Alan Nolan on World Book Day, Writing, Illustrating, Animals and Rock Star Grannies

Ahead of World Book Day 2019 on Thursday, 7 March, I chatted with Alan Nolan about his World Book Day book, Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny, and the world of books, writing and illustrating!

What’s your favourite thing about reading?

A good book will put you directly in the shoes of the characters, helping you see the world through their eyes. That’s my favourite thing about reading – understanding and empathising with others.

What’s your favourite thing about writing and illustrating?

I love storytelling, and writing and illustrating are two great ways of telling a story. I enjoy them both equally, and I try to get them to work together and complement each other. I tend to think visually – if a character pops into my head, I have to draw them immediately; if a scene comes into my head, I reach for a pencil and get drawing. Then I’ll write some notes about what I’ve just drawn around the sides of the sketch. It always happens in that order: idea, drawing, writing.

Who is your favourite character to illustrate?

I love drawing Ogg the caveman from Conor’s Caveman and the Sam Hannigan series. I had a lot of trouble getting him right at the design stage – I knew he was huge and that he wore caveman furs and had chunky, hairy arms, but I just couldn’t get his face quite right. His big, stubbly chin worked, but there was something too open and modern about his eyes. Then I hit on it: a huge, bushy monobrow would hide his eyes, making him more enigmatic, and it would also make him look more Neanderthal-like. Ogg is an easy character for kids to draw as well – I can show them how to draw a very convincing caveman with only twelve pencil lines!

Sam Hannigan is a great character. What was your inspiration for her?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dog. My granny, Lizzie Bunn, lived with us (as did her mum, my great-granny), and she helped me achieve my doggy dreams. She made me a pair of doggy ears out of stuffed brown socks that she stitched onto a Healy-Rae flat cap, and a furry tail that I tucked into the back of my trousers. Sometimes when she’d call us down for dinner, I’d insist that she put mine on the floor. I would eat it on my hands and knees, my ‘tail’ (actually, my bum) wagging happily as I chowed down without the aid of a fork, knife or spoon, my doting granny looking on. Of course, this only happened when my mother was at work. She would have marmalised me and my poor granny if she knew these canine capers were going on every second day. So I think Sam Hannigan was based partly on me – a dreamer with a lightly loopy grandmother.

Do you love animals as much as Sam?

I do! We always had dogs and cats when I was growing up, as well as many, many goldfish and a budgie called Sindy. I dreamed of having a menagerie of exotic animals and was always banging away with a hammer, building wooden hutches and houses for them in the back yard. Unfortunately our terraced house was much too small for more than one or two animals at a time, so the hutches went empty.

Describe your new book, Sam Hannigan and the Last Dodo (out 18 February), in five words.


Extinct Avians Ain’t on Menu!

Describe your World Book Day book, Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny, in five words.

Loopy Grannies (and Budgies) Rock!

Nanny Gigg is such a fun character. Is she based on anyone you know?

Nanny Gigg is based on my real-life great-granny, who, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, was also called Nanny Gigg! She lived with my family when I was quite small, but thanks to her daughter Lizzie Bunn (my granny) and her grandson (my dad), stories of Nanny Gigg’s shenanigans have passed into legend. For instance, she used to regularly walk up to the shops with my father’s dog, Roy, in a pram. She would dress the dog in baby clothes and put a bonnet on its head, and when other old ladies stopped to look into the pram at Nanny Gigg’s new ‘grandson’, she’d whip the blanket off the dog and say, ‘Do you like my hairy baby??’ She was also well known for putting on my dad’s school uniform and playing hopscotch with the kids on the street – five foot tall, with a mop of grey hair, my Nanny Gigg was the oldest and boldest kid on the block!


Alan Nolan, March 2019

Sam Hannigan’s Rock Star Granny is available to buy in all good bookshops this World Book Day! Alan’s latest full length children’s book, Sam Hannigan and the Last Dodo, is available to order here and in all good bookshops.