Hollie Hughes: A Lion and Dragonfly Interview
How did you come to collaborate with Sarah Massini on this book?
Bloomsbury suggested Sarah for the book after the text was written, but I already had her in mind when I was writing. I knew she had worked with Bloomsbury previously (did you know that many years ago she actually designed the famous Diana logo for them?), and I also knew she would be perfect for The Girl and the Dinosaur, so I couldn't help but hope really. On this occasion, at least, all that hope paid off and it turned out that it was exactly the sort of story that Sarah was looking for at the time too.
What is your favorite page of this book and why?
I love all of them, but my absolute favourite is the forest spread - with the fairies, giants, unicorns, and woodland creatures. There's so much to admire about this spread technically, but it also encapsulates all the magic and freedom of the story in one snapshot image.
What inspired you to become an author and/or Have you always wanted to be an author?
I did always want to be an author, right from when I first started making stories and books as a young child. There was nothing I enjoyed more than reading books back then, so I suppose it was only natural that I would want to make them myself. It was a long time before I realised it could become an actual job for me though.
Who has most inspired your writing life?
It sounds like a stock answer but, genuinely, it is the children I write for. My books weren't that commercially successful to begin with but, every time I visited a school and saw children themselves enjoying the stories, it kept me motivated to write more.
What’s been the most surprising thing about being a children’s author?
The places it's taken me. I expected that I would end up working in schools a fair bit, but I didn't realise it would take me into prisons too. One of the things I have enjoyed most about the job is the workshops I have run, with Stratford Literary Festival, to support prisoners in writing bedtime stories for their own children. It's actually been one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my life.
What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?
The same as with any book - the perfect balance of character and story. But, in picture books, of course, we have to see this balance in both the illustrations and the text - as well as a magical balance within and between those two elements too. Sometime, just sometimes, this all works so well together that a kind of picture book alchemy occurs, whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That's the holy grail of children's publishing, I guess.
What is your hometown?
What is your favorite place to write or illustrate?
My lovely brother-in-law has a beach hut in a wonderful place called Walton-on-the-Naze (it's great for fossil hunting!), which he very kindly lets us use whenever we like. I've written some of my best work sitting outside it, watching and listening to the North Sea crash in and out. It's a hidden gem though - so don't tell everyone!
Do you have a favorite indie bookstore? What makes it amazing?
Jacqson Diego in Westcliff-on-Sea - not only is it an amazing bookshop, but it's also an amazing community resource.
Do you listen to music while you are working? If so, what’s currently on your playlist?
Yes to music, but no to radio - I can concentrate with music playing in the background, but not talking. My playlist is really eclectic, though I've been listening to Amy Macdonald's recent album (The Human Demands) A LOT over the last couple of weeks!
What was your favorite picture book growing up? and/or What picture book do you never tire of reading to children?
Growing up - Mr Impossible, by Roger Hargreaves. I loved reading The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes, to my own kids. The words flow so easily and naturally, you can almost anticipate their coming. It takes a particular kind of genius to make it seem to effortless! There is now a fabulous illustrated edition (Chris Mould) available too so, although it didn't back then, it now officially qualifies as a picture book. Yey!
What children’s book (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?
Anything by David Litchfield. I am literally obsessed with the way he does light.
It’s summertime. We have to know: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Which superpower would you most like to have?
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?
The first two in Deborah Levy's living memoir series (Things I Don't Want To Know, The Cost of Living). I raced through them both in a day - I need to get Real Estate now! Although, I've read really prolifically this year in general - from Julia Quinn's Bridgerton (at the beginning of the year, obviously...) to Mantel and Ishiguro, and everything in between!
What museum would you most like to spend the night in?
If you weren’t an author, what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?
Well, being an author is my absolute dream career, but I do also kind of miss the other stuff I used to do - youth work and teaching, which were both really rewarding in their own right. There are loads of jobs I'd like to try though - from rocket scientist to artist and, again, everything in between. Perhaps it's one of the reasons I write - I get to try out all the things I might have been, and might never have been, in my imagination - if not in the actual real world. I used to like acting too, probably for the same reason - maybe it's not too late to be a movie star??
What would you want your ten year old self to know?
That I was right about all the things grown-ups said I was wrong about - and not to forget it!
What are you currently working on?
I'm not sure I'm allowed to say, but I think it's safe to say I'm the busiest I've ever been... I've got a lot of books coming out in the next five years or so, so there's quite a lot of shuffling between editing and writing going on at the moment. But I did recently write my first novel for grown-ups, and also some song lyrics, which my amazingly talented daughter has been working on putting music too. I try and keep it playful by writing for fun as well as work - writing has always been a joyful process for me, so I'm really mindful that I never want to lose that side of it, or take myself too seriously. Exciting times for me though!