Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

8 March: First Open Studio 2017

Thanks to Paddy Bouma, our first Open Studio for the year was a visit Alex Latimer’s studio in Glencairn.

Shannon, Alex’s wife managed the many stragglers with aplomb, guiding us down and then up stairs. Alex’s desk in his studio is positioned to allow him to have a perfect view of the mountains. And he is no distance at all from the beach walks or mountain biking trails he so enjoys.     

It is entirely our gain that Alex decided two weeks into his first year of advertising that writing adverts was not his dream. He exchanged writing adverts for writing books. His dream now is to write one of every kind of book there is. He describes himself as being well on track to do this. You won’t find Alex Latimer books only in the children’s section. His first adult novel, The space race, was published recently by Umuzi.

His career as an illustrator and writer (as opposed to being a writer only) began when his brother Patrick had not yet found time to illustrate his book – after nearly a year. Alex decided to do it himself. He describes his art as largely self-taught, but it clearly helps to have the natural talent that comes from having the right genes. He practised for a year, consciously stylising his drawings. Now he likes to get his drawings right the first time – minimum effort for maximum impact is his motto. Hard to believe that this laid back man is as impatient as he says he is!

His routine is to work on his books from 8 to 12 am. Alex uses two pencil crayons for his drawings – orange for warmer tones and blue to show the play of light. He then scans his drawings into photoshop and burns in the colours. He is clearly a very skilled user of photoshop. We watched in fascination as he demonstrated how he uses photoshop to get to the effect he wants. He was remarkably open to suggestions made and was quite ready to show how they would change the overall effect. Always graciously.

He made his road to success as an illustrator and writer seem so easy. Just three steps. He sent his work to Oliver Heffer, whose work he admires. Oliver sent it to his agent. Oliver’s agent became his agent as well. No hint of just how tough it is to find an agent, unless you are really good.

Alex’s quirky humour and captivating stories have won him a wide readership. In 2014 he was awarded the Hampshire Picture Book Award for Lion vs  Rabbit, which The Telegraph reviewer described as “one of those rare funny books that appeals to the child in the adult as well as the one on your lap”.

We know that many people were disappointed not to make the cut. For the lucky ten it was a fascinating experience. As one person said, “This is a dream come true”.