Raymond Briggs interview and biography
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The Snowman has been an extraordinary success. The film has been screened every Christmas for 30 years and the book has sold, I think at the last count, nearly eight and a half million copies worldwide. Did you ever have any inkling that it would do so well?
No, the main thing when you are working is to get the idea down and then pray to God that the publisher accepts and that is as far as you ever look ahead. If they accept it, that's your thing complete. If it goes on to become a film or heaven knows whatever else afterwards, that is something else entirely. You don't think of that at all in the beginning.
Why do you think that particular story has captured the public imagination so much?
I've not the faintest idea really. You'd have to ask them, I don't know. You just do it and follow the common sense logic; this Snowman melts, everything comes to an end. It's all very depressing of course, as such is life. No I don't know, I just follow it realistically, that's all. I don't know why people like it so much.
Over the years, you have been reluctant to sanction a sequel to The Snowman. Why was that and why has that changed now?
Well, whenever people like producers have success, they always want to cash in on it and do number two and then number three, which I thought was just, as I say, cashing in on it. So I kept saying I didn't like the idea but then John Coates, the great producer, with his endless lunches down the decades, wore me down and I said yes. It is such a huge gap of time, that it is hardly cashing in on the first one, it is about 20 or 30 years, I've lost count, (it is 30 years since Channel 4 first aired the original film) and so it can be regarded as a separate thing really. And it's very, very good what they've done.
And John Coates was a driving force then behind both the original and this one?
Oh yes, he's called the grandfather of British animation. He was behind all the John Burningham films, the Posy Simmonds films, the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, all the films based on my things. He very sadly died in September, it's appalling really. It's a great light in the industry gone out, very sad.
Are you allowed to reveal anything about the new film? Can you lead us into any secrets or is it all behind lock and key?
Well, it is not in my hands really. I'm just the person who did the book a quarter of a century ago or something.
Were you consulted as to the appearance of the Snowdog, for example, and things like that?
Yes, they kept me in touch with it, which was very good, but I couldn't suggest anything brilliantly creative to do because it has all been done, they did it wonderfully.
Many of the team from the original film has been brought in to work on this one. Were you very pleased about that?
Delighted, yeah. They are all very good, terribly old now of course, but they are still fit and active. No, they do it brilliantly, incredible.
The new film has also been hand drawn, which obviously is quite unusual in this day and age. Was that very important to you?
Well, I think it is nice to have it done because it is a dying art form and all C.G.I has come in, nothing wrong with C.G.I but there is something nice about the hand-drawn grainy feel that is terrific, the same as Nick Park's plasticine things have got a magic that is quite fantastic.
And there is an audio eBook coming out, isn't there?
Yes that is right, I've got one here... It is very, very good I think. It is beautifully told by Benedict Cumberbatch, I thought he read it beautifully, wonderful pacing and timing, terrific. I'll have to get one of these gadgets (an iPad) one of these days.
And, the way we consume stories, with the invent of eBooks and so on, has changed a lot in the last 30 years but do you think the essence of what excites and inspires readers hasn't changed much in that time?
God, I don't know. I couldn't pronounce on that. I think it is the same thing as storytelling, isn't it, and beginnings, middles and ends and all that. It is in a different technical form but it's, in principal, the same ideas, isn't it? It is not such a nice feel having this plastic slippery thing hanging around as a book but it serves its purpose. The great thing about them is you can carry a whole load of information without the weight. I brought home two dictionaries of English literature, one Oxford, one Cambridge, the other day. I could hardly carry them up the garden. But now you've got the same information on a thing you can put in your pocket. Phenomenal!
And, lastly Raymond, do you get lots of letters from children and, if so, what sort of things do they write to you about?
(Laughs) Well the main thing they like is Father Christmas on the lavatory but they also write about The Snowman. I've got boxes and boxes of them now, I've stopped keeping them now because there's so many but yes, they are wonderful letters. I love sincere letters from children.
Raymond Briggs is one of the world's best-selling children's book authors and illustrators, loved and admired by children and adults alike. His hilarious and beautifully crafted books have brought him great success internationally, particularly in Japan where he has achieved cult status. The Raymond Briggs franchise, based on a series of 21 books, 1 animated movie and 5 TV Special adaptations, is a hugely successful one. Published in 1978 by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Children's, his best-known book, The Snowman has sold over 8.4 million copies worldwide and is available in 15 different languages. In 1983 the TV Special adaptation of The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar® for best-animated short. Thirty years after the original, Raymond has given his blessing to the making of a sequel to The Snowman. The Snowman and The Snowdog, produced by Lupus Films will be broadcast on Channel 4 for the first time at Christmas 2012 and will be available as an eBook, published by Puffin shortly afterwards.
Raymond was born in Wimbledon Park on January 18th 1934, sharing his birthday with A A Milne and Arthur Ransome. He left school aged 15 to study painting at Wimbledon School of Art. After completing a typography course at the Central School of Art, and two years of National Service, Raymond went on to the Slade School to study painting. His first work was in advertising, but before long he was winning acclaim as a children's book illustrator as well as teaching illustration at Brighton College of Art.
Raymond Briggs' parents have proved an important source of inspiration to the author/artist. His father was a milkman and his mother a former lady's maid. Raymond's unique characterisation of Father Christmas is based on his father - "Father Christmas and the milkman both have wretched jobs: working in the cold, wet and dark." His parents also influenced the character of Jim and Hilda, the victims of nuclear fall-out, in When The Wind Blows and are the subjects of Raymond's very moving graphic novel Ethel & Ernest, Raymond's first book for children, The Strange House, was published in 1961.