top of page

The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Paddy Donnelly and Susannah Lloyd

Oh my gosh, I thought the book was hilarious- a romping cross between Jacques Clouseau and Monty Python. But these two really cracked me up throughout our entire interview! 🤣


Paddy Donnelly is an award-winning Irish author and illustrator of picture books.

Illustrator photo of Paddy Donnelly

Now living in Belgium, he works in a range of illustration styles and his debut author illustrated picture book, The Vanishing Lake, won the Gold Medal in the Picture Books category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2021. He was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his picture book with Jeanne Willis - Hom. He wishes Pluto was still a planet.

Collage of the book covers of Paddy Donnelly's 14 published books.

He is the author/illustrator of the Golden Hare (2024), Fox & Son Tailors (2022), Dodos Are Not Extinct (2021), and The Vanishing Lake (2021). And the illustrator of 18 books, including Weather Any Storm by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard (2023), Wolves in Helicopters by Sarah Tagholm (2022), Here Be Dragons by Susannah Lloyd (2022), Hom by Jeanne Willis (2021), The Last Seaweed Pie by Wenda Shurety (2021),The Astronaut's Atlas by Emily Rose Oachs (2021), A Sea of Stories by Sylvia Bishop (2019), The Tale of Mrs M'Grady by Alison Paige (2019), Jack and the Jungle by Malachy Doyle (2019), and Scunc agus Smuirin by Muireann Ni Chiobhain (2019).


For more information on Paddy Donnelly, see our earlier interview [here].


Susannah Lloyd – is an author whose books feature scoundrels, blunderers, mayhem, shenanigans, and VERY unreliable narrators. They have been translated into ten languages. She is inspired by old black and white movies, dusty stuffed animals in museums, and all things small in the world.​

Author Photo of Susannah Lloyd

She loves reading stories, especially the ones you find in children's books. Libraries and bookshops are her happy place. She wrote her first ever book when she was five, on her kitchen table, with the help of a large pot of felt tip pens and a stapler. It was about a fox, a wolf, a crow, and a stolen balloon. It had a very mysterious ending. This was followed by an ambitious murder mystery series, started aged 11, abandoned aged 12. She is now making up for lost time. 

Collage of the book covers of Susanna Lloyd's 6 books.

Susannah Lloyd is the author of Badgers Are Go, illustrated by Nici Gregory (9/2024), Who Ate Steve, illustrated by Kate Hindley (6/2024), Oh Monty , illustrated by Nici Gregory (2021),  Here Be Dragons illustrated by Paddy Donnelly (2022), This Book Can Read Your Mind, illustrated by Jacob Grant (2020) and The Terribly Friendly Fox, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon (2019).


Their newest picture book collaboration, Here Be Giants, releases April 9th.


Welcome Paddy & Susannah,

 

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? )


PADDY - I'm originally from Ireland, and I've been living in Belgium for over 15 years. I've been creating picture books since 2018, coming from a background in web and graphic design. I didn't study illustration or writing at all. I was previously creating completely digital products and wanted a change. I wanted to create something tangible, something that wouldn't be deleted or changed. And what sticks around longer than a story? So, I made a leap into picture books, and I've been loving it ever since! Here Be Giants is the 22nd picture book I've created, and it's definitely one of my favourite types of books to work on. Susannah just creates the funniest tales!

 

SUSANNAH - I love books – books of all kinds, but especially children’s books. I feel incredibly cranky if I haven’t read any in a while in the exact same way you do if you forget to eat lunch. I feel that books are essential fuel for children’s imaginations and for my own imagination too. The children’s books I love the best are the ones where you get the feeling that the writer and illustrator were thoroughly enjoying themselves, making themselves crack up, being playful and having an absolutely marvelous time, creating it. The books of James Marshall, William Steig, John Yeoman and Quentin Blake give me that feeling. I think this is especially true of the two Captain Najork books by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake, which I have adored since childhood.

