My children are growing, I’ve started to get silver hairs in my fringe, and yesterday was the mid-point in the year. In my day job, I am organising some drug treatment regimes for patients for 6 months time. That’s Christmas! Life feels like it is flying by. I was shocked to discover I haven’t posted here since the end of March!

This year, I made a resolution to mark the passing of the seasons with reflection and celebration. One of those markers was going to be a long walk somewhere special with my mum and sister. Mum has a medical condition which means she is slowly losing her sight. We want to walk the high, hilly places with her while she still can.

But she caught a bad chest infection while climbing Pen Y Fan and it’s knocked her. So we put our original plans to one side and marked the Summer Solstice, with a wander in woodland glades, giggling, reminiscing and a top notch lunch in the sunshine. I’m glad it worked out this way. It was just right. And I’m so glad we set aside this day to mark the longest day together.

Whatever you were doing yesterday, I hope you got a moment to salute the sun.

Some of the things I’ve been getting up to since March… visiting schools as part of the wonderful Chipping Norton Book Festival to talk about The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair

Chipping Norton Book Festival 2023. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
Welcome sign outside the wonderful Jaffe & Neale bookshop at Chipping Norton Book Festival

warmer weather finally arrived with a bump and the allotment took off…

Tulips on the allotment 2023. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I was interviewed for a wonderful Devon-based, Love Devon magazine for their well-being issue…

LOVE Devon article, featuring Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

And I was part of a brilliant author line-up at The Bookery in Crediton to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, The Bookery’s 10th birthday and the opening of their new extension.

The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair at The Bookery. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
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Fossil hunting

Last year, as part of my research for The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair, I went fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast. I took my sister’s little puppy, Brody, to help. Even though he’s part-hound, he turned out not to be very good and we didn’t find any! Luckily, there was an excellent fossil shop nearby 🙂

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World Book Day 2023

This World Book Day I was able to visit several schools on and around the day, delivering writing workshops and my author talk. It was an absolute joy to chat to children about what they’re reading and writing. We talked about The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair, how ideas from the past still influence the way we think about things now, and the power of difference to make the world a better place. We excavated stories from the landscape like the famous Victorian fossil hunter, Mary Anning. Here are some pictures of my wonderful week…

World Book Day 2023. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
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Another Illustrator Insight: Me!

Part of my contract for The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair was for me to produce the internal illustrations for the book. As many of you know, it’s a while since I was actively illustrating for commercial purposes so this really felt like getting back on the bike!

Rough pencil drawings by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair is a book which revels in natural history and found objects, so I decided to focus in on still-life images of the many every day things and natural findings featured in the words. I went back to my favourite, good old pen and ink with ink washes for media, which felt so apt for the Victorian elements of the book, particularly.

Here’s a photo of my makeshift (and very dusty!) light box. I was illustrating these images throughout the drought we had last year. It felt like all kinds of wrong to be shutting out the sun so I could get the best from the box!

Ink drawings on the light box by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Zephyr produce such beautiful books and I’m delighted with how they used my illustrations across the pages. I hope you like it too!

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Illustrator Insight: Lucy Rose

One of the things that is soooo exciting (among many!) about having your book published, is having a wonderful illustrator use their incredible skills for the front cover of your book. Although I had seen the final version of the cover of The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair on the proof copies, the Zephyr design team had a fabulous surprise for me… a turquoise foil picking out leaves and other elements on the cover! It was the best surprise ever and I love the cover even more! It twinkles on bookshop shelves.

