There is something very unassuming about Lauren Child.
She slips into the Mayfair hotel lounge virtually unnoticed.
And her hesitant greeting is remarkably understated for an award-winning author and illustrator who has dominated the children’s bestseller list for the past decade and whose characters Charlie and Lola have become a global sensation.
But then Lauren is a reluctant literary star preferring to let her characters do the talking.
And it’s fair to say they have spoken very clearly to a generation of youngsters in a way few other authors have ever managed.
Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean have captured the imagination of children across the world and catapulted Lauren into the literary ranks of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake and Judith Kerr.
With a clutch of literary awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal, the Nestle Smarties Book Prize and an MBE to her name, she has rightfully won her place as one of Britain’s favourite children’s authors.
Yet she’s not complacent.
Just months after Charlie and Lola’s latest adventure, Slightly Invisible, was released she is already working on her next project – Ruby Redfort.
The series of detective novels for pre-teens brings to life her character Clarice Bean’s literary heroine.
Demand from the many dedicated fans of her first book character, the inimitable Clarice Bean, spurred Lauren on to begin the series of six books following the adventures of Ruby Redfort.
She said: “I got so many letters asking me if it was a real book, I decided to write it.
“I’ve never written a book that way before.”
The series will be published this autumn with the first one entitled “Look into my eyes”.
For Lauren this relationship with her readers seems to be vital.
She has boxes of letters from children who have felt compelled to write to her over the past decade.
“It’s extremely flattering and reassuring that they feel like that.”
And she admits their content has influenced her work:
“If I get mail from children they do tend to just say stuff and it’s always fascinating, what they decide to tell me.
“Some of the people who write, they have very strong characters which come through their writing and I always find that quite interesting or I suppose they are just very honest so they have very particular voices
“There’s always a girl I think about quite a lot because she wrote to me lots of times and the letters were just very funny.
“She had such comedy about the way she wrote and she wrote to me as if she were just picking up a conversation, as if she just went out of the room.
“I really miss her because now she must be in her late teens, I suspect.”
It’s this connection with children which seems to have informed, if not inspired, her child characters and made them so accessible.
It’s often noted that one of the country’s most popular children’s authors is in fact childless.
But that misses the point.
What makes this youthful-looking 46-year-old so successful, is the rare gift of being able to still view life through a child’s eyes.
From their speech patterns, “I will not ever never eat a tomato”, to their vivid and ever-present imaginative world filled with characters like Soren Lorensen, Lauren perfectly recreates a child’s world.
And when writing her books, she steers away from preaching: “I never, ever think about the audience because it’s sort of a disaster if you do and I don’t think about any moral content or educational side to it.
“I think the wonderful, wonderful thing about books is they are open to interpretation and you can take what you want from it and it’s all valid.”
Blonde-haired and slim-framed, the author possesses a childlike sense of fun but also an air of vulnerability just like her characters.
She admits Clarice Bean has become in many ways a version of her: “She definitely didn’t start off as me but as I wrote a lot of our thoughts and ideas began to merge.
“You realise you are writing about things you think about a lot or are very important to you.”
Lauren’s own childhood in Wiltshire has hugely influenced her work.
The middle of three girls, she is the daughter of an art teacher and an English teacher.
And both art and literature have played an important part in her life.
“Art was something I was naturally interested in and reasonably good at.
“I wasn’t a child genius but I had a lot of confidence and I think my dad was very good at encouraging that.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I always knew it was going to be art-related”, she said.
An unsuccessful attempt to pursue a degree in illustration at Manchester University, eventually saw her living in London and famously painting dots for Damien Hirst.
She admitted: “I faffed around just not really knowing what to do, I had very little direction.
“I think what’s terribly difficult is making such an important decision when actually you are really quite young.”
A lifelong fascination with home interiors – “I was always obsessed with people’s houses” – saw her turn her talents to lampshade design.
With the help of a friend, she founded Chandeliers for the People, now a dim memory.
But it was her alter ego Clarice Bean which finally gave her the first big break. Publisher Orchard snapped up Clarice Bean, That’s Me in 1999 with a deal for two further books.
A year later Charlie and Lola were born and her career as children’s author and illustrator was firmly established.
Inspired by a young girl Lauren spotted on a train journey through Denmark, Lola and her older brother Charlie have become as much a part of childhood as Thomas the Tank Engine or Winnie-the-Pooh.
And the pair’s adventures have allowed Lauren to indulge her love of Scandinavian design in her own Belsize Park home as well as their stylishly illustrated Danish apartment.
However, like any protective parent, Lauren has found it hard to let them go.
“I was never, ever going to sell Charlie and Lola to TV. I had actually planned to make my own pilot.”
But the pilot proved a disaster and the only way to salvage the situation was to allow others to get involved.
After 80 episodes, the brother and sister act have become a global phenomenon and their faces can be seen on everything from pencil cases to pyjamas.
But there was a price to be paid for the commercial success and the venture has left Lauren uneasy about further forays into television.
She said: “I don’t feel any burning desire to jump back into TV…I’m not saying I won’t change my mind but it’s really, really hard work.
“The whole time I was working on that show I was also writing my books and you get very close to having a nervous breakdown because you have all these deadlines.”
It’s a bitter pill for someone who as a child was a self-confessed telly addict.
Recalling her childhood, she said: “I don’t think we got a colour TV until I was 16.
“I didn’t even know the Clangers were pink!
“But still I was totally hooked.
“I’m not one of those people who think television is a bad thing because I think it depends what you watch, it depends how much you watch and I think it really got me into reading.”
Television series such as Little House on the Prairie drew her into the world of books. And it’s a method she believes can still encourage young readers today.
Although life on the other side of the camera proved too stressful, the experience has opened new doors for the author and illustrator.
“Working in TV you have to be very commercial and that has made me want to go off in a completely different direction” she said.
One of those routes was to Unesco where she has become an Artist for Peace, as part of the Education of Children in Need programme.
The role has seen her working with street children in Mexico and more recently in Mongolia, where she helped fund a project to re-integrate youngsters living in the heating pipes below a city.
She admitted: “It was more upsetting then I ever imagined. It was quite harrowing and our translator just broke down.”
The children are rounded up by the police when they surface on the streets to begin begging.
But a relief project, run by the city’s police chief, offers the children the chance of a new life above ground.
And financial support from the sales of Lauren’s award-winning book The Pesky Rat has enabled the project to build a new summer residential centre where youngsters can learn farming skills first-hand.
A return trip to Mongolia in December gave Lauren an insight into just what can be achieved with this kind of support.
She said: “I think they have just done an amazing job with what essentially is a small amount of money to us. They has used every scrap of it.”
Lauren has also chosen to use her role to allow the voices of children across the world to be heard.
“What we really want to do as much as raise money and support projects is to get other children to think about children who live in difficult circumstances in a different way. They are not different from you just unlucky,” she said.
My Life is a Story is her campaign with Unesco to allow youngsters from all walks of life to tell the story of their life through words, drawings and photographs.
From the mundane to the traumatic, what they all have in common is an astonishing honesty.
As Lauren explained: “They stop worrying about what they are meant to say. It’s just whatever it is they want to say.”
Hampshire County Council is the latest organisation to see the benefits of the campaign.
School children across the region have been invited via the library service to tell their story through writing or pictures.
The best of these will be part of an exhibition at Winchester Discovery Centre later this year.
While Basingstoke Library has asked her to design a mural for its children’s area, based on My Life is a Story.
The design, a team effort between Lauren and pupils of local Fairfields Primary School, will be unveiled in May.
“It’s going to be lovely”, she enthused.
Despite her evident success, Lauren remains determined not to be pigeon-holed.
“There’s been lots and lots of good things about Charlie and Lola going to TV but the down side is you get known as that Charlie and Lola woman and people don’t realise you do lots of other things as well.”
She has plans for a new film featuring one of her characters, though she won’t reveal which one.
A return to her design days is also on the cards, this time aimed at adults.
But above all it seems, just like her characters, she wants to let her imagination run free.
As she put it: “The more success you have, the more people expect certain things from you and it just eats into your time.
“The thing I feel very concerned about is that I don’t lose that daring to do something exciting or different because of my own expectations or other people’s expectations.
“I think you have got to make a few wrong turns every now and again.”