We love Sophy Henn’s wickedly funny children’s book series, BAD NANA, and wanted to know whether the character Bad Nana is based on anyone. Here’s the superstar author and illustrator to fill us in and don't miss the photo of her Grandma Lil sporting some very 'Bad Nana' glasses at the bottom of her blog!
Bad Nana is one of my absolute favourite characters to write. The naughtiness, the sense of justice, the practical jokes and her stylishness all make her great fun to hang out with while I am writing and illustrating those pages. And I am often asked if there is any one person Bad Nana is based on and the answer is, well, errr, not exactly…
I didn’t know my own grandmas very well as they lived quite far away. But I do have some very clear memories and a few passed down stories of one of them, Grandma Lil. When I knew her Grandma Lil lived on the Cornish coast, mainly in a wing backed armchair, and had white curly hair. She loved paper bags of sweets, cream cakes, small dogs and M&S. But before all that and for a large chunk of her working life she ran a working man’s cafe in South London (pausing to build gliders through WW2) and took no nonsense from anyone. As my grandfather returned shell shocked from WW1 she had no option but to be the provider, carer and dispenser of wisdoms from behind the cafe counter, and from all accounts she was a wonder at all of them.
I used to find it hard to picture stories about her cafe life with the largely static person I visited in the school holidays, but then I remember the twinkle in her eye and it doesn’t seem quite so unbelievable.
Sometimes it’s all too easy to judge a book by its cover, and occasionally we even do it without realising. We look at an old person and see, well an old person. Have a think now for five words to describe an old person. Now think of five words to describe your friend. I’ll bet those lists of words are pretty different. But what we can sometimes forget is that old people were once young too. They were once the same age as your friend, and those five words might well have described them. And the chances are that they also got told off for giggling in class, forgot their coat, ate sweets and biscuits until they felt sick, ran around in circles for no apparent reason and did all the things that you and your friend do when they were your age. Imagine that!
And after all that larking about they went on to do all sorts of things and have all sorts of jobs and go to all sorts of places. Only to have us look at them and decide they have been this slightly slower, slightly greyer person who always has a hanky and not even give a moment’s thought to all the amazing/silly/important/useful things they have done in their lives. Not to mention the fact that they might still forget their coats and eat sweets until they feel sick and almost certainly still get the giggles. Maybe next time you visit your Grandma or even Grandpa or maybe your Great Aunt Mildred or possibly that old family friend that pops up around Christmas don’t forget to ask them about all the brilliant and silly and important and exciting things they have done, I bet they will surprise you.
So when I am writing Bad Nana I think I am writing about the Nana I want to be and it turns out she is inspired a little bit by my Grandma Lil and an awful lot by all the wonderful Grandmas, Grandpas, Great Aunts, Great Uncles and old family friends out there. And while they might look different on the outside, on the inside they are still that giggling kid, rebellious teenager, hardworking grown up. All those things they have done and seen with those twinkly eyes, it’s no wonder they sometimes need a sit down and a lemon sherbet!