Today, we’re thrilled to have children’s author Sophy Henn join Richard Ruddick in The Reading Realm to talk about her brand-new illustrated fiction book PIZAZZ…
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book Pizazz?
It’s about a reluctant super hero called Pizazz. It’s an illustrated fiction book with added comic strips and I have had a lot of fun writing and illustrating it. Pizazz comes from a family of superheroes (that’s usually how it works apparently) and while they all whizz about happily saving the world, Pizazz isn’t actually quite so sure she wants be SUPER super. I mean, she has to wear the same superhero costume ALL THE TIME (including a very annoying, very long cape), she’s always getting called away for missions in the middle of fun things and she also has the MOST EMBARRASSING super power EVER! *eyeroll* So embarrassing I cannot even bring myself to tell you. And on top of all of that, Pizazz has to start a new school which is tricky enough normally, but when you are a superhero with your name plastered all over the back of your cape it can be even harder!
Do you think working in advertising helped you transition into writing children’s literature? What inspired you to take the leap and become an author?
I definitely think working in advertising helped me create picture books, which is where I started. When you think about it, a spread in a picture book where an arresting picture and a few well chosen words combine to convey quite complex messages is actually rather similar to a advert or a poster. In both you have to grab people’s attention quite quickly and draw them in to find out more…Advertising also taught me that there is ALWAYS another idea, you just have to search around a bit to find it.
You have a very unique illustrative style, one that I would say makes your work very identifiable at first glance. Did you set out to intentionally create a style like this or was it just a result of natural progression?
My father is a printmaker so I think that influenced how I wanted my final illustrations to look, almost like silk screen prints. But what I have realised is no matter what I draw and how I intend it to look, it just arrives on the page the way it arrives on the page! My hand will only draw a certain way!! And while I do have slightly different styles for picture books and fiction books that is largely down to the different print processes for each.
A lot of your characters seem to be based on realistic people, but with a slight twist or embellishment. Do you do this intentionally to make your stories relatable or is it a case of writing about what you know? (If so, your Nan must be an amazing character!)
Characters tend to pop into my head very nearly fully formed, Pizazz is an example of that. I wanted to flip the typical happy, perky supergirl character on its head and the first sketch I did of her is pretty much how she is now, but she had green hair then! And Bad Nana isn’t based on my Nana specifically (though there are elements of my Grandma Lily) but she is absolutely the Nana I want to be!
I do like to make my stories relatable – I always want to reassure my readers and hopefully empower them too. But I think the main reason I write about realistic people and settings is because I love finding the magic in the everyday: if you keep your eyes and ears open you never know what you will see or hear!
The word ‘super’ features heavily in Pizazz especially at the beginning, and I thought it really helped to communicate how frustrated Pizazz was. I also read that you like to use the word yourself. Do you have any other favourite words?
Yes, I really LOVE the word super, it can be used in so many ways! I also love kerfuffle, brill, terrific, bobble and smorgasbord.
Pizazz covers lots of current issues, from annoying siblings to trying to protect the planet. How important is it that readers both young and old see real issues represented in the texts they read? Do you think the importance of this has increased considering recent protests around the globe?
I think books can offer everything: reality, escapism, humour, horror…all of it! But when I write, no matter where I start, I seem to end up wanting to empower the reader, whether it’s the central theme or not, it always seem to sneak in there. And that tends to take the form of having my main characters overcome things, be it learning to deal with someone tricky, confronting a situation or even saving the world – in big AND small ways.
I think Greta Thunberg and the school strikes are truly inspirational. The children of today will inherit the planet we are currently not looking after and to see them come together and stand up and say “ENOUGH!” was thrilling and filled me with hope. It does feel that around the world people are ready to stop and stand up for what they believe in, calling out wrongs that need to be put right. We can all do better and to have our children turn around and remind us of that is both sobering and fantastic all at once.
I really enjoyed seeing the businessmen portrayed as the problem in the story and taking the role of the bad guys. What inspired you to have business and greed as the villain rather than a more stereotypical super villain?
So firstly, let it be said I love a comic book villain. They usually get the best costumes, funny lines and can be rather silly. And there are plenty of those in Pizazz. But the one that causes Pizazz the most grief is the real-life local BIG CHEESE, Mr Piffle, who has plans for the scruffy park next to Pizazz’s school.
I think greed, which we can see reflected in SOME businesses, is a real problem. By that, I mean people making choices so they can gain more power and money without thinking about the impact it has on the planet and the people that live on it.
But we all have the power to make a stand against that. We can choose where we shop, what we buy, inspire change in others and don’t forget to recycle!
Obviously the end of the book reveals another Pizazz story is on the cards which is great to see as I think these are going to be a big hit in classes up and down the country. Are there any other books on the horizon after that?
Oh thank you! I do hope so! Yes, there is more Pizazz on the way in January 2021 and then June 2021, so keep ‘em peeled!
I am also working on a picture book which I am loving as I have missed colouring in! There’s also some non fiction picture books, as it’s always nice to research real life stuff and to learn something new! And there’s also a Middle Grade in the making. I know, I can’t believe my luck!