Q & A with Helen Hancocks

1. When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I am not sure if I ever really knew I wanted to make picture books – it was just a gradual thing where everything else sort of became less important, but maybe I subconsciously knew all along – I guess I have always made up little stories and zines so it was probably inevitable. I think thats why University was good to help me decide – Penguin came about in the last 3 months of 3rd year as I had a bit of a panic of what the hell I was doing for my end of year show. I guess it all worked out in the end.
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Penguin
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2. What influences and inspiration went into creating the character William, international cat of mystery?
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William is based on my cousins cat, William.
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william (2)
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I think I had the idea of making a story about him after graduating, but it wasn’t till after Penguin in Peril was finished that I got to play around with who William would be – I think to start with he was just going to be a normal cat that travelled when his owner was away, then I thought it would be fun to have him as a cat that collected hats from around the world. But in the end I think the crime aspect lead to so many great ideas and adventures that I settled on him being a cat of mystery, with help from a wonderful editor.
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For the new book, as it was set in Hollywood I watched a lot of old movies all for research of course. The photos of black cats queuing for an audition from Life magazine were a real starting point too! I think my favourite bit is coming up with all the ideas, then I have to be reigned in to get it to fit in to 32 pages.
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life mag cat (2)
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I think the real William is very happy with his fictional self – although I have to be careful that he doesn’t demand more prawns and tuna than I can afford, I am just glad he hasn’t discovered caviar.
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3. What’s next for William? I think he’d make a great T.V. show.
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Oh thank you – that would be amazing! l I am off to visit William in August, so I will make sure to discuss plans for any future adventures, I defiantly have more ideas for him… and of course Audrey.
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4. Can you describe your creative process for us?
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erm – this Calvin and Hobbs cartoon explains it well. hahaha. either that or I sit on an idea for way too long.
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Penguin in Peril was based on a newspaper article about a boy stealing a penguin from the zoo, you never really know where ideas come from. I tend to make my ideas stupidly complicated before simplify them back down. I have to write down everything in lists, which I end up loosing and then rewriting them!
If I am really stuck on something I find having a walk seems to make everything thing ok. The internet is good for inspiration – there is so much good illustration work out there, but I have to limit myself as I get depressed at all the good stuff and then feel rubbish about my own work.  I also read a lot of books and magazines and also watch lots of films and call that research.
I pencil out my images before painting them in gouache (i don’t know if I use it the right way) – I used to draw things out then use photoshop to compose the images. But I try to use the computer as little as possible these days. Its more of a challenge to work out a picture all as one image – when I am doing a big block of colour though I never mix enough paint up. But I kind of like the different brush textures and colour changes it has – It kind of adds to the image.  I hope this all makes sense?!
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early william (2)
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5. What were the last 5 picture books you bought?
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I am trying to stop myself from buying books at the moment – as most of my books live in boxes so theres not much space and I want to save some money. But alas this never works as there are way to many amazing  books out there – you just have to look at your blog for prime examples of the greatness that is waiting for shelf space. It defiantly is very hard for me to go into a book shop and not buy anything. but the last 5 i bought were… ‘the museum book’ by Jan Mark and Richard Holland, ‘Rosie’s Walk’ by Pat Hutchins, ‘Mythological Monsters of Ancient Greece’ by Sara Fanelli,’ Zin! Zin! Zin! a violin’ by Lloyd Moss and Marjorie Priceman.
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The first three were charity shop finds, I really thought I had a copy of Rosie’s Walk, But books like that I think I got out the library so much as a kid i just assumed we owned them. The Sara fanelli book and Musuem book were bought on the illustrations first, words later kind of impulse. This is the way I often pick books, not because I don’t like words – Its just what pulls me in.  This is what made me buy the Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin book – I love the way its painted – plus when you read it it has a great rythmn to it. And the last one, Calef Brown book I bought for a friends birthday and ordered myself a copy too. I love his work, but its the first book of his that I own, but hopefully not the last.
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Check out this dapper magpie Helen did for me!
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William Heads to Hollywood by Helen Hancocks

Helen Hancocks’ William, the international Cat of Mystery returns to solve a new grand theft! The jet-setting feline makes his way to Hollywood to solve the mystery of the stolen Golden Cuckoo statues. Follow William and his feline sidekick as they schmooze with the stars to find the culprit.

Published by Templar.