Illustrated insights with Laura Hallett

The BFG cr Laura Hallett

The BFG © Laura Hallett

I first spotted Laura Hallett’s beautiful illustrations in Bristol coffee shop The Crazy Fox. Her delicate doodles capture a sense of life and, often, wistfulness, that I find really appealing. Roald Dahl’s The BFG was one of my favourite books when growing up, and seeing Laura’s original take on the gentle dream-catching giant is utterly entrancing.

“I love the surrealism and inventiveness of the Roald Dahl stories that offer potential for a wealth of endless inventive visual images,” Laura says. “I enjoy developing my own vision for well known tales, defining the characters in the stories through my own eyes and trying to capture distinct atmospheres through the use of colour, light and composition.”

A passion for stories and narratives influenced Laura’s decision to become an illustrator.

“I’ve always loved creating things and the freedom that comes with being an artist,” Laura explains. “Initially when I was young I simply enjoyed the process of drawing and painting and playing around with colours and characters. I love reading and writing short stories so I think part of that came from enjoying the storytelling and narrative process – art was just another avenue for this.”

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe cr Laura Hallett

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe © Laura Hallett

As she grew older the chance to experiment with drawing and painting became a driving force. “Making art in the pursuit of expressing myself and communicating ideas really began to be exciting.”

But she still wasn’t sure art was a viable career path. “When I left school I initially studied History and Politics at University as I wasn’t sure whether art was a good career plan, but I found that I just kept on painting and decided that I had to pursue it or I’d regret it.”

Laura worked on developing her own style and creative ideas, and studied Illustration at Falmouth. “Since I graduated it’s just been about working really hard and developing my work to a point where I feel confident in my own personal visual language,” she says. “This year has been a highlight; moving to a creative city like Bristol where I’m surrounded by people pursuing their own creative path has been really inspiring, and I’ve also seen my first published narrative illustration in American poetry anthology Rebels, held my first solo exhibition in the Crazy Fox Cafe and produced two large painted public art sculptures in Birmingham and Sheffield.”

Little Women cr Laura Hallett

Little Women © Laura Hallett

Illustration, she explains, “is a very broad area that permits considerable creative freedom. The goal is to communicate an idea or feeling or story but the route you take to get there can incorporate almost any medium or approach. I also enjoy the importance of a strong sense of design and aesthetics.”

Laura adds that the “escapist quality of children’s literature” is a particular attraction. “The stories take you into another world and allow room for your imagination to run free. Everyone sees something quite different when they read a story and it can be fascinating to see how different illustrators approach the same narrative from completely different places.”

The characters are also crucial, she comments. “As a child, being inspired by a character from your favourite book can shape the kind of person you want to be; even if it’s often just until you read your next book and meet a new character to go on a journey with!”

She adds: “From an illustrative perspective I also love the strange juxtaposition you often get from children’s literature, whereby stories, which often have a comforting familiarity and generate feelings of nostalgia, are often also quite strange and surreal. Children have fewer pre-conceptions so are very open to this.”

The tiny details Laura includes in her artwork all contribute to making her work sing on the page.

“I’m a bit obsessed by the small details of everyday life that help me to capture a sense of it. I try to produce work that you can keep coming back to and noticing new things in for the first time.”

Telling a story through one picture is an exciting challenge, she says. “I’m inspired by stories about people’s lives and by simply taking in what is going on around me. Having studied history and politics I am also inspired by historical events and social changes and would love to explore this area more through my work in the future.”

Bristol Map cr Laura Hallett

Bristol Map © Laura Hallett

Laura’s fascination with informative details has led to a series of illustrated maps, which were recently exhibited in Bristol.

“The Map of Bristol was a focal point of my exhibition at The Crazy Fox. As a new resident of Bristol, the map was my way of getting to know my new home. I love the very distinct different characters the different areas of the city have, and the varied architecture that reflects this and reflects the very individual artistic and creative spirit of the city.”

Laura also loves mapping trends and fashions through her work. “The London trends piece (below) was completed for a design competition run by London Transport Museum. It’s one of my favourite illustrations and one of the pieces I most enjoyed doing as it enabled me to indulge my passions for music, the fashions and tribes connected with it, and historical and social changes. It was also a great opportunity to focus on characterisation and design. I love being able to develop my illustrations through my own evolving interests and passions.”

Keep an eye on to find out what Laura’s up to and see more of her work. Many of her pieces are available to buy as limited edition giclee prints at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Children’s books for adult minds – part 2

Children's Books Post2Last week I posted reviews of four of my favourite books for children and teens – the kind of writing that, in my experience, appeals to adults and young people alike. Here are four more that top my list.

If you have any suggestions for YA or children’s books you think should make it into my library, or fond memories of the ones I’ve already included, let me know by clicking on the Leave A Reply button. Thanks!

Ninety-nine Dragons by Barbara SleighNinety-nine Dragons by Barbara Sleigh

As a small child I REALLY wanted a pet dragon, so my discovery of Barbara Sleigh’s gentle adventure tale gave me a voyeuristic thrill.

On a hot summer’s night (back in the days when Britain still had summers), Ben and Beth can’t get to sleep so their dad suggests counting sheep. So far, so ordinary. But Ben chooses to count dragons instead, which is fine except that the smallest, 99th dragon, doesn’t quite make it over the gate, and then they work out that the sheep and the dragons must be in the same place, and that dragons love nothing better to eat than sheep.

The only thing for it is to each count the other jumping over a gate and go to warn to the sheep…

My Sister Sif by Ruth ParkMy Sister Sif by Ruth Park

This teen novel is a more grown up version of the mermaid stories I grew up on, which is possibly why I found it so entrancing. Add to that an exotic location and a waft of ecology and I was utterly transported.

And then there are the Menehune, and the wildlife, and feisty Riko whose sister Sif of the title is more sea-dweller than land. It simultaneously fuelled my love of wildlife, travel and (though I would not have wanted to admit it as a teenager) fairy tales.

There’s plenty of drama as Riko fights to save both the tropical wonderland she grew up in, and the family (which includes a few dolphins) she adores from the encroaches of the modern world, but in the end the real threat comes from love.

The Owl Service by Alan GarnerThe Owl Service by Alan Garner

I only discovered this book towards the end of last year, when a friend mentioned the impact it had made on her as a child.

Reading it as an adult I found myself gleaning tips on how to enthral readers, offering just enough information to keep them hooked without giving the game away.

Following the discovery of a set of crockery patterned with owls that seem to disappear at whim, Alison, Roger and Gwyn find themselves locked into the equally mysterious patterns of an age-old feud that threatens to destroy them all.

Owls, plates, ancient legends and the glorious Welsh countryside… How could you resist?

The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughreanThe Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean 

The tale begins with Paul Roux, nicknamed Pepper, reaching his 14th birthday – a momentous event considering he’s been told since birth that he would die before this date. But when his birthday arrives with Pepper Roux intact, he flees and begins a series of adventures, hiding in other people’s lives.

It’s a wonderfully imaginative journey that requires the reader to leave their grown up skepticism at the door and accept Geraldine’s reminder that: “People see what they expect to see. Don’t they? Or do they see what they choose?”

Read more of this review.

Discover the first four books on my ‘Children’s books for adult minds’ list.