On Sudden Hill – Review + Q&A with Linda Sarah & Benji Davies

Have you ever felt like a gooseberry, a third wheel? Like two’s company, three’s a crowd? (And you’re the crowd!)

That is how Birt felt when one day Shu plucked up the courage to ask him & his buddy Etho if he could play with them.

Birt & Etho are two best friends; they spend their days playing outside in the countryside, climbing up Sudden Hill, each with their own cardboard box. Using their boxes they become kings in castles, soldiers in barracks, astronauts in space rockets and pirates sailing wild seas and skies. Birt loves their two-by-two rhythm. However, when the dynamic is changed by the introduction of Shu, Birt has strange feelings, feelings of rejection, loneliness and being left-out.

On Sudden Hill is a story I’m sure most of us can relate to. As a primary school teacher, I see how group dynamics affect children all the time. Now I have a new picture book in my arsenal to use as a stimulus for circle time discussions. In fact, I will use this book for my first assembly back at school – Did someone just walk over my grave.. bbrrrrr!

On Sudden Hill fills me with feelings of nostalgia. I now live and work in London; however I spent my formative years amongst the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire. I flew kites on Windy Hill, had an adventure club with kids on my street, we had a Golden Retriever that joined us called Pebbles, we ran through cornfields and built dens in the woods. We even had a nemesis called Mr. Fleet, the local farmer.

I was very pleased when Benji & Jade from Simon & Schuster asked me to be a part of this blog tour. For one, I love the book, secondly I’m a big fan of Benji Davies illustrations, The Storm Whale is a stunning picture book. Also, I am honoured to be on a line up with two excellent bloggers who I have been following for some time, The Book Sniffer & Read it Daddy.

Enjoy the following Q&A with Linda and Benji…


Q & A with Benji Davies , illustrator of On Sudden Hill

benji-davies magpie benji

How would you describe you work?

Indulging my mind’s eye on paper, perhaps.

Can you describe your creative process?

Make a cup of tea, pace up and down a bit, look out the window.
I think when illustrating someone else’s words, there is much more of a sit down and start drawing approach… everything I need is there in the words, I just have to get on with it.

When writing my own stuff, whether its for a picture book or for animation, its more of a writing/drawing/thinking process than sitting at a keyboard and waiting for words to flow. It might take several months or years for an idea to come to full fruition. If I have an idea when I’m on the move I’ll jot it down as a simple note or sentence, something that I can pick up sometime later and remember what I was thinking at the time.

I think its all mainly about the thought process that comes before the actual ‘doing’ though. Often I am adding colour to some roughs when I’m walking to the shop – in my head – then when I sit down to do it, I know what i’m planning to do and hopefully that makes getting started much easier.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from?

Anywhere they happen to pop up. Although they don’t really appear from nowhere and materialise on to a blank sheet of paper… you have to be actively looking, waiting.

What were the last 5 pictures books you bought?

The Dangerous Journey by Tove Jansson

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

The Sad Book by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs (not really a PB)

N’y a-t-il personne pour se mettre en colère? by Toon Tellegren & Marc Boutavant (I don’t speak very much french, but it’s got nice pictures!)

Which new picture book creators do you find exciting and why?

The ones who live and breathe it, their work really stands out.

I love the look of Victoria Turnbull’s The Sea Tiger from the bits I’ve seen online, but i’ve not picked up a copy yet. Work like that, that comes from a place of traditional drawing but has a fresh feel, like Alexis Deacon or Shaun Tan.

Also, writing that feels understated or simply constructed but is hiding something huge, like Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat.

What’s it like to be an writer/illustrator?

Equally exciting, fulfilling, terrifying and exhausting.

What job would you be doing, if you weren’t creating picture books?

If not in the creative industries, I think I would have tried to go down a route of something linked to sciences in the natural world. It has fascinated me from a young age.

Will you be attending any book festivals this year?

I’m going to be taking part in the South Ken Kids Festival in November, and also The Children’s Book Show when it travels to Bristol in October.

What are you working on at present, what’s next?

Working as illustrator I have several books on the boil with publishers in the UK and in the US.

I have just finished writing my second book for Simon & Schuster which should be out this time next year, although its all under wraps for now. Hopefully I can share more soon.


Q & A with Linda Sarah, author of On Sudden Hill

me in cafe (2)

What inspires you to write for children?


And then…so many things, including all the things that are not right in the world for young people. And books – when I was little, and still now, books are like these amazing friends that not only show you you’re okay as you are, but also allow you to grow, explore, find your own voice, wings…journeys and adventures (http://travelandsing.com/2014/08/21/my-favourite-books/ ).

To be part of this amazing world now, actually getting to write and draw stories for young people, is a huge dream! To write for the wisest, most open, free-thinking, imaginative, funny, thoughtful etc. members of society, and the idea of maybe making a sad, small someone giggle, or a lonesome young person feel more loveable and valued, that is a beautiful, brilliant thing. I am so lucky! And others’ words, poems, music, films. Everything!