Book cover of Captain Najork book by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake

Paddy, I am so glad you made the leap! And Susannah, I Iove the idea that books are essential fuel. Come to think about it, I do feel crotchety if I haven't read in a while. What is a (or the most) fun or unusual place where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

PADDY - I was reminded recently that I once had a school visit, and then afterwards I had a few hours to kill before I headed home. So, I went to a coffee shop for those few hours and started playing around with an idea. That book then became my 21st picture book - The Golden Hare. I hadn't planned on working on a story, but I just found myself with some free time where I couldn't do anything else, and it worked out well!

  

SUSANNAH - My best writing ideas tend to come when I’m walking. I’ll be walking along, with a totally blank mind, and all of a sudden, some characters will start talking to each other in my head, and I have to stop and scribble it all down before all that noisy chatter evaporates. I often end up writing these notes down on the back of bus tickets and paper bags from buns. I used to text myself my ideas, but I stopped doing this after I accidentally sent a friend some lines of monologue straight from a bear who was planning to gobble some people up. Now I always try to keep a notebook with me. [Uh oh!]

 

Inspiration does seem to strike when and where it wants. Oh my! Susanna I hope your friend knew you are a writer! Otherwise, they could have been planning an intervention! Paddy, what about the Here Be Giants manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - knight standing on his horse, both suspended in the air by a rope.

PADDY -  The humour is of course something that really appeals to me, but another huge factor is that the words and pictures are telling two different stories in this series of picture books. So, I get to tell my own story in the pictures, while Susannah is coming up with the hilarious tale that tumbles out of the knight's mouth. Kids will be able to spot what is really going on in my illustrations, spotting the clues for the giant, while their parents have to read something they know is not true. It allows for a really fun moment where the kid is two steps ahead of their parent, and I like that.

 

This playfulness is one of the greatest things about these books and your amazing illustrations. Susannah, what was the inspiration for Here Be Giants?

Book cover -  a clueless knoght and his horse standing on the forhead of a giant, as the knight checks his book on how to find giants.

SUSANNAH -I had a strong feeling that this knight’s questing days were not done yet! At the end of Here Be Dragons he miraculously lived to tell another tale and I was quite certain he had learned no lessons from his first experience and that he would be filled with bountiful confidence for another quest. I had so many ideas about medieval mythical creatures for him to search for but the idea of a giant really appealed to me. I think as a child I would have been delighted and horrified in equal measure by the peril of ending up in a giant’s sandwich so I really hope that this spread in particular will cause our readers to squeal.

  

And I love that you are able to write in an old English dialect of a knight. It's so much fun to read. How many drafts did it take for you to get from idea to publication of Here Be Giants?

 

PADDY - As the illustrator, I get to come in about halfway through the project. So, Susannah had already done a lot of the hard work by getting the genius story into such a good position. And I actually got chosen for the first book in this series, Here Be Dragons, because I had a piece in my portfolio that showed a huge dragon disguised as a mountain. That happens quite a lot actually, where one piece can really make the decision for the art director or publisher. So, if you really want to illustrate a particular type of book, it needs to already be in your portfolio!

 

SUSANNAH – I think it’s usually too many to count for me! I played about with so many different ideas from the tail end of 2019 to our final version in 2023. There is a lot of fine tuning of both text and picture up to the last minute to make sure they work to their best in synchrony, which is my favourite part.

 

Awesome advice Paddy, thanks! I can just imagine the fine-tuning you both had to do to get all the humor just right. Having created Here Be Dragons together in 2022, how different was the process for Here Be Giants?

Book cover - a clueless knight and his horse standing in a forest, on a grassy knoll, as they search for dragons.

PADDY - Well, a lot of the initial work was already done the first time around - establishing the style, the look of the characters, the general way the book would work. So, this time around we got to spend the time thinking of fun little details to slip into the background of the illustrations, and also to do fun new things like flip the book on its side to go up and down.

