Features, Reviews

Exclusive Q and A with Lydia Monks

We started reading books together with our children when they were still small. Since then we have loved pouring over best-selling illustrator and children’s book author Lydia Monks’ colourful illustrations in the collection of her books that now fill our bookshelf. During lockdown we delighted in following Lydia’s draw along videos, when she further cemented herself as one of our favourite illustrators with her kind and encouraging way that inspires my own two children time and again.

We have most of the wonderful titles that have been published in the partnership between Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, and a few of Lydia’s own books too. It’s very hard to pick favourites because we love them all, but if we had to pick I’d say the What the Ladybird Heard series has remained a popular choice at story time over the years. So we were excited to read the new What the Ladybird Heard at the Seaside, which sees Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len back to their nefarious ways again as the troublesome duo plots to steal the mermaid’s hair. You can read more about this wonderful new title in my review.

Lydia kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me, and I hope you will enjoy finding out more about her inspiration for her characters, her advice to aspiring illustrators and even who her favourite character is. Thank you so much Lydia for taking the time to do this interview, we cannot wait to find out more about your new books and see which one will become our new favourite.

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?

I didn’t really know what an illustrator was until I went to art college. I was always good at drawing and very neat, so my tutors steered me towards graphic design and illustration. I was at college for 5 years, learning how to be an illustrator.

Did you enjoy drawing as a child?

I loved drawing as a child! I drew all the time, but I only ever drew one thing – horses! I’m not sure why I chose horses, as they are quite hard to draw. I drew in front of the telly and in my bedroom listening to audio books.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters?

The inspiration for my characters comes from life going on around me. The Twit Twoo School books were based on my daughter’s school. Her infant school had a wildlife garden which had a big tree in the middle of it. I thought it would be nice if there was a school for animals happening at the same time as the school for humans.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators, even little ones?

My advice to new illustrators would be to keep practicing! Illustrating is like any skill; the more you practice, the better you get. Illustrate things that you love – songs, stories, poems, sayings. Illustration has to have a bit of heart in there to make it good.

We love discovering the secret little nods to other titles that you hide in your illustrations in the books. Is this something you enjoy doing and will we see it going forward too?

I like sneaking characters from other books into stories. When I was little, I loved finding hidden details in pictures, so I like hiding things for other people to spot.

Will we be seeing the ladybird in another adventure in the future?

I don’t know if there will be another ladybird adventure. I don’t usually know what Julia is working on next. Sometimes she asks me for suggestions, but usually a new story is a total surprise. I hope there might be another ladybird story as I don’t think Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh will ever learn!

What has been your favourite thing about working together with Julia Donaldson?

The best thing about illustrating Julia’s book is seeing them all in the bookshops. It’s very hard these days for books to find space on increasingly overcrowded shelves. I feel very lucky that our books are so prominently displayed. No everyone has that chance. Julia is the most talented picture book writer working at the moment, and I feel privileged to get the opportunity to illustrate her stories, and delighted that so many people enjoy what we do.

Which is your favourite character that you’ve illustrated so far and why?

It’s hard to choose a favourite character! It’s like trying to choose a favourite child. I do enjoy Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len. I had hoped to draw Lanky Len in his Speedos for the latest book, but I wasn’t allowed! They are a couple of buffoons who are always a pleasure to work with!

Which is your favourite book by Lydia Monks?

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