On Productivity, Inspiration and Creativity – an Interview with Author Tim Hopgood

I recently met Tim Hopgood, who is an award-winning Children’s Author and Illustrator, during his publicity tour for his latest book, Walter’s Wonderful Web. Now, while this post is not about blogging (although you should check out Tim’s wonderful site for inspiration!) it is about productivity, creativity and all those things that we bloggers do everyday.

I thought Tim’s story would be perfect to share here. And for those of you who are interested in publishing your story one day, he also shares how he got into the world of publishing from idea to first book.

There’s something for everyone!

On Productivity and inspiration - interview with award-winning autor Tim Hopgood

1. When did you know you wanted to be a children’s author and illustrator? And what were you doing at the time?

I  trained as an illustrator back in the early 80s, but after I left my degree course I couldn’t find enough work to make it a full-time career so I went into design and a couple of years after graduating I joined the  design dept. at Vogue magazine. I later set up my own design studio working for a whole host of leading UK fashion retailers. It was when my children were young that I rediscovered picture books and by this stage in my career as an Art Director I had discovered a love of words and my ability to write copy, so creating picture books seemed like a perfect mix for me. It wasn’t until my early 40s that I eventually took the plunge (stopped watching EastEnders) and started working on ideas for picture books instead.

2. Your first book, Our Big Blue Sofa, was published in 2006. For the aspiring children’s authors among us, please could you walk us through the process from deciding to become an author to the publication of your first book?

The process from inspiration to publication of my first book was quite drawn out. I didn’t have a proper understanding of how the publishing world operates, but perhaps if I had known I might not have tried! I sent out proposals for story ideas and examples of my illustration work to most of the main literary agents, some loved my stories but weren’t keen on my illustration style and others loved my artwork but thought my stories were too ordinary! I took comfort from the fact that the response was mixed – if they all come back saying the same thing I probably would have stopped there and then. The fact that several were ‘half’ interested made me think I was still in with a chance, and my big break came at the start of 2003 when Celia Catchpole rang and told me she’d like to represent me. We met and discussed the best way forward and agreed that I should develop a couple of my ideas in much more detail, one of which was Our Big Blue Sofa, the other idea was Wow! Said The Owl. I did several black and white mock-ups of the books for Celia to show various editors and I responded to feedback. Although the idea for Our Big Blue Sofa was strong in the first two versions it wasn’t quite working as a picture book idea. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong, so I left it alone for a while and then came back to it and completely reworked it; things seem to fall into place quite easily and this third version was the one my editor at Macmillan saw and loved. I signed to Macmillan in the spring of 2005 and the artwork for the book was completed by November. In 2007 the book was awarded the Cambridgeshire Read it Again! award for best debut picture book.

On Productivity and inspiration - interview with award-winning autor Tim Hopgood

3. Delving into your creative process, do you find that because you are an artist it helps you to write stories? And what comes first, the art or the story?

For me it’s always words first! Being an illustrator and a writer helps make the process a lot more fluid. My stories usually start off far too long, so the moment I start to combine words and pictures it soon becomes clear that parts of the text are completely unnecessary. Early on I like to make sure there are at least two potential ‘wow!’ moments in the dummy: these are spreads that will lend themselves to a powerful composition, if those moments aren’t there in the first draft I will rework the text to create space to allow them to happen.

4. Stephen King says his first reader is always his wife and that’s who he writes for. When you create a story, do you have someone in mind?

The first person to read my texts is always my wife. It’s an interesting stage hearing someone else read your words out loud for the very first time. It’s at this point that you can sense if something is working or not; often I’ll be frustrated that it doesn’t sound right, by that I mean it doesn’t sound as it does in my head! so that tells me something is wrong and that I need to rewrite it. As for having someone in mind, no, I write for me, I write about things that I’m interested in, but in a way that I hope will entertain and inspire young readers and grown-ups too!

5. When you are creating a children’s book what is your favourite part of the creative process? And what’s your least favourite?!

My favourite part of the process is definitely the ideas stage: I love filling a blank sheet of paper. My least favourite part of the process is usually the cover! Some covers can be really hard to crack, and with so many people involved, so many different people to please, I find it quite a labourious task.

6. Do you ever suffer from self-doubt? And if so, how do you get over it?

Self-doubt? Of course! Doesn’t everyone? Sometimes it’s just before a book is published and self-doubt will set in, what if no-one likes the book? or why did I ever think this was such a great idea? I’m not always completely happy with the end result, but once a book’s in print, that’s it there’s nothing you can do but to learn from the process and move on!

7. Your work is so varied, from writing and illustrating to designing Perfume Packaging! Do you have a favourite type of work to do?

It is varied and it’s the fact that it’s so varied that I enjoy the most. I like the way different projects can influence other work that I’m doing. For me, I’m happiest when I’m given a fair amount of freedom to try out different ways of doing things.

8. Do you have a big dream or goal which you are working towards that helps you stay on track day to day?

No, there’s no big dream, just a strong desire to keep working, to keep creating books and hopefully for the work to reach a wider audience. There are lots of different types of books that I’d like to create and I’m also keen to collaborate with other writers and illustrators. I recently completed the illustrations for the new River Cottage cookbook Love Your Leftoversand I’d like to do more but maybe not just food, maybe gardening too.

