A mythical creature is the Haggis!
Some would have you believe the haggis is a three-legged creature with two long legs and one short leg, that runs around the Scottish highlands.
Others may be familiar with the dish that is served on ‘Burns night’ on 25th January, to celebrate the great Scottish bard Robert Burns, accompanied by toasts, assorted speeches, and even the odd glass of whisky!
(Although we try not to mention eating haggis in the presence of our Hamish McHaggis. He might get a little upset!)
So where would I start? Creating a character children will love is a fairly daunting remit, but we all know that what makes a great picture book is not only the wonderful mixture of words and images but also characters that endear themselves to our young readers.
It was important to have Hamish looking right but I wasn’t sure how I wanted him to look. In this instance I was lucky enough to be able to work closely with my illustrator
(Sally J.Collins) from the very start, so we were able to bounce ideas around.
We discussed what a Haggis might look like.
What you see if you go to buy a haggis in a shop is not particularly cuddly, it’s basically a mottled-brown ball.
But it occurred to me that if you buy a chicken in a supermarket it looks nothing like a hen in a farmyard, so a haggis would look quite different, too.
|First sketches © Sally J. Collins|
She came back with wonderful drawings of cartoon-like cows and sheep, which were great fun but none of them seemed quite right. (Sally has kindly allowed me to show you these first sketches.)
|Rory McHaggis © Sally J. Collins|
We settled on a more bear-like creature, after a couple of variations.
One was too babyish and another was a bit too old and had a long beard - he eventually became Hamish’s grandad Rory McHaggis.
Finally, we found our Hamish.
While Sally was working on Hamish had I started to think about characteristics or habits he might have. It would be fun to have the characters going on picnics, so Hamish has a picnic basket which he often worries about- where it is, what he can put in it for their picnic and if he will he get peckish on their trips away.
He also has a special vehicle called a Whirry Bang, designed by Hamish himself which can be a little unreliable at times.
Hamish needed a place to live and so he got a little grass and heather-covered house called a Hoggle.
I thought Hamish should live in a secret hideaway in the Highlands and Coorie Doon (which, in Scots, means to 'snuggle down and be cosy') seemed like a good place.
|Jeannie and Angus|
There’s also Jeannie’s brother, Joe, on the isle of Skye, Shona the red squirrel who lives in the grounds of the royal castle at Balmoral and Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster).
Sally was not keen to draw clothes on the animals so we decided they would have accessories - Hamish has his hat, and Angus has a red cap which he wears backwards, Jeannie has pink beads and Rupert has a bow-tie and a pair of glasses.
There are now ten books in the series and the latest Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt was launched last weekend at the Kelvingrove and Riverside Museums in Glasgow.
This book has a new character, Maggie the Glasgow fox, who has a rather capacious handbag!
Hamish has many fans of all ages and he often gets cuddles when he surprises them with a visit.
You can find out more about how Sally and I work together on a previous blog growing wings
There are also Free downloadable resources for teachers on Hamish McHaggis books
Linda Strachan is the award winning author of over 60 books including Writing For Children pub A. & C. Black.