Fans of Babette Cole's books will not be surprised that their creator has had a somewhat unconventional life and career. Yes, she did train at Canterbury College of Art but "spent every minute trying to get out." By her third year, Babette was "producing my own little books which everyone liked except my tutors, who thought I should have been doing my Letraset, sitting up properly and not wearing my wellingtons into art school." Babette was actually thrown out of the college twice but then invited back!
Babette graduated with a BA Hons (First Class) and began talking to publishers. "Students don't know what publishers want and I think they should find out," she says. Today, she remains closely involved throughout the production process, even if that means flying out to the Far East to check the pages as they come off the printing press. Babette is no stranger to travel. She lived for a year in the Okavango Swamps in Botswana, and now makes regular trips to her second home in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Her first job was at BBC TV, working with Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate, creating storyboards for classic children's programmes as Watch With Mother, Ivor the Engine and Bagpuss.
Home is a farm in Lincolnshire, with a menagerie of horses and dogs. Her interests include breeding and showing Show Hunters, riding side-saddle, team chaseing (side-saddle), show-jumping, terrier racing, anthropology, sailing, showing her Deer Hounds and partying on her special island - Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Babette draws inspiration from her own animals, from Tenniel - whose Alice drawings "contributed to my love of the grotesque", from Edward Lear "for his scratchy lines" and from Quentin Blake - "the creme de la creme".
Babette loves reading, whenever she can. Her favourite author is Tom Sharpe.
Lords, ladies and Puffin readers, read on for an exclusive interview with the writer who created her royal highness Princess Smartypants!
Some of Princess Smartypants choices in life seem similar to yours. Are you the same person?
It's my autobiography - that's quite plain!
If you could have the best horse in the world but you had to live with the Prince who gave it to you, would you?
No way! I'd sell the prince - and keep the horse!
Have you ever met real royalty?
Yes, lots of times - Princess Di, Prince Charles and the Queen. I've been to one of the Queen's Garden parties and I've met them at various places through our love of horses. And Princess Anne once bought a copy of Princess Smartypants for her daughter, when she was in Australia!
Your Princess is a very strong minded girl. Are you conscious of creating a role model?
She is definitely, definitely a role model! Princess Smartypants first came about because I wanted to rebel against traditional fairytales - all those stories where a prince comes along and saves the princess. We all want to believe it will happen, but sadly, it very rarely does! Nowadays, it's usually the princess who comes over the hill on her big motorbike and saves the prince, instead!
You've lived in lots of exotic places. Which is your favourite?
Tortola in the British Virgin Islands - I've been living there for about 3 months of the year, every year since 1991. It's like being on the moon - it's so different and nobody bothers you. It's really peaceful and I love sailing.
What do you love the most about your job?
Making people laugh! I love absolutely love starting new stories - it's like opening Pandora's Box on a blank new canvas!