1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Meg McLaren and I grew up just outside of Glasgow. I now live even further north in Inverness with my partner, Jon, and our dog, Wilson. Since graduating, I have written and illustrated several picture books, most of them published by Andersen Press. My debut Life Is Magic was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 and my book The Station Mouse has just won The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2020, organised by Scottish Book Trust and voted for by the Primary 1 pupils of Scotland.
2. What is your fondest memory of Anglia Ruskin University?
My fondest memories are of my time spent with classmates screen printing in the print rooms
3. What has been your favourite job?
My second picture book, Pigeon P.I., was probably my favourite to make. It was a really nice book to write. As well as creating a picture book we were trying to make a mystery, adding little clues for readers along the way, and that was really satisfying to piece together. It was also slightly less stressful than my debut because I’d already made one book and I knew that it could be done.
4. In one word, how would you describe Anglia Ruskin University?
5. How did your time at ARU help you?
It gave me time to focus on the thing that I really wanted to do. I’d been trying to make picture books whilst working my full-time job, illustrating and writing in my spare time, and often my focus was split but this course gave me the opportunity to really immerse myself and to learn. It was wonderful to be in an environment where I was surrounded by people who were passionate about the same subject that I was.
6. What did you love about your chosen course?
The MA in Children’s Book Illustration has so many great tutors and visiting lecturers who have a wealth of knowledge, and it’s really great to discuss their work and their experience of the publishing industry, but the greatest thing about my course was my classmates. Each person's artwork and way of storytelling was so distinct and inspiring that it pushed you to make better work yourself. We were also all from such different art backgrounds that we could share skills and see different techniques at work.
7. What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
It’s really easy to feel like this is the end of something but it’s actually only the beginning. Everyone will take a different amount of time to find their place in the world so don’t compare yourself to the other graduates, just focus on what you’re doing and where you want to be.
8. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst studying?
I wish I’d realised that everything influences my work. I did a master’s degree at ARU many years after my original degree so I was in a good position to have perspective on the experience. I knew that I was there to work hard, to make the most of the facilities, the tutor’s advice and I did, but I often forget that you also need to look up from your desk. It’s important to go out into the world, visit places, see movies, and have experiences in order to fuel creativity. I wish I’d spent more time exploring Cambridge.
9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
There were so many people whose work made me want to make picture books and I’m so inspired by every new picture book maker I meet, their books, their artwork, but I’m also influenced by everything else around me: people, paintings, books, movies, the outdoors. All of these outside factors affect me, my view of the world and the stories I tell, but they are many, varied and forever changing, meaning that the biggest influence on my work is the only constant, my partner, Jon. He has believed in my work from the beginning, encouraged me to pursue it, and has spent a lot of time discussing it with me and making cups of tea. I doubt any of it would have been possible without him.
10. What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m constantly realising that I worry too much and that I can’t control everything so my advice would be to accept this and go easy on yourself.
11. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
My desk is a mess. Social media has taught us to tidy before we takes pictures of our work spaces but mine truly is organised chaos and will never be seen in it’s true state by anyone but me.
12. What's next?
I’ve just finished the artwork for my next author/illustrator picture book which will be published in 2021 so I’m having a little rest to think about what I want to work on next.