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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.

meugler Fri 23-Nov-12 20:25:56

I love your books, too, Shirley Hughes, as does my 3-year-old: particularly the Alfie books. I love the fact that they are about real challenges faced by little kids, such as going to a party alone, getting the door open etc.

Maybe over a year ago now, I heard the program about you on Radio 4, where you talked all about how you became a writer and illustrator, and it was really fascinating.

I wonder why you think it is that so many stories for children instead focus on animals, or on magic, and so few on this kind of real challenge for children?

Clawdy Fri 23-Nov-12 20:30:08

I am looking forward to reading Hero on a Bicycle,as the Year 6 children in my booster group each year are always gripped and moved by The Lion and the Unicorn. Does this mark a move away from your much-loved stories for younger children,and will we see more books for the older age-groups?

JollyJock Fri 23-Nov-12 20:32:31

What an exciting guest to have!

I will come back with a qs in the next few days.

KTK9 Fri 23-Nov-12 22:26:55

Shirley Hughes, we just love your books in our house. My daughters first real interest in books was Two Shoes, New Shoes, she was probably all of a year old at the time, but loved it and still does.

We also just adore the Alfie books, I love the illustrations, they remind me so much of my childhood in the late 60's, things like the equipement in the playground and the clothes, take me right back to another time. My daughter is 8 now and is reading them for herself, I must have bought most of her friends your books for various birthdays and christmases!

I would just like to ask are your illustrations, particularly the everyday items that litter your books, like shopping baskets, pushchairs, toys etc., from your own memories, or do you draw them from real life objects you have?

Also the characters in the stories, like Bernard etc., are they drawn from real life children, or your imagination?

Many many thanks.

GetKnitted Fri 23-Nov-12 23:05:43

I don't have a question, I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to say thank you for giving so much joy to me and my whole family thanks

TaggieCampbellBlackFriday Fri 23-Nov-12 23:12:44

My DDs are big teenagers but I absolutely lived reading your stories to them when they were little. Alfie and Annie-Rose, Dogger, Angle Mae.... We've got loads of them and they are all now packed away waiting for the next generation. I couldn't even pass them on.

No question really but a massive Thank you thanks. You really made a difference.

TaggieCampbellBlackFriday Fri 23-Nov-12 23:13:25

And I adore your illustrations.

TaggieCampbellBlackFriday Fri 23-Nov-12 23:14:09

And I csn't type or spell blush

neolara Fri 23-Nov-12 23:21:05

I also want to say thank you for giving my kids and me such pleasure over the years. My kids read your stories and recognise themselves and their lives - that's a very rare thing in a book for pre-schoolers.

I wondered of all the books you have written and / or illustrated, which one was your favourite and why? And are there any that you look at with the benefit of hindsight and wish you had done differently?

tetleymel Fri 23-Nov-12 23:25:54

This isn't a question, it's just a 'thank you' really.

Shirley, for years I've suffered very badly with post-natal depression. Your books, without fail, help me to 'pull myself together' and appreciate the wonder of childhood, parenthood and everyday life in general. Thank you, very sincerely. thanks

tothesea Fri 23-Nov-12 23:32:43

No question here, just wanted to say thank you and wondered if it would be possible for me to go and live in one of your books...possibly in front of the fire with the orange cat or on the sun warmed back step smile

HappyTurquoise Sat 24-Nov-12 00:48:12

My question for Shirley is, what advice would you like to pass on to children who can draw and write well, and who would like to become writers and illustrators (but lack confidence a bit)?

Dear Shirley Hughes, I have to pinch myself to believe you will be reading this! I would like to thank you, firstly on behalf of my Mum, who was a (special needs) teacher between 1950s - late 1990s and your books were some of the 'real books' on her shelves both at home and in her narrow, high, classroom. When I think of it, with the rows of pegs hung with satchels by her door, and the crate of milk bottles, it is as if it is drawn by you! Your books take me back there. Your drawings have helped many, many children (some with no books at home, and nobody at home who could read) to fall in love with books, and want to learn to read. It didn't come as easily for some of us, and your illustrations worked as a great incentive.
Thank you from me. That frustration of loving the pictures of My Naughty Little Sister books, but not being able to read them spurred me on! Thanks partly to your illustrations, Mum felt she could break away from the conventions of keeping a tidy, orderly house and allowed us to use pots and pans for instruments, dens under the dining room table, messy craft activities and we learned to 'make do and mend' in play with as much imagination as we could muster. (However my big sister has still not completely forgiven me for being her own naughty little sister!) It wasn't until I studied the history (and practice) of children's book illustration at uni that I realised how revolutionary your books were, and appreciated the incredible hard work you have put in, over the years.
Thanks also from my daughters, who have enjoyed a similar messy upbringing, and the youngest (12) who loves to draw and wants to write and illustrate and loves your work, from two Shoes, New Shoes, to her beautiful illustrated London book.

Thank you!

NorksAreMessy Sat 24-Nov-12 09:24:56

Shirley Hughes, now THAT is a proper person to have on MN,
I am overwhelmed with admiration.
As for many others Shirley Hughes books formed the background to my own childhood and I was delighted to pass them on to my own children. Dogger is the children's favourite book, and Bella's KIND THING is a watchword in our family. I had a naughty little sister as a child and enjoyed that you told stories from the viewpoint of the big sister (me!)
My favorite is the less-known 'LIon and the Unicorn' which has me in tears from the start. I adore it and thank you for it.

Now the question...

Shirley, your stories have such a strong moral sense. Do you see helping children to behave well as part of your 'job' or is it an accidental part of who you are?

JollyJock Sat 24-Nov-12 09:40:21

I'm 26 and can remember vividly the Alfie and Annie Rose books, but we didn't have any other of your books.

