For this week’s blog, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Dickinson, author and illustrator of children’s books, from Manchester, England.
1. When did you decide to become an author and what impact has this had on your life?
Heather: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t jot down stories or ideas. When I was a child I made little picture books, now it is in sketchbooks which I always have with me.
The stories were always visual. The narrative in my head was as much in images as in words, so being an author/illustrator must have been in my mind for many years even though all the commissions I had were for illustrations.
When I decided to do an MA in illustration, I deliberately chose a course that was about author/illustrated picture books because I wanted to create the story as well as the illustrations.
I have enjoyed the impact it has had on my life, I always seem to be involved in something creative. There is always an idea developing in words and pictures. I have met a lot of fascinating people through my work, writers, illustrators, editors, members of SCBWI. I am still in regular contact with the people I met in my MA course.
2. Tell us about your latest work and what motivated you to write it:
Heather: I am really enjoying my latest project. I always wanted to do a picture book about hundreds of cats. It comes from wanting to have lots of cats as a child. I use to tell everyone I was going to have “a herd of cats”. The only collective noun I knew was “herd” it probably came from my father, who spent a lot of his life shepherding, and talking about “herds of sheep”.
This story also involves a witch. I love witches. I grew up in the North of England in the land around Pendle Hill which is where the seventeenth century, Pendle witches lived. I heard all about them as a child and always felt very sorry they had such a tragic end.
I have had my witch in ” Witch Willow” in my head for many years, she’s perfectly harmless just rather daft and eccentric. In the picture book I am presently working on, she is the only witch who needs another cat and how she gets this one is part of the fun.
3. What are your future aspirations as an author?
Heather: My son, Rowan, is about to start an MA in animation. He is already putting together a trailer for one of my picture books “A Mermaid on my Hand”. Together we have an ambition turn one of my picture books into an animation sometime in the future.
I can’t ever imagine a time when I won’t be creating some visual narrative. I always look forward to how the idea will turn out when I have finished it. Feeling inspired is a wonderful feeling I hope it never goes away.
4. Where do your ideas come from? What experiences or aspects of your life influence your writing?
Heather: When I was doing my MA course we were often told to “search for the child in you”.
I often go back to the thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams I had as a child. They transcend time. A good example is my story “Zoe and the Big Orange Kitten”, on the uTales website, which came from a day dream I used to have when I was about eight. I was convinced I was going to have a leopard or panther or some large cat as a pet. The idea eventually turned into a little girl who orders an orange kitten but when it arrives the pet shop delivery van and the zoo delivery van have their boxes mixed up.
Sometimes a fragment of a film or an old photograph or a phrase someone says can create an idea. I always keep them in mind or jot them down.
The greatest place for finding ideas for picture books is with children themselves. When my children were little things they did and said were a wonderful source of inspiration, I kept a journal about lots of the funny, quirky things they said and did and filled as many sketchbooks as I could.
5. What do you do to improve yourself and a writer?
Heather: They always say “good readers make good writers” I have heard this many times. I have always read a lot and seem to read more as time goes on. I always loved history and seem to read many history books as well as biographies and fiction. If I really like a book I tend to read it twice. I have just read Andrew Graham Dixon’s book about Caravaggio, one of the many painters whose work inspired me when I was a student. There are many classics I have read and reread. I think some of the things writers have said have certainly affected me, if not improved me as a author/illustrator. One quote that always stays in my mind is by Roald Dahl,
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
I can never separate writing and drawing , the two seem to work together. I always go to a life class every week. I also think joining SCBWI and going to regular meetings with other writers and illustrators help me a great deal.
The most important thing is to keep going, I am certainly lucky because I really enjoy the work I do.
Thanks to Heather for sharing her story. She presently has two children’s e-books available on UTales, The Cat That Swallowed The Moon and Zoe And The Big Orange Kitten.