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Q&A with author and illustrator Shirley Hughes - ANSWERS BACK

(92 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 22-Nov-12 08:12:08

We're delighted that Shirley Hughes is joining us to answer your questions. Shirley needs little introduction to mumsnetters who have enjoyed her books both as children and with their own children.

Shirley has illustrated more than 200 children's books and is one of the best-loved writers for children. She has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice and has been awarded the OBE for her distinguished service to children's literature. In 2007, Dogger was voted the UK's favourite Kate Greenaway Medal-winning book of all time.

This year Shirley has turned her hand from picture books to fiction. Her debut novel, Hero on a Bicycle is based in Italy in 1944 and weaves a truly thrilling tale of daring and adventure: Florence is occupied by Nazi German forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though - and neither have Paolo and his sister, Constanza. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings do against a whole army with only a bicycle to help them?

Send your questions to Shirley before the end of 30 November and we'll link to her answers on 13 December. Shirley will be answering up to 20 questions and anyone who gets their question answered will win a copy of Hero on a Bicycle

See for for more information about the books, featuring videos, illustrations from Shirley's sketchbooks and maps.

talkingnonsense Thu 22-Nov-12 08:19:24

Oh I adore her books, and pictures. She illustrated my naughty little sister too didn't she? I'd like to ask, which is your favourite of your own books to illustrate, and which is your favourite character to illustrate that someone else has written? And thank you for all your lovely work- I adore Alfie and Annie rose, and the new shoes, two shoes, bright shiny blue shoes set, even though my ds is now 13!

EssieW Thu 22-Nov-12 08:26:15

I love Shirley's books! My favourite childhood book was Sally's Secret. A book I have now passed on to my daughter. My son is an Alfie fan - especially as his sister looks a little like Annie Rose.

Question: your illustrations observe so many little details of human life and the people seem very true to life (all shapes and sizes) and seem to move on the page. How did you learn to draw people and where do you get the inspiration for all the details in your work?

NulliusInBlurba Thu 22-Nov-12 08:36:40

Ooh yes, we loved Alfie and Annie Rose too. I always loved the way they live in a normal house, not too posh. My favourite bit is where Annie Rose makes little beds for her dolls from drawers - you depict the minutiae of children's play so well.

So now to the question: Do you think it's going to be a challenge making the transition from 'beloved children's author and illustrator' to novelist? What kind of age group are you aiming the book at - older children or adults? In your foreword you mention 'young readers', which suggests the former.

Shells Thu 22-Nov-12 17:19:49

Always loved Shirley Hughes. I particularly love the 1970s/80s stories where the girls are in dungarees and mary jane shoes a lot of the time.
My question is 'what contemporary children's illustrators do you admire'?

BarryShitpeas Thu 22-Nov-12 17:44:46

Ooh, hello Shirley <curtseys>

My question is: you illustrated the "Stories for _ Year Olds" series by Sara and Stephen Corrin. Do you have a favourite traditional tale from this series?

I think they are the most loved books we have in our house, it would be lovely to say to my children "this one is Shirley Hughes' favourite!"

Thank you.

HeathRobinson Thu 22-Nov-12 17:54:06

I don't have a question, but would just like to say how much I enjoyed reading your books with my children. Particularly Dogger and the series of books with rhymes, 'Bathwater's Hot' etc.

Thank you. smile

ReshapeWhileDamp Thu 22-Nov-12 21:35:01

Oh fantastic - Shirley Hughes is my childhood! grin Sally's Secret was probably my favourite, because of the wonderful secluded, private atmosphere. I love the way you paint borders round a lot of your illustrations, too - the depth of detail. Alfie and Annie Rose are favourites with my son now, too. (Though I'm always envious of their mum - she has both of them sleeping in one room, and clearly Annie Rose doesn't disturb Alfie's sleep, nor vice versa.) The way that safe feeling of a happy, calm childhood is evoked through childrens' clutter and the way the landing light shines through a partly-ajar door is wonderful.

Um yes. Question. I can't think of one. smile My mum still cries when she reads Dogger to my son - did that story have any basis in something that happened to you or someone in your family? I think she'd like to know. grin Otherwise, thank you so much for the ongoing joy of all your books.

Pendulum Thu 22-Nov-12 21:53:42

Hello Shirley, I have loved reading your books with my two DDs. Their favourite is possibly the story when Alfie sleeps in a tent with his father and a pig tries to join them in the middle of the night (silly old pig). They laugh like drains at that!

My question is based on a wistful remark my older daughter once made about Alfie's mum not going out to work (like I do). To be honest, I have always felt a little inadequate compared to Jessica Mary, who is a constant presence in Alfie and Annie Rose's worlds! I can't think of any mothers in your stories who do spend time at an outside workplace and I wonder if you considered developing such a character?


goldenbird Thu 22-Nov-12 22:24:08

Thank you, Shirley, for your brilliant stories and characters. We love them all, especially Alfie and Annie Rose. They celebrate real, earthy childhoods and they are among the few books that we don't get bored of reading aloud. My son often pretends to be Mr Lewis Burrows! Thank you also for your sensitive portrayal of sibling relationships, which have steered a helpful course for us on several occasions.

One thing I really appreciate about your books is that gender differences don't seem as extreme as they are in the playground now. Girls aren't just pink and princessy (I love the girl with a tractor top bouncing on cushions) and boys are often caring and thoughtful. Do you think this is something which has changed since you started writing, or did you make a point of steering clear of stereotypes in your work?


