Small!: An Interview with Hannah Moffatt
Congratulations on your debut book Hannah, I absolutely adored Small! It's so uniquely funny and imaginative. I read it in one sitting grinning from ear to ear. So tell me, when did you first realise you had such a talent for writing funny stories?
Thank you so much! I guess it must have been when I started the City Lit Writing for Children class and people laughed (in a good way!) at the work I was bringing in. I’ve always loved comedy – I grew up on a diet of Monty Python, Mr Bean, Adrian Mole and Terry Pratchett. I’m thrilled I might be able to make others laugh, too.
How did you come up with the idea for Small! and its incredible cast of characters and how did you decide which themes to address?
The idea came from a prompt in a City Lit class to write a scene set in an unusual school. The image of a boy drinking soup from a bowl as big as a bathtub popped into my head and I started wondering what life would be like if a normal kid pretended to be a giant.
The setting naturally lent itself to themes of friendship, fitting in and difference. Some of Harvey’s other worries came later once I really got to know him.
How do you approach world building especially with such a zany world as Small!?
Slowly! I tend to write characters talking in a vacuum in early drafts and gradually layer the world in later once I know where the plot is going.
Do you put yourself in your books/characters at all?
Not deliberately at the start, but I see myself in there by the end! Arguably Small! is a thinly veiled story about imposter syndrome: in my grown-up life I’ve often felt a bit like a kid on stilts pretending to be a giant.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I don’t know if I have a typical day. When I’m in my day job, I’ll try and cram in 30 mins of writing before work. Luckily, I’m part-time, so I have one full writing day a week, too … and I was always pretty good at writing all day. Now Small!’s out, I juggle writing new things with visiting schools and promoting Small! It’s all great fun, but it means every writing day is different.
Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
I tend to start with a pantser draft just to get a feel for what the story might be about. Then I use that draft to write a proper outline.
As a new author, what is your favourite part of the writing/publishing process?
There are so many bits I’ve enjoyed. Meeting all the other 2022 kidlit debuts on Twitter has definitely been a highlight. They’re such a supportive bunch. It’s wonderful to be able to share the experience with other writers who have the same hopes and fears about the process. (Although the Small! launch party in Waterstones Trafalgar Square was an amazing moment, too!)
Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?
I love writing. In my day job I write lots of serious grown-up things for businesses. When I’m not at work, I love the joyful escapism that comes from writing children’s stories. Now Small!’s a real book, there’s also something extra special about knowing a child could pick it up, and maybe, just maybe it could be THE book that turns them into a reader for life.
If I get into a slump, I always watch Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ commencement speech. It gives me just the kick I need to get writing again.
What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
I recently took an assembly at my nephew’s primary school. He was the original Harvey and seeing his classmate’s reaction to the book was wonderful.
Describe seeing Harvey's world coming to life through Rory's illustrations.
He’s a genius! I never imagined anyone would be able to capture the wackiness of the story so perfectly. I’m so grateful my publisher found him.
What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
I’m not sure there’s one thing. Although if there are other children out there like Harvey, who blame themselves for things they can’t control, I hope they’ll see problems aren’t always their fault.
Other than that, I hope readers leave with a great big smile and run off to pick up their next book.
What's the most important thing for you about writing for children?
In a word: fun. Writing for children is SO much fun. I hope children will find reading my stories fun, too (I’d be devastated if picking up Small! felt like a homework chore).Children are my perfect audience because they’re naturally imaginative and up for going on wild and wacky adventures (within the safety of a book, of course).
What are you working on now? Any chance of a sequel?
Fingers crossed. I’m working on something sequel-shaped at the moment but it’s not quite finished yet!
Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
Join a writing group. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t joined City Lit’s Writing for Children course and taken on board tons of feedback from my tutor (the awesome Lou Kuenzler) and classmates.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone stuck in a swamp?
Stick to the safe paths. And if you see a Swamp Flapper overhead, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction!
Lisa Garnett Photography. The cover of Small! was designed by Holly Ovenden with illustrations by Rory Walker.