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Shirley Hughes: Alfie Author Talks To Parentdish

04/09/2014 23:06 | Updated 20 May 2015

Shirley Hughes: Alfie author talks to Parentdish

Shirley Hughes is the author and illustrator behind the much-loved Alfie and Dogger books, first published in 1977.

Alfie follows a boy and his adventures with family and friends, with stories full of thrills and spills (Alfie Gets in First a particular thriller), while Dogger is based around a little boy called Dave and the search for his beloved toy dog.

Now 87, Shirley has just released her latest children's book, Daisy Saves the Day, which follows the title character as she navigates her new job as scullery maid amid the celebrations for the coronation of King George V.

Shirley has written over 80 books, but, as she tells us, she certainly isn't stopping any time soon...

Tell us about your new book, Daisy Saves the Day

It's a book for slightly older readers - six, seven and eight-year-olds. A lot of children stop reading and enjoying picture books when they get slightly older, and I really don't see why they should be removed from learning and reading when children start school – they can still learn so much from stories with pictures. With Daisy Saves the Day, I was quite keen to write a picture book with a bit more content and text. The story is perfect as it needs so much domestic information and detail. It all fitted together rather well.

What's your favourite book that you've written?

My current favourite is always the one I've just finished! But I think overall it's a toss up between Dogger and Alfie Saves the Day. Books are the most brilliant form of technology, and seeing them come together is wonderful.

Alfie is still a huge success 37 years on. Was there always a plan for a series?

Alfie was originally a one off. Then it became a series of books about him and his family as there was so much to write about. With Alfie nothing big or major happens, but every little thing is a huge event for a child. In reality, Alfie is now about 30 which is a bit odd to think about!

How did Alfie form in your head?

He is a fictional character who was formed through sketches – he isn't based on anyone real. I am always out there with my sketchbook lurking around and he was formed and developed in my head. With me, the drawings and sketches always come first, and I write around those.

Picture books need to be gripping from both the pictures and the words. Learning how to look at things is a huge skill for children to have and enjoy, especially now children move so fast. I want children to slow down, digest things and enjoy them - look and find things they didn't notice first time around.

Text in picture books is quite minimal compared to the drawings. With Alfie I remember drawing a quick sketch of him running and I thought 'I'm onto a winner here!'

Has there been a book which was particularly tricky to write?

I wouldn't say tricky, but some have been demanding. Daisy Saves the Day was demanding because there was so much historical detail to research and get correct. I like to think it's the type of book children will learn from and do projects on, and discover the background of the era and characters, so I wanted everything to be spot-on correct.

What do children ask you when they meet you?

I have done a lot of meets and greets and speeches and children ask all sorts of things. The older children get straight to the point and ask things like 'how much do you get paid?'

Your first book, Lucy and Tom's Day Out, came out in 1960. Things have certainly changed in the world of literature and the way books are written and read...

Absolutely. I do embrace everything and all the technological changes and advances, but I'm not at all good at it! I always work on paper and don't use a computer, but if I need other things doing I can get someone else to help!

Printing standards now are absolutely terrific now which is brilliant – and when writing and drawing for children that is so important. If children like things they remember them.

At the moment, with children's books, there's a real trend for stories with animals and exploring the outdoors and action. Nowadays you can't really let young kids go off on their own, so there seems to be a real trend for those themes - escapism for kids that are perhaps restricted in reality.

What tips do you have for reluctant readers?

My main advice is to keep going! Try another book and another. Reading out loud - even if your child is older - is a great way of getting kids involved in books. If they are old enough to read a book themselves, they could have one on the go they dip into on their own, and another you read to or with them regularly.

My daughter Claire and I have worked on a range of books together called

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