Some years ago, visiting to a local village school, we got to that point in the session when children ask questions.
“'Scuse me,” a girl asked, fourth question in, and gesturing towards me, “But is that, like, a uniform?”
Her face told me she was both interested and puzzled, In other words, this was a true question.So I looked down. I was wearing my usual “kit”: black top, skirt, tights and boots, brightened by a variety of silver necklaces, bracelets and several ornate rings.
“It’s just what I usually wear,” I said, gently adding. “Why do you ask?
She looked a bit embarrassed. “Well, I thought it might be a kind of author uniform –“ she began, and hesitated.
“We had this artist lady once, and she looked like that,” another girl interrupted. Nods of agreement. The teacher, tuned in now, added that the artist had been there for an art project earlier in the term.
“And then there was that other writer,” someone added. “When we went to that festival, the famous one“
“Oooh, yes!” murmured several voices, remembering.
Then I understood, despite the differences between us two. Although I am tallish, large and rather ungainly, with quite a lot of hair and the other author is tiny, slim and neatly proportioned with a stylish short cut, we both wore in similar “uniforms”.
To those young eyes, I must have seemed the large ogre version to the petite gothic pixie
So the consequence was that, for a while, I was a lot more varied in my “visit look,” especially when a book or two later, I had to stand on a podium alongside the famous writer.
I chose this anecdote because I’ve been thinking about the matter of children’s author’s "looks” this week, and in particular the real-life wearing of hats. It’s quite a tough life, being out there "on show" and I’m almost sure that some hats are there because they give a kind of additional confidence to the wearer. I've never quite broken through boldly enough for one, myself.
First in the hat stakes, I think, comes Shirley Hughes, with her imposing dark hat for everyday visiting and, I believe, a straw hat for sunnier weather.
The significant advantages of both hats seem to be that they add a little protection and stop that “what do I do with my hair today?” worry but maybe more usefully, have a brim that can conceal the artist’s gaze when there’s a chance of time and place for some quiet sketching. Would you disturb a tall lady in a such a hat? Me, neither.
The second hat along must be Sir Terry Pratchett’s famous hat. I suspect this hat may have added a little personal height, way back before geek, geek’s mum and the whole geek multitude became his fandom. Somehow, as the years passed, that hat seemed to take on a fictional existence of its own. As Pratchett said himself, in an article from The Onion (1995) quoted in Pat Rothfuss’s blog, in response to the question
"Why the big-ass hat?”:
"Ah… That’s the hat I wear. I don’t know, it… It… That hat, or types like it, I’ve worn for years and years. Because I bought one, and I liked it. And then people started taking photographs of me in it, and now, certainly in the UK, it’s almost a case of if I don’t turn up in my hat people don’t know who I am. So maybe I could just send this hat to signings. I just like hats. I like Australian book tours, because Australians are really, I mean that is the big hat country, Australia."
A hat is usually a bold, stylish look. I’ve admired Korky Paul and Robert Swindells in their hats, strolling sociably around lawns at Federation of Children’s Book Group Conferences – and probably some of you Awfully Big Blog readers have had your own moments of admiration and “must get a hat” pangs.
Of course, the essence of an “Author Hat” is that it is a constant presence. New hats may be bought, but each will have an almost identical look. We know the authors don’t go to bed in their hats, but surely that headpiece must be within easy reach, their faithful Companion Hat, ready and waiting nearby?
There are some authors who go in for a fabulous variety of hats, like Sarah MacIntyre, whose imaginative hats are often admirably themed to her latest publication, but sorry, Sarah, this post is about those who wear the Same Famous Hat. And if any of you have been following the media, you’ll know where this post is leading . . .
It appeared on the head of a much-praised writer who has just won The Costa Children’s Book Award AND The Costa Book Award for her book THE LIE TREE, the first time since Pullman’s "Dark Materials" that a book for children has been honoured in this way.
On behalf of all those who would like to wear a big, bold hat,
but back out at the last moment, I’d like to say:
Many congratulations, Frances Hardinge!
And, as my beloved father-in-law used to say: “I wish you well to wear it!”, both that Hat and the Award. All good wishes for the future!