Lucy Cousins, author and illustrator of much-loved children’s character, Maisy Mouse talks to NCT about how Maisy is just one of the family, how she balanced life as a working mum and why sharing a book is so important for children and their parents.
Q: Maisy Mouse is such a well-loved children's character. How did you create her?
I studied for six years at art college, and in my last year I knew I wanted to illustrate children’s books. The first character I drew was actually a little girl but when I showed her to my editor at Walker Books, she said she preferred my drawings of animals. I went away and drew lots of animals but when I drew a mouse that’s when Maisy came alive from the page for me. I could imagine her adventures and that’s how she was created. My first Maisy book was published the month my first child was born in 1990 so I feel Maisy is a member of the family.
Q: At 24 years old, why do you think Maisy remains as popular now as she did when you wrote your first story?
I think I have a feel for what makes kids laugh and their understanding of life; that’s where the stories come from. Family events often inspire me and, of course, my children did when they were younger. Now they’re grown up, I think my ideas for Maisy come instinctively. I started writing stories before I had kids so I think my brain is just wired to children at that age; they’re so fascinating and fun.
Q: You’re still in touch with your NCT group; what was your experience of the charity?
I moved to Petersfield when I was 25 and I didn’t know anyone. I became pregnant six months later and I felt quite isolated as I didn’t have any family nearby. I joined NCT to meet people and it was such a positive experience. I did an antenatal class which was really informative and it was great to meet lots of new people who were going through the same experience as me. NCT wasn’t just great at that time; it’s great now, as I still see the friends I made then.
Q: Do you think parenthood is different today to how it was for you then?
I think parents today have less time and more financial pressures. They have to worry about things like paying their mortgage or rent, which often means both parents working. I think it seems harder to find time for your family because life is so busy.
Q: Life is busy and one issue many parents struggle with is balancing work and home life. How did you balance motherhood with being a writer and illustrator?
Looking back, I don’t know how I did manage it really. I think I must have survived on adrenalin and the fact that I ‘just had to get on with things’. It was easier for me though because I worked from home and whenever I could, when the children napped or were at school, for instance.
When the twins were born in 1996, it coincided with Maisy really taking off and a potential TV series. I was really busy so my partner, Stephen, gave up work to look after the children. Looking back, that was really progressive for the time and I remember Stephen attending a ‘Mother and toddler’ group where he was the only dad. Eventually they changed the name to ‘Parent and toddler group’.
I’m very lucky that my partner supported my career. It’s different for everybody and we all have to find our own way. I really love my job but there are times when I think I’m not giving my children enough time or vice versa with work. I think most parents just muddle through and do what they can to find the right balance.
Q: In an age of 24-hour TV and i-Pads, why do you think books and stories are still so important for children?
I have very strong, contented memories of being read to as child by my Dad and then later reading with my children.
Reading with your kids is so important because it’s a lovely way to engage with them. Snuggling up and sharing a story is a great way for them to learn about the world and encourage their love of reading and books from an early age.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
Read about the benefits of reading with your child
Find out more about Lucy and Maisy