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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.

CambridgeBlue Sat 22-Dec-12 23:09:30

Received my book this morning, very pleased as I never win anything and this I particularly special as I am such a big Shirley Hughes fan. Thanks Shirley and MNHQ, Merry Christmas smile

gazzalw Sat 22-Dec-12 19:24:37

Yes ours arrived this morning too. Thank you Shirley Hughes and Mumsnet.

Merry Christmas!

NorksAreTinselly Sat 22-Dec-12 18:34:28

Thrilled to report book has arrived, and been instantly snaffled by DD (should have wrapped it up!)

Thank you MNHQ and even more huge thanks to Shirley Hughes

HappyTurquoise Sun 16-Dec-12 21:26:51

Oh Miranda you just transported me right back to my childhood, as I had a copy of Something To Do as well, and it became dog eared from all the times I leafed through it searching for the right project. I'd forgotten that Shirley had illustrated that.

bryonywhisker Fri 14-Dec-12 13:16:28

I am so excited! We genuinely adore her work, 7 yo ds loves to read Alfie storie sto his ds at bedtime.

MirandaGoshawk Thu 13-Dec-12 20:05:53

I missed the webchat, and I think I'm too old for all the titles mentioned, but Shirley Hughes was part of my childhood too - I have a book called Something to Do which had lots of little games & activities in it, making a mouse out of a handkerchief, that sort of thing, all illustrated with Shirley's lovley drawings. I always found inspiration in it when I was ill in bed or on a rainy Sunday afternoon (we didn't have a telly!). My children enjoyed it too when they were small.

gazzalw Thu 13-Dec-12 17:15:15

JustGeorge (welcome), just go to your Inbox (at the top of the page next to Log In or Log Out) and type RachelMumsnet into the recipient box and ask away...Good luck with your request by the way - sounds like a fab wedding pressie idea for your daughter if Shirley Hughes will agree!

Clawdy Thu 13-Dec-12 17:01:53

Really thrilled to have question answered. Can't wait to read Hero on a Bicycle!

Melmagpie Thu 13-Dec-12 15:55:34

only just spotted my reply. thanks so much to Shirley - fascinating to hear about your process. And can't wait to read the new book.

JustGeorge Thu 13-Dec-12 15:35:34

Hi gazzalw - now I'm struggling how do you "PMing Rachel mumsnet" I'm new here and what do I know - but Many Thanks for the pointer.

HappyTurquoise Thu 13-Dec-12 14:25:13

Thank you so much Shirley Hughes and Mumsnet, for this wonderful webchat, it is so good to hear from such an accomplished author and illustrator/artist.

Thank you for answering my question, I have bought my DD 'A Life Drawing' for Christmas, and a cut price easel and art set. She won a school art prize this week, too! It will be great to complement these with Hero On A Bicycle and tips on writing!

gazzalw Thu 13-Dec-12 14:16:57

JustGeorge you might be better off PMing RachelMumsnet as she seems to deal with the Q&A sessions

JustGeorge Thu 13-Dec-12 14:06:36

May be to late for Ms Hughes - but just in case. I'm to be Father of the Bride shortly and would dearly love to give to Bride to Be,Chloe, a dedicated copy of Dogger to her on her Wedding Day. Needless to say Dogger was Chloe's best friend for so many years and whilst she is yet to join Mumsnet when she does Dogger will be an absolute necessity. IS ther any way I can get a copy, new, to Ms Hughes for such a dedication. It would be a truly lovely present. Many Thanks

NatashaBee Thu 13-Dec-12 13:59:15

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

JugglingMeYorkiesAndNutRoast Wed 12-Dec-12 23:30:04

One of the most encouraging comments I got from someone when mine were little was that they were like characters from your stories !
Marking place too to catch up on it all tomorrow.
Love all your stories and pictures, Shirley ! Thank you for making them thanks

Pendulum Tue 11-Dec-12 21:34:56

Thank you for your reply, Shirley. I'm pleased to know you are thinking about incorporating a working mother character into a future book, and it sounds as though you have some great material in your own family! It would be so refreshing to have a set up where the mother comes home from work in the evening and everyone says hello to each other and it's no big deal because that's the family's routine and they are comfortable with it.

One book that sticks in my mind is the Ahlbergs' 'Baby's Catalogue'. One of the featured families has a mother leaving the house in smart office dress while dad gets the children breakfast. At the end of the day she returns and nobody is remotely traumatised. I practically wore out the page in that book in my efforts to get my daughters to identify with that family!

CambridgeBlue Tue 11-Dec-12 09:18:52

Wow, Shirley Hughes answered my question! I'm so pleased! I have loved her books since forever - I did my final major project at art school on children's book illustration and she was one of the main artists I included. This has just made my morning!

mercibucket Tue 11-Dec-12 09:02:36

Thank you, it was really interesting. We love that park in West Kirby.

EssieW Tue 11-Dec-12 07:19:19

Thank you for all the answers - fascinating to get a look behind the scenes as it were. I am stupidly excited about Alfie's Christmas even if it's not out until 2013!

gazzalw Tue 11-Dec-12 06:56:31

Wow what an amazing woman! Thank you so much for answering our question and all the others too. We have been quite sad that our DCs are too old really for the picture books (although DD will be reading Angel Mae at Christmas as is the annual tradition!) so delighted to have the opportunity to read an older children's work of fiction written by you grin

NorksAreTinselly Mon 10-Dec-12 22:51:48

Ooh, ooh, ooh
Have just retread OP and realized that we have also won the new SH novel.

Am faint with JOY

NorksAreTinselly Mon 10-Dec-12 22:50:02

And mesmile
I am stupidly delighted by this thread.

Thank you so very much MN for arranging this and another HUHE thank you to SH for answering questions nd for continued JOY


debka Mon 10-Dec-12 19:47:12

Shirley Hughes spoke to ME!!! I have tears in my eyes1 (great sop that I am).


ShirleyHughes Mon 10-Dec-12 17:44:12


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

I am very touched to hear that your little daughter is already relating to a book in such a marvellous way at such a tender age. If she can do that; turn the page, identify with an imaginary person in a picture and relate it to her own life experience, she is well away into a lifetime of not only relishing stories but learning how to LOOK – to enjoy pictures not just as an adjunct of learning to read, but as an on-going pleasure in itself.

ShirleyHughes Mon 10-Dec-12 17:42:47


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?

I am very pleased that you feel my illustrations have life and spontaneity. The aim is to make all finished artwork look as though it flowed effortlessly onto the page, though that is not always easy to achieve. I think one of the greatest tests of professionalism is to recreate the freedom of the first roughs into the finished artwork, all allowing the right space for the text and with colour added.
When I have written the test for one of my own books I work it out in 32 pages, that is 16 spreads including the prelims and title page. Colour printing is very expensive and more pages would probably be rejected. When I came to do the finished artwork I redraw form the roughs, then put on the colour using gouache colour and save chalk. All the characterisation comes out of my imagination, but made convincing by a lot of work in sketchbooks studying the real thing.

Illustrating another author’s work is a different process, closer to acting and theatre design. You have to use that person’s text as a springboard, be absolutely true to it, but give it a visual dimension.

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