Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors get to take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads and obstacles and describing the next steps for their writing careers. This month Helen Victoria is stepping out with Lucy Farfort, whose debut, as an author-illustrator, called In our Hands was out on 1st September 2022.


Let’s begin our journey.


There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today?


We’re in the wilds of Northumberland, about a 40-minute drive from where I live in Newcastle, walking along an uphill path towards a stunning wooded river called Staward Gorge. Surrounded by birdsong, the pine fresh, forest air fills our lungs.


First a walk through ancient woodland, where you can gaze between the thick, fir trunks, at the breathtaking hilltop views of Allen Banks and take in the gorge that cuts through the landscape below.


After fifteen minutes or so, the path slopes down until you meet the river, where you’ll see the most perfect outdoor swimming spot. A wide, stony bank edges clear flowing waters, overhung with green foliage from the surrounding trees. If it’s a quiet day, you might spot a fish leaping up for an unsuspecting fly hovering above the water’s surface, or even a kingfisher.


In places the river is deep, welcoming you in for a proper swim; that’s particularly inviting on a hot summer's day, when the water is tepid.


And if you’re brave enough, you can jump in from one of the large flat-top boulders that protrude from the mossy bank. For a calmer experience you can just wet your feet in the shallows, or sit in amongst the smooth rocks slightly upstream, and let the streaming waters flow down past you.


This is without a doubt one of my favourite places. I don’t drive, so don’t come that often, but whenever I visit it’s an almost spiritual experience that stays with me for days even weeks afterwards, and I feel lucky to be in this world. Even writing about it now makes me yearn to be there.



What about the landscape you have created in your book? How important is the setting to your plot and themes?


I love this question because that was hugely important in my picture book. It is set in a world where colour, pattern and variety is the spice of life. The people and animals, buildings and vehicles are every colour of the rainbow.


The first spread in the book shows a townscape and I wanted to depict a world that’s inspired by lots of different cultures. So, I took elements of building design and inspiration from street scenes from South America, Africa, Asia. And was heavily inspired by New Andean architecture which is really something to behold.


This book was quite a challenge for me as an illustrator because colour is central to the plot so it was really important to get this right.


The story is about a planet that’s losing its colour, and no one knows why, or what to do, so the people - most people anyway - just ignore it and hope for the best.


I wanted to somehow depict that for these people, colour is (or at least was) integral to their life. My style is quite soft because I use watercolours, so I had to digitally increase the values (contrast and saturation), and play around with the colour quite a lot to get the impact I needed in the print. So, there were quite a few proofs. The designer, Ro and my editor, Cherise at Tate Publishing, were patient and knew how important it was to get this right.


As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.


The idea for this story came about years ago. It was inspired by a resident-led community co-operative called Greening Wingrove, that was originally set up by Councillor Nigel Todd (RIP). Nigel was an incredible force for good in the neighbourhood where I live called Arthur’s Hill. It is an area of high deprivation, but it is diverse and wonderful, and has a strong community ethic.


My neighbourhood has a serious litter problem, alongside quite a few other issues mostly related to its transient population, money (or lack of), support (or lack of) and problem landlords. Greening Wingrove was set up to bring people together to tackle these issues, by giving people the tools and support to make our area better, whether that be through helping people learn about growing plants in their small yards, organising regular litter picks, events in the park or food waste. It is still going strong today after many years.


So originally this story, which was very different back then, was proposed by me as a collaboration with the organisation, but life got in the way, and I had to put it on hold. Then a couple of years later I still really loved the idea, and it wouldn’t let go. So after speaking to Alice, my agent at Ash Literary, I decided to work it up, and after quite a few incarnations and about 18 months of work (on and off), it was ready to be put on submission.


Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book?


What I enjoyed most about writing this picture book was crafting the sentences.


The prose is pretty sparse, and I was really inspired by Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree at the time. How powerful each line was, and what a profound affect it had - at least on me. So I wanted to do something similar, by making each sentence impactful, and play around with the illustrations so it’s almost like another story is taking place through the pictures.


Crafting those lines took a long time, and because of the themes, some of them hurt to write, because in a way we are living it - metaphorically speaking. I wanted to reflect what was/is happening in our world in the book, and that was hard.



We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing, and how you got back onto the right path?


When the book went out on submission, it got a lot of rejections. My book dummy was not strong, and I hadn’t got across the colour idea. So, a lot of editors rejected it, which was hard because I thought it wouldn’t get picked up, and started to look into self-publishing, because I felt I needed this book out there.


As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author?


It feels amazing but weird. I spent so long working to this moment and I wasn't sure it would ever happen! When I got my advanced copy of the book, I just fell in love. It was everything I could have imagined and more. Honestly the team at Tate Publishing could not have done a better job.


I thank my agent Alice Sutherland-Hawes. She believed in me, at a point when I was about to give up as an illustrator. She is an incredible champion to have on your side. Also, Cherise Lopes-Baker, who shared my vision for this story from the start.


We have finished our walk now, and I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?


I have just finished writing a lower middle grade story, which I loved doing. It is currently on submission, and I dearly hope it goes somewhere. Once again, it’s inspired by where I live.


I want to write more. I find I am enjoying writing more than illustrating these days despite only being focused on illustration for many years. It feels liberating because I don’t have to conform to a set process so much. Whereas my illustrative style is very set and established now, my writing isn’t, so I don’t feel the same level of pressure or anxiety around it. Its just - fun!


Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers?


Simply if you love writing (or illustrating) keep going and don’t give up. For a long time, I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t because I enjoyed the process.


Don’t write to get published, write because you NEED the story that’s inside you, out.

Images: Lucy Farfort  Header image credit: Imogen Foxell



Lucy Farfort
is an Illustrator and author based in Newcastle, specialising in work for the children’s market. As a person of dual heritage (Caribbean-English) who grew up in a small town in the 80s, she never saw people like her in the books she read as a child. Knowing the impact this can have, has made her a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusivity in children’s publishing, and visual media.

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