Why I dislike the word ‘Author’

© 2019 by Tim Warnes

© 2019 by Tim Warnes

Just what exactly is an author? Ask an audience of school kids (in fact, any audience), and the answer will be a resounding, ‘someone who writes books.’

When it comes to kid’s books, I dislike the word author, preferring instead to differentiate the two creative roles as ‘writer’ and ‘illustrator.’ It’s a more accurate reflection - one writes the words, the other draws the pictures. The commonly held belief that the narrative is told in words alone (with the illustrations being just a welcome add on) is wrong. They both tell the story. They are both authors of the work:

author: A person who starts or creates something (such as a plan or idea)…one that originates or creates something’

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Sometimes the illustrations are critical to the story because they reveal things that the text does not. Sir Quentin Blake’s Cockatoos is as perfect an example as you'll find. In this ingenious and straightforward tale, Blake uses his illustrations to tell a contrasting story:

‘The text is entirely from poor baffled Professor Dupont's point of view; the written story hasn't the first idea about the naughtiness that is going on in the pictures. As one friend put it to me: "When I read it to my son I am reading one story in the words and he is reading another story in the pictures."'

- Quentin Blake, Words and Pictures

from  Cockatoos  © 1992 by Quentin Blake

from Cockatoos © 1992 by Quentin Blake

Another example, this time from my work: NO! By Tracey Corderoy. On one spread the only word to read is a big, fat ‘NO!’ Ask an audience of kids what’s happening, and they’ll read the pictures and tell you the story -

The little rhino’s cross.

His mummy and daddy look tired.

They’ve spent the day at the beach.

He’s had fun making sandcastles, and he wants to stay.

He doesn’t want to go home.

from  NO!  © 2013 by Tim Warnes

from NO! © 2013 by Tim Warnes

It’s not just me that feels this way. Author-illustrator (ACK! there I go) - Storyteller - Sarah McIntyre told The Guardian:

“I’d like to see more publishers of highly illustrated fiction (sometimes called ‘chapter’ books) put the name of the illustrator on the front cover of the book, along with the writer. Both creators are authors, in that both create the story, in words and pictures.”

Disappointingly even the legal blurb on a picture book’s imprint page is misleading:

[A. Writer] and [A. Illustrator] have asserted their rights to be identified as the Author and Illustrator of this work…’

If the author's job is solely to write the words that tell a story, then who wrote The Snowman?

How about Clown?

The answers are Raymond Briggs and Sir Quentin Blake respectively, both leading figures in the world of children’s books. And yet both these beloved and enduring books are wordless. Their stories are told entirely through the pictures. Without them, there would be no story (and then what would we all watch on BBC2 on Christmas Eve?).

Does it matter? Well, no - not really.

Until we turn to our kids’ creative outputs. It’s vital for our children see themselves in a positive light. So if a child struggles to write, yet they have an active imagination and can spin a tall tale - what does that make them?

A writer?

An author?

If they don't fit into the boxes we've created - if they can’t put the words on the page - then neither.

But they can be storytellers! And those stories can be as free form as they wish.

...Nibs reminded [Wendy] that it was story time.

‘Very well,’ she agreed, ‘but not until you are all in bed.’

‘That - won’t - take - long,’ said Slightly, pushing his way under the bed-clothes that instant.

Wendy fetched a chair, and began:

‘There was once a gentleman.’

‘I wish it had been a lady,’ said Curly.

‘Or a rat!’ cried Nibs. ‘Yes, I’d much rather it was a rat.’

‘If you are not quiet, all of you, there won’t be any story,’ Wendy said, and went on, ‘There was a lady too, if you’d only wait long enough for me to get to her. The gentleman’s name was Mr Darling, and the lady was Mrs Darling…’

- J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan by Eleanor Graham

Which is why I have decided to identify myself as a storyteller - because that ’s what I do. I tell stories using both words and pictures And hopefully, by levelling the playing field, everyone can feel included.


Wordless picture books

  • Clown by Quentin Blake ((Jonathan Cape 1995)

  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (Hamish Hamilton 1978)

  • Un Balayeur un an un Balai by Olivier Douzou (Éditions du Rouergue 1997)

  • The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez (Gecko Press 2009)

(Almost) wordless picture Books

  • Hug by Jez Alborough (Walker Books 2000)

  • Banana by Ed Vere (Puffin 2007)

For grown ups


Words and Pictures by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape 2000)

NO! by Tracey Corderoy, ill. by Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press 2013)

Illustrator Sarah McIntyre calls for co-author credits - The Guardian

J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN: The Story of the Play BY ELEANOR GRAHAm, ill. by Edward Ardizzone (Brockhampton Press 1962)