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We’re bringing back our illustrator of the month blogs! This time we will be interviewing some of our favourite illustrators so you can learn more about where they get their inspiration, which other artists have influenced them, and what some of their favourite picture books were when they were younger.
This month, we spoke to Lauren O’Hara, an extremely talented illustrator based here in Dublin. Lauren has three books published; Hortense and the Shadow and The Bandit Queen, which she created with her sister Natalia, and Madame Badobedah which was written by Sophie Dahl.
What’s the book or picture book you remember reading most as a child, do you still have a copy of it?
I was lucky growing up because our mum was really into children’s books so we had a lot in the house. We had a particularly beautiful edition of The Snow Queen illustrated by Errol le Cain - and by total coincidence I found the same edition in a charity shop a few years ago - it’s a very treasured possession!
What is your current favourite picture book or one you are looking forward to reading?
I’m really looking forward to The Problem With Pierre By Zanna Hubbard, I’ve been a big fan of her work on Instagram (@zanna_hubbard) for a long time and I’m really looking forward to her debut book. Her style is so fresh and she has beautiful movement, but there’s also a really classic, Ardizzone-ish quality to it.
Who are some of your favourite illustrators working at the moment? Are there any that you think have particularly influenced you style?
There are so many incredibly talented illustrators at the moment - I think we’re in a really rich period for children’s books which is incredibly exciting. Beatrice Alemagna, Isabelle Arsenault, Carson Ellis, Shaun Tan, Christian Robinson are a few favourites at the moment.
But having said that, I try not to be too influenced by other contemporary illustrators' work - it can be very easy to compare yourself but that’s not where the best or most authentic work lies.
Where did you and your sister get the idea for Hortense and the Shadow and the Bandit Queen? Was there anything particular that inspired those stories?
Hortense and the Shadow was our first book and it felt very personal to both Natalia and I. It’s the story of a little girl who hates her own shadow and tried to get rid of it, only to realise it’s an integral part of her. Natalia wanted to express that our darkness, anger, naughtiness is an integral part of being, and challenge how common it is for children, girls especially to be told that those parts of themselves are wrong. In terms of style, we drew heavily on Eastern European fairy-tales - our mother is from the Czech Republic and we had a lot of wonderful illustrated Russian, Polish and Czech Fairy-tales as children.
The Bandit Queen was pure fun and joy. A story of naughty bandits who find a little baby, only to realise she’s the naughtiest of them all and make her their queen.
When you’re working on a book what usually comes first, the words or the images?
It depends on the book; with Hortense and the Shadow and The Bandit Queen Natalia came up with the original concept and story but the illustrations and writing were done in tandem. We’ve been told we work more like a single author/illustrator than a duo as the work develops at the same time!
With other authors, such as my book with Sophie Dahl - Madame Badobedah - the story was fully written when I received the manuscript so it was quite a different way of working for me.
What are you working on next?
Natalia and I have two books out next year, Frindleswylde with Walker books and a chose-your-own-fairytale book with Pan Macmillan. Then I’m working on a collection of stories with author Vivian French, again with Walker books, and a non-fiction with Thames and Hudson. Phew, it’s a busy year and I’m so excited about taking them all out into the world!
You can follow Lauren on Instragram @oharasisters. You can find Hortense and the Shadow, The Bandit Queen and Madame Badobedah right here on our website. We also have some of Lauren's beautiful Christmas cards for sale here.