In Conversation With Hannah Peck
last updated 24 October 2023
Interview by Rachel Moffat
We were honoured to chat with the incredibly talented Author/Illustrator Hannah Peck who’s love of books took her to study English at university, where she stocked up on Gothic stories, English ‘lore, and mythical poems that would later inspire her narrative illustrations.
Literary Agent Katie Blagden commented: After establishing herself as award-nominated illustrator, and successfully breaking into chapter books with the brilliant Kate on the Case series, I was so excited to hear that Hannah wanted to tackle her debut Middle Grade. Her’s research into historical life and local folklore fed into those early discussions as The River Thief was born. Hannah’s broad interests combined with her diligent focus makes her an amazing writer, and I was so excited to read her first chapters. I’m thrilled that she’s working again with Ruth Bennett at Picadilly Press to make the magic of The River Thief a reality.
What are your first memories of writing?
I remember copying small bits and pieces into notebooks when I was younger – not really a diary but more a log of things I’d heard at school, song lyrics or jokes. I’m not sure what I was trying to achieve there (it feels vaguely special-detective-in-training) but it felt important to write them down.
Images from Hannah’s Studio
Where are you from and how does that affect your work?
I was born in London but moved all over the UK as a child and went to school in America for a while. I feel this has given me a real appreciation for what children find comfort in, as well as their capacity for adventure. I spent my teenage years living in the suburbs in Hampshire, near a large town but surrounded by countryside. Something about the unsettling nature of this landscape, which is also potentially boring to a child, seems to wind its way into my writing, as well as the way magic and imagination can transform it.
Illustrations from Kate on the Case
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Either starting or finishing! The middle is where it gets complicated for me (and many writers in general) as it’s where you’re working out those more idealistic plans you made at the start and seeing whether they hold up. I think it’s also what makes or breaks a book, so perhaps there’s more pressure there.
Illustrations from Kate on the Case: The Call of the Silver Wibbler
How do you develop your writing skills?
Although there have been some helpful podcasts and books I’ve learnt from, I’d say you can’t substitute reading and writing as the central way to develop. Freewriting with a sense of curiosity, as opposed to judgement, and seeing what crops up repeatedly is a great way to take off the pressure and get to know your natural preferences, both in terms of style and content.
Illustrations from Kate on the Case: The Headline Hoax
What is it like writing for a new age range (moving from chapter books to middle grade books)?
It’s been a challenge, but a very welcome one. Writing Kate on the Case came naturally to me, and it fitted very clearly into a niche market. With middle grade there are many more moving parts: multiple characters, backstories, conflicting motivations and, of course, more words. Stylistically it feels more exposing, which is both nerve-wracking and also something I can be proud of when watching my writing mature. As with most projects I work on, whether writing or illustrating, I seem to enter a process of boiling down multiple ideas to a central message. I’m grateful I experience it this way around, as opposed to struggling to come up with ideas, and am lucky to have editors and agents to help me whittle away my thoughts into a cohesive narrative.
Kate on the Case: The Headline Hoax Book Launch January 2023
What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?
I’m working on lots of different projects at the moment – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy. The days do vary, but I typically try to get up early, work from home for an hour or so on writing and emails with a coffee, before heading into the studio for illustration. I try and spend at least two to three days at a time on the same project – I find it takes more energy to stop and start a project than sink into it and work on it consistently.
Images from Hannah’s Studio
Who/What have been your key influences?
Magical realism, folklore and nature writing (the latter two of which are currently having a moment in the UK) have always interested me – they seem to me a more grounded version of fantasy, more attached to our own landscapes, and perhaps more about the magic in the mundane. Authors like Frances Hardinge, Sally Gardner and Eva Ibbotson were huge for me growing up, and evoke such a sense of place but also motive and urgency that I’d love to bring to my books too. I’m attracted to similar themes in adult fiction – over the last year or two while I’ve been working on my debut middle grade book I’ve read a muddle of historical and contemporary fiction, but have enjoyed Anna Burns, Claire-Louise Bennett, Hannah Kent, Claire Keegan, Ottessa Moshfegh and Daniel Kehlmann. Angela Carter will always have a special place in my heart too – I think whoever you’re reading when you’re coming of age sort of sets the scene for your tastes. It’s worth mentioning musicians too. I listen to a lot while I’m illustrating, but my forever-queens will always be the spooky and untamed Kate Bushes and Bjorks of the world – PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos etc.
Illustration from To Catch A Cloud, written by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Hannah Peck
To an aspiring writer, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re writing and try to be as honest as possible with yourself. If you don’t like the setting, form or characters, you’re not going to like writing the rest of the piece. It’s you who’ll be spending the most hours in that world – more than your readers.
Do you have any ‘dream projects’ that you’d like to work on someday?
I’d like to write more fiction and work on adult book covers, particularly nature-based ones. I’m also really enjoying teaching at the moment, so the idea of putting together a course or hosting a term of classes would be exciting. I also love history and museums; perhaps a mural for something like this would be up my street. I could go on - if I had the time to have multiple careers I really would.
Breaking into Middle Grade Fiction
Hannah has been working on a middle grade fatasy book The River Thief which is scheduled to release October 2024 with Piccadilly Press. Ruth Bennett, editorial director, has aquired all language rights to the book from Katie Bladgen.
Hannah describes the book as “a fundamentally human story of conflicting beliefs and desires, culminating in a reckoning with the past.”
Read the full article here.
To work with Hannah, get in contact here.