Behind the Book with Laura Hughes and Lucy Rowland
The Illustrator: Laura Hughes
Laura, You are now a very well established illustrator, and have created many picture books. Do you enjoy collaborating on projects, and what is it about a story that makes you want to illustrate it?
I love collaborating with writers. My favourite stories have an element of magic and fantasy in them, which is why I enjoyed The Birthday Invitation so much. I’m drawn to stories that really spark the imagination, and see it as my job as an illustrator to make the magic believable to the reader.
Front cover of The Birthday Invitation, published by Bloomsbury.
How did you start out? Did you study illustration?
Yes I did! I studied BA Illustration at Kingston University and graduated in 2005. I initially focussed on editorial illustration but found the short deadlines and conceptual nature of it challenging. It wasn’t until I started working at Bright (initially as an intern and then as a designer) that I fell in love with children’s books and my career grew from there.
How do you work – as in do you work very traditionally, or do you find now that digital is the way forward?
I still work traditionally with inks and paints. As far as I’m concerned digital media still lacks the depth of tone and texture that real materials have, and I think there’s too much temptation when using a computer to tweak artwork to perfection. I like the little inaccuracies and errors involved in creating a piece of original art.
The Author: Lucy May Rowland
How did you become a children’s author and what is your background?
I have always been interested in poetry and rhyme. My grandparents read me a lot of poetry when I was little and I was also a big fan of nursery rhymes! I studied languages and English Literature at A-level and then went on to do a degree in Speech and Language Therapy. I’ve been working as a children’s Speech and Language Therapist ever since, so I suppose, my work and study has always been around children and language. However, it was only when I started writing picture books a few years ago, that I realised what I really wanted to do- write stories for children. I decided to take a sabbatical from work in 2013 to really focus on my writing and, during a 6 month trip to Indonesia, I was lucky enough to get an email from my fantastic agent, Anne Clark (of Anne Clark Literary Agency) who offered to represent me. Anne is wonderful, and by the time I met her 6 months later, she had already secured a book deal with Bloomsbury… so it was a very exciting first meeting indeed!
Have you always written/told stories?
I used to write poetry when I was much younger, and then some in my early teens but I stopped writing for years and only picked it up again in 2012. Once I’d started though I realised how much I enjoyed it and wondered why I’d ever stopped.
Where is your favourite place to write?
If I am really into a story then I can write anywhere. I wrote The Birthday Invitation on the bus on my commute to work! But I tend to prefer it to be quiet so, sitting at my table in my flat is just perfect. I often read my stories out loud to make sure that they scan properly, and this can seem a bit odd in a cafe! I quite like swimming too and because it’s very rhythmic, I find I sometimes go over stories in my head when I swim.
London Buses, by Laura Hughes — available to buy as a print from The Bright Emporium.
Some questions for you both…
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?!
LR: I remember telling my dad that I wanted to be a trapeze artist. My parents have always told me and my sister ‘You can be anything you want to be’ so my dad’s response was ‘Well then, you MUST! You must run away and join the circus!’
LH: I wanted to be an artist (amongst many other things) but was steered away from it as I grew up. Unfortunately there are many people who don’t consider the creative industries to be ‘real’ or viable jobs, which is why I think it’s really important for illustrators to be visible to children and show them that this is a career that they can do too if they wish.
Favourite picture books from childhood?
LR: Weirdly, I don’t remember so many picture books but more poetry. We read lots of A.A. Milne — When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six — I still read poems from these books all the time.
LH: I loved Richard Scarry’s books and the Rupert Bear comic strips. I still have very well-used copies of both at home.
Endpapers by famous Rupert Annual illustrator, Alfred Bestall.
The art of Richard Scarry.
Who or what inspires you?
LR: This might seem a bit cliched from a rhyming picture book author but Dr Seuss! and specifically his book, Oh the Places you’ll go. His use of rhyme and rhythm is just so incredible but what I really love is his knack for delivering really powerful messages in child-friendly ways..such as ‘You have brains in your head you have feet in your shoes you can steer yourself any direction you choose’ — Amazing!
LH: Inspiration is everywhere. For reference, I draw inspiration from folk tales, films, nature and exhibitions. I also really enjoy getting away from my studio for a bit to go location drawing.
Beautiful seaside scene by Laura Hughes.
Memorable birthday parties from your childhood?
LR: I was a big fan of fancy dress so there were quite a lot of that! When I think back, it’s those parties at home or in a village hall, with party games, a home-made birthday cake and party bags that were the best!
LH: The best parties I remember were always the ones where a parent had hired the local village hall for a disco. You could just run around screaming and being hyper from the party food for a few hours without your parents telling you off. Freedom!
What’s next on the horizon?
LR: Lots of people ask me if my writing is linked to or about my work as a Speech and Language Therapist and usually I say no, but recently I started working on a story that is specifically to do with children’s communication. It’s very early days at the moment but I’m interested to see where it will go.
LH: I’m currently working on a couple of exciting projects with publishers, Bloomsbury and Faber, with books out next year.
If you’d like to work with Laura, you can get in touch via her agent, Arabella Stein here.
Follow Lucy on Twitter
Meet Laura & Lucy at story time on Sunday 21st May at The Bright Emporium!
Find out more and book your tickets here.