Kia ora, helô, hello. My name is Peter and I live in a small seaweedy town on the west coast of Wales, (or Cymru, pronounced ‘Kumry’), where I while away the hours illustrating books for children, writing books about Welsh folk tales, and mooching around the land telling stories. So perhaps it’s not surprising that my life has been something of a fairy tale. Let me tell you a story.
It all started a long time ago, in a far, far away land on the other side of the world. I opened the door one morning to find a rabbit sat on the doorstep. It was a small grey rabbit, much like one that Beatrix Potter illustrated, and it looked like a wild one. But instead of running away in fear, it hared past me into the house, sat down by the fireside, and washed its face with its paws. I gave it some lettuce and a carrot and it settled down and went to sleep. I left the door ajar so it could leave when it was ready, but it didn’t. It never did. It stayed. It nibbled the wooden floorboards, left droppings in little piles in the corners of the room, sat on my lap while I was trying to paint, chewed my hair, left bits of lettuce in the bathroom, and slept at the bottom of the bed between the sheets. Once it fell asleep too close to the fire and burned its whiskers on one side of its face. It was a messy rabbit.
Around the same time, a letter came through the post from Martin at Linden Artists in London, asking if I’d be interested in illustrating a book for a brand new publisher in Auckland, Aotearoa, called Sunshine Books. It was called ‘My Sloppy Tiger’ and it was written by Joy Cowley. The story was quite delightful, all about a pet tiger who lived with a little girl. It ate books, smeared jam on its fur, splashed water everywhere, and made such a mess. I looked at my untidy rabbit friend. It was covered in cobwebs and dust. I knew exactly who would be my model for Sloppy Tiger.
Soon I finished the book and I was happy with the drawings of my sloppy tiger-rabbit. I parcelled them up and posted them to Martin and he sent them to Wendy and Bruce at Sunshine Books on the other side of the world.
Then another package came through the post, containing a copy of the book of My Sloppy Tiger. I gave it to my newborn son, and when he was old enough, he tried to eat it. He sat on it, balanced it on his head and threw it at rabbit. When he was a little older, he looked at the pictures. Then he listened to the words, and he said again, and again and again. And soon Joy’s words became the best words in our world. We loved Sloppy Tiger so much.
Then a large parcel came through the post which I gave to my son to open, and inside was…was… we couldn’t believe it… inside was Sloppy Tiger himself. The real one. Well, a stuffed toy, but he was real to us, and my son loved him all the more. But rabbit wasn’t impressed. He now had a baby boy and a stuffed tiger as competition.
Well, time passed as it always does in fairy tales. The next year Martin sent me another book to illustrate from Wendy and Bruce on the other side of the world. It was called Sloppy Tiger goes to School. Then came Sloppy Tiger and the Party, and Sloppy Tiger Bedtime. And my son read the stories at bedtime, and he had birthday parties, and he grew and went to school. And rabbit grew old and slept by the fire and dreamed of the time when he could run around and make a mess.
More time passed, and I illustrated many more books for Wendy and Bruce and Martin, and in the blink of a tiger’s eye, my son was all grown up, and he left home to study animation. He started work, and before I knew it, he was living and working in Wellington, Aotearoa.
Well, there was only one thing for me to do. Thirty one years after I first illustrated My Sloppy Tiger, I flew to Wellington to visit my son, and then took the old slow train to Auckland in search of the mythical Sunshine Books. I stood outside their offices in Ellerslie, and I wondered if it had all been a dream. Maybe there were no such people as Wendy and Bruce. But there they were, and what a treat it was to meet them after all those years, along with all the lovely people who work with them as editors and designers and receptionists. But that wasn’t quite the end of the fairy tale. Bruce said, ‘You must meet Joy.’
So it was, early one December morning in 2017, I arrived at Wellington Railway Station, to find a lady with a big smile standing by one of the columns outside the main entrance, clutching a copy of My Sloppy Tiger. As I walked up to her, I showed her my old, dog-eared copy of the same book, the one I had read to my son all those years ago. She smiled that wonderful smile, for this was the legendary Joy Cowley. We had breakfast and spent the morning chatting and she is far more delightful than any fairy tale princess. She signed my old, dog-eared copy of the book, and dedicated it to my son. And do you know what? That day was his birthday. He now has the original copy of the book signed by Sloppy Tiger’s mother on his thirty first birthday.
Later that month, Joy was awarded the Order of New Zealand, the highest honour anyone could receive. I went back to Wales to illustrate two more books for Wendy and Bruce, Tom the School Cat, and Greedy Fox. And here I am now, as I write these words and there we are. That’s how working with Sunshine Books makes you feel. It’s as if you’re in a never-ending fairytale.