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Q&A  •  19 October 2020

 

Q&A with Dame Lynley Dodd

Dame Lynley Dodd on what comes first, the stories or the illustrations, where her ideas come from and more! 

Where do ideas come from?

I find ideas everywhere. I tell children that I have ‘ideas antennae’ sticking out of my head, ready to collect anything that takes my fancy. Funny names and juicy words to roll around the tongue, things I see, things people say and do, Natural History programmes, items of news, family happenings etc. I keep an Ideas Book, which is a motley collection of bits; lists of words, scraps of drawing, newspaper cuttings, snatches of storyline and verse. All reminders for the day when they might prove useful. There is one scrap in the book, a rough sketch of a small hairy dog, under which I wrote:
‘One morning at nine,
on the way to the park,
went Hairy Maclary
from Donaldson’s Dairy’
This went on to become VERY useful.

Why picture books?

I was an artist first and a writer second. Art was my first choice through childhood, art school, teaching, finally freelance illustrating. Picture books are a natural development – they provide the opportunity for plenty of illustrating.

Writing was something I had to learn once I began to have picture book ideas of my own after working with Eve Sutton on My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. Children ask me, would I write ‘chapter’ books? The answer to that is: I doubt it. I like the equal blend of word and picture in picture books and I’d hate to give up the excuse to do plenty of art work.

What comes first?

In a picture book it is very important that text and picture should fit together perfectly; in mood, style and sympathy – a partnership in which each enhances the other. Being my own illustrator helps – I don’t have to argue with anyone about interpretation. I work on words and pictures together from the start. As I write I’m thinking about and planning layout and progression of pages as well as content and composition of each picture. Once story and pictures are planned, I make a small ‘dummy’ book to show what the finished book will be like, with everything in place. Then I paint the pictures, full size.

How did you begin?

I have been writing and illustrating now for forty years. It all began with the collaboration with Eve Sutton (a cousin by marriage) on My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. The idea for that book came from the then Dodd family cat, Wooskit, who, like all cats, liked to hide in boxes, supermarket bags, cupboards and hidey-holes of all kinds. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes was published in 1973. Eve went on to write for older children and because my own two children were picture book ‘consumers’ at that stage, I became very interested in them too and began to have lots of ideas of my own. My first solo book was The Nickle Nackle Tree, published in 1976 and I’ve worked solo ever since.

How long does it take to write a book?

I usually start by browsing through my ideas book. If I’m lucky, one of the scraps will start off the creative juices and once I have begun in earnest, it takes me about six months altogether to write and illustrate the book. Added to that is the time needed for publishing and printing, so it’s about a year from start to publication day.

Where do you live and work?

I live in Tauranga, New Zealand. My house is out in the country in a peaceful spot, surrounded by trees and birds. The garden is full of hedgehogs – the inspiration for Hedgehog Howdedo. I work at a large desk in a sunny room upstairs. Unfortunately the heat can be a problem in summer – it dries my watercolour paints too quickly and I stick to everything in sight! My desk is usually a glorious muddle, with piles of letters, paper, notes to myself, calendar, lamp, boxes of art materials, diaries, pens, brushes, paperweights holding everything down… and so on.

Apart from the desk, there are two bookcases overflowing with books and knick-knacks, a wastepaper basket always needing emptying, copy machine, filing cabinets and an easel, and now that Hairy Maclary and Friends have turned into merchandising as well, Hairy Maclary, Muffin McLay and Slinky Malinki sit on top of the filing cabinet while piles of other Hairy Maclary products cascade from every surface. If I didn’t have frequent tidying sessions, I’d disappear altogether! The cat loves to visit and is liable to steal my pens and chew holes in Important Documents.

Which book did you enjoy doing most?

I really enjoyed doing the illustrating for books like Find Me a Tiger, The Other Ark, Sniff! Snuff! Snap! and The Dudgeon is Coming because there was more scope for imagination in the different animals and settings, as well as things like animal camouflage to explore. However Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy is pretty special to me because it is the first of a long series and because it seemed almost to write itself. NOT something that usually happens to me!

Is Hairy Maclary a real dog?

I’m afraid not. He is a mixture of terriers I’ve known, with rather thin legs and small, sharp triangles for ears. An imaginary dog. And no, I don’t have a dog now – although I did once have a long-haired Schnitzel von Krumm.

Who are your favourite authors?

There are many I admire, but perhaps Dr Seuss and Quentin Blake are two of my favourite author/illustrators, Dr Seuss because I loved his books as a child and Quentin Blake because of his humour and very clever art work.

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