AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Hayley Scott

    Hayley Scott

    TEACUP HOUSE: MEET THE TWITCHES

    USBORNE BOOKS

    FEBRUARY 2018


    MEET THE TWITCHES is the first in a gentle but adventurous story for younger readers about a family of toy rabbits who live in Teacup House. When Stevie is given Teacup House as a present, it helps to offset her sadness at her family's move to the country. But when they arrive at their new home, one of the rabbits goes missing....

    We asked author Hayley Scott about her new series:


    Q. The child in this story, Stevie, gets a special gift, a family of toy rabbits - the Twitches - that live in a teacup house. What was your favourite toy as a child?

    A. I love this question because I've sat thinking about my favourite toys, and fondly remembering them. I think most of the things I liked to play were where you got to use your imagination, so there was lots of pretending to be a hairdresser and making an appointments book, or schools where I'd make worksheets and things. My sister and I used to play with Playmobil and Lego for hours.

    My very favourite toy was a Charmkins windmill. I'm not sure why I loved it so much - there were these little people and animals you could also wear as jewelry and they lived in a windmill that had lovely little furniture in it. I've always loved tiny things.



    Q. Why did you decide to make their home the shape of a teacup?

    A. I'm not sure why exactly. I do love teacups - I often buy one in a charity shop, or if someone gives me a voucher I end up buying a teacup. There's something very lovely about taking time to have tea. I grew up in a house where my mum, and later my sister moved away, so I had a lot of time to myself.

    This was excellent for reading and writing and creating imaginary worlds, but if I ever went to someone's house and they had a teapot and teacups and saucers that were used, it really symbolised a sort of unity that I didn't recognise but really longed for. Taking time to sit together and have tea/cake. It's something I do all the time with my daughter now and it's party of daily life. I'd have loved a doll's house in a teacup! Or a big conch shell. Or a lighthouse.


    Q. What inspired you to write about the Twitches, and why make them rabbits?

    A. I've always had a thing for rabbits. I grew up very near Watership Down, and loved the book and the film. Obsessively I think. We always got my dad to get it from the video rental place every Friday when he took us. We must have watched it hundreds of times. We'd go to the hill and look for the rabbits. And there was one time, years ago, we looked after someone's rabbit, and I just loved him so much, everything about how he moved, and ate and sat. That mixed with Peter Rabbit, really.

    Rabbits seem to live in a way that really invites stories - wild and powerful, but super-gorgeous to look at and fluffy. I did consider writing about a little mouse family, but it was just natural that once I thought of the teacup house, there would be little rabbits living in it.


    Q. How did you make your 'rules' about what the Twitches can and can't do?

    A. I'm not sure. I think I had too many rules at first, and I know my agent said 'no' to a few of them when I wrote my first, much longer draft, just because they were very involved and complicated and sometimes things don't need to be so explicit! And in the editing stage some rules changed too.

    The main rule that I always knew I'd have was that if there were people who could see the Twitches they'd have to freeze no matter what. That adds to the drama when Stevie or other people are coming and going, and it means sometimes the Twitches can't do ANYTHING even if they really want to, or need to.


    Q. If the Twitches can't move if there are humans about, how hard does that make it to write about their adventures?

    A. I think it naturally adds some drama! If one of them is stuck, or lost, or about to DO something and someone appears, they can't... so it adds a sort of cliff-hanger affect and also that kind of, 'Oh no what will happen NOW!' Sometimes it makes it hard because I want them to do something, and I want Stevie there too, and I have to really think about how that would be possible.


    Q. In the first book, the Twitches confront spiders, get lost and make a parachute. What kinds of things will they be getting up to next?

    A. The second book, out in June, is called The Twitches Bake A Cake.... so there's lots of fun in the kitchen in that one. Silver and Fig are such adventurous rabbits; they're always looking for more to do, or coming up with ideas on how to make life a bit more interesting. Silver is really very excellent at using human's things to make little contraptions of her own (and it's so fun to think of those!)


    Q. This is your first children's story, how hard was it to write it?

    A. In all honesty, I didn't find it hard, as such. The whole word felt so fully formed in my head, and I really identify with child me, that it felt like it came quite naturally. Little bits and pieces are harder when you're thinking of logistics of how the Twitches get somewhere, or remember they couldn't do this or that because of something you'd written earlier!


