Tuesday 3 April 2012

The Easter Parade with Clara Vulliamy!

Dust off your Easter Bonnets and polish those eggs it's time for a special afternoon tea with The ever-so-delightful-sweet-as-a-cupcake creator of Martha and the Bunny Brothers Clara Vulliamy.

Last week I was lucky enough to receive a wondrous package from lovely (bookeater and probably sniffer)  Rosi at Harper Collins - It was a beautifully wrapped parcel containing a brand new hard back copy of  Martha and the Bunny Brothers I Love School  and a hand made felt bunny which is now pride of place on the mantelpiece. Such care and attention to detail sums up Clara and her beautifully crafted books.

I cast my mind back to the very first time I met Clara - It would be no exaggeration to say it was one of the best working days of my publishing career. 
Clara appeared at Orchard Books like a beautiful crafty buttony angel with boxes full to the brim with "Lovely things" buttons, ribbons, matchboxes full of sweets and a collection of illustrations and character sheets for a new concept for a series entitled  Lucky Wish Mouse. Hence forth I was smitten. Following that meeting we spent many days sticking gluing and making wonderful packages, party invites, activity sheets and promotional material. Such heady joyful crafty days.

That may well have been 4 or 5 years ago now and Clara has continued to create sunny happy joyful books for tiny people. From The slightly anarchic Bear With Sticky Paws, to the Lucky Wish Mouse and her ten tinies and Muffin the yummiest small brown bear to her newest creation Martha and the Bunny Brothers each one leaps of the page full of character and charm and total craftsmanship.

Well with a new book to gas about and lots to catch up on I couldn't miss the opportunity to invite Clara to Book Sniffer Towers for high tea on the lawn.
Well the sun shone with gay abandon as I set out my finest china and stacked the cake stand....

Here's a funny shot of Martha all strapped in and ready to go! Look at those delish cakes!

Clara and Martha on their way!

The new Martha and the Bunny Brothers series is adorable - are you pleased with the finished product?

Thank you so much! I am pleased. It’s a series that’s very close to my heart, so I was especially on tenterhooks to see how it would look, and if people would like it.

I experimented with lots of new things – more text, more jokes, and a kind of scrap-book feel with loads of collage and detail to pour over. My hunch is that if books are to survive they need to be delicious, desirable objects… or, as I tend to say, if you don’t want to stroke it you probably don’t want to buy it!

Martha is clearly named after your beloved daughter. Are they similar in character?

When I was first writing this story I just couldn’t decide on a name, which is unusual because it mostly comes to me instantly: my characters tend to introduce themselves, in fact. Then I realized it was staring me right in the face! I now have the unfortunate situation of needing to refer to my daughter in conversation as ‘human Martha’ – how undignified.

Human Martha is a lovely, creative, big-hearted bunny too. She does have a very overfilled schoolbag, but she doesn’t wear her wellies in bed.

Do you listen to music / the radio while you are working?

Actually I’m a silence-addict. I don’t want noise of any kind – apart from the occasional cheerful burble from the guinea pigs upstairs…

If you could pack a treasure box with 5 treasures what would you put inside?

What a challenge! I’m a bit of a hoarder so I’d find it very tricky to leave anything out. Two treasures would be my two children’s first pairs of shoes: there’s something very touching about them, somehow.

Could it be a huge treasure box? If so, the final three treasures would be three paintings by my Mum, my Dad and my husband Mark.

Do you have another exciting projects on the horizon?

Well I DO, and it’s so completely thrilling that I’m bursting to tell but I’m not sure if I’m allowed yet. A little clue: it involves collaborating with probably the best children’s book creator on the whole planet who I just happen to be related to…

You have recently embraced Twitter, How are you finding it and can you recommend anyone for us to follow? (You can follow Clara on Twitter @ClaraVulliamy)

Twitter is terrific larks, packed with funny and generous-spirited people, and an enormous temptation for spending time that should be spent working!

 My Twitter-friends in the children’s book world are probably on the Book Sniffer radar already (@Alex_T_Smith, @hoonbutton, @DavidMelling1, @carylhart1), but it’s been great to get to know some YA writers too, like @EmmaPass and @HelenaPielichat – very entertaining and talented – as well as poet @Elephantthai and new book-blogger @Pollylwh. And I really recommend @ChildLedChaos and @bridgeanne for chatting about books, being a mum and general loveliness. I’m on board with @LoveAllBlogs too - very fabulous. It’s been really nice to get to know people outside the publishing business.

Your new website is gorgeous - do you think it is important for authors to have an online presence?

 I’m so glad you like it! Having a site is like having a lovely sitting room, where I can arrange the cushions nicely and welcome people in for a cuppa and a chat on the sofa. I’m not a great fan of the hard sell, sites that are too self-promoting. I’d rather have a place that’s friendly and inviting, suggesting ideas for arty-crafty family activities and celebrating other illustrators and writers too. I’ve loved showing some behind-the-scenes glimpses of my job – the highs AND the lows!

What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you when you were studying at art college and what piece of advice would you have given yourself back then?

Nothing worth remembering from art college. My Mum advised me to watch out for the ears I painted looking too much like doll’s house hams, all pink and over-sized.

I wish I had known then, and would tell anyone now, not to worry too much about what Other People will like, but above all to write and draw to please yourself.

If you could collaborate with any other author / illustrator who would you choose?

Apart from the above-mentioned (shhh…), I have also been in a secret huddle with the wonderful James Mayhew, coming up with something rather special. I’ve been pestering him to write me a story for YEARS!

Find out more about James here

Will you be doing any events to promote the new series?

These Bunnies are very well-suited to a huge range of different events, from making felt rabbits at the Oxford Literary Festival to drawing iBunnies on iPads at The Apple Store in Covent Garden…

I’ve started The Happy Bunny Club on my site, which will be hop-tastically good fun. You know what I’m like – any excuse to fill stripy paper bags with goodies and nonsense and pop them into the postbox!

Beaming in the sunshine! there were actually cakes left over - GASP!

REVIEW: I Love School

Martha is full of vim and so so SO excited about her first day at school ( I don't remember being that excited YELP!)  Each Tropicana coloured spread is full of wonderful things to spot and count and can be poured over for hours.

Martha has two equally charming small bunny brothers who are not entirely sure that they want to be left behind when their big sister goes off to have fun at school. Martha does her best to keep them entertained whilst gathering all her most important things to take to school including .. A crown (obv) and flag (natch) and armbands (hmm maybe).

ALL this and Martha STILL has time to create the Happy Bunny Club.

If only we could all aspire to be so productive. Martha is a little gem as is Clara Vulliamy and the Martha and the Bunny Brothers series is full of happiness and charm and is destined to be a HUGE rootin' tootin' success!

It is sunshiny sugar coated perfection in book form, I just wish I had had these books when I was a little bunny!
We give Martha a huge cake, a bag of sweets some shiny buttons and a pink ribbon out of 5!


Here are the questions and answers submitted to Clara via the Book Sniffer Facebook Page .. Revealing indeed!

We’re all raving about keeping our libraries going AND we’re all naturally excited about how we can present our work through Apps and new platforms/ seeing our artwork move, etc. It’s a big question but ideally how do you see the two things working happily alongside each other in the future?

Very good question.  These are both exciting and unsettling times.

I was talking to my brother, who is a print journalist on The Observer, where they’re worrying that people will only want to read the news online. We remembered the quote – but couldn’t remember who said it: we don’t need good newspapers, we need good journalists. I suppose it’s the same with children’s books: it’s not the paper or the screen that’s the vital ingredient, but the good story. The technology is thrilling and seductive, but I dearly hope there will always be dog-eared, chocolate-stained, crumpled REAL book for children to curl up with, and a library of treasures to enjoy.

Clara is very hands on. Likes to physically make things as well as do the 2D work. Does she make a distinction between the two. Is there a dividing line. Or is it all just creativity one way or another? How does she decide whether something becomes 2d or 3d? Before she starts working or during the process?

I’m getting more and more 3d – I am glad you’ve noticed! My books include sewing, cutting and sticking, feature real buttons and scraps of old fabric (the PERFECT convenient excuse for being a hoarder…). Inspiration for stories often comes from objects found or made, and stories often inspire me to make objects, or invent workshops in which children can make things. There’s no distinction – all woven together as part of the creative process.

Bunnies made by the clever kids at Oxford Lit Fest!

People are keen to highlight the connection between Mother and Daughter but not many people are aware that her father was an artist. Can she tell us a bit about what his work was like, how it differed from her Mother’s work, etc. How it influenced the creativity in the house, etc?

It’s a real pleasure to mention my Dad, who was a wonderfully talented draughtsman and printmaker. His subject matter was mostly architectural, based on very careful observation, and not at all illustrative. He was far too modest, but his pictures go on giving huge joy to everyone lucky enough to have one. I was brought up to draw and draw and draw, in a natural, un-forced, non-anxious way.

Name three things that define the perfect working circumstance. For example, a sunny day, a cup of hot chocolate and the start of a new project OR a rainy day, last spread of a 6 month job and a packet of Pork Scratchings.

Ha! Great stuff. I’ll take the sunny day please, a bag of chocolate buttons and that cheeky moment when my character looks right out at me from the page as if to say – ‘Well? What fun have you got lined up for me today?’

Which three things, outside of other children's books and art inspire
you in your work?

First: seeing other people doing a job they really LOVE – whatever it is, not necessarily a creative thing. It really inspires me to know people who followed their dream, come what may, and still find their work fulfilling.

Second: children – their courage, humour, speech and peculiarities.

Third: I’m worried that this is very superficial and silly, but I have to say it. HABERDASHERY.

What are the three best types of cake?

  • Victoria sponge with cream and raspberries;
  • Anything with real homemade lemon curd;
  • A very delicious Dime Bar cake that only IKEA seem to sell.

Absolutely definitely on no account whatsoever can there be any dried fruit.

Most people think that writing or illustrating children’s books is a dream job. What are the real life ups and downs of being published and working in a creative industry?

Yes, it does seem enormously desirable to lots of people! I find it’s mostly ups: writing stories in which anything is possible, losing myself in making the pictures, sometimes hearing that my books have connected with a small person somewhere. But I’ve had overflowing waste-paper-baskets of false starts and bad work, plenty of knock-backs… the trick is to be in a state of great sensitivity on the inside, where the creativity lives, and to be as tough as old boots on the outside to deal with whatever the publishing world is going to throw at us next!

What's your cocktail of choice?

Anything with champagne in it. I’d walk a long way for a Peach Bellini.

CHEERS! THANK YOU and a big squeeze to Rosi at Harper Collins for sending us a copy of Martha and the Bunny Brothers I love School and THANK YOU to Clara for popping by - always an utter joy and a pleasure. Visit Clara's Craft website here!

Now where did I leave my bunny ears ....


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