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Meet Nadia Shireen, the children’s author who could’ve been a DJ

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Hannah Keegan
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Nadia Shrieen

Nadia Shireen, 41, is an author and illustrator of children’s books. She lives in north London with her son and two cats.

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

It doesn’t. My son usually wakes up in bed next to me at 6am and hits me with his iPad. Then I roll over groggily and buy some time while he plays on it. I look at my phone; write emails. Then I walk to the kitchen, bleary-eyed, with my cats circling my feet. They’re plotting to kill me, I swear. I don’t do breakfast, but I have a cup of tea. I drop my son off at school about 9am.

MY COMMUTE IS…

Easy because I work from home.

I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Writing and illustrating children’s picture books, which kids, hopefully, want to read again and again.

Kid's books

I GOT THE JOB…

By finding out what I was actually passionate about. I was a freelance sub editor in magazines, increasingly bored, not paid well. I asked myself, what brought you joy as a child? And it was drawing funny animals. So I did an MA in children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art one day a week over two and a half years. A publisher saw my final project – a picture book called Good Little Wolf – and offered me a deal. That was 10 years ago and it still feels surreal.

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Usually begins with life admin – I tidy up; get things organised. Then I sit down in my studio at the top of my house. The walls are white, with no pictures – it helps me think clearly. When I’m starting from scratch, inventing stories and characters, I have to be calm and quiet. If I’m in the middle of a project, it’s a great indulgence to listen to music while I’m working – Björk, Pet Shop Boys, New Order. Other times, I’ll do the illustrations for another author’s book, which is fun, too. I eat lunch around 12pm, usually toast and eggs. Then I’ll work until around 3pm when I pick my son up from school.

WHEN I’M TIRED OR STRESSED I…

Go for a walk on Hampstead Heath with my headphones on.

Teddy drawing

MY GO-TO SNACK AT WORK IS…

Dark chocolate McVitie’s, which are the best biscuit. Don’t @ me.

MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

The time I did a drawing event at Great Ormond Street Hospital. There was a kid beside me in such distress and pain, quietly moaning. He slowly got involved, telling me what colour to draw the character. When I handed it to him, he smiled. You could tell everyone in the room was holding back tears; he didn’t look like a little boy who had smiled very much in his life.

MY WORST WORK HABIT IS…

Not being able to switch off, but I’m trying.

MY EMAIL INBOX…

Isn’t too bad. I’ve made peace with not being an inbox zero person.

AFTER WORK…

I stand in the park writing emails while my son runs around. Back at the house I’ll make dinner – I’m from Pakistani heritage, so dahl is the food I make without thinking. If I’m up against a deadline, I might let him come up to the studio and play with the iPad while I finish. He’ll then fall asleep in my arms listening to the same song over and over. Right now, it’s Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. I often nod off, too.

My Plan B: radio DJ

I’ve always been obsessed with music and wanted to be a music journalist. Now, I think I’d like to have my own radio show. Growing up, people were surprised that this quiet, nerdy, brown girl was obsessed with The Smiths – so my show would mix 90s indie music with gay disco hits. 

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Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

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