Little Glow- Q&A with Katie Sahota and Harry Woodgate

A beautiful book to share with young readers, Little Glow is a celebration of light across our diverse communities. I am so pleased to share a Q&A with both the author Katie Sahota and illustrator Harry Woodgate!

KATIE, where did the idea / inspiration for the book come from?

The inspiration came from a number of different ideas that pooled in my mind over many months, if not years. The real catalyst was reading articles during the COVID pandemic about how lockdown, and the subsequent move to home working was really beneficial for many introverts and suited people who liked calm and quiet. This generated thoughts about how the world is normally geared for extroverts and that introverts deserve to be celebrated and recognised as just as important.

For a long time, as a mum of two, I felt a lot of pressure to take my children to dance, gymnastics, sports clubs and other activities like that. As they grew older it became clear they really didn’t enjoy attending these classes and much preferred spending time at home. I would say my youngest is definitely a real introvert and took no pleasure in attending groups. I finally stopped pushing them into doing things they didn’t enjoy and felt a real sense of relief. The change had to come from within me to accept that my children are fine as they are.

Over the years, my children have told me about the loud, extrovert children in their classes that are always picked for various rewards, to respond to questions, and deemed “the favourites” of the teachers. I would get frustrated with teachers telling my children they should put their hand up more and join in more. I believe the world needs to ensure introverts are able to contribute as much as extroverts in a way that they feel comfortable with.

And so, this idea developed into a character that wished to be an extrovert all the way through the book until they realised they had an equally important place in the world.

KATIE, what inspired the character of Little Glow – why didn’t you chose a human main character?

Alongside the main idea about introverts, I was also keen for the book to be inclusive so that all children could see themselves in the story and illustrations. My children are White and Asian and it’s actually not very often you see a mixed race family in a children’s picture book, so bringing a multi-cultural aspect was important.

This sparked ideas about the use of light within different cultures, religions and community events as a means through which we could tell the story, and the light itself was the perfect metaphor for an introvert. Through our celebrations we see brilliant fireworks, colourful lanterns, birthday candles become wishes, shooting stars and other extravagant lights. But we also use simple candles to signify hope and remembrance, and those simple lights are just as important as the others.

By having Little Glow as our main character set in a household within a multi-cultural street, we were able to pull together a real variety of characters to ensure families reading the book can identify with the book, as well as introducing cultures that may be less familiar.

HARRY, Did you and Katie discuss what the characters would look like, and the feel of the book?

At the very beginning of the project Sam at Owlet Press, Katie and I had a video chat about the overall tone of the book, the main themes we wanted to portray and how this might come across in the characters, setting and colour scheme. This was so useful because making a book is such a collaborative process, and it was important to have a direction we were all happy with.

Following this, I started developing the central character of Little Glow, and the cul-de-sac setting in which all the families in the story live. I fed these ideas back to Sam and Katie and they became the foundations of the book, setting the tone for the rest of the illustrations.

HARRY, when you first read a text from an author, do images start coming to mind immediately?

Definitely. I would start to worry if they didn’t! With Little Glow, Katie’s text has a lot of very atmospheric, almost cinematic scenes, and there is a lot of story which lives between the words – that’s the stuff which is particularly exciting for me as an illustrator. What I particularly liked was the introduction of a setting – a small cul-de-sac in a seaside town – and the way in which, throughout the text, we zoom in to specific characters and locations within this place, and get to see the way they interact and form part of a whole. That left a lot of space for me to visually ‘fill in the gaps’, which is always enjoyable.

HARRY, is it easier or harder to illustrate someone else’s text? Or just different?!

Just different, I think. No two books are the same, so there are always different challenges regardless of whether you’re writing and illustrating, or doing one or the other. When I’m doing both, I enjoy being in full control of word and image; being able to cross-pollinate between the two. They’re able to develop as one unified thing, which is quite lovely.

When I’m illustrating another author’s text, I enjoy immersing myself in a world someone else has created; figuring out all the places I can add extra meaning, an additional layer of story which complements the text. It’s like a kind of dance, allowing the two modes to intertwine or diverge at the right points.

HARRY, did you find it difficult to create the sense of light in the book (given there are lots of night skies, fireworks, flames etc.)?

Yes, this is something we revisited and refined constantly throughout the process, and which took a while to get right. My general inclination is towards bright colour and high saturation, so I was quite cautious about making things too dark, for fear of the illustrations losing some of that vibrancy. Sam was very patient in convincing me to make everything darker and cosier – but I’m glad that we did, because it creates a warm, autumnal atmosphere which feels just right for the story.

KATIE, how did you feel when you first saw Harry’s illustrations?

I was completely overwhelmed! Harry has done a fantastic job of interpreting the original ideas and brought Little Glow to life in the most perfect way. I tried to stay very open minded and trust that Harry would create a visual version of what I had been developing with words, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Sam worked really closely with me to agree particular aspects of the imagery that were important to me (for example, the main family being mixed race), and which areas were free for Harry to interpret as they wished.

There are many things I love about Harry’s art, but their attention to detail in each spread is incredible and I have spent many hours poring over the pictures, spotting new things each time!

KATIE, what do you hope readers will take from book?

I want readers to come away with a sense of love, hope and community spirit. I hope readers recognise the message that we all have our own light within us, whether that’s an extroverted explosive firework or an introverted simple candle, and we all matter equally. I also hope people often underrepresented in stories (e.g. disabled children, single sex parents, multi-cultural families) see themselves and feel encouraged that authors/illustrators are working to make the world of books more inclusive.

Finally, a question for both of you… Will you be celebrating any particular festivals this autumn/winter?

Harry – With any luck, I shall be eating my body weight in pumpkin pie at Halloween and mince pies at Christmas.

Katie – The benefit of having a multi-cultural family means we have a lot of opportunities to celebrate! I do love getting dressed up for Halloween and the kids always carve a pumpkin with their Dad. Diwali will follow shortly after that and then my favourite time of the year – Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve. For me, celebrations are about creating opportunities for families and friends to come together, share the love and create a feeling of hope that everything is going to be alright!

Little Glow by Katie Sahota and Harry Woodgate is published by Owlet Press, £7.99 paperback / £12.99 hardback, out now.

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