We chat to queen of cute, Linzie Hunter, about What if, Pig?
Linzie Hunter is originally from Scotland but now lives in London. She creates fun artwork and hand-drawn lettering for a variety of books, magazines, stationery and toys, packaging and advertising campaigns all over the world. What if, Pig? is the first book that Linzie has written as well as illustrated. We have been eagerly anticipating its release ever since catching a glimpse of it on Instagram earlier this year.
What if, Pig? is an extraordinary book which helps children cope with anxiety and self-doubt. It's one of the best and most timely books we own, and I will definitely be buying it as a gift for others future (read our review). This brilliant book will be published by HarperCollins in next month, and I was delighted to chat to Linzie all her amazing debut as author-illustator...
How did you get the idea for this What if, Pig? I’m a BIG TIME worrier and I really wanted to write a book about anxiety and worrying that might have helped me when I was little. So many of us suffer from social anxiety or are prone to catastrophising, and both of these things take up a lot of time and energy. Things got significantly better for me when I learned that I was not alone in how I felt, and I wanted to write something that shared that message, hopefully in a not too serious way.
I LOVE how this is structured using a series of “What if?” questions, which how children often begin enquiries. Was this the plan from the start or was it something that emerged as the story developed? It was something that just evolved naturally. The first draft only had a couple of ‘what if?’ questions in the middle. In fact, I actually started the story in the middle. As the story grew, I began to think about how our worries can escalate and started to add in more ‘what if?’ questions to create a growing sense of panic. But I also realised that what is special about ‘what ifs’ is that they can lead to really positive outcomes too, and, with that in mind, I was able to flesh out the whole story, largely as a series of questions.
I love how Mouse doesn’t try to talk Pig out of his plans or dismiss his fears. He is so supportive of Pig and doesn’t attempt to change him. Do you have someone like Mouse in your life? I have a lot of great friends, for whom I am forever thankful but the person most like Mouse would be my partner, John (who is actually a librarian). He’s wonderfully patient and an exceptionally good listener. Two traits I could definitely work on myself!
I love the spread where all the characters talk about their individual worries, especially as childhood can be fraught with fears – both rational and irrational. What was your own biggest concern when you were a child (or a grown-up)? Oh gosh, so many I’m sure. I do remember a period in primary school where I was worried about how seriously I’d be taken as an adult when I was stuck with a ‘little girl’s’ first name. I have no idea where that came from, but it was quite a concern. Thankfully, as a long-time adult I can confirm that, other than having to spell my name every single time, it hasn’t really held me back.
This is such a moving story and so funny too! Was it difficult to strike that balance or did this come naturally? Thank you, that’s so nice to hear. You know, in my experience of life, even in the darkest moments, it’s often humour that sees us through. I’m a Scot (and a Glaswegian) and I think we’re particularly good at seeing the funny side of things when life gets rough. It’s in our blood. Those two human emotions sit so closely side-by-side.
Do you have any traits in common with Pig? Do you have a tendency to overthink? Do you like to make fancy invitations? Ha! Well, I like to think that everyone is a little like Pig sometimes. That’s certainly what I found after talking to my friends. I’ve discovered that even my most confident of friends have all sorts of secret worries.
I never make fancy invitations, mostly because that would entail having to throw some sort of anxiety-inducing party. I’m an introvert so that’s not really my idea of a good time. :)
I do make all my own birthday and holiday cards for friends and family though. It’s a lovely tradition but sometimes I wonder if it might not be a lot easier to just go buy a card from a store.
You’ve illustrated, and designed covers for, lots of bestselling titles, but this is your first book as the author as well as illustrator. Was it very different (and exciting!) to be the author as well as the illustrator this time? Yes! Apart from creating a hand-lettered postcard book, I’ve only ever illustrated other people’s words. I definitely have a lot more respect for the role of the writer. It’s wonderful to feel in creative charge of both the words and pictures, but it does also feel like a surprisingly big responsibility. It’s fun though and it feels like an exciting new stage of my career.
Was there anything you found challenging while working on this project? I created the artwork right at the start of the pandemic, so it was a pretty strange and worrying time. Like so many, I moved my computer home, and my partner and I set up office at our dining table. It was intense. Thankfully, I had the most amazing team in New York working with me (editor Clarissa Wong and art director Chelsea Donaldson at HarperCollins). So, despite everything, I did feel really supported.
