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Interview with Pat Hutchins

Pat Hutchins won a scholarship to Art School and her first job was in art direction at a major advertising agency where she met her husband, Laurence. He took a job in New York and there Pat used the gap in her own career to write and illustrate a children's book. In 1968 this was published. It was Rosie's Walk and an instant classic. That same week her first son was born! In 1975 The Wind Blew won the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her husband, Laurence, illustrated The House That Sailed Away and Follow That Bus! In fact she often writes and draws from her family and home. She has a lovely sense of humour. She was interviewed by children from Yerbury Primary School in Islington, London.

When did you decide to become an author and what's the best thing about being an author?

I actually went to Art School because I decided I wanted to be an artist, and at Art School I did Illustration and really loved illustration and I took my illustrations to a publisher hoping that she would give me somebody else's book to illustrate but she said, 'Well why don't you try and write your own book?' And I didn't think that I could write. In fact, I now actually prefer the writing to the drawing.

Do you do the writing first?

I get the idea first... and then when I've got an idea for a book, then I'll write the story. And then once I've written the story, I'll do the illustrations. Because, you know, it might be an idea where I could use either animals, or people, or even objects as the characters. So I always write the story first, and then decide how I'm going to do the pictures.

Were you inspired by anyone and what's the best advice you've been given?

I knew this lovely elderly couple when I was a kid, called Mr and Mrs Bruce. And they used to encourage me to draw. And in fact, I remember Mr Bruce used to give me a bar of chocolate for every drawing I did - which was bribery really! But they always encouraged me. And my Mum always encouraged me as well. And we didn't have very much money at all, and Mr and Mrs Bruce used to buy me drawing books and pencils and used to take me out in their little car, we used to go out sketching. So they, I suppose, were my biggest inspiration really, and I think because they really thought that I was good when I was little that I really wanted to try and prove to them that I could actually write and illustrate a book. And one of the books, Changes, Changes - I don't know whether you know it - is actually dedicated to Mr and Mrs Bruce.

Do you write every day? Do you have any days when you get stuck and don't know what to write next? Have you ever given up on a book or had one rejected?

Yes to all of those. For example, I'm working on a picture book at the moment which I should have finished a year ago and it's only now I'm working on the book, it's taken me a whole year to actually realise, this is the way I should do it ... I left it on the back boiler and worked on something else. We did a television series on Titch, so I wrote scripts for Titch. Because often if you leave something for a while, when you go back to it, it's sort of fresher, and you think - you look at it ... with a fresher eye.

Do you use your family in your books?

Titch is based on Morgan, my son Morgan. Well, do you know, all my friends keep saying no, Titch is Sam, because Sam's hair used to stick up like that, but in fact - even my mother argued with me, and I said, 'Mum, I should know, it's my son.

How come 'Ten Red Apples' has different illustrations from the rest?

The style, the different style? Well, because I wanted this to be like a pattern, so that, because it's a counting book, so that it makes it easy for little ones to count, I deliberately chose to make it very patterny... so that, you know, imagine if you're four years old. It's easy to pick that out, it's easy to go 'One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six... ' Whereas if I'd drawn, like, realistic apples all over the place, it would be a bit more difficult to spot them as units. Do you understand? Because it really depends very much on the story. And then I decide how I'm going to do the drawing.

Have you got lots of ideas in your head at the moment? What is your next book about and does it have a title?

Yes, I've got loads of ideas in my head at the moment, because I want to write a play so I've been thinking of ideas for that and I want it to be a musical play, so it's got songs in it, so I've been writing songs for it. And at the moment, I told you I'm working on a picture book and it's called Only One of Me, and it's about a little girl - it's a party, and her grandmother comes, her great-grandmother and her step-brother and her half-sister and her cousin and niece, and at the end of it, she says, 'It's nice to be so many things when there's only one of me!' And so it's about family relationships, about half-brothers, and step-fathers...

Do you have any advice for children who dream of being an author?

Yes, I do, and that's just to write, write and write and enjoy writing. And I think that if you enjoy what you write, if you write and you're having a good time... it's usual that if you're enjoying it, someone will enjoy reading it. Just enjoy it. Just make yourself laugh, or make yourself cry or, you know, frighten yourself - just really enjoy it, because you can make whatever you want happen in a story, can't you? Because it's your idea, you can do whatever you want to do. You can make it really exciting, or really scary, or really funny. But the more you write, the easier it gets.

Thank you very much Pat Hutchins!

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.