Q&A with Sophy Henn (Where Bear?) – Her 1st EVER interview!

What were the last 5 picture books you bought?

This is going to sound very bad, but I try not to look at picture books too much! There are so many lovely, wonderful, witty and brilliant books getting about all the time that it makes me wonder what on earth I think I’m doing having a go myself!

The last book I bought was “A Great Day for UP” by Dr Seuss, who is a hero, and illustrated by Quentin Blake, who obviously is a legend. I was curious to see how the two would blend. The answer is, very nicely!

I am constantly buying copies of “Oh the places you’ll go” by Dr Seuss as gifts. It is such a marvelous book, covering all the ups, downs and complexities of life in such a clear and simple way, with so much warmth and humour. And if you don’t well up a little or at least get goosebumps when you read the last page you are dead inside!

But looking through my book shelf I think the other three were…

The Boys by Jeff Newman which is a really lovely linear story with characters that span the generations, a favourite subject. The illustrations that are so full of movement and spirit, but also really sparing and graphic, gorgeous.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and the genius that is Jon Klassson. It’s so clever, with beautiful clean illustrations and a little bit scary, in a good way.

Walk to Paris by Saul Bass & Leonore Klein which is just so super stylish.

What was your favourite picture book as a child and why?

I loved Cops and Robbers by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. I was recently reunited with my original copy I had given up for lost. I loved the detail on some of the pages and the visual gags tucked into the illustrations. And it has such a great rhythm, making it fun to read and have read to you. Ho! Ho!

I understand you previously worked in advertising, did you work on any advertising campaigns we might be familiar with?

Probably not! I worked in what was then known as ‘Below the line’ advertising, so everything except telly! We “brainstormed”(!) and designed everything from merchandise, on pack promotions, events, newspaper/magazine ads and displays. I worked on promotions for Evian, Orange, Robinsons, Cosmo Girl, Wella, Disney and many more! So chances are you’ve seen the stuff I worked on, but I very much doubt it would have stuck in your memory!

You quit your job to do a masters in illustration at Brighton Uni, what inspired you to make the change to writing and illustrating children’s books?

I stopped working full time in advertising when my daughter was born, though I was freelancing. Moving out of London made that harder so I started a greetings card company called My Giddy Aunt. That got me back into drawing and I slowly regained a smidge of confidence about it, having neglected it for many years. All the while I had been bombarding my daughter with books, which really re-ignited a love of children’s books and how exciting and magic they can be. I had some ideas, and sketched a few out but still felt less than confident about my work. So I decided to make myself official and signed up to the MA in Sequential Illustration at University of Brighton. This forced me to work on the briefs I never normally would have and, crucially, to show my ideas to a room full of people – GULP! It also justified spending time developing a style and ideas. 

If you could collaborate with any other picture book writer/illustrator, past or present who would it be and why?

That is such a hard question! Erm…..Well, as I said earlier, Dr Seuss is a hero, and a story of his, “My Many Coloured Days”, was post-posthumously illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher then published, and I love it. It’s not as fast paced as many of his other books, so I think I could illustrate for him if he was writing in that mood!

I’d love, love, LOVE to work with Kay Thompson. Eloise is an utter legend, and Hilary Knight captures her spirit so beautifully, it’s untouchable. That spirit is infectious and I would love to work with someone who can conjure that kind of character up. And we could sing “Think Pink” from Funny Face and look sophisticated all day long.

Oh and Astrid Lundgren is another hero, I knew this was impossible and I have even got onto the living yet!

Also, a bit off the question but, I’d love to illustrate a picture book written by Wes Anderson. Genius.

It’s a smashing debut picture book, what’s next for Sophy Henn?

Thank you! Well, my second picture book is at the printers. It’s about a grumpy Panda called Pom Pom. He’s been developed from a character I created for my MA project ( a comic for KS2 girls to offer and alternative to the magazines they are currently targeted with), called Angry Panda. It’s called Pom Pom Gets the Grumps and is quite different from Where Bear. I think it’s got more humour, but I guess you’ll be the judge of that! Oh and it has a Wibbling cover, I know I’ve probably spelt it wrong, but basically its a fabric covered hardback, which is beyond exciting. There’s a couple of other bits & bobs in the pipeline, but I’m sworn to secrecy. They made me cross my heart and kiss my elbow so there’s no way I’m telling!


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