A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Hello! Today is the book birthday of the adorable new picture book Bubble & Squeak by talented writer and artist Clara Vulliamy, and to celebrate I’ve asked her some questions about her writing life, her books, and her newest book in particular.
Clara, I’m sure you’ve been asked variations of this question many times before, but can you tell us how growing up with such a famous artist and writer for a mother (beloved picture book legend Shirley Hughes) effected your own journey as an artist and writer?
You certainly needn’t worry – it’s a question I love to answer! Of course she wasn’t Shirley Hughes to me, she was (and is) just my mum.
She didn’t make a big deal about her books when my brothers and I were growing up; it was just there on the kitchen table, pushed to one side at mealtimes. And she didn’t read her stories to us either. But what I did pick up on, without even knowing it, was the absolute joy she has in her working life. I didn’t find it daunting to have such a famous mum – always too busy doing my own thing – but I am more proud of her than I can say.
We ‘talk shop’ a lot – show each other work in progress, ponder ideas over a glass of wine… it’s a wonderful bond.
Most of your characters are animals, like the Bear with Sticky Paws, Lucky Wish Mouse and Martha and the Bunny Brothers. Why do you think you’re drawn to write so many animal adventures?
Good question. Some of them (Martha especially, and the Tinies in Lucky Wish Mouse) are really children in animal form. If they have animal faces they are more universal, less specific, which I like: the child-reader can think – that could be me. The Bear with Sticky Paws is pure jammy cheeky BEAR though!
The colours in your artwork are really vibrant, but sometimes they also have a delicate, dreamy quality – what techniques do you use to create such a beautiful effect? Do you use different techniques for different stories?
Thank you! I use a huge range of things – sometimes a computer, but I’m happiest being very tactile and hands-on:
Watercolours, cutting and sticking, and very best of all a soft blunt 9B pencil. However seductive the colours, the drawing is the skeleton that underpins everything.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? How do you develop ideas, where do you work, that sort of thing.
Ideas are elusive, mysterious things. I don’t know where they come from but I do know where they go to: to someone keenly at their desk, notebook in hand. I am a VERY slow writer, and now expect to spend weeks, months, working on just a few lines. To be honest it can be like dragging a sack of potatoes uphill. But when it comes to the pictures it’s pretty much downhill (as in free-wheeling, rather than a decline – hopefully!).
I work in what I call my studio, but in reality it’s just a room in my house, very untidy, full of junk.
When did you decide to be a writer and illustrator, and why – or did you always know?
I always knew – never anything else I wanted to do, nothing else I CAN do.
How did you get your first break as a writer and illustrator of children’s books? What was your journey to publication like?
I took my folder around to show publishers like everyone else, got a range of responses from encouraging to not encouraging, and kept on trying. It took a while.
It’s vital to create a cosy impenetrable blanket of self-belief around the very heart of your work, and then on the further out layers to be open to suggestions and quick-footed to adapt. It’s not easy!
Here on Author Allsorts we have a variety of mascot animals. Do you have any pets or animals that you would like to introduce to us?
Yes – I have guinea pigs Delilah and Maccabees, two elderly spinsters, very refined, who live free range on the top landing in our house. They sometimes write messages for my children.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your newest book Bubble and Squeak, which is out today from Orchard Books?
It’s hugely exciting – out today AT LAST!
I’d been badgering my dear old friend the hugely talented James Mayhew to write a story for me to illustrate, and many meetings later of The Two Cake Club (only two members, me and James, but always two cakes each) there it was. It is a delightful story, as light and delicious as a strawberry cream puff.
People travel from far and wide to see lovely elephant Bubble – the star of Mr Magnifico’s traveling theatre show – perform her daredevil act: The Pyramid of Peril. But in private she is terribly lonely. Until one cold rainy night, along comes a little mouse…It’s a tale of daring adventure, showbiz sparkle and finding friendship in the most unlikely of places.
I was born in London, daughter of author illustrator Shirley Hughes and architect John Vulliamy. My first experience of making pictures was being allowed to use up my Mum’s paints at the end of the day, which was like scraping the icing out of the bowl after baking.
I studied Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art, The Ruskin and The Royal Academy. After graduating I began illustrating in newspapers and magazines, and doing a weekly cartoon in The Guardian. I started writing and illustrating children’s books when I had a family of my own, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve made around 30 books, including The Bear with Sticky Paws, Lucky Wish Mouse and Martha and the Bunny Brothers.
I live in Twickenham with my husband, our two grown-up children and a gang of cheeky guinea pigs.