• Claire Freedman, Kate Hindley

    Claire Freedman, Kate Hindley



    FEBRUARY 2018

    From the author of the Aliens Love Underpants series, Claire Freedman, comes a new addition to the Oliver and Patch stories about pets and friendship.

    In The Lost Penguin, three best friends have a day of exploring the zoo. Whilst there they find a very sad looking little penguin - Peep - who is new to the zoo. When the friends return the next day to find Peep is missing, they decide to go and look for him.

    We asked author Claire Freedman to tell us more about her new picture book series, Oliver and Patch.

    Q: Why did you want to develop stories about friendship - and the problems that can come between friends - in these picture books?

    A: Friendship is such a basic part of life and is something that can be appreciated by all ages - even the youngest reader. I wanted to make this an emotionally satisfying read, so creating problems and solving them was what drove these stories.

    Q: What gave you the idea of basing the children's friendship around a creature that is lost - a pet in the first book and a baby penguin in the second book?

    A: Characters getting lost is such an emotive occurrence and something that small children can easily relate to. I enjoyed writing both lost and found story lines.

    Q: Why did you decide to take them to the zoo for book two?

    A: I thought this would give the second book a completely new feel and offer scope for the illustrations (which are wonderfully drawn by Kate Hindley). Also I love zoos (nice ones that care for the animals).

    Q: Why have you developed these characters into a series?

    A: It was my editor who suggested a sequel to Oliver and Patch. I wrote it originally as a standalone book. I haven't plans for a third book - but never say never!

    Q: Many picture books use animals (or aliens!) as the main characters. Why did you want these stories to have child characters?

    A: Yes - most picture books do feature animal characters. I think it's sometimes easier to write animal characters as there is not such an obvious restriction on them as there is with human characters. In this case I think the child characters seemed to fit into the storyline and make it more immediate and real to the reader.

    Q: How difficult is it to pace a picture book text like this, especially when the pictures are such an important part of telling the story?

    A: I usually plan out the story in my head before writing anything down. Once I have the storyline clearly in my mind, I usually know how the pacing of the text will work out.

    Because the illustrations are so important to the story, I try and give plenty of scope for different illustrations. Also, once the illustrations are in place, I can re-visit the text and work out where it is working (or not) and make adjustments where necessary.

    Q: There is a lot of detail in the illustrations by Kate Hindley; if the reader looks carefully, they can see the lost penguin in each of the pages, for example. Are ideas like this yours or the illustrator's?

    A: In this case it was the illustrator's idea. That's what makes it so exciting for me when I see how my text is portrayed by the illustrator.

    Q: What did you think of Kate Hindley's illustrations when you saw each picture book, and do you have a favourite spread or character?

    A: I absolutely love Kate's work and feel she has done a brilliant job on both books. I love the colour palette she uses and the characters are so cute. My favourite character is Patch. He brings the other characters together and is absolutely adorable.

    Q: The tone of these picture books is very different from, and much 'quieter' than, your Aliens Love Underpants stories. Which kind of picture book text do you prefer writing?

    A: I enjoy writing both types of books. That is what is so good about writing for children. I get to write in different styles and it makes life much more exciting.

    Q: Is it easier to write a non-rhyming or rhyming text? How long does it take you to write a picture book text?

    A: I like writing in rhyme best as it is more of a challenge - getting the storyline in verse and pacing it so it feels seamless over the spreads from beginning to end. But it's nice to write in narrative too.

    Q: Do you do school events for these books and if so, what is involved?

    A: I have done school events. Mostly I read my books to the children and then do some sort of activity with them - perhaps making pants flags or drawing an alien. It's all good fun.

    Q: What is your favourite escape from writing?

    A: I live by the coast so like to take long walks along the seafront with my husband and just enjoy the fresh air and beautiful views.


    Q: Why did you want to illustrate these picture books?

    A: I'd been a fan of Claire's writing for a long time, and had the privilege of working on The Great Snortle Hunt back in 2010 when I first signed up with Simon and Schuster.

    When I read the text for Oliver and Patch, I really liked how Claire had tackled Oliver's feelings and still kept the story fun and light. I thought the text had a lovely quiet bed-time feel to it.

    Q: How did you go about planning Oliver and Patch's 'world' and what the characters would look like?

    A: The first book's designer Nia Roberts suggested that I took a bit of time to sketch out lots of little moments between Oliver and Patch, as it would be their bond that would hopefully tug on our reader's heartstrings. We ended up using many of these sketches as a starting point for the vignettes in the book.

    The setting took a bit of work as I struggled to get things to look right. I ended up taking details from all different types of buildings I had liked from cities I had visited. I finally settled on a soft pastel colour palette which had a bit of a Parisian feel to it.

    Q: There is a lot of detail in the images, why do you add in so much detail and which are your favourite hidden details?

    A: I think adding details to the shop fronts and the extra characters helped the city feel busy and alive. In the second book I thought it would be nice to revisit some settings such as the ice cream parlour and Oliver's bedroom (Oliver has updated some of his photographs in The Lost Penguin.)

    For both books I enjoyed using the end papers and title page for a bit extra scene setting.

    Q: Did you enjoy creating the zoo - and the hidden penguin - for the latest picture book?

    A: A few years ago I visited the Jardin des Plantes and absolutely loved all the details of the green houses and animal enclosures. I was really inspired to use the sketchbook I made there as the starting point for a book, and luckily The Lost Penguin was just around the corner and it was a great fit!

    We have a great nature centre in Birmingham and I have a particular fondness for all the opportunistic pigeon and squirrel visitors it attracts. I made sure to pay tribute to them too.

    Q: How do you use the pictures to keep humour in the story, even as the storyline exposes the problems between the friends?

    A: Claire is fantastic at conveying a lot of mood and emotion with very few words, which leaves me lots of space to add whatever details I think will add to the story. Even though both stories involve some difficult feelings, there are still lots of fun moments between the three friends. No matter how terrible the weather is, a giant vanilla-strawberry-mint special is always going to taste great.

    Q: How do you create the images and how long does it take you to illustrate a picture book?

    A: Most of my images are drawn by hand with pencil and ink, and then scanned into the computer and coloured on my cintiq. I find this makes things much easier if we decide to make any last minute alterations once the artwork is finished!

    A picture book might take up to a year from sketching the roughs to completing artwork and any alterations needed.

    Q: You also do illustrations for fiction books, which do you prefer?

    A: I enjoy both, but at the moment I would have to say picture books as I've just started working on some really great stories.

    Q: Where do you work and what are you working on now?

    A: I work from home, which is usually wonderfully messy but unfortunately we're in the midst of selling up and moving on and now everything needs to be neat and packed away.

    I am currently working on two top secret picture books that I'm very excited about. I have also had my first go at writing a couple of novelty books which should hopefully be out next year. I also believe the third instalment of the Montefiore's Royal Rabbits of London is about to land on my desk any minute- so there's plenty to be getting on with!