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Two Dogs / Mercury

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Interview With A Huddle Of Hippos Author, Julia Richman

huddle-of-hippos-cover          Julia Richman

Julia Richman talks to us about the ups and downs of writing the educational children’s book, A Huddle of Hippos, and her plans for future adventures.

Tell us briefly about your book. 

A Huddle of Hippos is a picture book about a young boy named Sam who goes on an African safari with his parents. I’ve used rhyming text to introduce a variety of cool collective nouns for animals in the bush. Geared for children aged 4 to 8 years, it includes beautiful, colour illustrations by Celeste Beckerling.


Why did you want to write this book? 

I wanted to write a lively story for children using rhythm and rhyme that could also teach them something fun and different. I love collective nouns! I remember them being one of the best things I learnt at school – I love how creative and clever they are. I have a whole compendium of wonderful collective nouns that has become one of my favourite reads.


Describe your creative writing process

When I come up with an idea I spend a long time planning. You have to ask yourself, how am I going to best entice the audience that I’m targeting, and how can I set my book apart from the tens of thousands of books already out there? I think about all the essential creative writing tools, like plot, characterization and writing style, so that I have a very good idea of what my story is about. And then I write it all down, and it looks like an absolute mess, so I edit till I’m blue in the face. Cut, cut, cut, till it’s pencil sharp. The rhyming adds another whole dimension and it’s not as easy as it may seem. It’s important to get the rhythm right.


What was your most challenging hurdle in publishing this book? 

I always wanted to have a book published through my husband’s publishing company, Burnet Media, and it was actually just such a rewarding experience, from start to finish, working with him, the publisher, plus illustrator and art director, all in an interactive, fun and hands-on way. I loved the process. Perhaps the challenging bit is that once you’ve finished your book, you realise that there is a lot more to do! It’s not just getting your book into bookstores and sitting back. It’s about finding your audience and doing events, storytimes, markets, school visits…


Who is your author hero? 

When it comes to children’s books specifically, Roald Dahl for his genius wit. I especially love Fantastic Mr Fox. And A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh) for the beautifully sensitive nature of his stories and the invaluable life lessons that shine through on every page. More recently, Julia Donaldson, for her brilliant imagination and storytelling ability.


What are you currently reading?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and What’s Your Moonshot by John Sanei.


Who inspires you?

My husband, Tim, and my son, Nicholas. And kind, creative souls.


What’s your next book? 

A Huddle of Hippos is the first of The Sam Series, and I’m aiming to put out at least one of those books a year, teaching other fun figures of speech, such as similes, metaphors and onomatopoeia. I’m also researching for a story that can help children develop self-confidence.


What drew you to write children’s books? 

I wrote articles for magazines for years, and then began feeling like I wanted to be more expressive with my words and play around more. I completed the Get Smarter creative writing course through UCT and Penguin Random House in 2014 and really loved it. I used everything I learnt from that to put together my first book, an Early Reader for 7- to 10-year-olds called Katya’s Hairy-Tales: The Bacon Chase, which was published by Penguin Random House in November 2015.

Wanting to start a family also definitely played a role.

What was your favourite childhood book?

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.


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