I got the chance to meet up with Lucy Rose, the cover illustrator of The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair, before Christmas. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work and her process…

I’ve had so many people comment to me about how special the cover is for The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair. I think it must have been quite a hard book to design a cover for because of the dual time line and the sensitive themes but you’ve done an incredible job. Could you tell us about your process for illustrating a book cover? When I received the brief and manuscript I start my process by brainstorming ideas and making very quick, rough sketches. This allows me to experiment with composition and elements to include in the illustration. I also research particular elements, for example for this cover I did do lots of research on Tigers and flora/ fauna found on the Jurassic Coastline. I then create a couple of detailed sketches which I will send to the designer and then there’s discussion and adjustments made until everyone is happy with the sketch. I sometimes receive the type for the cover at this point so I can work my sketches around the text- making sure there is space and if the illustration can interact with the type in any way. After this, I can start on the detailed colour illustration; mainly by drawing on my iPad, making sure I create lots of texture and detail. This is also the stage where I can experiment with colour palettes. When I am happy with the illustration I try and send a couple of colour options back to the designer so they have a few options to choose from. The final stage would be fine-tuning small details and colour so everyone is happy and that the final type fits well with the illustration.  

One of the things which I think is particularly special about the cover is the way you’ve managed to convey both power and peacefulness in the tiger. He has a real weight to him. You illustrate lots of animals. What is your favourite animal to draw and why? I love to illustrate animals and capturing their particular characteristics, whether it be their power, beauty or elegance. Animals are absolutely my favourite subjects to draw. I’m not sure if I have one favourite that I prefer but I do especially love exotic animals with striking and colourful markings. I also am pretty obsessed with dogs so drawing any breed of dog makes me particularly happy. 

Another thing I love about the cover is the intricate design of the plants. Your illustrations often incorporate detailed patterns. I can’t imagine where you begin! What is the process for designing a pattern? When I design a repeat pattern, I spend a most of the time experimenting and playing around with composition and lots of colour options rather than creating sketches first. I like this process as it is very experimental and I never really know what it is going to turn out like – this process is fun and brings out my spontaneous side. 

Could you tell us about your working day? When and where do you work? For the last 5 years I have been a full time illustrator so I work Monday to Friday – recently trying hard to give myself weekends off (something I have struggled to do for years being self employed)I work from my studio at home most of the time with the company of my wonderful dog Tyson but I also take my work into a local gallery where I work once a week to keep sociable and sane. If I have a big deadline coming up I do tend to work into the evenings too, especially if I am working with clients in the U.S as there’s a big time difference. 

Could you tell us how you came to be an illustrator? I knew I wanted to go into an art profession quite early as both my parents are practising artists. This definitely heavily influenced me and drawing was something I knew I was quite good at. But I think it was only when I studied for my Art Foundation that I really took an interest in illustration, maybe because I learnt what types of jobs I could go into. I consequently ended up at Falmouth University completing a BA in illustration. At our final degree show The Artworks agency in London reached out inviting me to join their ‘Startworks’ programme (their very own programme to help guide new illustrators into the industry) and I absolutely loved it. I managed to get a few big jobs quite quickly from this and once a year had passed I was officially represented by them and have been getting exciting, varied jobs ever since! 

What are you working on at the moment? And what should we be watching for which will be coming out soon? At the moment I have some exciting and quite diverse projects in my schedule with a few adult book cover projects, a coffee packaging brief and a couple of children’s books – one that I have just finished about my favourite animals… dogs! The really great thing about my job is that I am never quite sure what kind of brief may pop up next. 

If you would like to find out more about Lucy, you can visit her website here: https://lucyroseillustration.com/

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It has been the most incredible couple of weeks launching The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair. I have visited bookshops, libraries and schools, and met so many wonderful people. There have been super kind reviews of the book online and I’m grateful for everyone’s support, both in-person and via social media. A real highlight was THAT incredible cake at the launch event at Bookbag independent bookshop in Exeter!

It’s a strange thing, letting your work go off into the world alone, especially a book which is so nuanced. Will people get it? Of course, we all have our own tastes and opinions. Some people will like it and some won’t. Some people will get it and some won’t. It’s wonderful we are different. But, I am really grateful for how the book has been received so far. To be told it has given people goosebumps is really great! I hope The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair will continue to reach many readers.

