told you it was worth it, but yeah, it really has. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s been another one of those sort of lucky moments in my life. That’s sort of. So the next phase, I guess. Well,
Andrew Sumner: I think I, do you remember this mate, some of you and I used to talk about a lot back in the older, in the young cut DVD planning room and whatnot was the whole concept of a, because they’ve made a film about it at one point, but it was a whole, I think that might be how this conversation begin, but again, it’s the whole concept of paying it forward and actually the benefits that kind of positivity and trying to do something for no reason, other than it’s a pleasant thing to do that, the actual value of that and, and what an important thing that is.
And, and it sounds like a very reductive, simplistic conversation, but we, you and I talked about this a lot. It’s actually. Life is about how you conduct [00:53:00] yourself and what you try and do for other people. And that’s what you need to, without trying sandbox and phony Albert Schweitzer, knockoff, you know, that that’s the, that’s the whole deal.
You know, it’s all about what you can do. And I think, you know, the, the, the awards that you might’ve reaped personally for this are just the side effect of the fact that you tried to and succeeded in making a difference. And I think it’s a really beautiful thing as the best example I can think of it, of somebody I know having it, she’d done that and achieved it.
And it’s just been so wonderful to watch it in action because it is paying it forward in action.
Rob Biddulph: Oh, you’re gonna make me cry, dude.
Andrew Sumner: you
Rob Biddulph: know, it’s true. It’s true. You know, you treat everyone how you would like to be treated yourself, you know, and I know that that’s something that you you’ve always done as well, you know? Cause people remember if you were an asshole to somebody, they will always remember that. You know? And why, why would you, why would you do that?
Why would you, why? I don’t [00:54:00] understand people who were like that because, you know, I couldn’t, I couldn’t, it’s just not, it’s not in my makeup to do that. And you know, I like, I love, I love the fact that children who. And adults who didn’t think they were very good at drawing can now produce these, these these works of art that there.
So you can see on their faces. They’re so, so proud of themselves. And you know, all I’ve done is given them a little helping hand along the way. And so I get sent all these, I get sent hundreds of pictures, you know, daily of children’s drawings and children holding up their drawings and parents holding up their drawings.
Cause you know, lots and lots of adults hadn’t picked up a pencil since they were at school until they watched these drawings, rock videos. And you know, it really, especially during the pandemic, you know, my social media feeds were a little kind of Oasis of kind of joyous pictures and what was quite a kind of despair filled landscape at the time.
And and that’s the, that’s what I feel most proud of actually, you know, and when I get to meet, hopefully when I go out and start doing events again, I’ve sort of very slightly started doing a few bits and pieces here and there. And and it’s, it’s [00:55:00] it’s I feel so sort of humbled when the kids come up to me with their folders full of Torrens, it’s such a, it’s such a, it makes me feel.
You know, I’ve never felt as proud of anything as I do with the whole drawer with rope, kind of, hopefully the legacy that, that
Andrew Sumner: quite right. So mate and it’s it’s already yielded correct me if I’m wrong. Three activity books, right? Jordan, Jordan with Rob built a story and my personal favorite.
Joel with Robert Christmas.
Rob Biddulph: My favorite time of the year is, and that’s my favorite time of year. Yeah. So I have a spot. Yeah. And we’ve got a new one. I’ve got a new one coming out in a couple of weeks actually, which is called monster madness. But yeah, they’ll be the reason we did the activity books is because basically kids were saying, you know, I was getting emails every day saying candy, do a video every single day.
And I was like, well, no, you know, it takes a long time. It’s not so much. Cause I record them all in one take. So it only takes, you know, half an hour to do each one, but it’s the, you know, you edit them and you then have to post them out. Social media is taking up a lot of time. And I was like, well, I’ve got to write, I’ve got my book contracts.
Hasn’t [00:56:00] stopped because of this. I’m doing this at the weekend. So, so we decided to make some activity books so that there was, you know, if you wanted to do one every day, you could pick up the activity book and do another bit of touring. And they have been, they have been again phenomenally successful.
Harper Collins were geniuses because they made every, so every page in these books perforated. So the kids can draw that picture. Rip them out, stick them up on the fridge and that’s the genius of it. I think. So it was very much, it’s a bit like magazines, you know, I think teaching and magazines is that you always think about the product you’re creating from the consumer’s point of view.
