Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Q&A with Pam Smy



Photo by Zulfiya Wilde


Pam Smy is the author and illustrator of The Hideaway, a new middle grade novel for kids. Her other books include the middle grade novel Thornhill. She has taught at Cambridge School of Art, and she is based in Cambridge, UK.


Q: What inspired you to create The Hideaway?


A: I walk my dog through a graveyard called the Ascension Parish Burial Ground and around the field beyond.


In that graveyard is buried the poet Frances Cornford, and her poem, All Souls’ Night, is carved into the wall there. To get through to the field beyond you brush past a World War II pillbox that is completely overgrown with ivy. These two elements were the inspiration for the story.


Q: Did you focus more on the text first or the illustrations first, or did you work on them simultaneously?


A: I wrote the text first, and illustrated it afterwards. But the silent sequence towards the end of the book was part of the original concept and I saw it very clearly before I wrote the story.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I had the idea for the title as soon as I thought about the idea for the book. For me it signified what Billy is and where he goes. It also suggests things that are hidden from our everyday view, so this could refer to how Billy and his mother, Grace, have lived.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I think that this has changed due to the pandemic.


I initially wanted young people to see the importance of speaking out about difficult circumstances they could be in, and how this can be a challenge for adults to do as well as for them.


I also wanted to write about the power of help and support – both Billy and his mother get this through very different channels – but a network of support is necessary to us all.


I wrote the text before the outbreak of COVID 19, and started illustrating it the week we went into the first lockdown here in the UK.


Being separated from friends and family was so hard, and the feeling of need to be re-united with those that we love and how strong that pull can be grew as I worked on those illustrations, listening to the terrible impact the virus was having on so many lives.


I now hope that this may be a takeaway from the book too… we all need to celebrate having those we love around us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am mostly working on illustration projects for other authors, which I love doing.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Maybe that as an illustrator I think about stories as pictures initially – even if I write the text first I am writing the “film” I see in my head.


While I am writing I go out and draw on location, and have sketchbooks of drawings of the graveyard and gravestones, all of which act as inspiration for the look and feel of the story. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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