Stories as gold dust: Nicholas Allan, founder of Queen's Knickers Award

Nicholas Allan talks about his love of stories and founding the new Queen's Knickers Award for an original illustrated book for children.

The Queen’s Knickers Award is for an outstanding original illustrated book for ages 0-7, that strikes a ‘quirky, new note and grabs the attention of a child’. Why did you decide to set up this prize?

I want to encourage authors and illustrators to take more risks and have more fun. The name of the award reflects how I felt when I began writing the book from which the name is taken. I started it purely for fun, without any sense of plot, moral, purpose – in fact, without sense, and maintained it to the end.

What do you think makes a good (or an outstanding) children’s book? What are the dos and don’ts for writing one?

An idea that no one has thought of before, or linking of disparate ideas, but one that will provoke children's interest. Then, the quickest way of expressing it in pictures and/or words. If there are several ways, I use Occam's Razor. Sometimes a picture works without words, other times it’s the other way around. It’s whatever works best for the story.

What is it about children’s books that you love? What inspires you to keep writing them?

When I was at school I liked to paint and write. When I began publishing work and exhibiting paintings I felt something was missing. It was only when I wrote and illustrated my first picture book that I felt it was the perfect art form for me.

What are some of your favourite children’s books, as a child and now?

I liked the Tintin books for the clarity of the colours and line, and because it introduced me to private apartments, cigarettes, guns, drink, and swearing. Struwwelpeter was a favourite (I think we had a copy as my father was Austrian): the tailor with the giant scissors who leaps from behind the curtain and slices off the little boy's thumbs. It preempts Psycho.

And Goodnight Moon. I came across it quite late, in an anthology. I instantly felt like I knew the room in the pictures. I'd slept in it when my parents lived in New York for a year when I was three. The book is mysterious and inexplicable.

About Nicholas Allan

Nicholas Allan is the author/illustrator of many bestselling picture books, including The Queen's Knickers, Father Christmas Needs A Wee, Where Willy Went and Jesus' Christmas Party. He was born in Brighton, England and studied life-painting at The Slade School of Fine Art and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. After leaving, he wrote short stories and radio plays, until his first children's picture book was published in 1989. His books are translated into twenty languages. He is also the author of the picture book Hilltop Hospital, and wrote the episodes of the television series adapted from it, which won him a BAFTA award. Several of his books have been adapted for musicals.

About The Queen's Knickers Award

The Queen's Knickers Award – founded by Nicholas Allan and part of the Society of Authors' Awards – will recognise books that strike a quirky, new note and grab the attention of a child, whether this be in the form of curiosity, amusement, horror or excitement. Find out more and submit here