WRITING Swapna Haddow: The Gratitude of Being an Author

Successful children's author Swapna Haddow, talks to Ayo Oyeku about her journey as a writer, and how the craft of writing for children is an absolute source of gratitude for her.

Swapna is probably best know for the Dave Pigeon and Bad Panda series. She also writes the Ballet Bunnies series under her maiden name, Swapna Reddy. Her range is wide: from picture books to middle grade, fiction to non-fiction, with friendship and humour at the heart. Since her first mention in Words and Pictures in 2014, Swapna has become a full-time writer and is currently working on her 30th book!

AO: What books have influenced your writing?
SH: I have always loved reading. Books were an escape for me as a child, and they still are now. So many books have impacted my own writing. I’ve always loved books that made me laugh. Authors like Louise Rennison and the Ahlbergs were my writing heroes.

Right now, funny is at its funniest in children’s books! There are lots of brilliant comedic writers out there, including Serena Patel, Dav Pilkey, Raina Telgemeier, Michelle Robinson, Jory John and Rachel Hamilton, to name but a few.
AO: How did the public response to your first book help solidify your career switch?
SH: I couldn’t have asked for a warmer response to my debut book, Dave Pigeon, which is illustrated by Sheena Dempsey. We had incredible reviews and the book went on to win multiple awards. It’s my most successful book to date.

The problem with such an awesome response to your debut is the struggle to match that with the second, third, fourth and even the twenty-fourth book. I’ve been lucky because readers have been kind and they’ve been loyal. It’s a real privilege to do this job, so as long as the readers are happy, I’m happy.
AO: What genre of children’s literature helps you pass your message across best?
SH: I don’t like to think of books as ‘passing on a message’. Books that are too preachy don’t tend to sit well with me. 

I write with the intention of entertaining. Of course, there are themes across my books of friendship, love, understanding and family, but they are incidental to the story. When the book is out in the world, I’m open to readers finding whatever message they want in the story, and that’s what tends to happen.

AO: How did the story of your latest book, My Dad Is a Grizzly Bear, come to you?
SH:  The story started with my son. He genuinely thought his dad was a grizzly bear for a while! It got me thinking about what it might be like to live with an actual bear.
The inspiration for the book is what makes it so special to me– it’s about two of the most important people in my life.
AO: How important is family and parenting in the lives of children?

SH: Family is crucial, but it’s so important to recognise that there are many different versions of family out there. I hope this book lets mixed-race families feel seen – I can’t help but feel that there aren’t too many books out there that do this. But I also hope others relate to the story too. I’m sure we all have a grown-up in our lives that’s a bit like a grizzly bear, whether it’s our dad, granddad, uncle, brother or teacher.
AO: How did the illustrator help achieve your objectives for My Dad Is a Grizzly Bear?

SH: I love working with illustrators – they take your story to a different level. Dapo Adeola’s illustrations are so beautiful. When I wrote the story, I made illustration suggestions, but my only real stipulation was that the family was mixed-race; other than that, I thought it was important to let Dapo interpret the story in his own way. 

It’s always a surprise when I see what an illustrator has done with the story. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the book turned out – it’s stunning! I’ve just seen the second picture book we've created together. You are all in for a treat.
AO: Considering the number of your published works, do you consider yourself a prolific writer?

SH: Ha! What does a ‘prolific writer’ even mean?! I know I consider myself a very lucky writer. Publishing is a tough and fickle industry, so I am grateful for every day I get to wake up and do this job. It really is the best job in the world.

AO: What’s your favourite view of the world?


SH: There are so many special places in the world that are close to my heart, but I’ve chosen the beach by Marlow Park here in Dunedin where I live as one of my favourite views.

I get to see the ocean and I have so many fond memories of my family playing here. We often take our dog for a walk here so it’s a place I return to time and again when I want to clear my head.
AO: Thanks for sharing your time and experience with us. We look forward to reading your 30th book and many more!


Swapna Haddow is a British writer who was born and brought up in London, but has lived in New Zealand with her family since 2018. For the next six months, she is the 2022 Children's Writer in Residence at the University of Otago College of Education, working on a new book. Her second book with Dapo Adeola, My Mum Is a Lioness, came out in the UK earlier this year, and the second in the Bad Panda series (with Sheena Dempsey) will come out later in 2022.

Swapna was featured as a beginning author in Words and Pictures in 2014 when she won the Greenhouse Funny Prize; just before her first publication in 2016; and again in 2017 after the success of her first book, Dave the Pigeon. Among other awards, her books have won the North Somerset Teacher’s Book Award, the Surrey Libraries’ Children’s Book Award and the Fantastic Book Awards.  

On Twitter: @SwapnaHaddow


Ayo Oyeku is an award-winning Nigerian author of eight children’s books. One of his books won the 2019 Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Children’s Literature. He loves reading books to children, meeting writers, and speaking at literary panels.

On Twitter: @ayo_oyeku

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