Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Sophy Henn interview

I absolutely loved Where Bear? and was dying to know more about the making of the book and the author/illustrator Sophy Henn. So what better way to get answers to all these questions by asking Sophy heself!

Sophy Henn lives and works in Sussex, England. She studied Fashion at Central Saint Martins, accidentally had a London based career as an Art Director in advertising, then completed an MA in Illustration at University of Brighton.

Now she writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck. Sophy is also this year's World Book Day illustrator. Check out her beautiful illustrations on the website here.

BWB: Who's your favourite fictional bear?

SH: Until trying to answer this question I had no idea there were so many bears I love! There's Baloo for 'Bare Necessities', Paddington for his utter adorableness, Fozzi for his fart shoes and Super Ted for pure nostalgia. But if I had to pick one above all the others it would be Pooh. He's satisfyingly cuddly without be too cute, he gets things wrong as well as occasionally right, which is always reassuring, he occasionally stumbles upon a heartbreakingly beautiful insight and there's a contentment about him which makes it a very cosy read. In all honestly it's the whole gang I love, my daughter did too, and it's always good to share!

BWB: How long did Where Bear? take to produce from the initial idea to the finished artwork?

SH: Where Bear? started as a scribble, then a while later a painting popped up, and so it continued for about 3-4 years, with varying intensity. When I was working on Where Bear? it was alongside freelance illustrating, running my greetings card business and for two years, my MA in Illustration. At the time I had no agent, no book deal and no idea what would happen, so there was no pressure to get it finished. Now I am lucky enough to be under contract with Puffin, my timescales have shrunk somewhat!

BWB: In Where Bear? the bear wants to find his real home - find out who he really is. Was this inspired by anything in your life?

SH: Everyone wants to find their spot, I suppose, that place where we 'fit' and feel happy. So maybe subconsciously there is a little of my own experience in there. But Bear's search for home was also partly inspired by people's desire to reorganise nature. Exotic pets and wild animals in captivity break my heart and the solution could be really straight forward, as the Boy's practical, innocent approach demonstrates. He just wants to find the place where Bear can be Bear. Home!

BWB: You were published for the first time this year. Was it a long and hard journey to get a publishing deal?

SH: I was hugely fortunate to land Paul at Bell Lomax Morton as my agent and he made the publishing deal side of things very painless. But when your work is out there, for the first time, in a field you are passionate about, it still felt like forever!

BWB: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

SH: I was going to say doing a presentation at a Puffin Showcase last year. I was on after Allan Allbergh (one of my childhood favourites) and before Lauren Child ( my daughter's favourite and huge inspiration), which was petrifying and awesome all at the same time! Then the bookshop and school visits are really fun too. But I think the highest highlight was when a Mum who had recieived an advance copy of Where Bear? tweeted that her daughter had asked for a re-read "Again, Again!", it was my first feedback and I burst into tears! Of joy, obviously!

BWB: What artists tool could you not live without?

SH: A 2B pencil. Boring but true! Can I have one with an eraser on the end please?

BWB: If you weren't a writer/illustrator what would you like to be?

SH: A tap dancer! Completely unrealistic, but I would absolutely love to don a sparkly bowler, catch a cane and tip tap around the place.

BWB: What picture books would you like to find in your Christmas stocking this year?

SH: That is an almost impossible question. I try not to look too closely at what's around in the picture book world as there are so many amazing books out there I tend to want to run and hide. So I've picked a Christmas theme to limit my choices...

Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. I love Tim Burton.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. Dr Seuss was a genius.

Olive the Other Reindeer by J.otto Seibold and Vivien Walsh, because it looks beautiful.

Snow Day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb. 
Rebecca's illustrations are beautiful and Richard Curtis is a bit good a holiday sentiment!

Snow by Sam Usher looks wonderful!

Oh and I'd love a signed, 1st edition of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter please.

I know I've forgotten some, but I'd best stop there, I don't want to appear greedy!!!

BWB: Favourite picture book of all time?

SH: I have to pick just one?!!! Double hard, but it has to be Oh the Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss. How he simplifies the complexities of the journey of life into a rhyming picture book is beyond me. It's sentimental and so insightful, but in no way cheesy or preachy. Brilliant!

BWB: You clearly love to draw bears. Is there anything you dread drawing?

SH: Hands! I'm getting better but if I can put them in a pocket I will! Just don't tell anyone!

Thank you, Sophy, for being the perfect guest! Where Bear! is available to buy now in all good bookshops.

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