On arriving at Cambridge and departing the station you’re faced with a large collection of bicycles all locked and secured to trees or themselves…it’s such a collective and collegiate statement. Then if you’re walking make sure you’re not run over by the fast cyclists, if you’re driving don’t knock them down. I’m sure there’s an unspoken rule that this is a city of two wheels, not four! This time I’m down among the dreaming spires to examine a Practice Based PHD, it’s one of a number coming out of Cambridge School of Art’s centre of excellence, the Centre for Children’s Book Research. Under the leadership of Professor Martin Salisbury, postgraduate and Higher research has really developed over the last 10 years, the postgrad course has produced successful graduates who on graduating are often met with a publishing contract or two, indeed it’s not uncommon to find students half way through the course working on a book deal of one kind or another. Dare we bring up the Macmillan Prize?, the annual student award for children’s books, it’s becoming par for the course for students studying to win the award, but to also take all the runners up prizes as well, leaving other colleges in their wake. Why is this the case I’ve often been asked? and perhaps as a past examiner on their Postgrad course I’m in a better position than most to offer up comment. Well the first thing I’ve observed is the location, cozy and literary at the same time, the perfect combination for anyone embarking on a career in children’s publishing. Secondly the teaching staff are extremely well versed with all the aspects of children’s literacy as well as being adept illustrators/artists themselves, plus the range of top drawer visiting tutors, many from the capital. Then the students themselves, often having come from a range of different disciplines or being mature students re-entering education from time in industry and with clear ideas of what they want to produce. If that was not enough, the drawing studios are inspiring, large yucca plants wind their way over mezzanines and the natural light makes you think at once of Kettle’s Yard, the Jim Ede residence across town or St Ives itself or even for that matter Antibes.
This occasion will be a somber examination but on the back of my mind will be how I can take some of this inspiration back to Birmingham and use it to create our own centre of excellence.