 

SUSANNAH - We really wanted a book that took things in a different direction to dragons and so the idea of travelling UP rather than along was very appealing.  I think you will love the switch to vertical double spread views on the ascent and descent! In this book, the knight is convinced a storm is coming and so he remains cheerfully oblivious as he encounters what he thinks is thunder, droplets of rain, fierce winds, and a rapidly darkening sky. The readers, being a tad more observant than him,  will spot the tummy rumbles, giant drool, a delighted giant taking a good sniff of his lunch, and looming in for a nice big bite…

 

Okay, now I want a third book! (Sea monster?) Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from, Here Be Giants?

 

PADDY - I want parents reading this story to their kids to go all in and be as oblivious as the knight when reading this story. Pretend you can't see all of the obvious clues in the illustrations. Go along with the knight's logic and silliness and leave it to your child to point out what's really happening. It'll be so much fun. [😊]

 

SUSANNAH - I love to explore interesting relationships between text and image, and I am more than a little partial to the unreliable narrator. Children are constantly experiencing a world in which ‘adults know best’ so I adore any book that subverts that and gives the child a chance to have the upper hand over the adult reading out the words. In Here Be Giants I wanted to write a book that gave children that sense of wanting to jump up from their chair and yell, ‘It’s behind you!” at the characters blundering about in front of them. 

 

Paddy, I sure wish I could see you read the book at a school! Susanah, you most definitely succeeded! Paddy, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Here Be Giants ? Could you share one or more with us?

 

PADDY - We do indeed! All illustrators slip lots of little things into each of their books for kids to find. In this one in particular there are a few things. The little rabbit which got catapulted into the air by the dragon's tail in Here Be Dragons returns in this book and ends up somewhere not so nice! There's a knight that's been reported missing in Here Be Dragons, and in this one you can see that they're still looking for him. I grew up very close to the Giant's Causeway, which is a bridge of special stones that was built by a giant! And those stones appear in this book. And what else... Oh yeah! One other thing I do in each book is slip a dodo into the illustrations somewhere. They're my favourite animal, and of course there's one in Here Be Dragons, and one in Here Be Giants to be spotted.


It is lots of fun trying to find the dodo. Paddy. is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - knight, using a grappling hook, starts climbing the giants leg and trying to drag a reluctant horse after himself. While the female knight climbs the beanstalk.

Text © Susannah Lloyd, 2024. Image © Paddy Donnelly, 2024.


PADDY - The spreads that look out from inside the mouth of the giant/dragon in each book were some of my favourites. They're these points of the story where you really think 'ok, now the knight is done for'. I love it. Also, the spreads where you have to flip the book on its side to go upwards were fun to do! Playing with the actual act of holding a book is fun.

I love the whole book. But this image really is so funny. Susannah, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Paddy’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - a knight and his horse standing inside a grassy "sandwich",  as a giant stretches his mouth to eat them.

Text © Susannah Lloyd, 2024. Image © Paddy Donnelly, 2024.


SUSANNAH - I am always surprised and delighted when I first get to see Paddy’s illustrations – he takes everything up to the next level and beyond! He is a wonder at adding the most incredible details, such as the rabbit that gets hurled into the air at the first swish of the dragon’s tail in Here Be Dragons, who can be seen by very eagle-eyed readers hurtling back down to ground on the next spread. The same unfortunate rabbit is back in this book and can last be seen being inhaled up the nostril of the giant who is taking a good sniff of his delicious and unexpected knight sandwich. I also adore the knight casually discarding the Holy Grail over his shoulder because it is not ‘large’ and he is so busy looking for LARGE things. But my favourite spread in this book is the one where the horse is trying his best to keep the giant’s jaws from clamping shut on them– I think I am right in remembering Paddy was inspired by the trash compactor scene in Star Wars – genius!

