Sophie Zalayet


Sophie Zalayet was born in Wales and grew up in the industrial town of Port Talbot. She had a vivid imagination and loved writing short stories, drawing and painting.

She pursued a career in design attending Foundation Art studies at Swansea Institute and completed her education in 2001 at the University of Gloucestershire where she was awarded a BA Honours degree in Professional Media, specialising in graphic design. Her career began in Denmark where she worked as a designer for LEGO, one of the biggest toy companies in the world.

Later, she moved to New York City where she worked in the children’s toy and fashion industry, creating products for licensed brands. She designed stationery and school accessories for New York Accessory giant F.A.B starpoint and later advanced in her career working at Steve Madden designing handbags and surface prints for tween brand ‘Justice’. Sophie had taken a bite out of the big apple, but soon a new and exciting chapter would begin.

In 2014, Sophie and her young family moved back to Wales and settled in Cardiff. She decided to take a break from the design industry and focus her attention on her two little girls. While caring for them, their bond developed through the love of reading children’s picture books and was motivated by stories from notable authors such as Julia Donaldson and Sandra Boynton.

As a result, Sophie enrolled in creative writing classes at Cardiff University. Additionally, she also attended children’s book writing and illustrating classes with Curtis Brown Associates. These courses fuelled her passion for writing stories for children, and soon she built up a collection of her own tales and illustrations.

Along with pursuing a new direction as an author and illustrator, Sophie is a freelance artworker and works alongside her husband at his Toy Invention company in Cardiff.

Her new children’s book out now, published by Rily, is Look Out! Look Out! There is a Litter Bug about! and is a fun, light-hearted story endorsed by Keep Wales Tidy.

“Doug loves two things… fun afternoons at the fair and eating a bellyful of sweets! When mum promises both, he thinks it’s his lucky day! Or is it… Come on a bright, bold, and big-hearted adventure with Doug and his new friend, as he learns a very important lesson.”



Congratulations Sophie! Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in the peaceful village of Baglan which had everything a child could wish for. My primary school was located on top of a mountain, providing breathtaking views of Baglan Bay and the surrounding areas, it was beautiful! On a clear day, it felt as though you could see the whole world!

As a daughter of a local rugby legend, my parents had a wonderful network of family and friends, you could barely walk through town before bumping into people they knew. Port Talbot had a huge level of pride that was displayed annually during fabulous street parades where communities would come out in their droves to support clubs, enjoy brass bands and watch decorated floats travelling through town!

I enjoyed going to school and loved field trips that took me to places like Margam Park, St. Fagans, and the beautiful Gower Peninsula. History and legend were abundant there, and adventure seemed inevitable over the hills and beautiful coastline.

As I progressed through comprehensive school, it became clear that I was naturally drawn to creative studies, leading me to choose Art and Design as my career path. My art teacher, Mrs Humphreys and my design technology teacher, Mr Price were wonderful mentors and guided me through sixth form towards my goal.

I studied a Foundation in Art course at Swansea Institute and later completed a BA Honours degree in Professional Media, specialising in Graphic Design, at the University of Gloucestershire. After exhibiting at the Young Designers show in London, I was encouraged to apply for a job at Lego in Denmark. Fortunately, I got the job, and that became the ‘building block’ of my design career!

Incredibly, I went on to work in the children’s fashion and toy industry in New York City for many years before returning to Wales with my young family to start a new life here in Cardiff.

What influences and memories stand out from your childhood?

I often daydream with nostalgia about my childhood. My mum and dad were wonderful parents and backed my brother and I with positive encouragement! I went horse riding with my aunt and was a keen girl guide. On Sundays, I attended Sunday school and in the afternoon, we would often take a trip to the Mumbles to get a celebrated Joe’s ice cream.

As a girl growing up in the 80s, inspiration was abundant! James Bond was catching villains and Grace Jones was mesmerising with her beautiful angular features and bold personality. Madonna had me singing in my bedroom and my hair was plaited in a high ponytail that doubled as a helicopter rotor system as I danced! Girl power was beginning to flourish and the world was my oyster!

Like so many children, I lived for the summer break! One in particular was a narrow-boat holiday navigating the waters of the river Avon! Adventure came alive as my brother and I balanced on the gunwales and helped my dad with the tiller. However, the highlight of the trip came after the boat lost its moorings and started to drift from the river bank. My mother suddenly sprinted from the lock gate and grabbed the rope as it slid into the water, heaving the boat back towards the shore as it threatened to drag her to the brink!

After that, she became known as ‘She-Ra- The Princess of Power!’ and we celebrated our mother as our hero for years to come! 



As a young person, who or what influenced you?

As a young person, I read many books by Enid Blyton and enjoyed the works of Roald Dahl. I loved cautionary tales such as The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, which both fascinated and terrified me. Allan Ahlberg’s book Please Mrs Butler played a crucial role in cultivating my love for poetry and rhyme. I remember laughing out loud while singing ‘When a Knight Won His Spurs’ in school assembly- his rendition was a wonderfully humorous take on the real version.



I was a complete dreamer and heavily influenced by action/adventure movies. I delighted in watching ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Goonies’, ‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘Romancing the Stone’ to name but a few!

I was drawn to good storytelling, where the narrative comprised of a challenge, where ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’, and there was always hope and a happy ending.

My brother was also a huge source of inspiration for me. He was brave and confident and had a big appetite for extreme sports. He would often pass me his surf magazines that featured exciting articles and displayed mind-blowing graphic design. I later learned the genius behind the movement was graphic artist David Carson. Needless to say, he was my muse throughout Foundation studies!

