Jane Porter will soon seen the release of her new picture book, Pink Lion, which is a heart-warming story about always being yourself. Out on 6th July, this tale is about a pink lion, Arnold, who blends right in with his bright pink flamingo family.

Jane spoke to The Fountain about her inspirations for becoming an illustrator, her favourite animals and what she is working on for 2019.

TF: What inspired you to get into illustration? Is it something you always knew you would do?  

I used to spend hours drawing on scrap paper as a child, and made comic books as a teenager – but it never occurred to me it was something I could do as a job, so I went and worked as an editor and writer on magazines about horticulture and landscape architecture. But years later I had an overwhelming urge to be more creative and went back to college to do a foundation in art and design, followed by an MA in illustration and animation.

TF: From what I can gather you have always had a fondness for animals and illustrating animals – was there something that set this off?  

I have! Though it’s hard to say what started it off. I remember yearning for a pet, and eventually saving up for a guinea pig. My dad built a hutch for it, and I still remember the huge excitement of going to the pet shop to choose one. She was a grey and white Dutch called Juliette. I used to make birthday cards for all the family featuring guinea pigs.

TF: What was the catalyst for this particular book, Pink Lion, and for the crux of the story?   

Every week I run an art class for under fives, and each week we make a picture then have a story related to the picture we’ve made. One week we made robots, and then I asked the children if they could guess what the story would be about. One boy said, ‘A pink lion’ – I thought it was so funny and perfect I had to write a story about it.

I went through a lot of different version before it was finished. The crocodile was a late arrival – I tested an earlier version of the story on a friend’s child and he said it needed ‘more roaring’ – and that’s when I realised I needed a proper ‘baddie’ to provoke it.

TF: This is a fantastic story about identity and being different – what kind of message do you think it is sending out to pre-school children? 

I hope it will help them believe it’s good to be a bit different, and that there’s more to life than peer-group pressure! But also that it can be useful to try something new now and again…I was a very unadventurous child and probably wouldn’t have dared go off with the yellow lions, I would have wanted to stay with the flamingos! Arnold is open-minded, and that’s a good thing, but he loves his flamingo family best of all.

TF: What is your personal favourite animal Jane and why? Do you have a favourite?  

I have a pet cat so I would have to say him – but I just love giant anteaters. I would like one of those for a pet! I was given a season ticket to the zoo for Christmas and every time I go there, it’s the anteaters I head for first – they had a baby earlier in the year so I am always hoping for a glimpse. I love eavesdropping on visitors there – it’s surprising how many people don’t know what they are. I would love to do an anteater story one day.

TF: Are there any illustrators that affected your work and for what purpose?  

Without doubt the complete works of Postgate and Firmin have been the biggest influence on me, from childhood onwards – I learned to read with the Noggin books and Ivor the Engine, and loved to watch Bagpuss, The Clangers, and Pogles Wood on television. Their sense of home-made charm is something I love just as much today, and Peter Firmin’s pen and ink drawings, complete with inky fingerpints and smudges, are a joy.

TF: And what about now… are you working on anything that we should look out for in the coming year?

I am working on a couple of things for 2019 – one is a picture book written by Paul Stewart for Otter Barry Books. It’s a wonderful story about sheep with a perfect and timely message about diversity and inclusion, and I am illustrating it all in collage. At the moment I am working on some teeny tiny wildflowers to go in cracks in a dry stone wall!

The second project is something quite different – a graphic novel which is a humorous retelling of Moby Dick, set on my local river, the Wandle. I’ve been involved as a river restoration volunteer for many years and am enjoying translating my experiences into Melville’s classic tale, with all the characters wearing waders throughout. My aim is to get this out in time for Herman Melville’s 200th birthday on 1st August 2019.

Images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published Pink Lion by Jane Porter.

Pink Lion is published on 6th July 2017 by Walker Books.