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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william and hats (2)
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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 cats (2)
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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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calvin&hobbs (2)
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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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ealry william painting (2)
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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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5NEWBOOKS (2)
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Check out this dapper magpie Helen did for me!
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magpiethatmagpie (2)

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