Perfect Duo - A conversation with Hannah & Allen
With the Writer Spotlight Series, we create a positive image for Black girls to refer to, by having conversations with different writers and illustrators. This month we have been doing Q&As with many writers, to get to know more about them and their work. Here, we are showcasing all the questions we have asked Hannah Lee and Allen Fatimaharan the author and illustrator of My Hair and The Rapping Princess.
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The Rapping Princess is your latest collaboration. What was the inspiration behind this story? What discussions did you have on how to bring the story to life with the illustrations?
H: I loved fairy tales when I was growing up. The Twelve Dancing Princesses, written by various authors, is my favourite book. One book that stood out to me as a child. Only a few people know I enjoy rapping, especially freestyle rap. I created The Rapping Princess on my phone, the best way to produce a funky rap fairy tale story. Just like a rap artist, when they are rhyming, they’ll write it down on a notepad. I think that was the best way to write about Shiloh and her musical journey.
A: Hannah sent me lots of creative references, most of them looked like familiar fairy tales. This also included music references, like the recent hip hop and R&B songs. Having these creative references really helped me. I love getting feedback, which helps me as well.
What was the best part about working together?
H: I’ve really found it easy working with Allen, there’s consistent communication. We’re both very visual. Allen will share with me a step-by-step process, which I don’t know if another artist does. It's lovely to work with someone that understands my vision. Allen would send me a very early sketch and straight away I can see beyond the sketch and how that character would come to life. That’s the best part about working with Allen, he’s very talented.
A: I love getting feedback. Hannah is great at just creating these mood boards, like a creative storyboard. That way I get a moral sense of what the story is about, the atmosphere and the world she’s going for. It was a good collaboration on both stories.
When did you discover your love for art /writing? What was that like?
H: I discovered I wanted to be a writer at primary school. I wrote a diary, I would say age seven or eight years old. It was me writing about my day, everything I did, and it was very detailed. That’s when I discovered I enjoyed writing. I’ve always written stories. The story My Hair, there's two characters who's named after two boys I went to school with, because I promised them when I was in primary school, I would one day write a story and add them.
A: I loved drawing when I was a child, however I didn't know you could do this for a living. I remember watching Beauty and Beast, in the 90s. Before the film, there was a segment about the making of the film, showing the artist drawing the animation stills with pencils. That’s when I realised people can do this for a living. After watching this movie, I really wanted to be an animator and also work for Disney. I went to university and did an animation degree which included illustration too. After finishing University I couldn't find enough work within the illustration or animation industry, so I did other jobs while drawing in my spare time. I really enjoyed picking up my sketchbook and learning, which made me become better and better. I became confident and could make this a career, it's been a long journey.
What advice do you have for children writers and illustrators of colour?
H: My best advice would be to keep going, keep writing or drawing. All of this creativity will always live inside your head. If you keep those thoughts inside your head, then you can’t build on it and no one else can see them. Sometimes, as creatives, we’re terrified to share our thoughts and can somewhat be protective of them. There are a few people who can write a picture book, however we’re all different and we have different styles of writing. Believe in yourself, believe in your ideas.
A: I agree with Hannah, I would say surround yourself with people who love doing similar things to you. While I was studying for my Master's course, I had a group of friends who were also devoted to drawing and developing their skills. I think once they get better; you get better. It’s great to have friends that support and encourage you to do better.
What mediums do you create your work in?
A: I start with a pencil on paper, scan the sketches and colour them digitally in Photoshop by using digital brushes and different textures.
My Hair was your first collaboration. What was one of the best feedbacks you received for this book?
H: The best feedback would be from readers who have said “I can see myself in this story” and they really enjoy reading, it’s such a delightful feeling. I remember a heart-warming review from a blogger who had a blog called Smiles and Drool - she had a daughter and it was lovely to hear that she enjoyed reading and her support means a lot to me.
A: Yes, I remember that review. It was lovely to see photos of them reading it together and sharing it with friends.
Who were your favourite authors/illustrators growing up?
A: I mostly read comic books when I was younger. It was mostly Asterix, Tintin and Donald Duck. When I started reading illustrated books, it was authors like Raymond Briggs who wrote The Snowman and Ronald Searle, British illustrator who influenced the 101 Dalmatians Disney film. More recently, there have been lots of talented illustrators that have been an influence, including Dapo Adeola and Chris Riddell.
H: There was a set of Cinderella stories that were rewritten. There were pocket size books. I remember the lovely illustrations. It wasn't like the regular fairy tales; the stories were a little gruesome. I remember in our classroom we had Handa Surprise by Eileen Browne, also we had the Grace series written by Mary Hoffman that was the first time seeing Black characters within a story. The most recent diverse books we read at school were the Biff and Chip series, especially The Magic Key, that featured Black characters like Wilf and Wilma.
Describe your creative space. And why is it special to you?
A: I would say my creative space is messy. Having materials and sketches around me keeps me inspired. I have tried to tidy up my space, however it will get messy again after a few hours. I would describe my creative space as joyful chaos.
H: I love having lots of gel pens surrounded by my laptop. I have a fluffy narwhal ball; it helps me exercise my hands after typing for a few hours. I’m also surrounded by stacks of colouring books and music fills my creative space as well.
Quick Fire Round
What’s your hidden talent?
H: I can turn the shape of my tongue into a clover!
A: I’m great at running.
What are you currently reading?
H: I’ve just finished reading Circle by Madeline Miller.
A: I’ve also just finishing reading Amber Undercover by Em Norry
Your favourite snack?
H: If I say one, then the other snacks are going to be mad with me, okay my favourite snack is cheese and onion crinkles crisp. That’s my answer sorry to all the other snacks!
A: I would say Jaffa Cakes.
The Rapping Princess By Hannah Lee illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Available from bookshop.org
About the author
Hannah lives in London. She always had a passion for books, however she didn’t see any stories with characters that looked like her. Following her passion, she started writing. My Hair was Hannah’s debut picture book, which was Highly Commended in the 2017 FAB Prize for writing. Hannah's new book, The Rapping Princess, a modern fairytale about finding your voice.
About the illustrator
Allen was born in Sri Lanka, and now lives in the UK. Allen is an illustrator and animator. My Hair was his first picture book, and he came second place in the FAB Prize for illustration. We think Hannah and Allen are the perfect duo and we look at the new colourful illustrations in The Rapping Princess.