I posted a version of this article recently, one of several guest bloggers, for The Walled Garden Hoo’s Kids Book Fest website in preparation for launch of the festival on Sunday 21st April. It touches on the early ideas behind Hugless Douglas and how the look of a character can change and morph as the story develops and that, despite my best efforts, this can continue once a book is published…
The idea for Hugless Douglas came about while reading to my son, who was four at the time. It began with a series of silly made up hugs. One particular night we were both yawning our way through a story and when we’d finished I said ‘It’s time for a Tired Hug,’ The next night we had a Lights-Out Hug. It snowballed from there really, with new hugs making an appearance over the next few days. The morning might start with a Breakfast Hug, then a little later a Can I have a Snack Hug? and so on.
Now during this time I was spending my days at my drawing board trying to come up with a story for a bear. I hadn’t written a book with a bear as a main character and I thought it would be a nice, fun thing to draw. (When you know a picture book takes anything from 4-6 months to produce these considerations are important).
Well, I wish I could tell you that it wasn’t long before I made a connection between bears and hugs but, I’ll be honest, it was the best part of a week, skipping between types-of-hugs and bear story-ideas. It’s obvious now! But once I’d made the connection the story pretty much wrote itself.
I’m often asked ‘which comes first, the writing or the drawing?’ The simple answer is, for me, they are both part of the same process. In this case, once I’d had the story idea for a-bear-looking-for-a-hug I turned to my sketchbook. I started to draw bears hugging varies things.
As you can see from these early sketches a character may start out looking quite different before I settle on the right ‘look’ and before it is finally published.
This is the first colour sample I did.
He’s getting pretty close here. Still a pre published version, but it was enough to start drawing the roughs for the story.
(Douglas is not the only character to have transformed as the stories and books have progressed. Take a look at Rabbit in the first book and compare him to the second title Don’t Worry Hugless Douglas).
Coming up with titles
The title of a book and the names of characters can be tricky. By the time I began to think seriously about these details I had already written and sketched out the story. I made a list of nice sounding words, and titles that related to the bears predicament;
The Cuddle Muddle
‘The Bear with No Hug’
“Where is my Hug?
The Hug Hunt
Hunting Hugs etc
Well, somewhere down that list I wrote ‘Hugless’ and, with half my mind still searching for a name, I found a happy rhyming match with “Hugless Douglas!”
It was only much later, on listening to an episode of Porridge, the well known 70’s TV programme starring Ronnie Barker, that I heard a one line joke where someone is referred to as ‘Lugless Douglas.’ I almost certainly had that stored away in my brain when I wrote down Hugless Douglas but I didn’t make the connection until I heard the programme.
A happy accident or an unconscious coincidence? Either way, Hugless Douglas was born and I’m very happy that he is still busy jumping around the pages of picture books, for a good while yet, I hope!