    Q. Why did you want your book to be illustrated and how did you choose the illustrator?

    A: I remember what it felt like to just start being able to read longer books, to really want to dive into whole worlds of books. But I also remember how much the pictures in books when I was young really affected me, and have stayed with me. I can still remember particular images from books I loved as a child, and I think there's a magic in stories that do both.

    I didn't find the illustrator, Usborne did (and showed me Pippa's work), and I can honestly say I couldn't have been more delighted at what she's done. She's brought this extra element into their world, and every time I have illustrations sent to me I do a little gasp of joy - I feel really very lucky.


    Q. What did you think of the finished book and do you have a favourite spread?

    A. I am so happy with the finished book. Everyone involved in making it, from editing, illustration, production, everything have helped make it something that when I hold it I still can't quite believe how truly lovely it is. I particularly love that it's full colour AND in chapters, with those glossy bits of writing on the front. It looks so well made and glossy and I feel everyone involved has taken such care of it. I do stroke it sometimes, in a sort of awe, but don't tell anyone that.

    I was going to say my favourite spread is the one with the jumping on the toadstools - I do love that one, and the first time I saw it I knew Pippa really understood the Twitches, and also knew the typography was part of the look, and it made me really happy. But, on a personal note, my very favourite spread is the one where Stevie and her mum are in the garden by the tree and there are lights on the tree... it looks just like the cottage my daughter and I were living in at the time, and it sort of looks like us, and makes me feel warm and happy to look at it.


    Q. Where do you like to write and what are you writing now?

    A. Funnily enough I just gave my daughter the desk I bought a few years back thinking writers needed to write at desks. I can't write at a desk, I just stare about and move about uncomfortably, and produce nothing. I love to write on my bed, with all my notes spread out all around me. Or on the sofa, or at the kitchen table, with the radio on and a candle lit, and a big pot of tea.

    I also love writing in public places - I get a lot done that way. There's something about zoning out of the background noise of a cafe that makes me write in much more precise way. Writing in silence isn't for me. I need a certain level of noise to make me concentrate. I'm writing more The Twitches at the moment, and some things for adults too.


    Q. What are your top tips for children for writing magical stories and making the magic believable?

    A. First of all, don't think about who will be reading it... just think of what YOU love, what you want to read and describe. Draw pictures too. I do that with The Twitches all the time - not of them in great detail, but of the room they're in, and what objects are around them, and just get a feel of where they are. Magic doesn't have to be huge and full of fireworks (although I love reading about that sort of magic)... it can be tiny, and happen in little ways.

    If you make magic happen in a way that's almost the same as this world works, just a little bit different, it's naturally believable. I think if you write a bit that says, 'There was a house, and in the garden they had a cup of tea AND SUDDENLY A GIANT DRAGON APPEARED WITH A CAULDRON AND SEVENTY TWO WITCHES AND FROGS DANCED ON A CLOUD' it's all a bit much. Think about the world you live in, and which bits MIGHT be magic, and then play with that. And, you can always rewrite it, so don't worry if it's believable or not. Write something you love, and you can work on whether it's believable later.


    Q. If you could make any toy come to life, what would you choose?

    A. This is the hardest question, and I don't know why! My sister had a cuddly squirrel as a little girl, and she's kept it her whole life. She's 36 now and still has him. I'd love him to come to life and tell us about all the things he's felt and done in all those years! Imagine! He's so worn down and well-loved now. I'd love to have him pull up a little chair and say, 'You'll never believe the life I've had...' and regale us with all his stories.


    Q. What is your favourite escape from writing?

    A. I'm not sure I ever feel the need to escape it as such. I'm always either writing or somewhere in my brain thinking about writing. But I don't write every day, I prefer to have days where I think, and see that as part of the processes.

    I love walking. I try and walk about thirty miles a week if I can, through woods, fields, cemeteries, by the sea. I love the wildlife and the plants and what it feels like during and after.

    I love making up stories with my daughter too, and laughing. A life where you get to laugh a lot is the best kind of life, to me.