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Behind the Book | Chris Chatterton

last updated 18 December 2020


Merry Christmas, Gus (Macmillan Children’s Books) is the second book in the series by artist and author Chris Chatterton. From County Durham, Chris’s passion for illustration led him to pursue a career as a freelance artist and he now works on a wide array of projects, including the bestselling Ten Minutes to Bed series (Ladybird).

In Merry Christmas, Gus we see the return of the wonderfully grumpy Gus as he faces off against stockings, trees, presents and all things festive! We caught up with Chris to ask him about the inspiration for Gus, his creative process and all things books.


What inspired you to create the Gus series? Is there a real dog (or human!) that Gus is based on?

Gus came from a series of sketches I created some years ago. I was playing with shapes and just having a bit of fun with it when the beginnings of Gus started to emerge. Macmillan approached me and asked if I had any story ideas, Gus stood out and it was pretty easy to picture him in lots of funny situations. Some people who know me say there’s a bit of me in Gus, but I think there’s a bit of Gus in all of us. Being grumpy sometimes is ok too.

title Chris’s first versions of Gus

What is your creative process like? Do you plan ahead or work organically?

I’m pretty well organised when working on projects. I typically start with thumbnailing the book, which lets us get everything right visually for the story before moving on to detailed roughs. From there, I create a coloured rough where I can explore colour palettes. I really prefer illustrating characters rather than environments, that’s why I keep the backgrounds as simple as possible with blocks of colour, this can also convey different emotions helping to further tell the story.

title Sketchbooks

title Rough illustrations

title Colour Roughs

We all have ‘Gus’ days sometimes; how do you get through a rubbish day?

A laugh with friends, a nice walk, an episode of a favourite comedy show, oh and chocolate! Failing that, lots of alcohol!

What was your favourite part of doing a Gus Christmas book?

I enjoyed coming up with the story on this one. I work better visually when trying to write so I had a little sketch book I carried with me, I would roughly sketch out and make notes on the funny things that Gus could get up to in the book. I try anything and everything, which is the fun part, until I have a large list to pull from for the story.

Book trailer

What drew you to writing and illustrating picture books?

I was working in animation for many years and for one particular project, we were asked to reference the illustrations in a specific picture book they liked. So off I went to the children’s section of a bookshop in town. I was immediately taken back to my youth, the memories of the amazing books I would pore over as a child came flooding back. Something clicked in me and started me on the path to becoming a children’s book author and illustrator.

title Artwork from the book

What is the hardest part of creating a book?

For me, it’s that bit about half way though creating the final artwork when the self doubt kicks in and you hate everything you are doing, I start second guessing all my colour choices for example. It’s the rollercoaster of creating a book we all go on I hope, or is it just me?!

title Artwork from the book

What book do you wish you had written and/or illustrated?

I’m not sure I could ever write something like this but I would love to illustrate a classic like Wind in the Willows, Wizard of Oz, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, or anything by Roald Dahl.

title Character design for Gus

What was your favourite book as a child?

I had many that I would read over and over again and stare at the illustrations for hours. I particularly loved the Gumdrop series by Val Biro. The amount of detail and fun things to spot in the Little Dracula series by Martin Waddell and Joseph Wright was amazing. Hairy Maclary was a favourite, for my love of dogs of course! I also had the full collection of the Asterix books.

title Other books illustrated by Chris

Chris Chatterton is represented by Arabella Stein — to work with Chris please contact Arabella. You can find out more about Chris here.

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