A Lockdown Literary Success with Hartley’s M.M. Hobs

The story of JK Rowling’s success as an author is inspiring not only because of her powers of storytelling but also because of how she managed to weave her magic while also working as a single mother.


We were very excited to sit down with another writer whose background mirrors that of Rowling’s – Hartley Wintney author Michelle, who has published her debut ‘Penguin In The Window’ under the pseudonym M.M. Hobs.


“The Penguin In The Window” is inspired by a stuffed penguin in the window of a house that Michelle used to walk past as a child. Michelle has three children; her son Kalum is autistic, and she was inspired to make the book suitable for children with speech delays and reading difficulties.


Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

I am a mixed raced single mum of three who lives in Hampshire. I grew up in the Surrey boarders in a beautiful village named Hampton Hill, walking distance from Hampton Court Palace. I went to an all-girls school and went on to college and worked in the office management industry until I had my children. I have always had a passion for drawing and anything creative.


What prompted you to write this story – had you always wanted to write a book?

I have known and thought about the penguin in the window since I was a little girl, but never spoke about it. In the end of 2019 I was dropping my mother home and just happened to mention the penguin and in doing so my mother was amazed and said I should write a story. I have become a keen reader and have always enjoyed drawing.


How did you find time to work on this project, as well as being a single mother to three children?

Late nights, early hours! Luckily, a blessing in disguise happened… The pandemic! In the midst of getting locked down I had time in-between giving birth and home-schooling to get in tune with my creative side and stick at it.


Was it hard to write the story in a way that would make it easy for children with speech delays to read?

The most difficult part I found was drawing an illustration to capture the simple sentence as best as possible. Capturing a story with little words and images is quite a tricky task. Over the years when my eldest was going through speech and language lessons I picked up knowledge about repetitive text and two-syllable words to help encourage.


Was it a challenge to illustrate the book as well as write it?

With some page ideas I knew the words first, and with some pages I knew what illustrations I wanted. Not the most traditional way of creating a children’s book, but it worked for me. I made lots and lots of thumbnail imaging and storyboards before committing to the chosen image.


What kind of books did you enjoy as a child?

Heard It In The Playground by Allan Ahlberg; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.; We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen; The Twits by Roald Dahl; and all of the late Shirley Hughes’ books.


How have your children and the rest of your family responded to the book?

It’s been a dream and more than I could ask for to see my children witness their busy mummy who was always saying “I’m drawing, I’m drawing, I’m making the book” to have a finished copy for them to read and know I made it. My youngest says “book” with enthusiasm every time he sees a penguin now! My eldest has managed to read through the whole book too, to my delight. My family are very supportive and proud that I have created Penguin in the Window as it was a lot of talk in the early days and I was rather secretive with what I’d say or show in the making process. Due to nerves and not wanting to disappoint!


Who are your creative inspirations?

Firstly, my grandmother, a retired art lecturer who studied at Goldsmiths and The Northern School of Art in Hartlepool. She gave me a lot of encouragement and art skills and tips over the phone while in lockdown. I adore American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes; I remember studying it for a final art piece when I was doing my GCSEs. There are so many illustrators I have as inspiration, especially when I was in the making process of PITW. Lauren Child, Shirley Hughes, Max Lang, and Jane Massey to name a few.


Do you have any more writing goals on the horizon?

I do! I have a few artistic projects in the pipeline. Two will be based on calligraphy. I obtained a diploma for this in 2020 and enjoy this artistic skill very much. I am in the early stages of my second children’s book, which is very exciting. I will once again do both writing and illustrating of the book. I would adore to find publishing representation which seems to be a struggle especially during the pandemic as the waiting times were months or not accepting new manuscripts. This is why I ventured out and self-published in the hope I can find a traditional publisher at a later stage.


Penguin In The Window by M.M. Hobs is available to order from Amazon.

by Alice Smales

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