Hannah Shuckburgh

Journalist Hannah Shuckburgh has just published her first book, Archie's Apple, based on a true story about her husband. We talk to Shuckburgh about the book, her collaboration with illustrator Octavia Mackenzie and life on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.

A Little Bird Hannah Shuckburgh

The book is based on a true story that happened to your husband.  What prompted you to write a book about it?

I found that children (my own and those of all my friends) were all captivated by the idea you could “discover” a new variety of apple and then get to name it. After my husband’s apple discovery I was fielding texts from friends saying little Bobby or Jimmy *desperately* wanted to know what my husband was going to name it. And so it made me think: this is a children’s story. So I wrote one, reimagining Archie as a seven year old boy. Initially it was for my own children’s amusement, who were 6 and 7 at the time, but then I got a publisher and now it’s a book…

How did your collaboration with Octavia MacKenzie come about for the drawings?

We had met once at a mutual friend’s house and I had instantly liked her, and had followed her on Instagram. I’d had my manuscript accepted by a publisher, Little Toller, on condition we could find a suitable illustrator. I was scrolling through Instagram and saw one of Occy’s beautiful reverse glass paintings of an owl swooping across a twilit sky and it felt like a scene straight from my story. I messaged her to ask if she’d be interested in illustrated my story, and she immediately said yes!

What are your favourite childhood books and your kids’ favourite books?

There is a particular type of children’s book from my own childhood that I wanted to emulate in Archie’s Apple. I love the gentle domestic life in books by Shirley Hughes or Helen Oxenbury – messy kitchen tables and ordinary days of childhood, but also the funny villains of Roald Dahl, and the humour of John Burningham. The books I loved as a child – Apple Pigs, Achilles the Donkey, Moving Molly, Where the Wild Things Are, Shaker Lane – are the ones I read to my own children. But now my boys are 8 and 9 they mostly read books about footballers.

A Little Bird Compton Marbling

You live on the border of Wiltshire and Dorset – please can you tell us your favourite shopping/visiting spots around there?

Sol Bakery, an Argentinian roadside cafe on the A303. @solbakeryandcafe

Montes & Clark, wonderful handmade and colourful homeware. @montesandclark

Compton Marbling, marbled papers and diaries from England’s oldest marbling studio. @comptonmarbling

Folde bookshop in Shaftesbury for the best nature writing, art and gifts. @foldedorset

What’s your favourite apple?!

A Christmas Pippin. We have a tree in our garden. They’re very late fruiting so you can still have apples on the branches on Christmas Day.

Can you tell us more about your publishers, Little Toller Books in Dorset?

They are an independent publisher based in Beaminster, Dorset, and are best known for publishing books on nature. This is their first picture book; mine and Octavia’s too, a first for all of us.

Are you working on another book?

Occy and I have started thinking about an idea. We’ve adored working together and would love to do another picture book.

What are your favourite books you’ve read this year?

I always inhale any new Anne Tyler, and so I loved her latest, French Braid. I was late to On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming, but found it unforgettable. I really enjoyed The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy, and have just bought her latest, Things I Don’t Want to Know. A friend at my book club recommended The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg, which is devastating and brilliant, and I have been foisting it on everyone I know.

How do you relax/use your downtime?

Like the little boy in my book, we live in a cottage by a wood, and I spend as much time as I can walking there with my whippet, Bertha, a gripping true-crime podcast in my headphones (I was hooked by The Teachers Pet). I spend a lot of time by the side of a football pitch watching my children play matches. I also love rootling in Shaftesbury charity shops – they’re the best in the world.

What are you looking forward to in 2023?

My son is a keen artist and we’re going to go to Amsterdam next spring to see the Vermeer show at the Rijkmuseum.

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