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Where Are You Now?

Holly Sterling

BA Illustration and Design 2009

Holly Sterling is a freelance children’s author and illustrator based in the North East of England.

She graduated from the University of Sunderland in 2009 with a first class honours degree in Illustration and Design. It was here, she says, where she developed her passion for creating characters. 

In 2013 she graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a Master of Fine Art (MFA) with Distinction. In the same year she was highly commended for the Macmillan Illustration Prize and the winner of the Seven Stories/Frances Lincoln Illustration Competition.

After she completed her Master’s degree, she worked at a greeting card company designing cards for charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, PDSA, RSPB, Epilepsy Action, Sue Ryder and Traidcraft.

She said: “After a year in the industry, I decided to make writing and illustrating picture books a full-time commitment.”

Holly’s books include the series 15 Things not to do with…a Baby, a Granny and a Puppy, and Hiccups!  She has also illustrated a series of books written by Moira Butterfield in a series called Everyone Feels…. with subjects including Everyone Feels Sad, Everyone Feels Scared! Everyone Feels Angry!

In 2016 Holly was nominated for a prestigious national award that recognises the best children’s books in the UK. She teamed up with author Margaret McAllister to create 15 Things Not to do with a Baby, a tale that points out the pitfalls of pegging your baby to the washing line, or lending your baby to a kangaroo.

Holly, whose dad is Jamaican and mum is English, drew the book’s characters as ethnically diverse and she is keen for more children’s books to do the same, after growing up without texts that represented her own surroundings.

She explained: “It is something that is really close to my heart. With the book I didn’t necessarily intend it to be this way; it is a representation of my own family. When I was studying at the University of Sunderland I discussed representing different ethnicities quite a lot, and I concluded that for me it should be a natural thing.”

She added: “I’m extremely happy that the book has positively contributed to the growing diverse children’s book list.

“As a child I didn’t have books that represented my own background, so it’s a nice turnaround.

“Subconsciously you draw on your own experiences and, whether you’re writing or illustrating, that’s what makes it real. For me, representing different ethnicities should be a natural thing.”

The book, published by Frances Lincoln, is a ludicrously silly tale pointing out the pitfalls of lending your baby to a kangaroo, or planting your baby in the garden, but Holly has a serious point behind her choices.

She said: “We had quite a lot of amazing reviews, which is totally overwhelming at this point in my career, but the diversity has been picked up on. It is quite a forward step because it’s just a family - it doesn’t matter which country they are in, this is just normal life, especially in today’s society.” 

The 30-year-old is also a world and national karate champion, and recently set up her own club based in Durham.

Going forward Holly is keen to continue to represent different parts of society in her own, authentic style.

She concluded: “When I was studying at the University of Sunderland I discussed representing different ethnicities quite a lot, and I concluded that for my own work I wouldn’t want it to be heavy, for me it should be a natural thing.”

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