With my passion ignited, my brother introduced me to his friend who had just begun an exciting career in Design- Andrew Holmes. He was a wonderful influence on me and took time and patience to teach me Adobe Illustrator. He enlightened me to the design world and how I could turn my passion into a fulfilling career. Sadly, Andrew passed away as a young man, but I continue to keep his memory in my heart.

What are your influences now?

I would say my husband is a huge influence in my life! We met in Denmark while working at LEGO and connected through a mutual love of design and all things fun! Over the years we have brought together and shared a diverse selection of interests, visiting galleries, museums, theatre and historical sites, constantly thirsty for inspiration!

Now, he has his own toy invention company and I often work alongside him creating concepts and storylines for future toys. This often involves extensive trend investigation, which offers a wealth of inspiration. I have always been passionate about writing and illustrating, but lacked confidence until he encouraged me to use my experience to work on my stories and bring them to life!

My children have also been a great influence on my work. As a parent, it’s natural for me to want to have answers to their questions and try and solve their problems. Their busy minds have encouraged me to think in different directions to come up with solutions that amuse, inspire, or comfort them! Connecting with them through story, rhyme or song always brings a laugh and a smile.

When did you become aware of wanting to write, did any particular factors play a part?

In my primary school years, my teacher, Mr Grace noticed my love for writing stories and was quick to praise my imagination by mentioning that I could be a writer when I grew up. This compliment certainly planted a seed!

During my professional journey in the United States, I had the opportunity to work extensively with established licenses in creating graphics and products to support various brands. As I worked, I found myself yearning for something more – to create my own storylines and characters that would captivate both children and adults alike. This led me to contemplate the idea of venturing into writing and exploring topics that would interest and intrigue readers.

Once back in Wales, I enrolled in creative writing classes and began to develop some of those stories. Thanks to my Creative Writing ‘Alumni’ group, I met many talented writers who provided me with valuable help and advice that kept me motivated throughout this journey.



Tell us a little about Look Out! Look Out! There is a Litter Bug about!, where did the inspiration come from?

The inspiration came to me during a visit to the park with my young daughter, who was only three at the time. We witnessed a young girl drop her chocolate wrapper on the ground, but neither the girl nor her father retrieved it. My daughter’s incredulous reaction prompted me to remark with humour – “they had better be careful or the litterbug will get them!” – It was a play on words that opened a world of curiosity for my daughter! She was fascinated by the idea of a bug bringing justice to town and cleaning up the environment!

I hope readers will take away the message that it’s essential to clean up after themselves and be considerate of others. It’s a simple yet crucial step towards taking care of our environment and ensuring its health for everyone.



What are your favourite reading genres, and what books are you reading at the moment?

I enjoy reading spooky tales and murder mysteries. Currently, I am reading Classic Ghost Stories, a compilation of short stories written by many famous authors, including Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton, among others. I also love reading both historical fiction and non-fiction books.

Another book that seems to stay on my bedside table is The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim- this book feels like a hug!



When it comes to my daughter’s bedtime, we are exploring new titles such as The Swifts by Beth Lincoln and The Book That No One Wanted to Read by Richard Ayoade. However, I still find myself revisiting some of my children’s older picture books for their illustrations and humour, one of my favourites is CAKE by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.



What experiences of libraries have influenced you during your lifetime?

Upon reflection, I realise that libraries have had a significant impact on me! Growing up, my local library was nestled at the foot of a mountain, next to a beautiful park. I remember climbing the staircase to the first floor where the great 1960s oak-furnished hall stood baked in the afternoon sun and all you could hear was the creaking of the librarian’s stamp. In a way, libraries are the original recipe for mindfulness! Calming, warming, inclusive and a space where you can slow down!

Curiosities became an adventure as I flicked through the pages of subjects that were new to me. One book that I vividly recall was about the Saxons. Detailed watercolour pictures of life in the past transported me to another dimension and inspired me to practice drawing.

For me, libraries were not only a place where literary gems were in abundance, but they were also an introduction to a variety of fine art, illustration and photography ready to inspire and mesmerise.

During my professional career, visiting libraries become more of a sightseeing pastime. I visited grand buildings with outstanding craftsmanship of a bygone era and buildings of modern architecture with state-of-the-art facilities. It was when I became a mother that I returned to the library and indulged in what it does best – books, books, books!

This was my Eureka moment! The children’s reading corner was bursting with colourful, inviting covers, pop-up books, picture books and above all, loveable characters. Routine subjects came to life as you were invited on a journey to learn how to share, how to make friends, be kind, resilient… I realised then I wanted to be part of that world.

What suggestions do you have to encourage children and young people to read more for pleasure?

I think the biggest factor in nurturing a person’s love of reading is having time!

When children are small, encouraging a love of reading can be rewarding for both child and adult. Having the time to relax together and read, helps to form a lovely bond in a quiet and relaxed environment. Along with bedtime, after play, is another great time to explore a book. There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting together, with snacks at hand and a story to discover.

Subjects that inspire children are great starting points to instill the love of reading. Whether you are motivated by football, fables, fact or fantasy, there’s a book out there for you!

As children grow older and busier, they may find it challenging to read books and instead turn to technology. For some, it might even feel like a chore. A fun activity that parents or teachers can do with young people is to encourage them to read a book first and then watch the film adaptation. This exercise not only helps them to appreciate great literature but also allows them to be visually inspired by great movie directors and cinematography! This is something I still do as an adult.

Give us a quote that is at the heart of your life…

“Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

One thing is for certain, if you have faith in your dreams and keep knocking on doors, you’ll eventually meet the kind soul that is willing to take a chance on you. Thank you Rily Publications!

Look Out! Look Out! There is a Litter Bug about! was published in May by Rily Publications.

Read our Get to Know the Author flyer and take a look at our previous Authors of the Month writing in English.

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