Around France

Whimsy in Uzès. Meeting Simon James.

Through my Uzès experience,  I’ve known and written about quite a few artists. Yet there was something extraordinary about meeting Simon James … aside from his status as an award-winning writer and illustrator. 

Meeting Simon James

Living in a “red zone” COVID world,  I miss the small, intimate art exhibitions that were so popular around town pre-virus. Meeting children’s book author and illustrator Simon James, during his recent stay in Uzès, was like a bright ray of sunshine. The creator of children’s stories that are sold and loved worldwide, Simon was as charming as his best-seller books. He was in town for his annual stay.

Simon and I first met from afar when he joined the Facebook group, “Barefoot Uzès.”  He announced himself to the group in April by posting the first of his whimsical illustrations of Uzès landmarks. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the light-hearted artwork. There was a rush of comments from locals wanting to find out “who is Simon James?”

Through the lockdown, Simon amused us with one cartoon image of Uzès after another. Apparently, he thought of us as his art critics. He introduced new drawings, one by one, for over five months.  Needless to say, he had found a group of adoring followers.

Simon James

“Choosing a good film.”. Simon James’ first post on FB group page Barefoot Uzès April 13

Who is Simon James?

Simon James is a  thriving author, lecturer, and creator of much-loved picture books read by children, parents, and educators from the United Kingdom throughout the world. With book titles like Baby Brains — the “smartest baby in the whole world” — Dear Greenpeace, George Flies South, The Boy From Mars, and dozens more, Simon’s creative stories have been translated to over 20 languages.

From the time he was a child, Simon knew he wanted to draw. Inspired by the books his father collected on cartoon illustrators, he dedicated himself to drawing, When his first book, The Day Jake Vacuumed,  was published in 1989, Simon was discovered by Walker Books. Today he is the winner of prestigious awards including Smarties Book Prize Silver Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, the Picture Book Prize, and he was Overall Winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award.

The Private Vernisage

Like others who commented on Simon’s Facebook post, I was invited to view his work while he was staying in Uzès.  Along with his partner, Laura, they arranged the terrace of their rooftop apartment as a “virus-conscious” mini art gallery. Guests attended the vernissage by invitation only, no more than two people at a time.

Simon James

Rooftop Vernissage

It was during my private visit with Simon and Laura that I learned why they were willing to give up their holiday anonymity. Simon wanted to share the artwork that was bringing him such joy during COVID. He admitted that during the lockdown, he hit a “stone wall,” creatively.  Like many of us, he felt stuck. Stymied. He was not inspired to write, nor draw, even though his publisher was insisting. So he pulled out some of his favorite photos of Uzès and started “doodling.”  The project gave him such pleasure, he kept on. Publishing the illustrations on Facebook, for those who love Uzès, encouraged him. The more he published, the more he was inspired. He quickly discovered the whimsical visions he created for himself were encouraging those who viewed them as well.

A Private Reading

As you might imagine from a storyteller whose primary audience is fifth graders and younger, Simon is a “gentle man.” His smile and his youthful, tall, and lean frame, give him an unassuming and approachable charm.

Not long after I arrived at Simon and Laura’s apartment for my private preview of his illustrations, Simon and I started talking about writing for children— a subject he’s surely discussed many times… but nevertheless. He pulled up a chair directly in front of me, and he began reading one of his favorite books— as if he was reading it for the first time.

As shown here, in his magical way, and with a few, simple words, Simon told me all about Mr. Scruff and the true nature of friendship. 

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A few, simple, words.

Thank you,  Simon, for the reminder. 

For more about Uzès artists, read:

Uzes: A French Artist Village

French Artists and Friends

Inside A French Artist’s Home

Amazing Proof That “Art Imitates Life” in France

My Life in France. Pinch Me.

Deviation: Language Barrier Ahead!

18 replies »

  1. As I sit in the dentist chair..ugh..what a delight your blog is. So I dream of France instead of the whir of the drill! Thank you for sharing Simon’s delightful illustrations. Stay safe.

    • Ok. That’s a first! Reading the BFB in the dentists chair! Love it! I’m looking forward to your next visit. Hopefully it won’t be too long! Thank you for the laugh!

  2. Thank you for your wonderful, uplifting Blog. This made my morning. Hoping that I can travel to France sooner than later. In fact, I’d love to have a long, extended visit-if the U.S. ever gets Covid under some sort of control. I love France!

    • Thank you, Patty. It was such a unexpected pleasure for Simon to “appear” and share his wonderful talent with Uzès. I’m happy to pass it on. If you get to this part of France, let me know! Take care and stay safe.

  3. Loved his drawings from the moment I saw them! So sorry I missed the op to see the exhibition and do hope they will be back.

    • I think he’ll be back not too long from now, although Laura is busy at school. He knows he has fans who are eager to see him again.

  4. Wonderful piece. His gift is art and wimpy, yours is capturing the feeling and experience in your writing. I am fans of you both.

    • What a wonderful compliment, John. Thank you. Now you need to get back to town and exhibit your artwork. You are so talented. I know there are many here who would like to see your take on the town and own an original or print. Hopefully we’ll all get back to traveling again. Stay safe.

    • I loved writing about Simon and reliving my visit. He is just as charming as his photo. The illustrations are priceless. I’m so happy to own 3 prints now! Thank you so much for letting me know you enjoyed the story.

    • You should see the drawings in person. They are delightful. I’m hoping someday he’ll make an adult book for Uzès. Thank you so much for the note.

  5. Great post! Such charming drawings. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a lifelong children’s books enthusiast, but since my children are long since grown, I had never run across Simon James’s work. But now, consider me hooked. Many thanks!

    • Thank you! I was so happy to meet Simon and anxious to share his work. I bought 3 prints! If you’re in UK his books will be easy to find. I’ll find out more about how to get them outside EU. I want them for my grandchildren in the US.

  6. Hello Deborah, what lovely pictures – thank you so much for sharing them. I recognise Simon’s work from children’s books but what a delight to see he loves our wonderful Uzès! Do you know how I might get in touch with him as if he is selling pictures of Uzès I would be interested? He shares the same name as my husband so there is a further ‘connection’. By the way I hope to meet you one day – we have a mutual acquaintance who lives in Uzès – we live in London but are lucky enough to have a little place in Uzès to which we escape when we can (less easy than I wish at the moment owing to the UK quarantine rules….).

  7. Thanks to you and Simon for bringing much needed whimsy to my day. His story, his illustrations, and his books are delightful. We can all empathize with feeling stymied and frustrated. Life has taken such a challenging turn, so I’m grateful for levity wherever I can find it these days. Stay healthy, Deborah!

    • So happy the post hit home for you, like my visit with Simon. It was magical. You stay safe, too, and thanks for the note♥️

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