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North East pair create new picture book listing 15 things NOT to do with a baby

Two North East women, an author and an illustrator, have joined forces to create a new picture book for children

Author Margaret McAllister and Illustrator Holly Sterling at the book launch of 'Things not to do with a Baby' at Seven Stories in Byker
Author Margaret McAllister and Illustrator Holly Sterling at the book launch of 'Things not to do with a Baby' at Seven Stories in Byker

You might not need telling what not to do with a baby but DAVID WHETSTONE meets two women who have put it in a book

It began with remarks by her youngest son, Adam, and the local vicar, according to Margaret McAllister, North East author of a new picture book launched at Seven Stories.

“We were talking about babies and the grip reflex which makes them hold onto your finger. Adam said, ‘If I ever have a baby I’ll put it on the washing line’.

“I told the vicar and he said, ‘That sounds like one of your books’.”

Now it is. A few years after that jokey exchange, 15 things NOT to do with a baby has been published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. And there, third in the list, is the advice: “Don’t... peg the baby on the washing line.”

The book is the latest in a long line from an award-winning author whose previous titles include Snow Troll, My Guinea-Pig is Innocent and The Mean Dream Wonder Machine.

But it is a first book for talented illustrator Holly Sterling who lives in Sunderland and is also a karate champion.

Holly, who is 27, earned national recognition recently when she was one of the winners in a competition run by Frances Lincoln and Seven Stories aimed at illustrators fresh out of college.

All were commissioned to provide illustrations for Over the Hills and Far Away, an anthology of nursery rhymes compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill.

“She’s a natural illustrator,” confided Frances Lincoln publisher Janetta Otter-Barry at the launch, adding that she believed Holly was just the person to produce funny and charming illustrations to go with Margaret’s text.

The pair were duly brought together – although not in person. While admiring each other’s work, they didn’t actually meet until the project was complete.

Holly, at the launch with seven-year-old niece May Calvert, said: “As soon as I read this book, I knew I had to do it. It was about fun and being energetic – like me.”

She grew up in the South East – “I’m half from London and half from Kent” – but has settled in the North East.

After studying illustration at Sunderland University, she went to Edinburgh to do a masters degree at the College of Art – then shot straight back to Wearside.

“Being a picture book illustrator, it doesn’t really matter where you are. Edinburgh’s probably the best city ever but Sunderland always felt like home.”

Margaret, who also has grown up twins Iain and Elinor, is originally from Cullercoats but returned to the North East 18 months ago, settling in Hexham after several years in Yorkshire.

Her first book, A Friend for Rachel, was published in 1997 and tells of a lonely little girl and some talking church mice.

There have been many more since and others are on the way. Stories of the Saints is to be launched at Hexham Abbey in March while children’s novel The Summer Lion is also out next month.

Margaret said: “I did lots of other jobs before I was published but I’d always wanted to write because it’s the only thing I’m any good at.

“I got rejected at first but I just kept going. It does take a while before you earn enough to give up the day job.”

This latest jolly book would appeal to young children awaiting the arrival of a new sibling or even their mums and dads.

There are, of course, hundreds of things not to do with a baby but the book includes just 15 funny ones, including not giving the baby to a kangaroo or wrapping him (it is always ‘him’ but the book suggests it can be read as ‘her’) in brown paper and posting him.

The book – and this is the point – ends with things you must do with a baby, concluding with the most important one involving “lots and lots of love”.

Holly is delighted to see her name in the bookshops but it won’t be the last time.

Frances Lincoln liked her idea for a nativity book for babies, which she started as a university project. Another to look out for is Hiccups! This one, about a dog, will be the first with Holly’s pictures and words.

Possibly running counter to the idea of children’s book illustrators being passive, gentle folk, Holly is also a karate 4th dan black belt who works out most days a week.

She explained: “I think I’ve always been a bit intense and that’s probably why I took to karate. It’s good for me. But to be honest, I’ve always wanted to illustrate children’s books. I was encouraged by my grandad who was a keen watercolourist. He would tell me to follow my dreams.”

This she is doing with steely resolve. Book illustration, she agreed, is competitive. “But if you work really hard and are determined, you can make it work.”

Margaret nodded approvingly. “I think there are three things you need to succeed: talent, hard work and a bit of luck.”

Through talent and graft, this pair have earned their luck... if luck it is.

* 15 things NOT to do with a baby (Frances Lincoln, £11.99) is in bookshops including the one at Seven Stories.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer