TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes was born and raised in West Kirby, a quiet seaside town on the Wirral. She was the daughter of local businessman TJ Hughes who founded the renowned Liverpool store. Her wartime childhood was spent drawing, playing and making up stories and games with her two sisters. Encouraged and inspired by visits to Liverpool's magnificent art gallery, the Walker, Shirley developed a lifelong interest in 'narrative painting', or pictures that tell stories.

After a year at Liverpool Art School studying costume design, Shirley moved on to the Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art in Oxford. It was here she began to always carry a sketchbook with her, drawing figures from her daily life. She soon settled in Notting Hill, London and concentrated on book illustration, initially for other people. Her drawings included those for 'My Naughty Little Sister' by Dorothy Edwards and 'The Bell Family' by Noel Streatfield.

Shirley's distinctive graphic style is achieved using pen and ink, watercolour and gouache. Her sketchbook drawings from are done very quickly, "almost at the speed of seeing", and used as a visual and memory reference for storyboards and finished illustration.

The characters in Shirley's own books, including Alfie, Annie Rose, Lucy and Tom are purely fictional - an imaginary combination of the children she has observed over the years, whether in parks and play areas or in her own family. She builds her stories around the everyday dramas that impact upon a child's world, such as a new pair of Wellington boots or a lost toy. Such experiences may seem minor to adults but are of enormous importance to little ones.

Shirley believes that young children derive great pleasure in stories that put them at the centre of a plot and help them to understand their place in a bigger picture. In particular, she uses her evocative illustrations to help them to explore the details of the tales in their own time, alongside the storylines.

Her more recent projects include a wordless story called 'Up and Up' about a little girl that flies, and several books for older children, with more sophisticated and adventurous pictures based on sketches taken in Britain, France and Italy.

Since Shirley Hughes started writing when she had a young family of her own, nearly fifty of her storybooks have been published. She and her husband have lived in the same house in Notting Hill, London, for nearly fifty years and have three grown-up children and seven grandchildren.

In 1977, 'Dogger' earned her the Kate Greenaway medal and she won the Eleanor Farjeon Award in 1984. In 1999 she was awarded an OBE for services to children's literature and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2000. This year she has been granted an Honorary Fellowship by Liverpool John Moores University.