9. Do you have a morning ritual that you stick to to get you in the zone?! Please elaborate to the minute if necessary!

I find nowadays I’m starting work earlier, often 5am, I love that time of day. I used to like working through the night but those days are now long gone. I usually do a couple of hours and then get the coffee percolator on! If I’m lacking motivation for the day then music is essential to change my mood.

10. I LOVE the concept of your half idea box for new stories. How often do you add to the box and how frequently do you look back? Do you have set times or targets (I’m thinking of the ritual for writing 10 ideas a day) for coming up with ideas or is it more haphazard?

My writing process is very haphazard. I can go for weeks and not write anything and then write two stories in one day. The idea of a IDEAS BOX is just a way of making sure I write things down and keep my ideas in one place. It’s stuffed full of random bits of paper, some with just a line of text and then other ideas are more fully formed. I go through the box about once every two months, shifting through the papers and if I find I’m drawn to a particular idea, if I keep returning to it, I will take it out of the box and develop it further. It’s normally endings that I struggle with; making sure the story ends in a satisfying way takes time.

11. Finally, have you started working on a new book yet? And if so can you give us a clue as to what it will be about?

I’ve just finished illustrating the classic song Walking in a Winter Wonderland as sung by Peggy Lee which will be published next autumn by Oxford University Press and I’m working on an art activity book for Macmillan. And I’m very excited about Wow! Said The Owl being adapted into a show by the Little Angel Theatre in London (opens December 2nd and runs until January 31st 2016), seeing my work transferred to the stage has been a fascinating process.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions Tim!

Inspirational and insightful stuff, huh?! Do you have a book in you? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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15 comments on On Productivity, Inspiration and Creativity – an Interview with Author Tim Hopgood

  1. John Adams
    November 6, 2015 at 7:23 am (3 years ago)

    Oh my word, the last person who read what I write is my wife (although she is quite a faithful reader of what I do, don’t get the wrong idea). Tim and I also share something in common; I’m up at 5am every day to blog before the children get yup. Always great to hear stories like this. Everyone’ route into publishing is so different. Thanks for hosting #TheList.
    John Adams recently posted…Securing windows; more than just protecting your homeMy Profile

  2. Lucy
    November 6, 2015 at 10:36 am (3 years ago)

    Really interesting. I love the Ideas Box idea – I have an ideas notebook that works similarly. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t heard of Tim Hopgood, but will definitely be keeping an eye out for his books now.

  3. New Mummy Blog
    November 6, 2015 at 11:23 am (3 years ago)

    How interesting! I love getting insights like this int others working lives, how they think and what motivates them. Thanks for sharing 🙂 #thelist
    New Mummy Blog recently posted…October Review, November AimsMy Profile

  4. Joanna @mumbalance
    November 6, 2015 at 10:17 pm (3 years ago)

    It’s always to interesting to get an insight into someone else’s path to success and creative method. I haven’t actually heard of either of the books, but I’ll need to look them up!

  5. El
    November 6, 2015 at 11:02 pm (3 years ago)

    I really enjoyed reading this interview. The Publishing World is tough and I don’t know if i would survive it. Tried it briefly and was so discouraged. If I could ask Tim one more thing, it would be how did he meet his Agent?

    Yes, I have a book(s) in me but I have gone the untraditional method of putting my book out there as my blog. I really wanted to know what my audience think of my story rather than just what an editor or publisher would say. Whether that is a good or bad thing I don’t really know? #TheList
    El recently posted…A bit of Everything Linky Week 4My Profile

  6. Emma T
    November 7, 2015 at 12:06 am (3 years ago)

    Really interesting to hear from an author/illustrator. I don’t know many bloggers who can work without an ideas area or box. I know I’d forget all my ideas if I didn’t have my phone blog ideas list. #thelist
    Emma T recently posted…Besties and boys day out at ConkersMy Profile

  7. Anna Brophy
    November 7, 2015 at 12:37 am (3 years ago)

    What a great list of questions! Darest I say I am not familiar with his work..? EEk…maybe cos I’m In Australia?? Anyway, love that his first reader is always his wife. Certainly true in this household, except Husband gets hit with my blog posts… Imagine seeing your name on your very own published book! Wow. Thanks #TheList
    Anna Brophy recently posted…WHAT I HATE ABOUT BABIES….My Profile

  8. aNoviceMum
    November 8, 2015 at 12:05 am (3 years ago)

    So lovely that his skills as illustrator and writer complements each other; so lovely when skills pool together to make someone better at something.

    Good interview Hannah, so many points to take away. 🙂 #TheList
    aNoviceMum recently posted…One Impressive Pigeon with GritMy Profile

  9. Pen
    November 18, 2015 at 9:39 am (3 years ago)

    This was a really good interview thanks. I loved reading about the creative process and was enthused to hear that Tim didn’t start writing children’s books until in his 40s. As someone who likes writing and loves art this would probably be my dream job. It is really nice to hear from someone doing it. Pen x
    Pen recently posted…Sometimes I don’t like myself very muchMy Profile


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