Outside Swindon Waterstones just after the release. Photo courtesy of Ben Fitch

Outside Swindon Waterstones just after the release. Photo courtesy of Ben Fitch

It all started on the 1st of April, 2011, when I stumbled across THIS article. 

It inspired me to draw a very rough story that night of 'The Queen's Hat' - a simple tale about HRH losing her hat to a gust of wind that takes her and her guards on an impromptu tour of London - to take in to uni the next day.

My tutors loved it. And I knew it had potential. I knew it could be a lot of fun to develop, too.

Little did I know that I'd end up channelling the home-sick child in me that lived in the New Mexican desert for eight years.

Signing paperbacks in Swindon Waterstones

Signing paperbacks in Swindon Waterstones

I loved my childhood in the States - watching Saturday morning cartoons, eating Twinkies and digging forts in the desert with my brothers and our best friend, JR. But I occasionally yearned for home - walking down a cobbled street to buy a Flake bar from the corner shop, eating fish and chips with my dad on the weekend, feeding the ducks with my grandparents, searching for a new Mr Man in a bookshop while my brother fished out the latest Choose Your Own Adventure book.

I began creating a book that I would have loved as a kid, a reminder of home. I wanted to fill it with as many British icons as possible: umbrellas, Big Ben, double-decker buses, etc. Things that my friends in the States were fascinated by. Things that were/are British.

Being red-green colour-deficient actually helped me decide upon the book's colour palette. All of my books have few colours, but the colours are chosen carefully and with clear intentionality. The colours of the Union Jack were perfect for what I wanted to acheive!

I was so excited about the book. I entered contests and showed publishers (whenever the opportunity arose, which wasn't that often). People said it was 'too British' and that it wouldn't sell outside the UK. 

Searle's handwriting.

Searle's handwriting.

Around that time I received a hand written postcard from Ronald Searle. Earlier that year I was commended for an alphabet book about endangered animals that I'd entered into the The Searle Award for Creativity. Here's what he said.

"I checked your alphabet. Liked it very much. But prefer your tumbling guardsmen. The freer, looser style is infinitely more interesting. Keep it up!"

A window display at Waterstones, Trafalgar 

A window display at Waterstones, Trafalgar 

He'd obviously looked at my website. Because at that time I had an image from 'The Queen's Hat' on my homepage.

This complete surprise and absolute honour spurred me on to further develop 'The Queen's Hat'.

I went on to exhibit it at our class's final show at Foyles, London in February, 2013. 

Not long after, I signed with Hodder Children's. While developing the book with Hodder, we decided to add the 'spot the butler' subtext, which goes down a storm at events!

Now, I look back and find it remarkable that a chance discovery of a newspaper article (as well as tenacity, patience, positive-thinking and lots of drawing) has led to the creation of a real-life published picture book that you can actually buy in bookshops and borrow from libraries.

A few months ago a parent approached me after an event. She said that part of her family moved from the UK to another country (Spain, I think) and that they love 'The Queen's Hat' because it reminds them of home. 

Who would have guessed that 'The Queen's Hat' would publish in the States as well as other countries including Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, Brazil, France and Spain?

From concept...

From concept...

to creation...

to creation...

to reviews...

to reviews...

to festivals (Hay Festival)...

to festivals (Hay Festival)...

to being in the paper (cringe)...

to being in the paper (cringe)...

to a sequel (which is out now)...

to a sequel (which is out now)...

to painting Shaun the Sheep (which fetched £15000.00 for charity)...

to painting Shaun the Sheep (which fetched £15000.00 for charity)...

to a London Symphony Orchestra adaptation...

to a London Symphony Orchestra adaptation...

to co-editions (this is the Japanese edition, published by Hyoronsha)...

to co-editions (this is the Japanese edition, published by Hyoronsha)...

to meeting Gillian Anderson.

Posted
AuthorSteve Antony