So it has to be useful from the consumer, whether that’s the way that you phrase a cover line or a Stanford or whatever you were thinking about how somebody who hasn’t read this feature before will respond to it. And I think that’s the, that’s the biggest thing from the magazine world, but I’ve taken it, take it into the children’s book world.
And, and it makes a huge difference because I don’t think everyone kind of thinks like that. So doing something like thinking about the [00:57:00] pages being perforated, so the kids can draw on them is thinking about how a consumer will want to use that product. And the draw withdrawn video, you know, lots of other roles there’s did videos too, which were brilliant, but there was quite a lot of camera on the authors face and then talking a lot about it.
Whereas I didn’t do that. I just put the camera straight on the bit of paper and my hands and it got straight into the drawing because that’s how. That’s what the kids are there for, and then for you to wrap it on about yourself. So, yeah, I think that’s that’s I think that’s, that’s something that’s come from my magazine schooling with the likes of you.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. Oh mate. I might be sure that’s actually true, but it’s very nice to me to say it. I’ve got a question about your you look. Yeah. So it’s the is that the Rob Biddulph draw the equivalent of the Batman? Yes, this is Batman and this is
Rob Biddulph: what it’s quite, it’s quite weird because I do the hat thing. The reason I wear the hat all the time now is because it didn’t lock down my hair just like that.[00:58:00]
And so when I started having to go on, you know, it was on, as I said, the news and BBC breakfast, all sorts of things. I was like, oh my God, my hair. So I like put the hat on and then suddenly the hat is your sign. You’ll kind of you’ll look, kids book day, kids were dressing up as me. I’m not joking. They draw it on like gray stubble.
And I was like, do you know, what does it look like me? So now this is kind of my costume. And it’s a weird, it’s a weird, it’s a weird thing, isn’t it? But it does also, it’s quite nice because you put it on and you sort of, I feel, I mean the glasses, I have to wear the glasses all the time now, but you know, the hats sort of like, I feel like I can hide behind it a little bit weirdly.
I sort of find myself occasionally getting recognized, which is of course
Andrew Sumner: making you fucking famous. That’s where you recognize, you know, there will come a day where you had just have to accept it. And then when you, when you were getting that OBE, when you’re getting that night on that day, I want you to [00:59:00] remember these words are most similar to tell me, I’d have to accept those famous one day.
And now is that day when I’m there on the other side of those gates Waverly, rope it off the world precedent. Yeah. That’s when
Rob Biddulph: he got out. I remember it.
Andrew Sumner: So, so mate, what what would this you know, glorious embarrassment of positivity riches that you’ve got, you know, the very positivity bond. That’s your career now?
What is your, what is it you’re working on.
Rob Biddulph: Well, what I’m working on that. So I’ve written, the big thing, I guess, is I’ve written a novel, so children’s novel. So it’s a kind of, yeah. The step up from picture books to kind of like, you know, chapter books and I wrote to actually wrote. Oh God, two and a half years ago.
I think I wrote it and we sold, you know, it was, it was one of those things. Again, you know, when I, like, when I first did the picture books, I had no idea if I could do it, I had an, I had an idea for a book and and I just sort of wrote, I didn’t, I didn’t, there’s no rule book, you follow. I just started writing.
And [01:00:00] and I sent it sort of nervously sent it. I had it, it was a weird thing. I basically, I somehow got two or three months back in my schedule, which is very unusual. So I thought, right it’s now or never wrote it, sent it to my agent, nervously thinking. She might tell me that it’s totally useless, but she said, no, it’s really good.
We’re going to send it out. And then another one of those weird things, or basically all of the publishers wanted it and there was this big, exciting auction for it. And and eventually was signed with McMillan. But as I said, So I did the deal two years ago. So it’s a bit lead times in, in middle grade books is, which is what they call it is, is much kind of longer.
And so the first, and so the sense of trilogy and the first book in the trilogy comes out in September at the beginning of September. And I’m really excited about it. It’s called peanut Jones and the illustrated city. And and it’s sort of based on a few little things that have happened in my life with my kids.
But essentially the, the nub of the story is it’s about this girl who finds this super old, super cool pencil. And she realizes the way that she draws with this pencil sort of comes to life. [01:01:00] So, you know, she draws an apple, she could pick that apple up and she can eat it. And so then one day she decides, well, what happens if I draw a door?
