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Interview: Janelle Wilkey and Deborah Hinde talk about Omeletta Hen

Janelle Wilky and Deborah Hinde talk to NZ Booklovers about Omeletta Hen.


What inspired you to write Omeletta Hen?

The story that I submitted for the Joy Cowley award, Omeletta Hen, was written in Fiji in 2017. I was inspired by one of our hens that delighted in tormenting me by laying eggs in odd locations. Her favourite spots were on the roof, up trees, behind pillows and on one occasion in the suitcase of friends visiting from Australia. It was not hard to conclude that these antics were very entertaining to children. My son and his cousins fell about laughing each time an egg got sat or stood on. Finding an intact egg in odd spots was always greeted with whoops of delight and an omelette in celebration. I wrote the story to amuse the kids and in an act of courage submitted it for the Joy Cowley Award once we had moved to New Zealand the following year.

What was it like winning the Joy Cowley Award?

Winning the award was so exciting. I received a call from Tessa Duder and was utterly shocked. It was a lovely boost to my confidence and an amazing opportunity to work on editing the story with Joy Cowley, who I cannot thank enough. Whilst I have read 100s of picture books over the years, having insight into how editors make decisions on the text and illustrations has been invaluable.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

My son and I have just finished a run of Roald Dahl books, all have been very well received, in particular, George's Marvellous Medicine. It has been lovely to revisit these stories from my childhood and have the gripping anticipation of what will happen next each night. He has taken to making concoctions and no pantry or shed ingredients are safe!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

We got a copy of Omeletta Hen in the mail a couple of weeks ago. The beautiful illustrations by Deb have brought it to life and despite my little guy being several years older, he still loved the story. We celebrated by having a mini book launch in the living room with friends and family.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

As for future plans, I would love to have the opportunity to submit another manuscript and have a growing pile on my desk. The great thing about having a child in your life is that they constantly remind you that the world is a strange and fascinating place. Even the little things can be a celebrated story, like finding an intact egg in your hat.

Working with the team at Scholastic has been a privilege and I look forward to the next stage in getting the book into the hands of keen little readers.


What inspired you to illustrate this book?

Scholastic approached me to see if I was interested in illustrating this book – I’d never illustrated chickens before so thought it would challenging and fun story to work on. It was also great to be invited to illustrate a Joy Cowley Award winning manuscript too!

What research was involved?

We were in France a few years ago and stayed with friends who had five chickens, a chocolate labrador and a ginger cat. The chickens would free range during the day and every evening there was the ritual walk to the hen house to shut them in to keep them safe from foxes. At times they were hilarious to watch - each hen would display their personality quite differently. So I had lots of photos and video from that time. I also have a neighbour with chickens so there was no problem with accessing reference material. When I researched on line how a hen lays an egg – it’s no wonder they squawk and carry on!

How did you collaborate as writer and illustrator together?

We actually haven’t met or talked to each other yet which is quite normal in the publishing world. All the character development sketches, page roughs and cover roughs were passed onto the author via the publisher, and any comments were all passed back to me the same way.

I am really looking forward to meeting Janelle at the Storylines Joy Cowley Award book launch on 6 Sept.

What was your routine or process when writing/illustrating this book?

Thumbnails are always my starting point, this way I get a world view of the pages and how they flow. I don’t include detail but I do make notes on the side. This is where I start to get a feel for the characters. It takes time to know a character so I find the process of reading the story over and over and jotting down my thoughts helps with this. Once the thumbnails were done I started working on both Omeletta’s and Nelson’s character roughs and samples. While the publisher was looking at these I kept working on the roughs but this time at a larger size before taking them up to full size and adding all the detail. Any tweaks to the characters were made at this stage too. These roughs went back to the publisher and were passed on to the book designer who made a few brilliant suggestions around placement of the illustrations. From then on it’s all about painting and checking character consistency before sending the files to Scholastic.

What did you enjoy the most about illustrating Omeletta Hen?

I really enjoyed working on Omeletta’s facial and body expressions. I sketched lots and lots of different poses that would express disdain, anger, naughtiness etc. My favourite illustration has to be when she laid that ENORMOUS egg – I really felt her pain!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

When you invest months working with characters, you get to know them really well so when they leave it takes a few days to adjust to them no longer taking up space in your head or in front of you. I usually clean the studio, have a break away from the computer for a few hours. I have even been known to bake a cake to celebrate!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I recently read Gareth Ward’s The Clockill and the Thief the sequel to The Traiter and the Thief. I often read YA books as I often think they’re better crafted than adult books. Ward certainly draws on his knowledge and life experience to create the steampunk world these fantastic stories are based in.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Next on the agenda for me is to complete two more books. Enough (working title) was awarded a CLNZ grant earlier in the year as a response to Covid 19. I’m collaborating with author Sarah Johnson on this which is exciting. We have a publication date set for April 2021. At the same time I’m working on another book project which will be coming out March/April next year too.


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