Author Q&A | Nicola Hulme (Portia the Pear)

Nicola Hulme is the author of Portia the Pear; a brand new children’s book set for release on September 7th.  She is one of a collection of new authors that Tiny Tree Children’s Books will publish in 2017 and the story of a knobbly, bobbly pear called Portia will be her debut children’s book.

You can find out more about the book here, but we thought you might want to get to know Nicola a little better too.

Hi, Nicola! What was it that first drew you into writing?

I’ve always loved books since my trips to the children’s library as a toddler. I loved writing stories from my earliest days in school. The way words can conjure up images and stir the imagination, has always fascinated me.

After school, apart from writing journals, I stopped to focus on career, family, home etc. as most people do. It was reading bedtime stories to my children that fanned the flames again and drew me back into writing. Jess, my eldest, is 13 now, but she adored bedtime stories. Jack is now 5 years old and has the same passion. It’s wonderful to watch his face light up when there’s a surprise on the next page.

I recently saw a toddler run through Waterstones pointing to his favourite book. With a dummy between his teeth, he was shouting “Oi Dog! Oi Dog!” His face was beaming with delight. That’s my dream, to write something that has that reaction.

What kind of things have you written before?

I wrote a play, in rhyme, which was performed on stage at High School. I won a couple of poetry competitions around the same time. I used to be called upon at work to write funny poems, to be read out at presentations to colleagues, who were leaving or getting married etc.

I attend local writing groups, a poetry group and try to fit in as many workshops as I can. I love learning new techniques and meeting fellow writers. I’ve recently completed the 2017 NaPoWriMo Challenge of writing a poem a day for the whole of April.

This is my first publication. I have lots of stories that are “work in progress” behind the scenes and a head full of ideas.

Where did the idea for Portia the Pear come from?

The idea for Portia came during a writing workshop held at Tatton Park, instructed by the very talented Joy Winkler; Cheshire’s Poet Laureate (2005). The course was called “Write like Roald Dahl.” Who wouldn’t like to write like Dahl?

After a morning’s lesson from Joy, she sent us out into the Kitchen Gardens with the instruction, to find inspiration and write a story. We then had to come back and read it out to the group.

As I entered the gardens, the first sight to greet me was the pears growing on the branches along the trellises. There were some pears that looked perfect in shape and colour and then a couple of twisted ones, which caught my attention. There were fallen fruit on the floor that had been partially eaten by a caterpillar. As I was studying them, a butterfly landed on my stomach. I’m not keen on anything that flaps, so I  encouraged it to fly off, but it stayed for what seemed a long while. I had my first two characters.

The story itself drew on the challenges children experience. It’s difficult for a child to envisage time, so a problem can seem like it will go on forever. I wanted to show how life constantly changes and a trouble encountered today may be gone tomorrow. I was hoping to show that you never know what tomorrow holds, so just enjoy today and value what’s important, like friendship.

You’ve got young children, have they influenced the book at all?

Jess influenced the story in an indirect way. She was only 6 years old when she came home from school saying her legs were too fat. Her classmates had been comparing legs in PE class and hers were amongst the “fattest”. At the time she was studying gymnastics, running and swimming, so there was nothing “fat” about her. We had a long chat about media manipulation and body images. I think this topic emerged from my subconscious, as I wrote Portia.

Do they like the story?

Jack won’t entertain the story because it hasn’t got pictures yet, so I have to wait to show him the finished product before I can answer your question. Jess likes the story but at 13, she is too cool to associate too closely with a story of a pear. However, as the illustrations came through and family and friends began to create a buzz about it, she was quite keen to tell her friends that her mum was an author.

The book covers pretty serious subjects – positive body image and bullying being just two of them – do you think it’s important to have people understand these things at an early age?

I think it is important we teach life lessons and values very early, it helps children to make informed decisions when we are not there, at nursery or primary school for example. I hope Jack will support his friends if he ever sees they are being bullied or teased.

As for the age to teach them; children are incredibly clever, ask any parent. If a book captures their attention, sometimes the child responds with a deep understanding of the message it holds. They are smart cookies!

I understand they may take different messages from books as they develop. A story can be taken at face value by a young child and they begin to understand the deeper meanings as they grow. However, they do surprise you and catch on to underlying ideas and sentiments very quickly.

I hope the message of friendship and support comes through, as well as not worrying too much how you look or fit in. Everyone feels they are different in some way and experiences times where they think they don’t fit in. We need to help children to understand different doesn’t mean bad or worse, just different. A rainbow would be dull in just one colour.

We’ve seen a few illustrations from Elena Mascolo. What did you think when you first saw them?

I was amazed when I saw the illustrations. They are beautiful and the colours are perfect.

It’s the strangest and most wonderful experience to see your words brought to life by someone else. I don’t know if I can describe the feeling well enough, but it was better than any birthday or Christmas present I could have imagined. It was better than graduation. It was the best gift I could ever receive. Not only is it exciting, surprising and delightful to the senses, it also carried with it a validation. It says, “Your work is good enough for an artist to put her skills to use on it.” I cried with joy and smiled for days.

Portia the Pear will be out on September 7th, 2017. Is it safe to say that you’re excited?

I am bursting with excitement. Writing the story was magical. Being accepted by Tiny Tree for publishing was incredible. Seeing the illustrations as they took form was mind-blowing. I can’t wait to see the book in its final format. You may have to hold me down.

Portia the Pear is released on September 7th 2017. You can pre-order the book from us here.