Now I've got my own little one I would like to read and show him some of your stories but I have no idea which to buy first. Which books would you recommend for each different age group?

Whyriskit Sat 24-Nov-12 09:43:43

Like so many others I just want to say thank you! I have passed my 30 year old copies of Up, Dogger (at which I still cry) and the Alfie books to my sons.
My question: Do the little girl and her baby brother from Bathwater's Hot have names?
My four year old also wanted to know if there were ever going to be more Alfie books?

boogiewoogie Sat 24-Nov-12 15:45:16

Dear Shirley Hughes,

It is a great privilege to be able to interact with you through Mumsnet and I wish to say thank you very much for all the enjoyment that you have provided my children and me with your books.

My eldest child particularly loves "Dogger" as he can relate to Dave's attachment to his favourite toy even though he's tatty and worn. My youngest who is a little girl was initially attracted to the Nursery collection as she has the same outfit as the girl on the cover in "Colours", pink dungarees and rainbow hooded top!

*My question is:
"Lucy and Tom's Christmas" is the number 1 selling book for Christmas on Mumsnet. Sadly, it is not currently in print, why and will it be available again?*

gazzalw Sat 24-Nov-12 16:17:07

Dear Shirley

I think DW and I are slightly the wrong age to have read your books when we were children, but we have read many of them to our DCs and have really loved the "way it was" factor of the stories: for us your stories represent a time to nostalgically look back upon our own childhoods with a sense of wonderment at the amount of freedom we had and adventures we experienced in day-to-day life.

If you look at a lot of things that happen to the children in your stories, in all innocence, such as the Moving Molly story where she gets a lift with the removal men, their exciting adventures (contrary to health and safety and child protection laws) would probably be frowned upon today by most parents. Do you think that 21st Century children are missing out on some very important and exciting adventures in childhood because of over-protective parenting?

Thank you!

cornflakegirl Sat 24-Nov-12 16:35:51

I'm another one who loves My Naughty Little Sister and cries at Dogger. DS1 (7) really enjoys Ella's Big Chance. Do you plan to do any more books like that?

WomanlyWoman Sat 24-Nov-12 22:06:53

Like everyone here, I love Shirley Hughes' stories and I add my thanks to those already expressed for the pleasure you have brought to me and my family.

My question is: Who are your favourite children's authors?

Grumpla Sat 24-Nov-12 22:14:37

Dear Shirley,
I love your books. Another who had them read to her and now weeps over them whilst reading them to her own babies!

My question is - do you ever think about the kind of grownups your story children became? Did Maureen ever become a plumber? Does Alfie have his own kids now? Since we all grew up with them I ant be the only one who wonders this?!?

Leafmould Sat 24-Nov-12 23:24:46

I too would like to express my admiration for you and your wonderful books. I am really looking forward to hearing some answers to everyone else's questions too. I would like to add: do you use photography in gathering detail for your illustrations? And if so, how important a tool is it to you?

Thank you.

CambridgeBlue Sun 25-Nov-12 16:20:57

I was so excited when I saw this!

Hi Shirley, I am a massive fan of your books - I loved them as a child and my daughter has grown up on them especially Alfie, Dogger and My Naughty Little Sister (I know you didn't write those but your illustrations are the perfect complement to Dorothy Edwards' lovely stories). I've also just bought Lucy & Tom's Christmas following recommendations on here (had to get a second hand one as it's out of print) and am looking forward to sharing that with DD this year (even though she's 10 she still loves your books!)

The detail in your books is what makes them so special - in the writing and in the drawings (and the fact that I am a real life Jessica Mary - my DD couldn't believe it when we read that!)

My question is: Your books are in our 'comfort reading' top 5 ie: books that DD reads/I read to her when she is ill/upset/can't sleep. I've got similar books that I always turn to and I wondered if you do this too and if so, what are your 'comfort reads'?

Thanks and lovely to 'see' you on here smile

mercibucket Sun 25-Nov-12 16:39:44

I didn't realise 'lucy and tom's christmas' was a mumsnet classic. Just got my copy ready for December reading! I adore all your books - thank you for the many hours of pleasure they have brought

Do you think it is harder to become a children's illustrator/writer nowadays or with the advent of e-readers, is the market opening up for new authors/illustrators. Are your books available as e-books and if not, is that something you would like to see, or not?

Thanks again, much hero-worship

LettyAshton Sun 25-Nov-12 17:27:07

Just must add my own thanks for your books and illustrations. My children loved them - and still do. Last year my daughter aged 9 had a bad bout of flu and my son sat in her bed (probably hoping to catch the flu to escape school!) reading a big pile of your books to her.

My daughter's favourite was always The Trouble with Jack. The little girl's party looks so partyish ! My worst one is Annie Rose is my Little Sister. When it says at the end that they'll go on being friends even when they're grown up... I'm reduced to choking sobs.

I enjoyed reading your autobiography. What would you say was the highlight of your drawing career?

Melmagpie Sun 25-Nov-12 20:49:01

Hello! We also adore your books in our house - they are so beautifully observed and are captivating for adults and children alike. What is especially appealing is how down to earth they are and how they focus on the small but important things in family life. You are our favourite!

I could ask you lots of questions but here is one:

Your drawings are full of life and look very spontaneous - like they are an extension of you and you don't have to try hard - your drawing looks as natural and fluent as joined up handwriting. Can you tell us how long it takes for you to make an illustration for a spread and the process you go through and what materials you use? (I am a budding illustrator so interested in your technique!) Also, how much do you exercise your drawing muscle with observational drawing and how much are you able to produce images just from your imagination?

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