In 2011, when I did a very quick doodle of a girl with wild curly hair and a magnifying glass I had no idea about the deeply mysterious, exciting and at times, daunting adventure that doodle would take me on. I’d illustrated for lots of different authors and publishers and always dreamed of getting some of my writing published but wasn’t sure I was a very good writer. Let alone capable of writing an entire mystery series, yet the eighth Mariella book has just been published – The Mystic Moustache. (Just goes to show, you shouldn’t talk yourself out of things! It took signing up with my agents (Plum Pudding) for me to be convinced I could and should be submitting both my illustrations and writing for consideration by publishers.)
Eight books later and I’ve been thinking about the amazing journey my friends, Mariella and the Mystery Girls have taken me on. (When you’ve written, illustrated and designed eight books about a set of characters you really do come to see them as dear friends.)
Here are some of the highlights/moments of realisation I’ve experienced in my first venture as an author/illustrator. (Rather than doing purely the drawing bit, as I’d done previously.)
1. When people ask what I do, I now say I’m an illustrator and author. Mostly without feeling like warning sirens will go off and a big spotlight will shine on me for being a MASSIVELY FRAUDULENT illustrator masquerading as a writer. While working on the books there were times when that Big Fat Faker siren was going off in my head at deafening volume but, with the support of amazing editor extraordinaire Jenny Glencross at Orion Children’s Books, I learned ALOT about writing, my voice and how to avoid Plot Holes of Doom at all cost. (I’ve been at the bottom of that hole with a Spaghetti Yeti and I don’t want to go back.)
2. I couldn’t have done it on my own! Now I’ve been involved from start to finish with planning, drafting, editing, illustrating and designing, so much of a completed book reflects the dynamic between you and your editor – it’s a real partnership. Before Mariella I had worked with designers and enjoyed some really successful relationships, but writing the book and over seeing the whole package involved far more redrafting and shaping. I was always impressed by Jenny’s editorial skill of asking questions that prompted me to think of the most stunning idea I’ve ever had. If an idea feels like your own it’s far easier to write it than if an idea has been suggested to you that just doesn’t fit with how you think.
3. I have been to some very exciting places around the world, with an inflatable yeti and a dinner lady outfit in my suitcase. It’s been both inspiring and a massive privilege to have the opportunity to enthuse children about reading, and to meet fantastic teachers and parents at book events, including the Children’s Reading Festival in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates and UK literary festivals.
So why did all that start when I was the writer as well as the illustrator? I think much of the time it’s the author who promotes a book, especially with older illustrated fiction. But illustrators are very good at talking-up and promoting books too, something that can really build your professional profile and ultimately, sell more books for publishers allowing you to have a decent career in the industry. Recently, illustrator Sarah McIntyre has been championing the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign. It’s been a real eye opener to realise that actually, we illustrators should be standing up for ourselves a bit more. Making sure our name is credited on the covers of books and pushing to be involved with promoting a book (if talking about your work is your cup of tea). I wish I’d felt able to speak up about that a few years ago. It would have been really, really useful to have my name on the cover of the book alongside a better known author, rather than on the back. Or in teeny writing on the title page.
4. Rumination is the single most important thing about writing a book. Like a decent cup of tea, an idea needs optimum brewing time. Brewing time can involve walking the dog/staring out of the window/eating a biscuit. To other people it may appear you are merely procrastinating (an unfortunate trap a writer can fall into while ruminating) but without this stage I ended up with … a very undrinkable cup pf tea! Unfortunately, allowing time for rumination does not go hand in hand with also being the sort of person whose best ideas come when the deadline is looming and The Fear has set in about not meeting a deadline.
(I’m working on striking a perfect rumination/ procrastination/ deadline terror ratio into my creative process.)
5. Writing uses a VERY different part of my brain to illustrating. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been illustrating for far longer than I’ve been writing but producing a finished illustration is something I find FAR easier than creating a first draft of a text. While drawing I play loud music, allow my brain to wander to tonight’s dinner and even have conversations with other human beings. Writing means I need silence, a 5am start (writing before my brain gets distracted by the day works best) and hours of agonising over whether a sentence will make readers laugh hysterically, or yawn and pass out due to extreme boredom. That said, I LOVE it and the mental anguish is totally worth it when you press save on your finished draft and think, I WROTE THAT! WHOOO!
So, what’s next for Mariella and the Mystery Girls? Hopefully Mariella will be busy fulfilling her life’s ambition of becoming a becoming a world famous detective. (She has been published in lots of countries, including USA, Norway, Germany and Spain).
For now, while I’ll always be a Mystery Girl, I’ve been working on some new very exciting projects that will be revealed very soon. Oh, and I’m also having a baby in July! Keep your Mystery Senses tuned in for more news about all of that very soon …