Interviews / 18 November, 2019 / Ellie Thompson

Axel Scheffler on Julia Donaldson, Born Free & His 2020 Cat Calendar

You’ll find the work of Axel Scheffler in pretty much every child’s bookcase. Best known for his illustrations of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, Axel’s latest project involves furry characters of another kind  – yep, we’re talking cats. Cat in a Flat’s Axel Scheffler & Friends 2020 Calendar has just launched, with 100% of profits going to support endangered wild cats in the care of Born Free. The calendar has been co-produced by Scheffler and online service Cat in a Flat, a trusted cat-sitting community created by cat lovers for cat lovers.

We catch up with Axel Scheffler to find out a little bit more about the calendar, as well as throwing in a few other must-ask questions, of course!

Tell us about the Born Free charity and why this cat calendar has come about?

I have known Cat in a Flat from the early days and always liked their concept of a cat sitter community in your neighbourhood, so I approached them with the idea of a cat calendar for 2020 – where the proceeds should go to a cat-related charity.

I thought it would be good to do something for wild cats – all under threat from extinction. Somebody suggested Born Free as the right charity to support and I asked some illustrator friends if they would be happy to do an illustration for it.

To be honest, it was really the idea of my partner and my daughter to get cats.

Have you ever based any of your characters in your books on your own pets and which characters/books are these?

No, unfortunately, my cat books were published before we had any cats of our own. However, we now have three chickens, so maybe they’ll appear in a book one day.

Cats v dogs?

I think I have to say cats, as they are both more independent and more enigmatic. Plus, I’ve never actually owned a dog.

What’s your favourite current or historical children’s book – aside from your own?

I don’t think I could say that any of my books would be my favourite. I like the picture books by the American illustrator William Steig best.

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Do you feel you’ve illustrated your ultimate book already?

I’m never 100% happy with my own creations – so, for me personally, I don’t think the ultimate one will ever happen.

Where do you turn for inspiration for your characters?

I am fortunate that, as an illustrator, I always have the authors text to inspire me.

Do you prefer to team up with writers i.e. Julia Donaldson, or are you most happy when you’re completely in charge?

In all honesty, I’m never completely in charge. Julia is in charge of the story. She writes the text completely independently from me. And there is also an editor, who gives her comment on my sketches and designs. It really is team work to create a picture book.

What’s been the proudest achievement to date and why?

Although it’s not necessarily my favourite book, I really should say “The Gruffalo” which is our most popular book. It sold millions of copies, has been translated into over 83 languages and is a worldwide success.

Cat names – what are your ultimate favourites?

Although I once translated TS Eliot’s poem of the naming of cats – we have ignored his advice when it comes to our cats and called them ‘Cachou’ and ‘Mimi’. Because the family is half French – they’d be cross with me if these were not my favourite names!

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

As somebody who couldn’t describe himself in one sentence!

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