Interview: Clara Vulliamy


Clara Vulliamy is the author of numerous books including the Martha and the Bunny Brothers series and the Muffin books. With her love of art and all things creative, Clara’s website is packed with bright, sunny pictures and crafty ideas. Clara chatted to Book Events for Children about her upcoming festival appearance and plans for her new book.

How did you make the move from working as an illustrator on magazines & newspapers to having your first book published?

It was great fun being an editorial illustrator, responding quickly to a news report or drawing something to accompany an article. I also collaborated with Mark Haddon on a weekly cartoon for The Guardian’s Women’s page. But with picture books all around me and in my DNA (with Shirley Hughes as my Mum), it wasn’t long before I was drawn into a life-long love of writing and illustrating books of my own.  I had my first book published when my son was just a few months old, so it all seemed to fit together with family life and interests.

You’ve written and illustrated many children’s books during your career. If you really had to  choose a favourite book which you have written, which one would it be?

Tricky… it would probably be the first in the Martha and the Bunny Brothers series, I Heart School, because I put so much of myself into the character of Martha, and the playful design of the book was really exhilarating, and because it made me laugh.
But in another way my favourite book is always the next one, the inviting blank piece of paper on my desk, the sharpened pencil, the thought that anything is possible all over again…

Your website features crafty ideas and fun things to make and do.  Is this something you enjoyed doing with your own children?

Oh yes, definitely! I’m a huge fan of encouraging children’s creativity through arts and crafts, in their own home with peace and quiet to let their imagination blossom. It carries on, too. My nearly grown-up children are very arty: my son makes beautiful sculptures from stone and metal, and at this very moment my daughter is building a papier-mache lion’s head onto a bicycle helmet for some school event or other.

We understand that at the moment you’re working on a project with Playing By the Book to encourage children to tell stories of their own. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I knew Zoe at Playing by the Book was planning a celebratory round-up of children’s books each month on a particular theme. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to use the theme as an inspiration for children to write and illustrate their own stories. Zoe worked out an ingenious way to present two downloadable mini-books: one with my story prompts and drawings, and the other one blank. I gather the first one about elves and fairies was a huge success, with lots of young author-illustrators producing great stuff. I’d better watch out: they’ll be competition for me before too long!

Have you any idea what you would have done if you weren’t a children’s author or illustrator?

Alas, there’s nothing else I CAN do. Have a tea-shop by the sea perhaps, or make hats…

Where is your favourite place to go and enjoy reading a book?

On a slow train, going nowhere in particular. I do my best dreaming-up-stories that way too.

Where do you find inspiration when you’re writing a book?

It’s like a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel and a mind of it’s own. In it I might put some memories of childhood, or from when my own children were small; a book I have loved; something I’ve glimpsed or a snatch of conversation overheard; an inspiring object (an old toy, or little pair of shoes maybe)… but in the end it comes from a small patch of blue sky overhead. A mystery!

I always tell aspiring writers that for me it all starts with character: the look, the personality, the name of the star at the centre of your story. When that’s all very developed and familiar you find they start suggesting stories of their own.

As a child, which books did you enjoy reading?

Winnie the Pooh, Babar, Milly-Molly-Mandy, Tintin, The Borrowers, Dickens, the back of a cereal packet – anything and everything I could lay my hands on.

You seem to really enjoy appearing at book-related events (you were recently part of the Blackwell’s Festival of Illustration in Oxford, I believe). Will you be appearing at any more book events in the coming months?

I absolutely love doing book events, and putting on workshops. At Blackwells the children made pink and white felt bunny ears to wear – they looked so sweet! I really enjoy sourcing fantastic materials, and find the very best buttons and ribbons and fabrics for them to use: only the best is good enough, I always say. It’s very special to draw pictures for this young audience, too, and explain what I’m doing: these are ideas they can take away and use themselves.

As part of The Pop-Up Festival of Stories in Kings Cross Central on Sunday July 1st I’ll be spending all day with the children who drop in making a huge collaborative piece of artwork for a pop-up picture gallery, as well as doing an illustrated talk of my own. I think it’s going to be amazing.

When can we expect a new Clara Vulliamy book to hit the shelves?

This June sees the paperback edition of Muffin and the Expedition. It’s a story for the very young, all about a little brown bear going on a big adventure – in reality probably as far as the end of the garden – and finding out that the important thing is where your friends are. I will never tire of books about bears!




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