Falmouth Illustration MA Online graduate publishes her first children’s book

28 February 2024

Hayley Jane Smith Illustration MA OL Graduate
Hayley Jane Smith Illustration MA OL Graduate
Type: Text
Category: Falmouth News, Our graduates

Illustration MA Online graduate Hayley Jane Smith has released her first children’s book Alfie’s Adventures: Hyacinth Macaw with the publisher Bumblebee Books. 

Hayley’s book follows Alfie the African grey parrot – based on the author’s rescue parrot of the same name – on his adventures to Brazil to see Azul, a naughty hyacinth macaw. The book explores the effects of the ongoing destruction of the rainforest and aims to educate young people on environmental conservation and the climate crisis. 

We spoke to Hayley about the launch of her new book, the highlights and challenges of her creative process, including the impact of her neurodivergence, and how studying at Falmouth helped her develop her authorial skillset. 

Hayley Jane Smith Illustration MA OL Graduate
Hayley Jane Smith Illustration MA OL Graduate

Hayley's African grey parrot, Alfie.

Your book, Alfie's Adventures: Hyacinth Macaw was developed during your master's degree at Falmouth. How did you come up with the idea, and what inspired you to communicate environmental and wildlife conservation through a children's story? 

During the Narrative and Storytelling module, I was presented with the challenge of developing my own visual narrative on a socially driven issue. As I have always cared greatly about environmental and wildlife conservation, especially in respect to parrots, I chose to attempt to communicate this issue through a children’s story.  

The inspiration for my character was my rescue pet African grey parrot, Alfie, who loves exploring his environment and going on adventures outdoors. My character, Alfie, could go on adventures around the world educating children about the threats to endangered species, hence ‘Alfie's Adventures’. But how could I make my character stand out as different from other African grey parrots? As he will be saving endangered species in my story, I thought he could be an eco-superhero parrot with a cape. 

As one of my favourite parrots is the hyacinth macaw, there was no doubt in my mind that Alfie would help to save them in my story. The story was inspired by the first time I had a hyacinth macaw perched on my arm, which was a birthday surprise visit to a bird park from my husband. He was the cheekiest parrot I have ever met as he stole my husband's winter hat and played with it like it was a new toy.  

How did you navigate the creative process, especially considering your initial doubts about writing and the challenges posed by dyslexia, autism and OCD? 

I have always been very creative artistically, but never so much with creative writing at school. Perhaps it was because the subject matter of stories I had to write at school did not interest me a lot (it is typical of people with autism to find things that are outside of their strong interests really difficult to motivate themselves to do). As I have an obsession with birds and parrots, writing creatively about them was something I actually enjoyed and could persevere with. Having OCD and a perfectionist personality helps me to push myself to create my best work, although it can make me very analytical and to never be one hundred percent happy with it. In regard to having dyslexia, it can make me slower than most at writing and not so good at spelling and grammar, but it makes my thinking more visual which helps me creatively.  

Could you share some highlights and challenges you faced while refining your manuscript and seeking a publisher for Alfie's Adventures? 

The challenges I faced came with my perfectionism and never feeling like my story was finished. Furthermore, my lack of confidence made me think that my story was not good enough and that no one would like it. There was also the competitiveness of the children's book market and difficulty of getting published. Despite all the worry about this, I had positive feedback from some publishers although many were worried about my ability to promote my book as a first-time author, so I had many rejections along the way. 

How did it feel to see your book published by Bumblebee Books in September 2023? 

It felt wonderful and surreal to see it on all the major bookshop websites. But the highlight was receiving the delivery and seeing it as a physical book for the first time.  


Hayley at Graduation in 2021.

Alfie's Adventures conveys a message about human impact on the natural world. How do you hope your book will inspire future generations to care for and conserve nature and the environment? 

Talking about environmental issues with young children can be difficult, so it is important that picture books exist to help introduce the subject. I attempted to make my story as fun as possible without distracting from the main subject matter. For example, the sadness of there being limited nuts left for the hyacinth macaws is uplifted by Alfie having an emergency supply of his favourite pistachio nuts under his wings.  

If my story helps children to start wanting to learn more about parrots, nature and the environment then that would be wonderful. The more children learn about nature at a young age the more they will hopefully care about it in the future. After all, it is the future generations that will determine the future of our planet. 

How did your studies at Falmouth help develop your own visual narrative style? 

My visual style was realistic with fine detail using pencil and paper before and during the start of my MA. It was while studying for my final project that I started to experiment with digital drawing. This experimentation allowed me to move away from the traditional detailed hand drawing using pencils and paper that was my comfort zone. Since then, I have learnt to draw in a modern and less detailed way which can be more appealing in a children’s story. I have since passed my Adobe Certified Professional in Adobe Illustrator exam. I still draw realistically using my Apple Pencil, but I feel that the experimentation in styles during my MA helped broaden my skills dramatically so that I can create a variety of illustration types.    

How did you find your experience of studying a postgraduate degree at Falmouth? 

What appealed to me about studying my MA with Falmouth was the freedom to study fully online from my home, as studying on campus is something I would have found difficult with my autism and OCD. This flexibility makes it possible for people with my conditions to reach their potential in an environment that they feel comfortable in.  

I felt supported through the whole experience and have learnt a tremendous amount from doing my MA. I would highly recommend choosing Falmouth to study illustration. 

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