An early childhood wandering through the woodlands and apiaries of the Presaddfed Estate, Anglesey and watching with fascination, his father’s skilled handling of the thousands of bees which swarmed beguilingly about their hives, inspired his imagination: as did his curiosity and attraction to ancient Welsh farmyards dominated by rough, stone buildings and a pond or two. He drew on later childhood memories of roaming the fields, hills and sandy strands of Gower, to conjure up other stories and characters that grew in his imagination and took shape on the page. From the terrifying honk and hiss of farmyard geese to trips on slow buses to the seaside manned by grumpy drivers, with official hats pulled down tight over ears. All and much more aroused, enthused and stimulated his creativity. During 30 years of teaching children to read, this creativity has been channelled into a progressive series of phonic reading books and materials.
Some training in fine art conservation, drawing and watercolour painting equipped him with skills necessary to illustrate his books. A range of sharp graphite pencils, a small collection of narrow brushes, the tools of the trade, and watercolour all combine to breathe life into the characters and forms which emerge from the paper.
Contentment, for this author, is found in the quiet of an ancient church, moving from one creative artefact to another, seeing, touching, absorbing, or immersed in the singular architecture of an uncommon building or lost, totally in the act of creativity.
James, a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, lives and works in the city and is stimulated by the rich heritage of architecture and history that characterises the old town and surrounding counties. He has written and lectured on medieval church architecture and local history for the last 30 years and served on the Blue Plaque Committee of the Birmingham Civic Society. Never happier than when drawing ancient timbers in a dusty attic, this restless author and illustrator became the consultant architectural historian to Endemol, the programme makers for the BBC 2 series ‘Restoration’ in August 2004, following his surveys of the winning medieval buildings, The Old Grammar School and Saracen’s Head, Kings Norton.
Born in Anglesey, North Wales, Jim, as he is known to many, moved to Gower, South Wales at the age of eight. He trained as a teacher in Swansea after leaving Gowerton Grammar School and moved to Birmingham in 1971.
Photography by Geraint James