  

Genius indeed! I love all of Paddy's books! And the details he adds (and hides) in this book are so fun! What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you both about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? How about for Here Be Giants in particular?

 

PADDY - Maybe coming up with the look of each character? I find that quite difficult when you start with a blank page. Although sometimes it's quite straightforward and the characters just jump out at you quickly, and I think that was the case for the knight actually. I drew maybe 100 different knight characters in the beginning, but the final knight is quite close to one of the first ideas. I think he appeared quite fully formed once I'd read Susannah's hilarious tale.

 

SUSANNAH - I think each book brings its own unique problems to solve and each time I feel like a new author all over again! I think for dragons and giants the trickiest thing was making sure that the damsel and horse were fully brought to life characters despite the narration being restricted to the chatter of the knight. They are almost like silent film characters, and so a lot depends on their expressions and reactions. Paddy has worked a dream here in bringing to life the frenzied panic of the horse and the world-weary expression of the damsel as she receives an extra big dose of the medieval mansplaining that the knight is so fond of dishing out.

 

You both created a hugely entertaining picture book! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Book cover - silhouette of a rabbit in the sunlight shinning between trees as a child and grandfather take a walk.

PADDY - My latest author illustrated picture book, The Golden Hare, just came out last month. It's a sequel to my other picture book, The Vanishing Lake, and this time Meara wants to see dinosaurs, sharks, and all sorts of incredible creatures, however she's disappointed as all the 'thrilling' animals are out of reach for her. Grandad tells her of the mythical golden hare which can jump to the moon in two-and-a-half leaps, can shape-shift into other animals and whose ears can hear the tiniest spider scratch an itch. With Grandad's nature journal in hand, they take off in search of the legendary hare, and discover the magic of the natural world along the way. Will they ever find the golden hare? Or has it been hiding with them all along? Like the first story, this one is also inspired by something real, and quite unbelievable from back home. It's based on the golden hares of Rathlin Island. These striking and almost mythical creatures were the catalyst to take my characters off on another adventure.


I'm also working on a bunch of new picture books with talented authors, and I should have a couple more coming out later this year! 

Book cover of Badgers Are Go!

SUSANNAH – I am currently working on a sequel to my first chapter book, Badgers Are Go, which is for children aged 7-9 and is coming out in September with David Fickling. It is about the exploits of Lulu Whifferton-Rear, an ordinary little badger who loves to mind her own badgery business, snuffling in the undergrowth and eating beetles. However, one day she is suddenly thrust into the world of the Rumpington Academy of Badgering, led by the formidable Major Musty Rumpington. There, her catastrophic training in the piloting of ‘Badger Operated Persons’ leads to the most dramatic of first missions . . . to SAVE THE WORLD! I am so excited to be returning to these characters who I love so much.


Paddy, I LOVE that cover! Wow. And Susannah, that sounds like SO much fun! We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?

 

PADDY - 'Say 'Yes' now and panic later.'

Honestly, you can figure everything out, and there are plenty of intimidating challenges that pop up in any career, but just take each challenge head on and you'll see that nothing is impossible.

 

SUSANNAH - It was something I read by Ursula Le Guin:  ‘You can consider the reader, not a helpless victim or a passive consumer, but as an active, worthy collaborator. A colluder, a co-illusionist.’  I have really taken this idea to heart in my own writing. I want my readers to be doing a lot of noticing and thinking and deducing when they are reading my books and so I always focus on things I will not tell them in the text, in order to leave space for this. It is wonderful to work with Paddy on the Here Be as I know he takes the same approach with his own author-illustrated books.

 

Great advice! Thank you both so much for creating these (and your other) books. Thank you, Paddy and Susannah, for sharing with us a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.

 

To find out more about Paddy Donnelly, or to contact him:

 

To find out more about Susannah Lloyd, or to contact her:

Comentários


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Follow Me

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • 1473394675_goodreads
  • Pinterest

Archive

Categories

bottom of page