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Bleak midwinter

So many people complain about January as being long and bleak but it is the darkening of November and the deep gloom of the days around the Winter Solstice which make me cower. By the time New Year is done, the days are lightening again and potted hyacinths are the bearers of spring tidings. Here, January has been torrentially wet and then bitterly cold. The water meadows were indiscernible from the river and steam rose in the icy air from the torrents crashing over the weir. Snow dusted the tracks on the high ground near Dartmoor. Finch and Wren enjoyed smashing through ice-covered fieldside ditches. But everywhere, birds were singing and I believe, the most strident January-haters, must feel something stirring within.

January has been a busy time for me of preparations for The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair coming out. I was interviewed for Booktime and Exeter Living magazines. There have been wonderful and kind reviews coming in from book bloggers, librarians, teachers and other authors. The children’s book world is a generous place. So many people give their free time to get the word out about new children’s books. It’s quite humbling.

I have lots of lovely events, bookshop signings and school visits planned to celebrate publication. If you can make any of these, I’d love to see you!

The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair events 2023. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
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Picture Books 2022

Hyacinths by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

The Tree is down and the decorations put away. The kids have been freshly bathed and checked for head lice (what a job!), ready for the new term. I brought the hyacinth bulbs we planted in the autumn, out of the shed and onto the windowsills. Green beaks puncture the dark soil. Now I am sitting with my back to the kitchen radiator, mug of tea in hand, watching the sun go down behind the trees. 2023 is here and we are ready!

I wondered if this might be my last year of posting our favourite picture books from the last twelve months. Wren is six and dragged beyond her years by her older siblings’ reading habits. She pours over Little Owl’s graphic novels and methodically sounds out each phonic in Finch’s chapter books. But no, she is as delighted as ever by being read to. She snuggles up, utterly absorbed by the experience. Once we start reading, I notice Finch pause, and slowly creep closer so he can nonchalantly cast an eye at the pictures. He still loves a picture book too. So, without further ado, here are the picture books we were bought, given or borrowed, and LOVED, in 2022…

Mouse’s Wood by Alice Melvin is a seasonal wander and wonder through the woods, meeting the animals, plants and other creatures in each month. Alice’s vintage style illustrations make this book feel like a charming throwback to the 1930s and will be especially loved by fans of Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit. But what makes this book so enchanting is the flaps that allow you to see inside the animals’ homes, boiling up fruit for jam or snuggling up by the stove.

The Queen of the Birds is written by acclaimed folk singer, Karine Polwart. After a storm the birds of the world are in such a muddle, they decide they need a king to sort them out. The result isn’t quite what they expected and the ending especially tickles Wren, but I won’t spoil it! This book is splendidly illustrated by the incredible Kate Leiper, whose pictures manage to be so lifelike yet so full of character at the same time.

Wren’s favourite picture book author-illustrator is Briony May Smith. She was delighted when we visited the Waterstones window in Exeter last year, which Briony had painted with characters from her latest book. Wren is desperate for Briony’s upcoming book, The Mermaid Moon, out in the US but not yet here. So instead, we settled for an older title we didn’t have, Little Bear’s Spring. The text is by Elli Woollard but it’s Briony’s characterful illustrations which make this book so special. As Little Bear searches for Spring we are drawn through the natural world waking up from a long winter. We’ll have to let you know what we think of The Mermaid Moon next year. It’s on the birthday list!

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee has the feel of a vintage classic from the 60s. The deceptively simple story and illustrations cleverly play with the visual line created by the spine of the physical book. In the grand tradition of 60s picture books, this story mixes humour and politics to brilliant effect.

Finch loved Joe Todd-Stanton’s graphic novel-esque series, Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. The Comet is similarly, impeccably illustrated, but is a more traditional picture book story. A little girl moves to a new home in the city and struggles to adjust, until, one day, a comet passes overhead. This story is all about finding the beauty where we are.

The Last Rainbow Bird by Nora Brech is another stunningly illustrated story which explores conservation themes. Alex and Jo journey though a magical world in search of the rarest bird, the Rainbow Bird. Will they find it in time for Professor Feather to save the species?