And of course she draws the door and then she opens this door and she walks into. And illustrated world. So it’s a bit like that aha video that takes. And and yeah, so then I said, you know, there’s a missing dad and there’s a bad guy and there’s all sorts of things that happened in the story. And I just really let my imagination go and notice kind of wrote it.
And yeah, I’m really excited. It’s been so far, you know, you sent the priests out and it’s been really, really well received. So, yeah, we’ve all got quite high hopes for it and I’m quite excited about what’s to come for peanuts and a little friends and these adventures. So, yeah, so I’m currently writing the second book as we speak.
That’s what I’m doing at the moment. And it’s a nice change of pace for me actually, because usually, you know, it’s the picture book, texts, picture book texts. So you sit there and you’re writing rhyming couplets for, you know, two or three months and then fully on, fully on down with the kind of like the drawing side of things.
And when I’m illustrating books for other people, it’s like three illustrations a day, bang, bang, bang, but now [01:02:00] slight change of pace. Cause I’m, you know, 500 words a day thousand words a day and enjoying this period. Yeah. So that’s the big, I guess that’s the biggest thing that’s happening. And then I’ve got, you know, my usual schedule because, you know, I’ve got a chart up on my wall here in the studio and it might have sort of got my time blocked out until the end of 20, 24.
Believe it or not. So I know. So, yeah, I’ve got a picture. I’ve got another picture book coming out in at the beginning of October, got another, as I said, drew with Rob book coming out in a couple of weeks time and a few other bits and pieces here and there. And of course then in the awesome the live the live circuit is kind of kicking off again.
So I’m doing all the festivals, I’m doing cell number bath. And I remember my doing Henley and I’ve got full tour. I’m doing a bit of a Northern bookshop tour at some point to get yourself up north and the, yes, I’ve got loads of stuff, loads of stuff going on. So it’s all exciting times.
Andrew Sumner: It’s wonderful.
I thought, wait, [01:03:00] peanut Jones is going to be a trilogy, right? Ongoing
Rob Biddulph: adventurous for ongoing adventure as well. It’s kind of mapped out the three books, you know, you know, we’ve got, you know, you’ve got your new hope. You’ve got empire strikes back and you’ve got the return of the Jedi. And so, and so, Yeah, it’s exciting.
It’s exciting. And there’s a few things happening around it that I’m not really allowed to talk about, but I’ve thought I’ve mentioned to you. And so, yeah. You know, how excited, you know, how excited is
Andrew Sumner: 100% and I can just see where this is going to go for you. And I, I couldn’t be more excited. And Rob, before we say farewell to each of them, for this episode of our degree, Can you just talk me through one of your favorite?
One of my favorite side projects of yours is, was your post-it notes. Can you just talk a bit about that? I absolutely loved
Rob Biddulph: that. Yeah, that was, that was, was it fun? Yeah, I think it, it must’ve
Andrew Sumner: been a millstone round in that, but it wasn’t there.
Rob Biddulph: It wasn’t there. So what happened was youngest daughter, poppy.
Yeah, she started [01:04:00] she was starting primary school and what they do where we live at least is they, they start you off and you do a week of just going in for the morning. So you go in from like half nine till 11, then you come home for the rest of the day and you’d have your lunch at home and whatnot.
Then the next week you stay in for lunch at school and you come home after lunch. It’s a way of easing the kids into a full school day. Anyway, poppy was really nervous about staying. At school for lunch. So it was at childminder, Leanne actually suggested, well, why don’t you draw her a little picture on a post-it note and stick it in her lunchbox on that first day.
So, you know, she gets a little message from dad and it might cheer her up, you know, while she stays at home and what she stays at school, and it has her lungs so fine. I thought I drew a little picture of the Conrad, but it was actually, I think it was like a Mr. Man or something. You just picture it in her lunchbox.
She got home and she said, thanks, daddy. What, so what are you going, gonna draw tomorrow? So anyway, one tomorrow, and in the end I ended up drawing. Picture on a post-it note for every single day that she was a primary school. So we reckon [01:05:00] it was over 2000 posting those ideas. And what happened was of course the first few, I really, you know, literally drawing them on the road or, you know, walk on the way to school, you know, drawing the misdemeanor or little terrible little drawings, but what happened was more and more people started seeing them at the school, you know, the dinner ladies and the other, the other kids and the parents and whatnot.
