I had the pleasure to interview storybook artist Emma Levey! To celebrate the release of her newest book Hattie Peck: The Journey Home, she talks here about her creative inspiration and advice for other aspiring artists. This book introduces readers to Hattie and her diverse brood. Since she cannot lay eggs herself, she fosters abandoned eggs and cares for them like her own. Then, one day, they must all fly the coop. I must say that I welled up a bit reading Hattie. All it takes is a cutely drawn hen with a heart of gold to get me going. This is a very cute story to read as a family, and I would imagine it’d be a especially nice to read around Mother’s Day—to celebrate all caregivers.
Elizabeth: I love your illustration style! What storybook artists have you been most inspired by?
Emma: I’m constantly inspired by other picture book makers and there are some in particular that I return to. Some, to name a few include Oliver Jeffers, Emma Chichester Clark, Benji Davies, Marta Altes and Quentin Blake. Each of them have their own distinct qualities and all of them are brilliant at pacing, composition and bringing characters to life.
Elizabeth: In Hattie Peck: The Journey Home we meet a delightful hen with a big heart. When Hattie’s family moves away and she returns home alone, I felt my heart swell. Her babies literally flew the coop! It made me think about my own mother. What made you want to write a story about a hen’s babies growing up? What aspect of your own family inspired you?
Emma: After writing the first Hattie Peck, I felt there was still more to say. I still do, even now. What drove me to write a story about flying the nest was to illustrate a family dynamic, documenting them growing up and showing Hattie return them to where they were found and positively guiding them to their independence. I wanted to show how love endures, no matter what the distance or how much time passes and I hope I’ve been able to do that justice. I wouldn’t say I was consciously inspired by my family but the story is certainly based around a chaotic and loving one so I’m sure it came through subliminally.
Elizabeth: What is your writing and illustration process like?
Emma: My writing and illustrating processes are quite different and sort of bounce around and intertwine. When I’m thinking of ideas, I usually visit or sit in a place that I can’t distract myself in; Public transport and my favourite cafe are two that spring to mind. At this stage, I may have a few words down and some character sketches. Once I’ve got an idea, I have to write in complete silence. When I’m illustrating ideas I need the opposite, lots of music. Both the writing and the illustrating take it in turns until I’m ready to pitch my idea and develop it further.
Elizabeth: Where is your favorite place to create?
Emma: Well I think little cafe’s including my most favourite one around the corner are great for the beginnings of my process but when I’m working on the finals of a book, I’ve got a great studio that I’m a part of with other creative people. The support and friendship that they all offer is really invaluable.
Elizabeth: Do you have advice for aspiring storybook artists?
Emma: I think the best advice I can give is to keep writing, keep drawing, work from your heart and DON’T give up! At the beginning of my career I had three different part-time jobs just to make sure I could keep a roof over my head. Juggling my time was really difficult but it’s definitely worth putting all the hard work in as I really do love what I do. All along the way you will doubt yourself; so long as you always prove your doubts wrong, even when you find it really tough, you’ll eventually get there.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us what project you are working on or brainstorming next?
Emma: I’ve recently been illustrating other books for different publishers, but I’m really looking forward to developing my next idea further. It’s about my pet cat and I’m still deciding what story I want to tell about him. He really was a short but wonderful joy in my life and I want to make sure I do him justice.
Elizabeth: Where can readers find your books and artwork?
Emma: My books are available online, as well as many different bookshops and I also have a website, an etsy shop where I sell prints and originals from my books as well as various social media platforms where I share my work from time to time.
About Emma Levey
Emma Levey works in everything from print and gouache, to photography and 3-D. Emma is based in a teeny, tiny village called Llancarfan, in the south of Wales.
About Hattie Peck: The Journey Home
Hattie Peck adores eggs of all kinds. However, she cannot make any of her own. No worries—Hattie has collected eggs from all over the world, hatched them, and raised her blended family of cockatoos, storks, owls, anything from an egg—even reptiles.
But now it’s time. They all need to leave her big loving nest. So off the flock goes, on their biggest—and saddest—adventure. Even though, in her heart, Hattie knows it’s best.
A poignant story about family and differences, making hard decisions, letting go and inclusion. It’s not all sad, though, due to a nice twist ending as in the first book.
Bright colorful and lively illustrations and lots of information about egg-bearing animals round out the story.
Find it on IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or with other fine booksellers.