Having read Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane, (see my review here) I knew just how adventurous Dixie and Percy were. However, I could hardly contain my surprise when they swung by our corner of Somerset and asked if they could take my little house out for tea. How chivalrous of them to do so! And here they are having a grand old time:
While our furry and hairy friends otherwise engaged, I took the opportunity to ask their two creators, Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy, a few questions:
How did Dixie and Percy come about?
It’s been on the cards for years that we would collaborate. Then one day, as we were just chatting about this and that, the idea emerged out of a patch of blue sky over our heads: two characters, two names, a glimpse of a story, and we were off! Dixie and Percy have been bowling along in the fast lane ever since.
How does illustrating fiction differ from illustrating picture books, which you have focussed on until now?
I’ll always come back to picture books, but this new departure – my first ever chance to illustrate fiction – has been a revelation.
With more text on the page, I can use a playful mix of small drop-ins and big scenes. I can hide subtle details in the illustrations, confident that my audience will spot them. There’s room for chapter headings and extras and page after page of fun – I love inhabiting Dixie’s world, and find it hard to drag myself away!
Your work is always vibrantly coloured, how did you cope with the much more limited palette of colours for Dixie O’Day? Why did you decide to go for that particular colour choice?
Working with a strong black line and limited colour is an absolute joy. I’ve always had a hunch that it’s the drawing that carries a story best – the action and characterisation, the details and jokes. So with Dixie it’s all there in the line, but stylishly enhanced by some deliciously retro patterns and backgrounds.
When deciding what additional colour to use, I knew a beautiful shade of pink would be useful… and for a jaunty little convertible for Dixie and his best pal Percy to tootle about in? What could be better than RED!
You have illustrated other people’s work, but if I am not mistaken, this is the first time someone else has illustrated your text. How did you find the process of another illustrator giving a “face” to your characters?
When I started to write the adventures of Dixie O’Day and his friend Percy I knew that there was no way I could illustrate these stories myself. But, luckily for me, I knew just the person who could. Clara’s style is perfect for the job.
Many author/illustrator teams rarely meet and barely communicate while creating a book. Was there much cross-over and collaboration or did you both essentially stick to the bits you had been assigned?
There is a perfect mix of cross-over and hands-off.
We chat about the stories together often, sharing ideas and thoughts, and we look at the artwork together too, both chipping in with suggestions. Then it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get down to work, separately. Mum is hugely respectful, encouraging and non-interfering – the best author an illustrator could hope to work with…
I, and many others I am certain, have always hoped that the two of you would work on a book together eventually, and the result is absolutely stunning. What was it like to work with your daughter/mum?
Like all good illustrators, she utterly surprised me. Now I can hardly envisage Dixie and Percy in any other way. She has added many details of her own invention, such as the splendidly eccentric vehicles and drivers in the car race, and Ron Barrakan’s Diner, and the retro interior of Dixie’s home.
We have so many laughs while working on all this, sitting around my kitchen table and cooking up ideas. It’s an ongoing project.
Thank you very much!
Working with Mum was the biggest, jauntiest, most larksome adventure of all. She often reads a new chapter aloud to me: it is the greatest treat. Her writing is superb, and hilarious. And although we worked hard, it had from the start that effortless ease of a charmed project.
Like Dixie and Percy, I like to think we are a winning combination!
Thank you so much Shirley and Clara. What a great honour it was for me to welcome you both on Library Mice together!
I also wish to give and extra big thank you and awe-filled hug to Clara for the wonderful illustration. Thank you so much.
All illustrations © Clara Vulliamy