I love my work, but I have to work every day, and for long hours. I can be at my
desk from early morning until late at night. My thoughtful wife, Janet, encourages
me and I often ask her advice about my books.
I use an old-fashioned typewriter, not a computer. It was the same when I was young,
and I use the same equipment that I used in my childhood: pens, pencils, and watercolors.
An American Indian lady once wrote to me: “I’ve always thought the wanagi (spirits) are close to you. Some of your illustrations reveal that the ancestors
come to visit you in your dreams.”
When I was growing up in England, near Oxford, I loved nature and would often walk
to the lake at the end of our garden. I enjoyed the trees, flowers, birds, and insects.
I spent much of my time in search of wild flowers for my pressed-flower collection,
and watching birds. I drew and painted birds and butterflies from books in our home,
and from things I saw in museums. I was a stamp and coin collector and had many
rocks, horseshoes, and feathers. I grew up during World War II, and so I also collected
bullet shells and pieces of German bombs, two of which fell so close that our house
had to be re-roofed twice.
I grew up in a musical family. My mother was a musician and my father made harpsichords
and other musical instruments. As I work, I listen to classical music. Bach is my
favorite composer. I used to play duets with my son, Robert, on recorders which
my father made during the 1930s and 1940s.
Since my childhood my greatest interest was in everything related to the American
Indians and I read many books about them. My mother encouraged me in my fascination
with the Indians and she read me books about Indians. She made me a tipi, and painted
it with designs, and sewed a fringed shirt and leggings for me to wear.
I have often enjoyed walking and every day I would walk about four miles. In the
British Army, I was a good marcher in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry!
I also enjoy camping and Janet, Robert, and I have camped in beautiful and remote
places in the Rocky Mountains, or out on the Great Plains of the Dakotas, Nebraska,
Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, Canada. We meet American Indian people who live there.
Those who know the Great Plains will recognize some of the hills and buttes, birds
and plants in my books.
My books and paintings are about things which happened long ago. I try to get details
right in my stories and illustrations, because mistakes would be rude to American
Indian people, and to my readers. may need to know the colors and designs of blankets
made a hundred years ago, or the designs that were painted on rawhide storage bags.
I have my own library to refer to. I also have albums of photographs, which I have
taken over the years, of American Indian artifacts in museum collections. When I
am working on retelling a traditional myth or legend, I often ask American Indian
people to tell me the story. I want to hear them tell it in their own words.