The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Leigh Hodgkinson

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Leigh Hodgkinson

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Summary: Bookbag has long loved Leigh Hodgkinson's work with its unique design and great sense of humour. When Limelight Larry and Scrummy! were both released in close proximity, we couldn't resist the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Date: 13 September 2010
Interviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath

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Bookbag has long loved Leigh Hodgkinson's work with its unique design and great sense of humour. When Limelight Larry and Scrummy! were both released in close proximity, we couldn't resist the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Leigh Hodgkinson: I like to imagine happy children being read to a nice big comfy armchair. Also I like to think that the grown ups will enjoy the books almost (or maybe more!) than the child!

  • BB: In Limelight Larry, playing around with the concept of a book - almost having the book as a character in its own right - is quite a sophisticated concept for a young audience. Were you ever worried that they might not get it?

LH: Not at all. Children are really savvy and clued up about things. I like them to be in on the joke. And using the book's format as part of the story makes it playful and even more interactive I think. I liked the idea that perhaps the story isn't written when you pick up the book - that all the characters are squished behind each page, waiting to see what is going to happen next.

  • BB: Oh us too. It was hilarious! In Scrummy!, Sunny McCloud's favourite sandwich is a cheesy salad one. What's your favourite sandwich, and what's your favourite cheese?

LH: My favourite sandwich at this precise moment is cheese and avocado on brown bread... Mmmm... is making me peckish!

My favourite cheese is halloumi (it has to be cooked though). I love the way it squeaks on your teeth. It makes me laugh, as a squeak is a funny sound for a cheese to make. It makes me think that maybe mice don't actually squeak - maybe it is the mouse's cheese that is doing all the squeaking!

  • BB: Who or what inspired you to become an author and illustrator?

LH: I was always a HUGE Enid Blyton fan (particularly The Enchanted Wood and The Wishing Chair) and was fascinated by the crazy world of Dr Seuss. Also I was a HUGER-ER Roald Dahl fan (who isn't?!)

I love their vivid sense of imagination and the inventiveness of the stories. And of course, the wicked anarchic sense of humour of Dahl was just incredible.

The pictures were always as important as the words to me. When I looked at an illustration, I would get totally absorbed by it and study every detail. Also, I used to like imagining what was round the corner, or just off the page.

When I was younger, I could never imagine myself having a normal job. My mum said I would have to get used to wearing a suit as you had to be neat and smart for work. I have never worn a suit and feel much more like me being a little bit scruffy with ink on my hands!

I always knew I wanted to do something creative. If I am not drawing, writing, making things, I get quite grumpity and lost, and don't really feel like me at all.

I love daydreaming and coming up with ideas and characters. When different things piece together and make a story it is extremely satisfying.

  • BB: Do you prefer the writing, illustrating, or does it feel like two sides of the same coin?

LH: Sometimes I will be doodling and making up a new character, and while I am drawing I think about what sort of things they like and do. I think about what sort of place they might live, what sort of friends they might have... and gradually a little idea and story might form around that.

Other times, I will have a little idea at the most inconvenient time (mostly when I cannot find a pen). I think very visually right from the start and get really excited about a new idea and can't wait to print it out from my brain.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

LH: I have a little notebook which I carry around with me so can scribble down bits and bobs when I am out and about. Then I tippy tap on the computer in my garden shed (which is my studio). It is quiet there, so I can concentrate. The only noise is the odd apple falling onto the roof, but I quite like that sound so that is ok!

  • BB: Is it hard for children's authors and illustrators to get the same recognition as adult writers?

LH: It probably is harder, but I don't really think about it that much. I am just really happy to be making books and don't think recognition is a right for anyone. If you get too hung up on that sort of thing, it will make your ego turn into a voracious monster and then you would never get around to doing any actual writing and making new books!

If people don't pay attention to children's writing as much as adult fiction, more fool them. They are the ones that are missing out. A lot of people are afraid of being perceived as childish - but that is the negative spin. I find that a lot of the truly creative people I know are childlike - and that is an amazing thing. They haven't forgotten how to see the world with wonder, a magical curiosity and a lack of cynicism... very admirable indeed.

  • BB: Ooh, now we like that answer very much indeed! (And will remember it next time someone calls us childish!) If you could click your fingers and change one thing about children's literature, what would it be?

LH: For publishers to be in the position to take more risks on new authors and more unusual and individual books. For it not to be all about money and merchandise but about interesting ideas (visually and narratively).

  • BB: Which three books should every child read?

LH: Very tricky question. I will pick 2 of my current favourite picture books - Big Rabbits Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu and Delphine Durand and All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman and Marc Boutavant - and one of my all time favourites The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. All distinct voices and clear, bold visions... executed perfectly.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment and how are you finding it?

LH: I have a new little baby, so hardly have a moment to read anything apart from bedtime board books. I am quite enjoying it actually as I hadn't really looked at many board books before. Our current favourite is Ed Vere's Banana book. I find it quite satisfying saying the word Banana in lots of different ways. (Then again, maybe it is because I am just going loopy and need more sleep!)

  • BB: Haha! What's next for Leigh Hodgkinson?

LH: I have just finished illustrating a book called Don't Put Your Pants on your Head Fred (written by Caryl Hart). It is the follow-up book to Don’t Dip Your Chips in your Drink Kate and is about Kate's brother Fred. Also, I am just putting the finishing touches to some lovely Limelight Larry cut-out-and-keep craft materials which I will put up on my website if people are interested in making them.

I am about to start writing the third Sunny McCloud, which will be fun. I love hanging out with Sunny...

After that, I hope to make one of the new stories I have up my sleeves which I am VERY excited about - but that is top secret so I have to be a little shhhushy!

  • BB: Oh fantastic! We can't wait to read them all. Congratulations on the new baby, by the way. You must be exhausted! Thanks so much for squeezing us in.

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