And so I said, oh God, I better up my game here a bit. So I started putting it a bit more effort and that’s like gradually kind of got more and more ridiculous throughout the years. And then the other thing that happens is, you know, after you’ve done, like maybe I know, 400 say, you’re like, you start running out of things to draw.
And so I started having to come up with kind of themes. So I would do like an a to Z where I do like a week of characters and that would just help my thought processes, you know, work in terms of, you know, what I was going to draw. But then you sort of start running out of steam. So I found myself at one point doing the great artists.
What happens is you sort of forget and you forget to do it. Cause I tried to do them the night before. And then you sort of remember a half 11 [01:06:00] after you just finished watching, you know, your episode of, you know, the wire or whatever it is. And then, oh my God, I’ve got to go and draw the Mona Lisa and I posted it and I’m not even joking.
You can see them. Or if you go to my website and look them up, you can see what I mean. They’re producing these little three by three inch works of art for my daughter. And then as she’s getting older, I would say to her, you know, so did you like your drawing stage? She was like, you know, what was it? What was it again?
But everyone else around it, all the, you know, the teachers, everything went, oh my God, we love your post-it notes. And then of course, you know, I started posting them every day on social media and it was. When a bit in viral people started doing
Andrew Sumner: requests
Rob Biddulph: and yeah, I remember. Yeah, there was a few, I remember you coming to, I did want a Dick Tracy.
I remember that. Absolutely. Right.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. I, I, there were a couple that I was really, I don’t really drew me in, you know, I couldn’t help, but comment upon Dick Tracy was one that really stuck in my mind. Cause you really [01:07:00] nailed it,
Rob Biddulph: mate. Yeah, I’ve done. It’s quite good. I was getting pretty good at, you know, I’m copying other people’s drawings, you know, someone else’s drawings, but yeah, it was, you know, I did the cover of the killing junk, you know, that joker,
that’s a comic that I really, really loved. So actually, you know, and I, I didn’t read it until I was, I don’t think I read it until I was, you know, a grownup. So when you’re a grown up, it’s harder. Cause when I was a kid, I used to just copying my favorite comic characters all the time, but I got to do it. I got to do it on a post-it note.
I’ve got to draw that teacher on a post-it note. So it is super fun, but we did stop. We stopped last year when she went to secondary school because, because it was just, I mean, it was crazy. It was a crazy amount of work, but actually that. Post-it note thing was the start of the peanut Jones story that, you know, I took that mechanism and I, and that was sort of the whole stop, the whole idea for the peanut Jones story.
So, you know, it has got it’s going to have a bit of a second light when that book finally comes out. So, you know, people who maybe missed it the first time around might be able to [01:08:00] kind of revisit, revisit it when they’d read the peanut Jones book. So yeah, it cool.
Andrew Sumner: Oh, mate. That is absolutely fantastic.
And that is a perfect moment for us to close out on. So me, I just want to say that it’s it’s so great. Getting the channel. To chat with you again, to talk to you about your amazing career. And actually, you know, your whole way of life is the hard degree moment for me. I really I’m totally 100% behind everything you’ve done and achieved.
And I’ll look upon it with a, you know, a sense of, you know, tremendous like warmth and respect for the whole thing you’ve done. It’s just so amazing, mate. I’m so pleased that you’re in the space that you’re in doing what you do. And I just can’t every time a new bit of project comes comes out, I just can’t wait to see
Rob Biddulph: it.
And then, oh dude. Yes, your team kind, but you know what it’s been, it’s been so nice to talk to you again, after all these years, you know, cause I’ve, I’ve listened to, I’ve listened to the podcast. It was like not lovely to hear [01:09:00] your voice again, actually, you know, on the podcast, you know, it’s, it’s so familiar.
It’s all kind of so familiar to me and I, as I said, I’ve been keeping up with what you’ve been up to on Facebook, but it’s nice to actually be able to have a little face to face interaction with you. Cause it’s been far too long and we need to go out for that.
Andrew Sumner: That’s exactly what we’ll do, mate. I feel a late summer pint is in our almost immediate future.
Rob Biddulph: Yes, you are on, you are on looking forward to it.
Andrew Sumner: Yeah. Looking forward to it, brother. Rob, you take care of yourself. Have a wonderful evening. And thanks so much. I’ll see you soon,
Rob Biddulph: mate. See you dude. Nice. Nice to see you.