Clara Vulliamy talks to Nohely Gedeon about Dotty Detective and working with Shirley Hughes.
With over 30 years’ experience as an illustrator and author, Clara Vulliamy has brought to life many favourite characters and Dot from Dotty Detective is no exception.
How did you know you wanted to be an illustrator and a writer?
I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator because it’s the kind of artist that is telling stories through pictures. Not long after that I realised I also wanted to write the words. But it’s all part of the same thing, telling stories.
What process do you go through when creating characters and writing stories?
My stories are character-led. I draw a character and then the story emerges out of that.
How long does it take for you to complete a book from start to finish, writing and illustrating?
Longer than you’d think. It takes me maybe 3,4, 5 months. It used to take me longer. I’ve got quicker!
What was it like collaborating with your mother Shirley Hughes to create Dixie O’Day?
Oh, it was absolutely fantastic! It was so lovely to work with her and to see her in a different way. I mean she’s always been my mum, but just to see her creative mind at work was an amazing privilege. She’s an extraordinary person; an absolute force of nature and it was a great deal of fun.
We sat around her kitchen table eating cake and chatting about ideas, and it was really lovely. It didn’t feel like work, but it did feel very professional. We treated each other with the necessary hands off approach when an author and illustrator work best together.
Dotty Detective is a very popular series. What are the most important things to keep in mind when writing a detective story for children?
I love puzzles and detective stories and I always did. The thing that I like most is when all the clues are seeded in the story so that they’re all there to look back on and even the stupidest clues in the stories are all there. When you get to the end, you didn’t guess what was going to happen and you look back all the into a story and there it is, the clues are there. I don’t like a surprise; I’ve never liked a new reveal at the end. I don’t like it when suddenly there’s an identical twin brother!
For younger children, the structure has to be really carefully constructed. It’s really important to get it absolutely right. When you make a reveal, when you see the clue and they just come back to it later, it has to be much more easily spotted than in other stories that they might read.
Why do you think the Dotty Detective series has done so well?
I think it appeals to both girls and boys. I want to write very gendered books, I wanted them to be very exclusively branded for girls and boys. If boys and girls like it, it’s children’s real life. It’s a real schoolgirl and real schoolboy solving real life mysteries. It’s not James Bond, it’s real life and I think children like that.
Images by lieselbockl.co.uk; @LieselBockl