You may remember a little while back we reviewed the first three books in the Sevenhills Series, L loved the funny tales from these great rhyming books and they’ve been firm favourites ever since. Well now I’d like to share an interview with the author, Stuart Simmonds.
How did you go from playing and coaching cricket to writing?
I’d finished playing cricket after what seemed like forever, so I sat down one day the following winter and thought I’d write it all down. This became my first book Watching with my Heroes. Its essentially the story of a bored little boy who managed to avoid getting a proper job by means of being able to bowl a little red ball at some stumps quicker than most people where I came from. Thankfully, people really liked it, which was a nice surprise.
What was the inspiration for your first series, Hannah the Spanner?
These are the stories I made up for my eldest daughter Hannah when she was a small girl. We started because the books she brought home from school were so poor. So Hannah and the Dancing Bear was born, followed by Hannah and the Robot and so on. Before I knew it, I had a few to chose from when it came to write them down properly so many years later.
What was Hannah’s reaction when she first saw the books
We managed to keep it secret for her so it was a complete surprise for her 21st birthday. When she opened the wrapping paper, she saw the dancing bear and burst into tears.
How did you meet up with Bill Greenhead, the illustrator?
I needed an illustrator to do the front and back cover for my cricket book. A good friend of mine who helped me with the book and had worked with Bill at the Daily Telegraph and put us together.
What inspired you to change the format when it came to Harry the Karate Monkey book?
I wanted a different look and feel to Lucy’s book than we had with the Hannah series. So we decided to go with something more comic like which I think has gone down really well
Does Lucy still have her toy Harry?
Sort of. Lucy is currently studying at Penn State in the US and has Ben and Rabbit by her bed at night. Harry lives with me in my office at home in the UK and comes out with me whenever we visit schools.
Your recent launch of the Sevenhills stories sees you embark into rhyming stories, why did you decide to do that?
I had a look at the sort of books that were about in shops and popular at schools. I was also looking to do something a bit different from Hannah and Harry that might get people’s attention. So, a couple of my teaching friends suggested over lunch one day that I have should have a try at rhyming books as they were always a hit with the children in their class. So I thought I’d have a go.
Is it harder writing rhyming books?
I have to say I actually found it alright. The only one we did the pictures first for was Stan but I already had an idea in my head for what I wanted to do there. Thankfully, I think there are a few more rhyming books still to come!
The characters in the Hannah and Harry books are based on your daughters but who were the inspiration for your latest characters?
The idea for Fraser came when Lucy tried to cut my hair with some clippers during the first lockdown. She buzzed the back of my hair and left a huge hole so I had to wear a hat for a few weeks until it grew back.
Parker and Rudi are obviously my two dogs. Lucy asked me to do a story about them, so I thought… why not? I saw a picture of two dogs in a private jet whilst waiting for my car to be done so that gave me the idea for that one.
Stan was a catchy title I had in my head and we used an idea for a possible Hannah book where all these amazing things happened in one day and no one noticed. The telephone bit with the Dad at the start came from when I was stuck on the phone arguing with my useless energy provider and lost the will to live for an hour.
You refer to technology a lot in your books. Do you feel this make them more relevant to modern children?
I think so. Seeing as I’m not brilliant with new technology it’s a surprise we’ve done this as I can barely turn the telly on properly. My children despair with me most of the time when I moan that I can’t remember my passwords for anything.
What advice would you offer to parents of reluctant readers?
Tips for getting children interested in books and reading:
Let them read whatever they fancy and whatever they might be interested in at the time. My daughter Hannah, who was a reluctant reader at first, started out by reading football programmes because she hated the books that the school gave her.
Have a go and make up some stories between the two of you. Use your imaginations and see what come out at the other end. Do the voices, make the noises and have some fun. This is the time between you and your child, so make it as enjoyable as possible. If you think the stories have potential, then record it, write it down and get them to draw or paint the characters that you’ve made up. You never know, these scribblings may be worth a fortune one day!
Try to make your time different to that they receive at school. Find out the subjects that your child likes and enjoys and then use that as a template for future books and projects. Go to the libraries and local book sellers and see what you can pick up.
Since starting Stuhead, we have been to hundreds of schools and workshops all over the country trying to help children to become interested in all things book-related. We focus on the journey from the ridiculous things go on inside my head and how it goes from there all the way to the bookshops and websites. Our big pitch is for the children to use their imaginations, either through words or illustrations. This for me is a child’s biggest tool so we try to give them the chance to run with it and see where it takes them.
What’s next? Are there more books on the horizon?
Yes, I’m sure there are more to come from all the series. We’re also trying hard to get the stories onto the TV screens so that takes up our time as well as writing the ideas for more Hannah, Harry and Sevenhills Stories. Fingers crossed we can pull that off as well.
About the author:
Stuart Simmonds is a married father of two girls, Hannah and Lucy. An accomplished cricketer and sports coach, he now runs a property business from his home in East Grinstead, Sussex.
Prior to writing the Hannah the Spanner series, he wrote an autobiography on a life in cricket, titled ‘Watching With My Heroes’, which was widely sold through all major retailers.
Having long considered writing children’s books based on a promise made to his daughter when she was just five, late last year he presented her with the first edition drafts on her 21st birthday.
Disclosure – we were gifted our books for the original review.