Comics, creepy worlds and creative writing: An interview with author Lynn Huggins-Cooper
31 March 2023
To mark International Children’s Book Day, we sat down with author Lynn Huggins-Cooper to chat about her love of children’s books, her eerie influences and what it’s like to be part of Falmouth’s online creative writing community.
For Lynn Huggins-Cooper, writing is an instinct. Growing up surrounded by books, she has carved out an acclaimed career as an author, visual artist, lecturer and wellbeing practitioner, as well as tutoring on Falmouth’s Creative Writing BA(Hons) (Online) degree. A particular love of all things gothic has seen her produce many successful children’s books, including the celebrated Too Ghoul for School series which has since been transformed into a game for Nintendo DS.
What first got you interested in writing and storytelling?
I can’t remember ever not having written. It’s something that was taken as read in my family – pardon the pun. We lived in a little three-storey house in Brighton, and my dad always joked that the storeys were held up with bookcases, because each staircase was lined with bookshelves. Books were everywhere, and people were always reading and writing.
I find such joy in children’s books; I love to read them, even as an adult, because the worlds in children’s books are so expansive, and the way children relate to them is unfiltered and joyful.
Every Saturday my sister and I would rush down to our local second-hand bookshop with our pocket money, and our swag would be bags of books, sherbet chews (so we had something to nourish ourselves with), and American comic books filled with gothic, horror and science fiction stories. We wanted to get our hands on as many Astounding Stories and Creepy Worlds as we could find.
Which author made the biggest impact on you as a young reader?
For me, Ray Bradbury was where the sun rose and set, and to this day, collecting special editions of his books is a guilty pleasure of mine. My favourite of his is From the Dust Returned, a collection of short stories that he had published in various magazines, brought together into a connected narrative. The stories were all about a bunch of strange gothic misfits called the Elliott family.
If it sounds reminiscent of The Addams Family, it’s not surprising; Bradbury was friends with their creator Charles Addams, and the pair shared in many discussions about the macabre families they were creating. They even talked about collaborating, but it never quite came off (although Addams did end up illustrating one of Bradbury's stories for Mademoiselle Magazine).
The thing I liked most about the Elliott family was the ‘ordinary’ child who was part of their family; they desperately wanted to be like their strange vampire uncle and mummified auntie, rather than being ‘normal’. Although it sounds funny, it’s an incredibly touching and emotionally resonant book, because it’s all about otherness. I have ADHD, so perhaps it particularly spoke to my neurodivergent little heart as a child. I still read it today – over 40 years later – and I find things in there that I hadn’t previously noticed. It truly stands the test of time.
What inspires you to write children’s books?
It is a massive gift, being able to write for a living, and although I do write for adults, I am always drawn back to writing for children. My ‘child inside’ is very close to the surface. I find such joy in children’s books; I love to read them, even as an adult, because the worlds in children’s books are so expansive, and the way children relate to them is unfiltered and joyful. When I visit schools to share my work, I’m always greeted with so many questions and ideas – it is unbridled joy! If you can plug into that world, as well as the adult world, why wouldn’t you?
What aspect of tutoring on Falmouth’s online creative writing degree has surprised you the most?
I have always loved teaching – particularly getting to work with early career writers at such an exciting time in their development – so that hasn’t been a surprise. What has taken me aback is how incredibly warm and inclusive the experience has been at Falmouth. Everyone is so welcoming and kind.
While the technologies may change and develop, we’re just finding new ways to tell these universal human stories.
The working environment is fantastic, as is the engagement from the students – they’ve always got so much to say. A wave of discussions and idea-sharing always follows the publication of new content in the virtual learning environment, and after webinars the forums light up with thrilling debate. The peer-to-peer support amongst the students and staff is equally excellent; everyone is very generous with their commentary on each other's work. The process of bouncing ideas of each other during the webinars and online discussions makes me think even harder about my own work, which is wonderful.
You tutor on the course’s post-digital writing module. How do you think aspiring writers can best rise to the challenges posed by the contemporary industry?
The thing is, in writing, some things always stay the same. While the technologies may change and develop, we’re just finding new ways to tell these universal human stories. Whether that’s through copywriting for a website, writing a podcast script, or writing for a VR project – these technologies are exciting, but they’re just vehicles for doing the same thing that writers have always done. So, it’s all about stepping outside your comfort zone, trying things you haven’t tried before and asking yourself: “how can I use these technologies to tell the stories I want to tell?”
The module does a good job of emulating the busy, fast-paced world of professional writing. Students’ hair can be blown back by the amount that we cover, but it’s a great taste of the industry. Developing a portfolio-type career will keep you writing – it's certainly kept me in crisps and comics for the past forty years! There’s nothing wrong with doing other jobs and developing your writing around that. But the more you can develop your portfolio, and the more types of writing work you can turn your hand to, the more you’ll be able to sustain a career in writing.