With that, she hands out minute copies of her books, deposits the teeny-weeny model of Saturn back in its box (“my current favourite small object”) and sends her audience out into the autumn afternoon to look at the world through new eyes.
Where else would you find a miniature boat, a tiny sheep, a miniscule candy cane, penguin-ing children, poisonous sea snakes, and an entire planetary system paced out around the room by a group of volunteers from the audience than at a talk by Fleur Hitchcock, author of the Shrunk series and The Trouble with Mummies, to name but a few of her books.
Hitchcock likes things small. From childhood she has had a particular affection for model villages, places where the roofs of houses reach only as high as the knees of children – make a trip to Beckonscot, Babbacombe and Godshill if you too want to feel like a giant.
When her son decides to build his own model village at home, Hitchcock asks him how he might go about it. “I’m just going to shrink stuff” is the answer. He demonstrates his method: join the thumb and forefinger on one hand to make a circle, look through it, and measure between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand what you can see in the distance. “That’s how!”
So it is that Tom, the hero of Shrunk, who lives near the Bywater-on-Sea Model Village, wishes on a falling star and develops the ability to minimise objects, one of which just happens to be the planet Saturn. Cue Hitchcock’s presentation to her wondering audience of a teeny-weeny planet, small enough to fit inside the yellow capsule contained within a Kinder chocolate egg.
Her brain buzzes constantly with “a kaleidoscope of ideas that I have to wrench into order.” So many and various are her thoughts they could never all fit into one single novel, not least because “it would be impossible to read”. Hence a series of deeply imaginative books reflecting her diverse interests.
There’s a lot of stuff about ballroom dancing in The Yoghurt Problem, while Dear Scarlett grew out of Hitchcock’s vision of a young jewel thief pushing a pram filled with swag, and tackles the conundrum of how to steal a penguin. She is drawn towards the uncomfortable – children who are slow to make friends at school, siblings who squabble – for that is where life gets interesting.
“What I’ve tried to show you,” says Hitchcock, “is the very random selection of things that go on when I try to write a book.” With that, she hands out minute copies of her books, deposits the teeny-weeny model of Saturn back in its box (“my current favourite small object”) and sends her audience out into the autumn afternoon to look at the world through new eyes.
Claudia Pugh-Thomas at Fleur Hitchcock on Saturday 26 September as part of The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival continues until Sunday 4 October 2015
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