Does the story of Sudden Hill come from your own childhood?

Maybe unconsciously it does – I think everyone has experiences of these situations: feeling left out, unwanted, pushed aside. But it actually came from a story I’d written as an attempt to write something for slightly older readers and had been forgotten in my stack of notebooks full of ideas/poems/story fragments. Then, every now and then, I sift through the pile, I re-read it and felt it could work for younger people too – and it re-wrote itself easy and felt right – so yay!

What were the last 5 picture books you bought?

Errrm, my memory is a bit topsy turvy, but I think they were:
Wild – Emily Hughes (just WOW! Everything about this book I love. It felt like Maurice Sendak was somehow breathing into it his magic, but it is also altogether new and unique and awesome!

A Rule is to Break – John and Jana (This superb book about the breaking of rules should be in every home, school, library etc. It exudes warmth and a fierce sense of: I am cool and special just by being my very self! I love it. The pictures too are gorgeous).

Bubble and Squeak – James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy (Oh! the meltiest story about friendship and courage between a most adorable elephant and a sweet, noble mouse. Again, the illustrations seem to come to life, like watching the best cartoon when little).

Barbapapa – Annette Tison and Talus Taylor (I had this when I was little, but no longer had my copy – so this was a replacement. What’s not to love: genius in the form of a huge, pink, shape-shifting lovely, friendly creature, with a highly interesting and eccentric family!).

I Love You Dude – V. Radunsky (I only discovered this incredible children’s writer/illustrator recently and now devour all his books. They are silly, brilliant, absurd, ridiculous and inspiring. Radunsky is one of my new heroes – up there with Sendak and Scarry).

Oh, and – The Guinness Book of Beards and Moustaches  – Leslie Dunkling and John Foley (For research – a few of the things I’m working on right now involve hairiness).

What are you working on now? What’s next?

So, of the things on the following list, four are definitely true, three might be true and five are definitely, completely not true:

1) I am making a portable studio-on-wheels from a bath and a motorbike.
2) Working on a story about Love, lots of Love, Big Love, HUGE LOVE.
3) Researching facial hair, especially that which is larger than its owner.
4) Composing a soundtrack to a film about a street lamp that stops working.
5) Learning how to eat meringue and sing traditional Yiddish folk songs all-at-the-same-time.
6) Lifting weights in preparation to enter the World’s Strongest Man Competition.
7) Applying to become the England football team’s artist/poet-in-residence.
8) Writing and illustrating a story about a small, snouty creature who’s a painter by day and an electrician at night.
9) Learning everything there is to know about pigeons (they are SO cool!).
10) Seeing how long post takes to arrive if you address it with waterproof ink and chuck it in a river, or other body of water (no results thus far).
11) Making an Eiffel Tower from Loom Bands
12) Writing a poem about a tiny thing that wants to be a musical conductor, but is too small to be seen and noticed by musicians.

Other than Benji Davies, which illustrators would you like to work with?

I’d love to work with so many illustrators! Here are a few:

Wolf Erlbruch writes and illustrates like a wizard. My favourite book of his, The Butterfly Workshop, is just superb – colour, shapes, feelings, weirdness, imagination…everything amazing!

Jon Klassen – his work, words and pictures, is just genius – and when illustrating others’ stories, like: Extra Yarn by  Mac Barnett, he make the story sing and dance with his lines and colours. Just brilliant.

Mei Matsuoka – wonderful, such a talented illustrator – my favourite book being: The Great Big Bottom Swap.

Florie Saint-Val – amazing, bright, bold, sweet, funny, incredibly imaginative pictures.

Stein Erik Lunde – his picture book: My Father’s Arms Are a Boat, is so beautiful, touching, with melty illustrations.

If I could bring them back: Tove Jansson, William Steig, Richard Scarry, Dr Seuss, Antoine de Saint-Exupery…ohh…so many amazing artists there are, past and present!

And me! (hope that’s not too big-headed!). I also illustrate children’s books and love it when words and pictures tumble out and dance together. My first picture book, Mi and Museum City, was written and illustrated by me (Show off link to one of the lovely reviews: http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/204/childrens-books/reviews/mi-and-museum-city) …and there are more of these waiting to leap, jump, trickle, whisper…out :-).

But the brilliant thing about writing stories for others to illustrate is, you get to write about things you don’t feel that confident about drawing – so there are no restrictions. For example, I’m not so cool at painting sweeping landscapes, trees and all-things-green – so the story: On Sudden Hill, was transformed by Benji into lush, green scenes, magnificent, waving trees, rolling hills and swaying grasses – a complete magician!

And, lastly, if I could choose a fictional character to illustrate a story I’d written, I would love Gandalf – I know he’d be a most almighty illustrator, creating pages that come to life, swirl with magic and beauty. And working with him would be awesome fun as well.


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