Hedgehogs, Hoglets and Hibernation

Author and illustrator, Bex Sheridan, tells us all about the inspiration for her gorgeous new picture book, Go to Sleep, Hoglet!

I live with my husband, Jay, in a house filled with animals and in 2017 a spikey little hoglet joined the crew. We called him Mu. Mu is an African pygmy hedgehog (a domestic pet hedgehog). They’re smaller than wild Irish hedgehogs and look a little different. One big difference is that African pygmy hedgehogs who are kept as pets are not supposed to hibernate, but they still can. If they do they can fall ill, so making sure Mu stayed in good health meant understanding hedgehog hibernation. This was how the seed for Hoglet’s adventure was first sewn.

Mu doesn’t like me very much, he’s a very angry little hedgehog. I know he’s angry from how he acts, how he tries to spike me with his quills at every opportunity and he makes some very funny sounds. With his mood written all over his face (he makes no attempt to hide his anger), I couldn’t resist drawing him. There’s just so much expression in such an angry little guy! I had so much fun trying to draw each and every spike that I drew him several times and even made prints to share his anger. It turned out I actually enjoyed telling people all about him and sharing what I’d learnt about hedgehogs along the way.

While Mu loves nothing more than a good nap, I began to wonder about hedgehogs who don’t want to nap. So many people have told me about their wonderful experiences with wild hedgehogs around Ireland and every year someone seems to meet a happy hedgehog who is out and about in winter, when they should be asleep. It’s really important for Irish hedgehogs to hibernate but there are many factors that can keep them from heading to bed when they should. It was my hope that in creating Go to Sleep, Hoglet! I could help the Irish hedgehogs by letting people know all the important things these little critters need.

When I began to create Hoglet, I had already drawn many hedgehogs but he was different, a different kind of hedgehog, so I wanted to try and draw him differently to reflect this. It turned out to be harder than I expected. Every time I tried to make him different I lost that feeling I had when I drew Mu. In time, I realised it was because I knew Mu. I knew Mu was a grump but when I let him out in the house for a run he always had so much fun. Even though Mu doesn’t like me all that much, he never balled up or hissed at the other animals in the house. He started by saying hi to the rabbits and then showing no fear with the big dogs, and now, he’ll even happily sit with the bearded dragon and noisy little budgie. Hoglet is a friendly and fearless adventurer too, so I decided to return to my inspiration and adapt it to capture a baby Irish hedgehog with all the moxy of my Mu.

Then I thought about all the simple things that can be beautiful. If Hoglet was going on an adventure, what might he see? There would be amazing sights, like Trim castle and its cannon, but there would also be fences and footpaths and all different clusters of leaves and grass. Hedgehogs are small and Hoglet is young, so he might not see the world the same as us and I thought about what he would actually see. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that paint the best pictures (even though I love intricacy in art). I wasn’t sure how to bring this all together until I saw a certain fence while out on a cycle. The fence was old and broken, with autumn leaves poking out at every angle, and it reminded me of a chequerboard pattern. I could easily imagine a certain sleepy badger poking his head through a hole. This led me to think through all of the patterns in simple things like fences that made up our landscape and I tried to focus on the subtleties with this new eye – with the eye of a little animal only learning about the world.

 

When it came to colouring, I wanted to capture all the different times of day Hoglet would be awake for on his adventure. I also wanted to capture the colours of Christmas! To me, Christmas is so bright and beautiful and best seen at night when the colours are just right, which is also when nocturnal animals like hedgehogs are awake. I played with paints and inks and added the extra spark with some photoshop sorcery. I’m so indecisive it helps to be able to use the computer to adjust my artwork and play around or I’d be painting the same scene over and over forever. And as much fun as that might be for me, Hoglet would never have ended up out on his adventure in all the best bookshops across Ireland.

Bex Sheridan, October 2020

Go to Sleep, Hoglet! and Bex’s first book Irish Farm Animals are both available to order from your local bookshop (online, over the phone or via email) or on the O’Brien Press website.