I am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun has been translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. It is written from the perspective of the subway, fondly exploring the lives of the inhabitants of the city. It has an anime quality to it, a beguiling mix of poetry, story and artwork.

The Baker by the Sea by Paula White was one of the Sunday Times Best Children’s Books of 2022 and tells the story of an old fishing community from the perspective of the baker’s son. While undoubtedly, the village is portrayed through rose-tinted spectacles, the strong sense of place, loyalty to community and the idea that each person has their part to play is a powerful message for children faced with the fickle and transient global marketplace of a world we live in.

A Dress With Pockets by Lily Murray and Jenny Lovelie is a delight of a book. When Aunt Augusta takes Lucy dress shopping, Lucy causes outrage by asking for one with pockets. Where else will she keep the things she finds when she goes exploring? The shells and frogs and stones and feathers? By being true to herself, Lucy changes the view of the adults around her. What a special message for our small ones, who have so little power but are precious beyond our imaginings.

So, there we are. Our favourites from this year. As always, we are so grateful to the booksellers, bloggers and reviewers who have brought these fabulous books to our attention. Three cheers and thankyou!

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Winter meadows

Reeds by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I stopped on the bridge by the river one evening on my cycle home. It had stopped raining and the clouds had cleared. Above my head was a whole star-spangled universe. Water ran in rivulets all over the water meadows, glowing pale blue with moonlight. A luminescent vasculature of the earth. I stood on the concrete span, feeling the crisp cold sneaking in among my layers of clothing, setting my skin atingle. My breath billowed in great steaming clouds.

Immense work has been done over many years, but especially recently, to make the Exe behave and protect houses like mine from flooding. But shadows of memories still linger around the place. A now dead-ended lane is called Shooting Marsh Stile. What must it have been like here when the Exe ebbed and flowed, flooded and trickled, just as it liked? When reed beds and marshes ran for miles and the flood water nourished the land. Did great flocks of birds wade here under the same stars? Did hunters sit silent on the marsh stile waiting to bag one for the pot? 

We walked the clifftops near Otterton recently, where the Environment Agency are restoring 55 hectares of intertidal marshes and mudflats. Schemes like these seem the way forward to me, a great undoing of the Victorian hubristic infrastructure projects. 

The wonderful PR team working on The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair have been gathering kind words for the book, pre-publication. Two authors I admire enormously, Hilary McKay and Sophie Kirtley, have given generous reviews and I’m so grateful for them taking the time to read it. And a real pinch-me moment was learning The Bookseller had named the book as one to watch in 2023!

The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair, One To Watch in The Bookseller.
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Bright windows

The evening sky turns to dark teal and then midnight blue. A shining slice of new moon is framed by chimney pot silhouettes. Among the houses life tableaus blink on in bright windows before the curtains close – a real life advent calendar.

In the garden I have cut back the rambling roses, snipping vigorous growth into bitesize chunks for the compost heap. I gather up the yellow, handspan leaves of the fig tree and feed them in too. All the better for nourishing spring mulch when the world has turned and the fresh shoots of a new growing year are bursting forth. But that is a dark winter away.

The fields that inspired Howard's End by E M Forster. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

This month I spent a week in a hotel in Steveage, on a course for specialists working in MS, generously paid for by the MS Trust. If I’m honest, I couldn’t have told you where in the country Stevenage is before now. Despite the learning and the sumptuous bed my internal alarm clock woke me at my usual time and I tromped out in the early mornings to find the fields when E. M. Forster dreamed up Howard’s End.

Kids on a Devon lane by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

We also spent treasured days in a chalet beside a North Devon cove, savouring the ocean spray and swell, and climbing narrow combes teaming with fungi and tumbling autumn colour.

North Devon coast by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Review copies of The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair have been making their way out into the world and I have been so grateful for kind words. Here is the lovely Jacqui Sydney from Mrs Sydney’s World Famous Smallest Library: “Beautifully written, powerful and with characters that children will identify with enormously.”

Jacqui Sydney Hannah Foley The Tiger Who Sleeps Under My Chair Zephyr Books review
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