Like mother, like daughter: Following in the footsteps of a famous parent

Story highlights

  • Children's author Shirley Hughes has written more than 70 books and sold more than 11.5 million copies
  • Her daughter Clara Vulliamy followed in her footsteps as a writer and illustrator and has written 25 books
  • Their first collaboration Dixie O'Day is published in September, written by Hughes and illustrated by Vulliamy

If your mother is one of the world's best-loved children's authors who has written more than 70 books and sold well in excess of 11.5 million copies, you might think about taking a different career path.

Not Clara Vulliamy.

Undaunted by the success of her mother Shirley Hughes, whose creations include Dogger and the Alfie series, Vulliamy has followed her lead.

She has written and illustrated 25 children's books and -- like her mother -- wrote her first book soon after having children of her own.

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Now the mother-daughter team have collaborated for the first time on a new series called "Dixie O'Day", written by Hughes and illustrated by Vulliamy, with the first book to be published in September 2013.

It will be the first time in a career spanning 53 years that Hughes, 85, has had her words illustrated by someone else.

She said it was "absolutely marvelous" to work with her daughter.

"I loved it," said Hughes. "Clara's illustrations surprised as well as delighted me. She put things into the book I would never have dreamed of doing myself."

Vulliamy's influence is immediately apparent: Hughes's books are known for their realistic portrayal of everyday family dramas, from lost toys to days at the seaside.

But, at Vulliamy's suggestion, the heroes of Dixie O'Day are two dogs in suits. She is used to writing about animals, while her mother never before has.

"I just can't put into words how much I have enjoyed it," said Vulliamy, 50, of working with her mother.

"We sat at the same kitchen table working together in the house that I grew up in. We came up with the story together and talked about the illustrations. We laughed a lot."

Vulliamy insists she was never intimated by following such a successful mother.

"She is such a treasured part of so many people's family lives," said Vulliamy. "That doesn't make me feel daunted. I feel 10 feet tall."

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Vulliamy is the youngest of three children of Hughes and her late husband John Vulliamy and it was obvious from a young age she had inherited her mother's talent for words and pictures.

"I knew Clara was going to draw, from the earliest years," said Hughes. "She was especially interested in narrative drawing - telling a story in pictures - which was just the same with me when I was small."

Vulliamy grew up watching her mother drawing, but had no idea that she was a famous author.

"I didn't really realize she was famous at any point when I was a child," she said.

"It might be because children are taken up with themselves. I just thought she was my mum. It wasn't until I was grown up that I realized."

Vulliamy also said her mother neither read her own books to her children nor taught them to draw, but remembers her work being pushed to one side of the table in their home in west London at mealtimes.

"There was time and space to do my own thing," said Vulliamy. "It was a hands-off, creative environment.

"I first started writing my own stories and doing illustrations when I was five. I just drew and made things and when I ran out of paper I started on the walls. There was nothing else I ever wanted to do."

Vulliamy went to art school and began her career painting portraits and doing illustrations for newspapers.

But two weeks after her first child Jack, now 21, was born, Vulliamy began her new career as an author and wrote her first book, "Ellen and Penguin."

"Perhaps the huge life change of having a child revealed to me what was there all along," she said.

That book, like most she has written since, took between three and six months to complete.

"I have an over-flowing waste paper basket and the words take me a really long time," said Vulliamy. "Sometimes I can spend all morning writing one sentence and all afternoon rubbing it out."

Vulliamy is best known for her books The Bear With Sticky Paws and Martha and the Bunny Brothers. A new book, "I heart bedtimes (Martha and the Bunny Brothers) is due out in the UK on March 28.

Her illustrations are bold, simple and are usually of fully-clothed, talking animals; very different from her mother's intricate and realistic drawings of children.

At 85, Hughes has cut down on her traveling, but has no intention of retiring from her writing.

"I would much rather not retire at all," said Hughes. "I love working, and a full morning's work is still very much part of my daily routine."

Shirley Hughes will appear with Clara and her two sons Ed and Tom Vulliamy in a talk called "Keeping it in the Family" at Oxford Literary Festival on March 16.

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