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Author and illustrator Jan Pienkowski talks to Rosy Moorhead about his work prior to his appearance at the North London Literary Festival
The owner of the Haunted House isn't well. Not surprising really, given that there's a ghoul in the cupboard, an octopus in the sink, a crocodile in the bath and a spaghetti monster in the fridge - all that would take it out of anyone.
For those of us who were kids in the 1980s, Jan Pienkowski's Haunted House, published in 1979, was the pop-up book and we loved it, just as we loved his Meg & Mog series when we were a little bit older and could read to ourselves.
So it's causing no little excitement that Jan is coming to Hendon to be the keynote speaker at the North London Literary Festival at Middlesex University next week. "It's not something I do every day so I'm slightly nervous," laughs the softly-spoken septuagenarian. "I'm going to be talking about my work as an illustrator and showing samples of my books. I'm hoping to help young people if they want to go on and make a career as an illustrator. They'll know what it's like to start with a blank piece of paper and end up with a completed drawing."
The students and general public will certainly be in good hands. Jan, originally from Poland, comes from a family of artists and architects and has been drawing and making books since the age of eight. He did stage and poster design in his spare time at college and did graphics for the BBC children's series Watch!
"I had to draw a picture in 90 seconds based on the dot of the exclamation mark [in the show's title]," he remembers, "and the children had to work out what it was. I had to dress in black and had a veil on my face - it was so hot! But it was fun."
And it was where, 42 years ago, he met Helen Nicoll. The pair collaborated on stories for Watch! for a time and then decided to work on a children's book together - and Meg & Mog were born. Sixteen titles later and the much-loved characters are still going strong, with a special 40th anniversary edition of the first book, Meg & Mog, due out later this year "in a very posh cover" and an animated TV series featuring Fay Ripley as Meg and Alan Bennett as Owl.
Jan is currently working on a series of love stories and coming up is a version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for Penguin, for which he is travelling around the parts of Dickens' London that still exist for inspiration. "For the three ghosts," he explains, "I thought of this little window framing London Bridge, Tower Bridge and Millenium Bridge - past, present and yet to come." He is also working on some Polish legends from his childhood.
The North London Literary Festival is an annual event organised by Middlesex University’s creative writing students as part of their final year of study. Guest speakers include author Mark Billingham, poet Daljit Nagra, New Statesman editor Jason Cowley and writer and former New York Times senior editor Eva Hoffman. Events take place from March 27-29 at Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon. Details: www.mdx.ac.uk/literary