Horrid Henry, the hugely popular children's book series starring 'impish, selfish' Henry and his brother, Perfect Peter, turns 20 this year. With 92 Henry books (in various forms) to her name, we caught up with author Francesca Simon about creating Henry all those years ago, her favourite book in the series, and the most challenging title to write...
Congratulations on 20 years of Horrid Henry! Does it really feel that long?
I feel like I've known Henry my whole life, but when I stop and think about it being 20 years, that is a huge chunk of time. If anyone would have said I'd still be writing about Horrid Henry and Perfect Peter 20 years ago I wouldn't have believed him. There have been 92 books, including new release Krazy Ketchup.
Getting to 100 is the obvious goal - 'I got to 98 books' doesn't have the same ring to it! I've certainly got the stories in me to make it to 100.
I still get the same excitement holding a new book in my hands all these years on. All the imperfections I think about it almost go away the minute I hold my work in my hands because the illustrations, the binding and the cover all come together so well.
I love it when I get children and parents coming to signings with battered copies of Horrid Henry which have been through generations and are still going strong – the ones that have been in bath, been stepped on - generally been read by children!
How did Henry form in your head 20 years ago?
He very much arrived in my mind with his brother, Perfect Peter. At the time my son, Joshua, was three, and I was seeing lots of friends have second children. I was very interested in the way this changes families and how parents start to organise their children - 'oh he's the funny one', 'she's the clever one' etc.
Everything in the books happens to families at some point. I'm one of four and remember all those things - we used to weigh crisps to make sure we all got an equal amount!
When I wrote my very first draft of my very first Henry book, my editor didn't think it was long enough – and wanted more! So I wrote a few extra stories to make a mini series, and the rest is history!
How would you describe the character of Henry?
Henry is impish and selfish and never thinks about the consequences of his actions. The flip side of that is his brother, Perfect Peter, who is completely the opposite. Together, Henry and Peter's characteristics represent the two sides everyone has within them.
Do you think Henry sets a good example to children?
No, because he's not meant to be an example to anyone. He gives a voice to the rebellious streak in everyone. Children have so much emotion within them, and Henry is a safe, fun way to explore this. Every child has, at one time or another, said 'I hate x,y,z', and the books allow that part of growing up and childhood out.
Tell us about your writing process.
It's quite haphazard. I have several notepads for ideas, and Henry has his own book, where I jot everything down, even the most unlikely ideas, and go from there. I ask myself 'what would Henry do?' and 'what would Henry say?' with most everyday scenarios. I'm quite critical of my work, and always have a bad first draft, then go back and work on it.
Do you have a favourite Henry book?
I have a couple. The first is Get Rich Quick, which sees Henry sell Peter at a jumble sale for the grand sum of 10p - even after Peter confirmed the amount with Henry by asking 'how much will I get?' I also love Horrid Henry's Injection as I'm scared of injections and it makes me laugh.
Is there a Henry book that was particularly tricky to write?
Yes – and I remember it well! It's 'Horrid Henry and The Mummy's Curse'. I came up with the title first, and loved the idea that the word 'mummy' could mean different things - mother and Egyptian mummy. Then I realised I didn't have a story to match it – but my editor loved it and I had to work with it. It was solved because my son mentioned a game where you wrap each other up in loo roll! I would never work like that again - after that I did very generic titles!
Horrid Henry has been made into a TV show, is available on audio book as well as being the star of spin-off joke books. What's your involvement with those?
The TV show is slightly separate – and I must admit I have help with the jokes. I wrote them all myself at first, but it's a real skill. I'm very involved in the audio books, which are read by Miranda Richardson – who is a genius. My son heard her read one and said, 'Mum, don't ever read a Horrid Henry book out loud again!'
You son, Joshua, is now grown up, but what was his favourite book as a child?
He loved non fiction, and adored Horrible Histories. He also loved the Redwall series – I was so grateful they were so long and there were so many!
What was your favourite book as a child?
Half Magic by Edward Eager. Just perfect.
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To celebrate 20 years of Horrid Henry, Francesca is touring the country. You can catch her at...
Tues 27 May (1pm) – Hay Festival
Weds 28 May (10am) – Urmston Bookshop
Weds 28 May (2.30pm) – Waterstones, Liverpool One
Thursday 29 May (2pm) – Selfridges, London
Sat 31 May (1pm) – Waterstones, Bluewater
Sun 1 June (11am) – Chapter One Bookshop
Sat 7 June (1pm) – Waterstones York
Horrid Henry birthday parties will also be taking place at bookshops across the UK, so keep your eyes open to see if there is one coming near you.
More on Parentdish:
The Parentdish kids' book club
Sally Lindsay on the joys of reading to her twins