Featured Children's Book Author and Illustrator: Helen and Tom Docherty

Published 2 years ago

One of the books we've featured in our Bookroo picture book boxes is The Snatchabook. We love the story and illustrations of The Snatchabook, and today we’re thrilled to bring you an interview with Helen and Thomas Docherty, the dynamic author and illustrator team (and couple) behind this delightful tale of the mysterious Snatchabook.

Bookroo Interview with Children's Book Author and Illustrator Helen and Tom Docherty

Helen and Tom Docherty with their daughters at a local street food event

Helen and Thomas are an award-winning, wife-and-husband creative duo with a fun story. Each has separately written and/or illustrated a number of stories, and together they have created four picture books. Their books have been shortlisted for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, the Booktrust Best Book Awards, and the Oscar's First Book Prize. The Snatchabok was winner of the Oldham Brilliant Book Award.

Bookroo: We’ve had The Snatchabook on our list of favorites for a while, and we’re so glad we could share it with our subscribers this month. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Helen: I got the idea at the end of a long day of trying to think up original story ideas. The words ‘book thief’ popped into my head, and with them the idea of a mysterious creature who steals storybooks in the night. At first I was going to call it the BookCruncher or the BookSnatcher, but these sounded a little menacing. I tried reversing the words and came up with the Snatchabook, which sounded more fitting for a lonely creature who just wants someone to read him a bedtime story. At the time, I was reading to our own children every night (actually, I still do!) - it’s such a special, important part of our daily routine.

Snatchabook Storybook Artist

The Snatchabook as artist

Bookroo: How do you collaborate together on a story? Do you work together on the story and illustrations, sharing ideas and feedback, or do you each do your part separately from the other?

Helen: It’s definitely a collaborative process, though it varies from book to book. With some stories, like The Storybook Knight, Tom has given me lots of ideas and we’ve discussed them in detail before I started writing; with others, I’ve written the text alone first (although Tom is always the first person I read a new story to - he gives excellent feedback). When Tom is preparing to illustrate one of our books, we discuss the characters together first, and how we imagine them to look. Then, when he is doing the illustrations, he always asks me for constructive criticism (though of course I’m not looking over his shoulder the whole time!). We’re very lucky that we get to work together on something we both love.

The Storybook Knight

Bookroo: What are your favorite parts of the creative process, from starting a new story to holding a published book in your hands?

Helen: I get very excited when I’ve come up with an idea that feels strong and original (it doesn’t happen every day, believe me!). I also love writing in rhyme; it’s a bit like solving a puzzle, finding the right rhymes to tell the story.

Thomas: I love developing the rough drafts of the illustrations, sketching out the characters and inventing the world they live in. At this point it’s still possible to change things and new ideas come up all the time as I’m working, so it’s very exciting.

Tom working while Cadi keeps him company

Bookroo: Helen, while as a youth you were already creating your own picture books, your path took a few twists and turns when you were older. Can you tell us about that path, and what led you back to your dream of being a writer?

Helen: That’s right; while I had my heart set on becoming an author when I was a child, at some point I realised that I needed to experience a bit more of life first. I studied languages (French and Spanish), and this took me abroad - to France, Spain, Cuba and Mexico, where I spent four years. I worked as a teacher for many years, and I also did a Masters in Film & TV Production, where I learned the art of crafting a narrative (which was to come in useful later!). It was Tom who rekindled my desire to write; we co-wrote a book when our first daughter was a baby: Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure.

Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure>

Bookroo: Thomas, you’ve mentioned that reading as a child was a real struggle for you because you are dyslexic. What have you learned from overcoming that challenge, and how has doing so impacted your work in children’s books?

Thomas: The most important thing to say is that just because you might struggle with reading doesn’t mean you can’t create great stories. I got into reading by looking at comics, and it was the pictures that encouraged me to read the words. I guess it’s not surprising that I ended up being an author and illustrator because I’ve always loved the way you can put words and pictures together to tell a story.

Bookroo: What are the most rewarding aspects of working together on stories? And what are the most challenging?

Helen: It’s such a joy when a story gets commissioned, and we find it easy to work together. The most challenging aspect is dealing with the lows of rejection or frustration which any writer or artist has to face; since we work together at home, we tend to soak up each other’s moods. Going out for a walk or run helps...or sharing some cake!

Bookroo: Aside from creating wonderful books, what are your interests, pastimes, or hobbies?

Helen: We both love walking, and we are very lucky to live near a beautiful coastline (the Gower). I recently did a 22 mile coast path charity walk (the Gower Macmarathon). We have also both been learning Welsh (not in the same class) for the last four years - our daughters go to Welsh medium school. It’s a challenging language to learn!

Thomas: I love going out sketching. My favourite place at the moment is Swansea bus station because of all the different people who are passing through.

Children's Book Author Helen Docherty

Helen completing the Gower Macmarathon sponsored cancer walk

Bookroo: As parents yourself, what routines do you follow to make sure you’re regularly spending time together reading with your daughters?

Helen: We never (or hardly ever) skip bedtime stories; the trick is to make it an indispensable part of the daily routine that everyone looks forward to, right from when the kids are really young. Even though our girls are older now and read on their own as well, they still love listening to a good story. At the moment, I’m reading them The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.

Bookroo: We’re a community of book lovers--do you have any teasers for upcoming books that you can share with us?

Helen: I’ve got a new picture book out (with a different illustrator, Ali Pye), You Can Never Run Out of Love, and another on the way… And we’re hoping to have another book together soon. Watch this space!

You Can Never Run Out of Love

Thomas: I’m illustrating the book of a historical play for schools by Julia Donaldson, creator of The Gruffalo at the moment, so very exciting!

We really appreciate the chance to learn more about Helen and Thomas and their creative work together. Be sure to check out their websites (Helen, Thomas) to learn more about their work as children’s book author and illustrator. And let us know what you enjoyed from the interview in the comments below!

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