Olivia Hope interviews writer and illustrator of the Mr Men and Little Miss series, Adam Hargreaves.
It is often the innocuous or the unexpected that can spark story idea. Who knew that when a young Adam Hargreaves asked his father what a tickle looked like that it would inspire one of the most recognisable and fondly regarded book series for young readers – The Mr Men and Little Miss characters.
Now in its forty-seventh year, the Mr Men and Little Miss series is a stalwart on any child’s bookshelf, which also boasts a successful animated version – The Mr Men Show; indubitably narrated by Simon Callow. Although Roger Hargreaves passed away in 1988, the stories are still very much bristling with colourful personalities, thanks to Adam taking on the mantle of writing new stories, featuring Little Miss Bad, Mr Cool, Little Miss Whoops and Mr Rude, and the latest character to bounce out of this brilliant series is Little Miss Inventor.
It was with much excitement, and a great deal of fandom that I got to interview Adam Hargreaves for Writing.ie’s Down the Rabbit Hole.
Firstly, thanks for taking the time to speak to Writing.ie, Adam, can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
I am working on a number of different Mr Men and Little Miss books at the moment. I have just finished a new story for the Mr Men Adventure series and if it goes down well with everyone then I will be starting on the illustrations next. I can’t say too much other than the Mr Men are shrinking, ‘down the rabbit hole’ is rather appropriate in this instance.
I have also recently finished a third book for my new Molly Mischief series which I am particularly excited about as they are the first books with my name on the cover!
And I have just begun writing a new story for the Mr Men Everyday series, this one is about cooking, but I don’t quite know yet how it will turn out. It’s in the thinking stage.
So I’m keeping busy!
You are an established artist in your own right, but writing and illustrating the Mr Men series wasn’t exactly your first career choice. Can you describe some of the other careers you have had? Do they help inform your work now?
I have been working on Mr Men and Little Miss for nearly 30 years this year since my Dad died. Prior to that I spent 6 years working on farms and going to Agricultural college. I had always loved drawing, and went to art college for a year, but couldn’t see how to make a career out of it. I’d always enjoyed being outside and my family on my mother’s side were all farmers so it seemed like a good route to take. My rose tinted view of working on the land was rather quickly disabused by 12 hour days in a tractor cab above a roaring diesel engine, however I still like it. It did wear thin eventually and I have to admit that I was looking for a career change before my Dad died.
It must have been a big step taking on the Mr Men/ Little Miss series, had you any goals when you began? What have you learned in that time?
In retrospect I think that my saving grace was my ignorance and naivety when I started as that spared me becoming too daunted by the whole business. Fortunately, I had some very good advice and support while I learnt the ropes.
There are many things I have learnt along the way, but to pick one, it is an appreciation for just how good and clever my Dad’s idea really is. My admiration keeps on growing. It’s remarkable that all these years on the books are still as popular and successful as they are which is a true testament to the idea.
Which comes first in your creative process – the character to illustrate or the character’s story? Also, have you a preference for either aspect of the process?
The character’s name is the first point as this provides the theme for the story. Then the story because that may influence the design of the character and without a good, strong, funny story then it doesn’t work anyway.
I definitely enjoy illustrating more than writing. Writing involves thinking harder, although we are talking Mr Men books here, so not that hard! But it is the trickier part because you never know when an idea might occur to you compared to illustrating, where it is all planned out and I can just get on with the fun bit. In fact, a lot of the time I have already illustrated a page in my head while I’m writing the story.
Have you any writing or illustrative rituals?
With writing, I find it helps if I look up a whole lot about the subject I need to write about and then leave it. Somehow, it seems to bubble away in the back of my mind and, seemingly out of the blue, an idea will pop into my head. I just hope it happens before the deadline my publisher has set!
Your latest book is Little Miss Inventor, tell us a little about her – was she an easy character to write about?
She was a fun character to write a story for, because I got to invent all sorts of daft inventions. That did rather test my imagination.
What type of books inspire you at the moment? Have you a favourite children’s writer or illustrator whose writing or art you love?
I used to read a lot of children’s books when my children were young as bedtime stories, but now they are all grown up I have rather lost touch with what is being published currently. Having said that, I really enjoyed the Charlie and Lola books.
As cheesy as it might sound, my Dad is my real writing inspiration. If only for the simple fact that I have been trying to replicate his style for the last 30 years and I have learnt a huge amount just by that process.
And finally, if you could spend a day as a Mr Men or Little Miss character, then who would it be?
I spend every day being Mr Forgetful because of my appalling memory, so it might be rather nice to be Mr Clever for a day. Although, he is a bit of an insufferable know it all!
Many, many thanks for your time, Adam.
We look forward to adding Little Miss Inventor to our collections.
Little Miss Inventor (Egmont) was launched on March 8th to coincide with International Women’s Day and British Science week, aimed at children aged two and upwards, RRP £3.99