PrincessSymbian Thu 22-Nov-12 23:12:13

No questions really, though I could be pedantic about the fact that the little girl who buys Dogger, stops crying twice!
But I love and my children love 'Lucy and Toms Christmas', as well as 'Lucy and Toms ABC'.
I always smile when I read the bit about giving Dad an egg that's already been eaten!
I have also made child care decisions in relation to choosing nurseries for my children because they have resembled nurseries from Shirly's books, her depictions have always struck me as the way nurseries should be!

noseynoonoo Fri 23-Nov-12 12:50:28

I wanted to say thank you for producing such delightful books. Me, my husband and the children all adore your books - we own loads of them plus a compendium that our daughter often takes into bed with her.

I have 2 questions (I know that's not allowed)
1. How is Dogger lost - is he lost through the school fence in the excitement of the ice-cream van arriving?
2. Who is your favourite character?

UrbanSpaceManBaby Fri 23-Nov-12 12:59:10

Hello Shirley, [waves from sofa, surveying the detritus of family life spread out across floor]

Not sure I really want this answered, but I love the background clutter to the main characters, I've always assumed that you don't live in a 'Grand Design' style minimalist Hipster house but instead work surrounded by stuff and old coffee cups.

bryonywhisker Fri 23-Nov-12 13:01:08

Shirley, we adore your work. Currently at bedtime we are admiring your illustrations in My Naughty Little Sister stories.
My question is - I think I look quite a bit like Alfie and Annie Rose's mum. Are the family illustrations a true likeness of people you know or are they ficticious?

linoleum Fri 23-Nov-12 15:40:44

Shirley, I have no questions for you, but I LOVE your work. My children adore the books and illustrations, particularly your poems. Your illustrations in 'Out and About' could be my 2 girls, which makes them love it all the more. You are brilliant!

poppyboo Fri 23-Nov-12 18:37:52

Your books are treasured in our home.
I grew up with 'My Naughty Little Sister'
You have written/illustrated the best children's story books ever in my opinion!

poppyboo Fri 23-Nov-12 18:38:35

Oh, and the first time I read Dogger to my children, I was crying by the end of the story.

HokeyCokeyPigInAPokey Fri 23-Nov-12 18:57:03

Hello Shirley <waves>

I know your daughter Clara is also an author and illustrator, were you surprised that she followed in your footsteps?

May i also take this chance to say thank you so very much for Dogger, it was my favourite book as a child and it has been wonderful to be able to share it with my own daughters, thank you.

ImaginateMum Fri 23-Nov-12 19:15:43

Hello Shirley Hughes,

Thank you for all you have done for children's literature. As it is almost Advent, our household is about to enjoy the annual dusting-off of Angel Mae. I will only read it to my children in December because it always makes me cry.

I also often, often think of Tom having to be taken for a walk with Granddad on Christmas day - I think every household with children in has had a child reach that point of over excitement at Christmas, and longed for a useful grandparent at that point!

My question is: Do you think it is easy for parents to make good book choices for their children these days? I sometimes mourn my childhood librarian who seemed to always know just what book to give my siblings and I next. I use Dorothy Butler's "Babies needs books" (which I think you illustrated) for ideas but as that is out of print that is not an option for many others. I often feel confronted by a load of series books and TV tie-ins when I go to the book shops.

Pendulum, there are definitely mothers who go out to work in Shirley Hughes' work. I think in the Snow Lady and also the Christmas Eve Ghost, probably also others.

Pendulum Fri 23-Nov-12 19:44:17

Really Imaginatemum? I have read the Snow Lady but can't recall the working mum. I will look for it in the library next time.

It's not a huge deal, I just wondered if it was a reflection of many of the books having been written when it was less common than today for mothers of very young children to go out and then return. I find it quite helpful when there's a mum that does that in the way that fathers do in many stories.

ImaginateMum Fri 23-Nov-12 19:46:41

Am pretty sure I am right about the Snow Lady, isn't that why the little girl has to go to the neighbour's house after school? It's packed away with our Christmas books so can't check now.

Pendulum Fri 23-Nov-12 19:55:15

Oh yes, I think you are right!

MooncupGoddess Fri 23-Nov-12 19:59:20

I don't have any questions, but want to say that 'Up' was one of my absolute favourite books as a small child, and even now in my 30s still makes me happy whenever I think of it.

debka Fri 23-Nov-12 20:03:21

Wow!!! Shirley Hughes!!!

My 21 month old daughter doesn't have a comfort blanket or stuffed toy- instead she has MY old copy (from when I was a child) of When We Went To The Park. She calls it 'Park' (she is only 21 months after all), and will spend long and happy car journeys poring over the pages. No other book will do. She also fully identifies with the lovely little girl having the walk wih her Grandpa. My 3yo daughter and I love all your other books as well.

One question- I have an elderly copy of Alfie Gets In First and one thing that always strikes me is the lack of cars on the road. It reminds me of when I was a child. My question is, would you illustrate that story in the same way now? Or would your illustration echo modern life?

Thank you for your wonderful wonderful books which have formed such a colourful and beloved backdrop to my childhood and that of my children. thanks

AppleAndBlackberry Fri 23-Nov-12 20:03:35

I absolutely love your books, I think I have about twenty from my own childhood and I read them daily to my own DDs. I would love to know where some of the books are set, i.e. did you have a city/park in mind for Lucy and Tom or Alfie and Annie Rose or "When We Went to the Park"? Thanks!

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