Author interview: Clara Vulliamy

I’ve been chatting with Clara Vulliamy on Twitter for a while now, after I was sent a copy of her gorgeous book Martha and the Bunny Brothers. Joe and I love the book so much – and Clara is so lovely – that I had to bother her for an interview.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve been writing and illustrating picture books for more than twenty years now – there’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do, which is as well because there isn’t much else I CAN do!

I live with my husband who is an artist, our two grown-up children and two elderly spinster guinea pigs.

I’m a fairly cheerful sort of person, and even if the big things in life are sometimes burdensome I get a lot of pleasure from the small things.

What’s an average day for you?

I’m early to my drawing board, and (if I manage to resist the more-ish delights of twitter!) work without interruption until tea. Though I do always make time for a highly unhealthy lunch – a half-eaten bag of crisps, or leftovers straight from the fridge.

When the workers get back from work / college, needing some peace and quiet, I down tools and bother them with constant chat and questions about their day.

images-2Writing can be a lonely occupation – how do you cope with the solitary nature of being a writer/illustrator?

I’m okay with it because I know I will have some company in the evenings. In the day, I LOVE solitude – and silence! No radio, music or background noise for me.

There’s also lots of communication with all the many people who work on our books with us – agent, editors, designers, publicity people – and there’s usually someone free for a chat online if it all gets a little TOO quiet.

How long does it take to illustrate your books? 

It takes loads longer than you might think! I need three or four months to do the illustrations. And before that a lot of mulling, scribbling, rubbing-out, wondering, chewing the end of my pencil, staring out of the window…

But the writing, even a short picture book text, takes me a very long time too.

51tvu-eShDL._SL500_AA300_What advice would you give someone who wants to write a picture book?

Have a look at what’s out there already – what do people seem to like? What do YOU like? Take it in, mull it over, then ignore it all completely and write to please yourself.

You don’t have to strive after originality – its all been done before, but not by you.

Keep it SHORT – cut, cut and cut again.

Remember the pictures will be telling the story too.

If you had to live within the confines of one book, and only interact with its characters (but you would still be yourself), which book would you choose?

I would choose The House at Pooh Corner. What more could one need than the Hundred Acre Wood to stroll in or a game of Pooh-sticks to play. Christopher Robin would probably be a bit of a pain and Eeyore could get you down, but I admire Owl enormously and I love Rabbit and his friends and relations – and oh I could meet PIGLET, what an honour that would be!

Which three books would you take to a desert island?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

some T S Eliot poetry

my Wacky Races annual from 1970.

When I first got to know you on Twitter, I had no idea your mum is Shirley Hughes. I was quite nervous about mentioning it, but you were lovely about it. Can you tell us what it’s like to have a national treasure for a parent? 🙂 And can you tell us about the book you’re writing together?

I’m enormously proud of my Mum, and puff up with pride when people realise that I’m her daughter and tell me how much they love her books. She doesn’t completely know quite how cherished she is, and how much her stories are an essential part of so many families’ lives, so I always pass these kind comments on to her.

It’s been on the cards for YEARS that we would collaborate, and now – at last! – is the perfect moment. She wrote the thrilling tales of Dixie O’Day especially for me to illustrate: the first in the series, Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane, comes out next year. It’s so much fun working together, coming up with new ideas, laughing a lot. I will look back on these days and be so glad of them.

More on Dixie here.

images-3Thanks so much, Clara. 

Clara’s lovely book Lucky Wish Mouse Sweet Dreams is the bedtime book on CBeebies today, between 6 and 7pm. Tune in!