Francesca Simons Horrid Henry interview

The brains behind Horrid Henry is in Dubai for the 2017 literature festival


Alittle boy with a roguish glint in his eye and mischief on his mind has captured the hearts of the five- to eight-year-old set, and with 96 books documenting his exploits, as well as joke books, advice books and even his own cartoon show, Horrid Henry is an everyday anti-hero. Francesca Simons, the brains behind this little rebel, and who’s in town for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, answered some of our crucial questions.

You have been writing about Henry for 23 years now, what are your favourite things about him?
Horrid Henry has never changed. He’s always horrid and always fighting with his brother Perfect Peter. I, like all readers, whether adults or children, adore mischievous, rebellious characters. Mischievous characters say and do the unexpected and the forbidden. They’re the ones you secretly wished you dared to be. I like Henry’s bravery, and the way that nothing defeats him – ever. When he’s thwarted, he picks himself up, and starts again. Henry embodies the fantasy we all have that the world would be perfect if we were in charge, or, in Henry’s case, he would be King Henry the Horrible.

Children love him and parents can be slightly wary of him. What advice do you have for parents who might be slightly nervous that he is teaching their children some bad tricks?
Characters like Horrid Henry allow children to explore their emotions and fantasies safely. Through Henry, children get the fun of behaving badly, but not get punished, which is why we all love to read and go to the theatre and see films: to explore forbidden emotions through
other lives and other people’s choices – safely. Horrid Henry never apologises for hating his brother and playing tricks on him, whereas in real life children have to squash their negative feelings about their siblings. Horrid Henry allows children to express the human emotions of jealousy and resentment and rivalry, which we all feel but are socialised to conceal. But let’s be clear, we’re talking naughty, not sociopathic. Horrid Henry never climbs onto a roof, lit matches in his hand, chortling manically. When Horrid Henry’s parents tell him to go to his room, he goes: shouting, stomping, and door-slamming, but he goes. Naughtiness is one thing, violence and cruelty quite another.

What’s also important about Henry is that he is spontaneous – he isn’t setting out to be bad; he just acts without thinking. And just as adults enjoy reading about people who go against convention (just think of how popular crime fiction is), kids get a thrill from a child who always acts on impulse and never worries about the consequences. Henry is pure ego, the imp inside everyone, while Perfect Peter is an exaggerated version of the impeccably behaved child parents think they want. So parents can relax and enjoy Henry with their kids!

Have any other anti-heroes inspired you in your writing about Horrid Henry?
Dennis the Menace and Pippi Longstocking, and an American comic strip called Goofus and Gallant, which tried to teach children good behaviour. It was ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious.

What about older readers, do you have something juicy for them?
My most recent book, The Monstrous Child, is about Hel [a mythological Norse figure], who is human from the waist up, and a decaying corpse from the waist down. I’ve portrayed her as an angry, sarcastic, funny teen, trapped in a life she doesn’t want, hopelessly in love with someone who will never return her feelings, and who loathes her body. It’s definitely my favourite book.
Catch Francesca Simon at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Saturday March 4 at 11.30am where she will be saying “Goodbye to Horrid Henry”.

Three top
Francesca Simon books

Early readers
Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend

Henry tries by any means, fair or foul, to convince Mum to buy him the trainers he wants, win the class football match and defeat Moody Margaret. As always, lots of chaos ensues.
Also available at

Older readers
The Monstrous Child
For the more experienced reader, an ordinary teenager – and Norse mythical creature – has just one question: why is life so unfair?
Also available at

Pre-school readers
Do You Speak English, Moon?
A little boy getting ready for bed looks up at the moon and wonders whether it can speak English, and asks it questions about its day. A picture book for inquisitive children.
Also available at

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