Nick Butterworth, the creator of Q Pootle 5 and Percy the Park Keeper, will be visiting Stratford on 24 October for Discover’s Stratford Library Takeover.

Ahead of this he talks about how, despite his struggle with reading, he went on to become an award-winning children’s author and illustrator.

Nick Butterworth reading with his grandchildren.

Dyslexic …or what?

There were fifty children in my primary school class. Poor Miss Chapman. I don’t know how she coped. She did, but that was probably all she could do. Cope. There were far too many of us to be given individual attention. Nobody noticed I was having difficulty learning to read. Was I dyslexic? No – there was no such thing in my day. Maybe just a bit dim? That was more like it.

Never mind. I was good at art. The idea that I might one day end up writing as well as illustrating for a living never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s. But…despite my struggle with reading, I always loved language. And I especially loved stories, hearing them and also making up my own. My lovely mum read endlessly to me when I was little. Beatrix Potter’s tales of Samuel Whiskers and Jeremy Fisher were favourites, even though they were already old-fashioned by then. Her reading to me was hugely important. And when I finally took to reading for myself, Treasure Island, Tom Brown’s School Days and Moby Dick grabbed me even more than the immediacy of Enid Blyton’s stories.

After leaving school, working as a graphic designer, I was presented with the opportunity to write. Copywriting for advertisements needs to be concise and to deliver the client’s content in a way that quickly engages readers. Though I say so myself – I was quite good at it!

It was when my own children came along that I became reacquainted with children’s books. My appetite was whetted to go further with my own work. I began to see that my illustrations might find more of a role than simply promoting a sea cruise or pharmaceuticals. My writing might do more than persuade someone to buy the latest set of Post Office commemorative stamps.

Through trial and error and lots of experimenting, I discovered my own voice in writing and honed my illustrations for my hoped-for audience. It wasn’t an easy transition. I discovered the unpalatable reality that an unknown graphic designer can make a more comfortable living than an author/illustrator whose work is prominently displayed in bookshop windows!

I supplemented my income with work as a part-time lecturer, a carpenter, sign-writer, and illustrator of greetings cards. I did wonder at times, when I found myself producing hand-lettered posters for Tupperware parties, whether it had been a smart move to relinquish clients such as BT and The Post Office in favour of this new direction.

Was it worth it? Well, of course. The satisfaction of being able to spend the last thirty five years creating characters like Percy the Park Keeper, Q Pootle 5, Albert le Blanc and Tiger is enormous. To meet a boy or girl who tells me that one of my books is their favourite is wonderful.

And now to see my little alien, Q Pootle 5, make the jump from page to screen and for his stories to be seen in seventy countries, is a privilege indeed. And I still don’t know whether I am dyslexic!

Nick Butterworth will be at Discover’s Stratford Library Takeover on Monday 24 October at 2pm. For more information and tickets please click here or give us a call on 020 8536 5555 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm).