When I was a girl, my dad told me everyone lives three lives: a life in their books, a life in their dreams and “a real life”. The life in my books always seemed the most real to me.
When Dave lost Dogger, so did I. When Max met the Wild things, I too tamed them by staring into their yellow eyes. Narnia became my playground and I wept with Wilbur when Charlotte died. Books were my absolute favourite things. But, there was a problem. The pictures on the page never looked like the ones in my head and so I took to covering them up with my hand. Sometimes I wondered if I shouldn’t draw my own. When I went to University and studied Fine Art though I forgot about it.
Isaac the hedgehog started life as a little doodle much later when I was studying at the Princes Drawing School in London. I liked his slightly morose scruffiness and he became a character accompanying me when I felt like being distracted. He went on lots of adventures. He parachuted with spotty handkerchiefs. He popped out of hats as a magician’s accomplice, like a spikey rabbit.
A friend who saw my doodles in the studio said that I should make them into a story and show them to an editor she knew. I was pregnant at the time and pretty busy, but after my son was born I suddenly had time to play around with the story, to bring my little hedgehog to life. It was autumn and I relished the colours I saw on my regular walks with the pram to the Hackney city farm. I would take my sketchbook, and soon the hedgehog was joined on its pages by a donkey and by piles of autumn apples.
I finally had the chance to make sure the illustrations looked just as they were meant to.
I am quite old fashioned as an illustrator. Most people these days draw using photoshop, adding layers onto the screen. But I draw on paper, and submit my books in cardboard folders. It does mean my desk is a mess of paint, charcoal and pencil sharpenings, but that’s the way I like it.
The best thing about having written The Very Helpful Hedgehog has been watching children’s reactions – our local nursery did an autumn project based on it and the children made a lovely huge collage. When it gets read aloud people embellish it in their own way, and I laughed with Stephen Graham’s take on the Donkey’s charismatic accent when he read it on CBeebies ‘Bedtime Story’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX7_PWQT0OE.
This autumn I have been painting rich leafy scenes in bookshop windows and Isaac has been playing around again, dressing up as a witch for halloween. I have also just finished illustrating a new spring themed book about a sheepdog called Ben which will be published early next year. It is based on a beautiful award winning documentary by Pinny Grylls.
When I think of what my dad told me about having three lives, I sometimes wonder whether being a children’s author is my way of making the lives of dreams, reality and books combine into one. But with illustrating there also comes responsibility: now if the pictures seem all “wrong” I have only myself to blame!
A beautiful spread from the book The Very Helpful HedgeHog
You can buy The Very Helpful Hedgehog here on Hive
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