Sometimes, in order to do your bit to make a difference in the world, you need to get creative. That is exactly what Victoria Harwood did and we are delighted to name her as our Hedgehog Hero for February 2021! Victoria (AKA the ‘Hedgehog Lady’), wrote and illustrated the children’s book Bush-Hog Tails and donates all the profits to wildlife charities. We talked to her about her creative process and what actually goes into bringing a children’s book to life!
How did you first become interested in hedgehogs?
I’ve always been a huge animal lover but my real interest in hedgehogs came with writing my first book. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few hedgehogs and learn all about them. It wasn’t long before I found out about their worrying decline and I sought to raise as much awareness about them as I possibly could.
What inspired Bush-Hog Tails?
I had always dreamed of writing a book, ever since primary school. When my boys had grown up I decided to pursue my dream and combine my love for animals, storytelling and drawing into the biggest hobby I’ve ever had! I emailed The Snowman illustrator, Raymond Briggs, who kindly offered a little advice about illustrating books. With the help and support of my amazing family, I was able to make my dream of writing and illustrating a children’s book a reality! I wanted to help as many animals as I could whilst also putting a smile on people’s faces. We have a little wooden hedgehog (who is quite old now) that we named Bushy, long before Bush-Hog Tails was devised. I kept making up mini stories about him and one day the idea of Bush-Hog Tails just came to me.
Have you always been interested in writing/illustration?
I’ve always loved writing and drawing. I wrote my first story about a witch when I was 7 and my teacher was so impressed that I ended up winning an award for my class! When I had my children I’d write short stories for them and draw their favourite characters from Mr Men, Pokemon and Disney. I also painted their favourite characters on their bedroom walls.
How long did it take you to complete the book?
My first book took me two years because it was something quite new. Since then I have written another two books in the Bush-Hog series, each of which took me about a year. My fiancé, Simon, scans all of my illustrations, removes any unwanted smudges (as I use charcoal to draw) and then converts the stories to PDF so they can be sent to the printers. Part of my process is also researching wildlife rescue centres that we can support and donate to. All the profits of my work goes to wildlife charities.
What advice would you give those looking to write a children’s book?
Be patient with yourself! If you are determined enough then you can do it. When I write, I will often make quite a few changes before I’m happy with the final manuscript. I don’t like repeating words so I try to think of different ways that I can describe something. I also try to add humour as well as facts to make the stories fun and educational. You should always work somewhere where you aren’t likely to be distracted as disruptions can cause you to lose your flow and impact your concentration levels. Most importantly- don’t give up! If it’s something that you really want to do it might take a few attempts but it can be done.
What charities do you donate the profits to?
So far we have helped large animal charities, as well as smaller independent establishments, including my personal favourites: Lincolnshire Wildlife Park and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary. We have also donated copies of my book to an English teaching school in Kuwait, Rainbows Hospice and several establishments that look after poorly children. We even donated some copies to Blackpool Zoo to help with their conservation funds!
How does it feel being known as the ‘hedgehog lady’?
It’s pretty cool! It makes me smile quite a lot!
Have you got any ideas for any future works?
Oh yes! I have a huge imagination and I’m always thinking of new things to write about. I am actually working on another book which isn’t hedgehog related. It still needs a bit of work but once it has been completed and processed into book format, all profits will be donated to wildlife charities, just like my previous books.
What advice would you give those looking to help hedgehogs?
Research as much as you can so that you can provide the correct care. Remember that hedgehogs can’t drink milk- they are lactose intolerant so a fresh bowl of water and some Spike’s food in a shallow dish is the best thing you can provide for them. They can also eat meaty cat food but it’s worth noting that if you leave out cat food you might also attract cats! You can also create a hedgehog highway where you make a hedgehog sized hole in your fence or gate, which allows the hedgehogs to wander freely. Just make sure you check with your neighbours before cutting any holes!
Victoria Harwood has raised almost £3,000 for wildlife charities through her work, despite also working full-time in a specialised Dementia unit. She gave up chocolate for a whole month last year to raise money for Lincolnshire Wildlife Park and despite the pandemic, she is still doing everything she can to make a difference. Thank you Victoria, we salute you!