Today’s guest post is by picture book creator Steve Antony, author of The Queen’s Hat and its sequel The Queen’s Handbag, which are both published by Hodder Children’s Books. As The Queen’s Hat takes the reader on a journey all around the UK in search of the Queen’s handbag which has been stolen by a naughty swan, we asked Steve to tell us more about the places featured in the book, what he likes to read when travelling and his own experience of sharing stories, both as a child and as an adult.
How did you decide on the places featured in your whistle stop tour of the UK – are these places you have visited before?
Deciding was so difficult. The first thing I did was make a long list of popular UK landmarks, but the real challenge was having to choose just nine. Picture books can only be so long, after all.
I wanted to cover as many square miles as possible. Sites like Stonehenge were a no-brainer, but it’s fair to say that some of my choice destinations are not so well known, especially to a child or someone overseas. Isn’t that the beauty of books, though? They can teach us about new, fascinating and faraway places.
I haven’t visited all the places in the book, but I’ve learned a great deal about them. Legend has it that a giant built the Giants Causeway to reach a rival giant in Scotland!
I have visited Stonehenge, Oxford, Windsor Castle and Edinburgh, and I travel to London regularly to meet with my publisher. I’d absolutely love to go on a whistle-stop tour of the ‘The Queen’s Handbag’. Hey, maybe I can persuade my publisher to facilitate this.
Some places that didn’t make the final cut include Land’s End, Brighton Pier, The Blackpool Tower and Loch Ness. These places would have been such fun to draw. I can imagine the officers climbing the Blackpool Tower or The Queen riding the legendary Loch Ness Monster. My hometown, Swindon, sadly didn’t make it into the book either.
Personally, I feel that the real fun lies in spotting the little details. For example, why is one of the officers wearing the Mad Hatter’s Hat in Oxford? There are so many things just waiting to be discovered, including a host of Great British celebrities. The Queen’s butler is hidden on almost every spread, too, just like in The Queen’s Hat.
Are there any particular stories connected to the places you choose that you like or are intrigued by?
Visiting Stonehenge as a child was a magical and memorable experience. I must have been about 6. It was a warm summer’s day and I remember weaving in and out the large, towering stones. I actually spent most of my childhood in the States and many of my friends were so impressed by the fact that I’d actually been to Stonehenge. I’ve always found Stonehenge so fascinating. It’s arguably one of the UK’s most famous landmarks outside of London.
More recently, I visited Edinburgh for the very first time. What a breath-taking and beautiful city! My jaw literally dropped when I saw the castle for the first time. I was there for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and I have every intention of returning.
I think the Angel of the North is so impressive and iconic. In fact, it’s probably my favourite spread in the book.
I love exploring London. Even though The Queen’s Hat is all about London, I still wanted to feature the capital in the sequel. This time, I wanted to highlight some of the more modern buildings like the Walkie-Talkie Building, the Cheese Grater and the Helter-Skelter.
We love the idea of all the different modes of transport too – what kinds of books do you read on a journey or take with you on holiday?
The type of book you’re most likely to catch me with is a sketchbook, but I do love reading on the train, especially if the journey is long. There’s something very romantic about losing yourself in a book on a long cross-country train ride.
I have a very eclectic taste in books. I’m not fussy and I don’t stick to one author or genre, although I do lean a little more towards nonfiction, true stories and graphic novels. Quite often, I’ll impulsively buy a book that catches my eye at the station or airport before my journey. The most recent book I read on a train was ‘Chance: The science and secrets of luck, randomness and probability’ by New Scientist.
What was your experience of sharing/being told/reading stories as a child or now with other members of your family or friends’ children?
There were books and comics all around me as a child.
We couldn’t really afford that many books. Thank goodness for libraries! My mum would take us to the town library at least once a week. I can still remember how tatty my library card looked, and I can vividly recall story-time at the school library, too. Everyone would sit quietly and listen. The teacher would often point things out in the pictures. Now, I get to do that when I visit schools and libraries.
I love giving books away as gifts, especially picture books. A couple of years ago I gave my two nephews some picture books for Christmas and they looked so unimpressed. Sadly, many children have yet to discover the joy of books. Maybe that’s because they’ve yet to find the right one?
It’s such a privilege to be in a position to hopefully inspire kids (and adults) to read more.
I can sometimes see that little epiphany in a child’s eye that says ‘Wow, books are pretty cool after all’. Books are pretty cool. They always have been and always will be.
Many thanks to Rebecca Logan, Hachette Children’s Group, for arranging this guest post. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.