After illustrating picture books and fiction for other authors including Caryl Hart, Cas Lester and Simon Puttock, Ali Pye has created a brand new series for young readers, starring a greedy, ginger guinea pig. She introduces Harry Stevenson.
You’ve illustrated lots of picture books for other people, and written your own too but this is your first story book for young readers. What was it like to write a longer story?
I thought it would be hard, and it was, but it was also very enjoyable. I liked having the creative freedom to imagine Harry’s escapades (caused entirely by his own greed), and that carried the writing along. It was fun to use language at length, and to see how my writing slowly improved. It was interesting to work in a new way, too – more focused, in relatively short bursts, rather than spending ages working on a single image to try to find the right approach. I don’t know if other author / illustrators find this, but for me the activities of writing and drawing involve very different thought processes: I have to concentrate and be alert for writing but when I’m illustrating I can zone out, listen to music and get into a flow.
The illustrations (in dayglo orange and black) are great! Can you tell us a bit about the process and how you create them?
Thank you! I draw in 8b graphite pencil, scan the drawing and then add detail and texture in Photoshop. It’s quite time consuming (there are 50 illustrations in The Adventures of Harry Stevenson) so I’ve recently got up to date with my Photoshop brushes and will have a go at using them for drawing digitally. It’s a good exercise just to work in two colours: you can really focus on the lines, texture, pattern and tone. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to experiment with drawing; give it a try!
Why do you think guinea pigs make such good characters for children’s books?
You might not believe it if you’ve never met a guinea pig, but they actually have a lot of character. I’ve kept quite a few guinea pigs since I was a child and they’ve all been different: chilled out, everyone’s friend, shy and skittish, or fluffy divas. They react really well to humans, too – squeaking when you open the fridge door, gazing up at you when you’re handling them, and showing off in their cage when they know you’re watching. Also, they’re attractive and furry, and maybe children can relate to them because they’re small. They’re just lovely little creatures.
Harry has some very exciting adventures, but there’s a lot of detail too about caring for guinea pigs and how they like to live. Is this something you’d planned from the beginning?
I hadn’t planned it but as I went along I wanted to give some hints, because although Harry has some agency, in real life guinea pigs are entirely dependent on the effort their owners are prepared to make for them. They can’t visit other houses for food like a cat, or bark for attention like a dog, and if they live outside in a hutch it could be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Plus, unlike other rodents, most guinea pigs seem to really enjoy their interaction with humans so you need to handle them regularly. The most important thing I wanted to point out in the book is that while Harry lives on his own with the Smith family, in real life he’d need to live with another guinea pig as they’re very sociable animals, chatting with each other almost all the time. They exhibit lots of social behaviours – have a look at ‘popcorning’ and ‘rumblestrutting’ online.
Will there be more adventures for Harry Stevenson?
There will! I’m currently working on the second book. Harry experiences more of the world outside the Smiths’ flat: he heads to Billy’s school and then to an expensive hotel, where he manages to (accidentally) thwart a crime. It’s lovely to be writing about Harry and Billy again, and I hope that everyone who reads the book enjoys meeting them.
The Adventures of Harry Stevenson, is published by Simon and Schuster, 978-1471170232, £5.99 pbk