Was it a long journey from the first idea to first draft, publishing contract and then to finished book? Well, as you know, the whole publishing process takes a long time but finding a home for What if, Pig? all happened faster than I could ever have imagined. My amazing agent - Lindsay Davis Auld at Writers House - championed Pig and this book right from the start, took the book to a six-publisher auction and secured a two-book deal. I really couldn’t have dreamed of a better outcome as a debut author.
The actual writing of the book took me a few weeks from start to finish. That being said, I’ve spent many years as an illustrator, not writing a book, so I like to say that it took me 6 weeks and 15 years to write this one.
Are you working on anything at the moment, and if so, can you tell us about it? Right now, I’m wrapping up the art for the second book about Pig and Mouse. I’m so grateful to be able to share more about their world.
You were a theatre stage manager before becoming an illustrator. How long did you work in theatre for and what prompted the career change? Was it very sudden or more gradual? I loved working in theatre until one day I just didn’t anymore. I have lots of great memories from going on tour and working in the West End, but I guess I felt frustrated. It was hard working in such a creative field, but only getting to realise the creative visions of other people. One day, I took the career change jump, and have never regretted it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring or emerging authors and illustrators? Go for it and know that it is entirely possible to make a good standard of living as an illustrator. I think so much of your ‘success’ lies in understanding that a huge chunk of your time will be spent running a business and not actually drawing. If you can get your head around the freelancing side of things, you’ll do OK.
Roughly how many sketchbooks do you own? Too many to count. I usually have about 10 on the go at the same time.
Twice a year, you offer free mentoring in illustration - could you tell us a bit more about this? Usually, I offer face-to-face mentoring to a recent graduate or early career illustrator but in Covid-times, I’ve moved to peer group mentoring groups via Zoom. One advantage is that I’ve been able to mentor more people, from all over the country.
It had been something I’d wanted to do for a long time. So many people guided and mentored me when I was starting out and I guess it’s my way of giving back and saying thank you. I’m aware that graduates really struggle with the business side of being an illustrator and that’s something that I feel I can help with. It benefits everyone in the industry when new illustrators know how to negotiate their contracts, protect their copyright, and demand fair fees.
You’re a huge supporter of indie bookshops – do you have a favourite? It’s impossible to pick one. I’m the daughter of a shopkeeper so I really do understand how hard shop-owners work. I’ve chatted to lots of indie bookstores all over the world of late and I’ve been so warmed by the real sense of camaraderie between bookstores. They really are an amazing group of humans! It’s one of the reasons I’ve asked indie bookstores to be involved in my pre-order giveaway!
What were your favourite books when you were a child? Garfield has a lot to answer for. Those books were a childhood staple. Also, as I got a bit older, Judy Blume and Paula Danziger.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Getting up on a Monday morning and always being in a good mood. Oh, and not having a boss.
How would you describe your style? I’ve come to terms with the word ‘cute.’
Sausages are forbidden at Pig’s party - is there any food that you would ban if you could? Prawns? They’ve got little faces.
Finally, I consider myself a picture book snob – is there anything you’re snobby about? Significantly less things as I’ve gotten older… I don’t know… man-made fibres?
What if, Pig? is published by HarperCollins in the US on 8th June and in Ireland and the UK on 10th June. Linzie is running a fantastic competition to celebrate its release. To be in with a chance of winning FABULOUS prizes, just pre-order a copy from your local indie bookshop and send an email with proof of purchase to Linzie (firstname.lastname@example.org). Find more details about this amazing giveaway here and don't forget to sign up for Linzie's wonderful newsletter, The Cute List, too! Follow Linzie on Instagram for more updates on her work.
A HUGE thank you to Linzie for answering all of our questions - I hope you enjoyed reading her answers as much as I did. I'm also extremely grateful to Linzie and the lovely people in HarperCollins for sending us a copy of this book and some promotional images and in advance of publication (all opinions expressed are our own). We absolutely love What if, Pig? and can't recommend it highly enough. Congratulations to Linzie and everyone at HarperCollins involved in the creation of this fabulous book - Pig and Mouse are destined to become children's literature superstars!