Author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster has published many books for young readers which have included picture books and the hugely successful Isadora Moon series, with the eleventh book starring Isadora and Pink Rabbit due for release in Spring. Harriet has a very busy 2020 where she’ll be releasing four books, which will see something new from the ‘World of Isadora Moon’, and she enjoys visiting schools to talk to the children about creating her stories. Catching up with Harriet, she chats about illustrating books, the Isadora Moon series and her upcoming releases.
How long had you planned the Isadora Moon series; had you always known you’d use pink as your theme and that she would be half vampire and half fairy?
I’ve always loved strong contrasts, like candy pink and gothic black put next to each other. Around 2015, I had been experimenting with painting using just pink and black, and I wanted to create a children’s character who would suit these colours. I did lots of character sketches, and one day drew a picture of a cute little girl with pointy ears and fangs, and I knew she would have bat wings as well. Because of the way she looked, I realised she must be half vampire and half fairy. Once I knew that, then the rest of her character and world started to fall into place. So, the pink and black colours came first and Isadora’s world grew out of that colour choice.
For those that haven’t read the books, can you say about Isadora and her Pink Rabbit?
Isadora is a little vampire fairy girl who lives with her fairy mum, her vampire dad and her vampire fairy baby sister, Honeyblossom. Her best friend is Pink Rabbit, who used to be her favourite stuffed toy until her mum magicked him alive with her wand. As well as supernatural friends, she has lots of human friends, who all love that Isadora’s magical side makes her a bit different. Even though she comes from an unusual family, the problems she faces are everyday ones that, hopefully, lots of children can relate to, like getting in trouble at school or going for a first sleepover.
Is there anything you can say about your upcoming release of the eleventh Isadora Moon book?
The next book is Isadora Moon Goes on Holiday. I’ve had the idea for this one for quite a while, as I thought it would be funny to see Isadora’s quirky family go on an aeroplane for a human sun, sea and sand holiday. Usually, Isadora’s mum prefers to be at one with nature on a camping holiday, while her dad likes to be pampered at a vampire spa hotel, so I thought it would be fun to take them outside their comfort zone. I’m also excited about the return of an undersea character we previously met in Isadora Moon Goes Camping.
Another aspect of Isadora Moon Goes on Holiday I want to share is that it has an environmental message. Like Isadora’s fairy mum, I love being out in nature and think it’s important to protect the natural world as much as possible, so part of this next book’s plot revolves around that idea.
Where does your love of writing and illustrating come from?
I’ve always loved creating my own worlds and stories. I don’t know where that love comes from, but I remember being captivated and inspired by lots of books from a very young age.
How long do you generally spend on writing/illustrating each week?
I don’t really have a typical week as it can vary so much and I have periods of being really busy and then other times which are a bit more relaxed. At the moment I’ve got two big deadlines over the next few months, so I’m working every moment I can. I recently bought an iPad Pro, which allows me to do the digital portion of my work anywhere. It’s a mixed blessing because it feels more relaxing to not be chained to my desk, but it also means that lately I’ve been working on the sofa late into the evenings, and even squeezing in a bit of colouring work in bed before I go to sleep!
In a more usual week though, I either decide a set amount I want to get done that day and it takes as long as it takes, or I keep working until I run out of energy and need a break.
Can you say about how you start illustrating your books?
My process involves drawing everything out as pencil sketches first. Once my publisher approves these, I go over the lines in ink and then paint the pictures using watercolours. I then scan them into the computer and digitally separate the pictures into pure black and pure pink layers, which makes them ready to print in the final copies of the book. I think I could speed up the process if I worked just digitally, but I really like the effect that real paints give, even if it’s a very subtle difference.
What was the first piece of work you illustrated?
I don’t know what the very first thing I illustrated was, as I have always loved writing and drawing my own stories. When I was young I used to make a semi-monthly magazine for my friends about our little ‘mascot’ toys.
One of the first things I professionally illustrated though was a little drawing of ‘the Egmont lucky coin’ for Egmont while I was doing work experience there. They wanted an illustration to represent their founder finding a lucky coin one hundred years before. It was just a little line drawing, but it appeared in the inside front cover of lots of Egmont’s children’s titles that were released that year and was the first time I saw something I’d created in bookshops. I even saw it inside a book in a shop on the Isle of Lewis when I went there on holiday!
Can you tell us about the other books you’ve written including your first book for young children, I am a Witch’s Cat, which won the Blue Hen Book Award?
I am a Witch’s Cat began as my final project for my MA degree in Children’s Book Illustration. I have always loved miniature things, so I was experimenting with creating pictures using miniature sets made from card and fabric and other crafting materials, and then photographing them. It’s a very simple story for very young children about a little girl who thinks her mummy is a witch and that all the ordinary things her mum does, like cooking and shopping, are actually magical, witchy things. The original version of I am a Witch’s Cat was displayed at Bologna Children’s Book Fair along with other people’s final projects from my MA degree, and it was picked up by Harper Collins US. They also commissioned a sequel, Happy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!, which meant I got to continue with my miniature set style for a while longer!
How does it feel seeing/hearing that children love your work?
It’s always so amazing and lovely to see children enjoying my books! I especially love all the creative ways they engage with them, like by making their own Isadora Moon costumes, holding Isadora Moon-themed birthday parties, and making lovely craft activities. I’ve seen some amazing Isadora Moon and Pink Rabbit dolls, as well as some quirkier crafts, like painted rocks and an Isadora Moon potato!
What can teachers and students expect from one of your school visits, and what do you enjoy about hosting these?
One thing I always talk about at my school visits is how, when I was young, the author and illustrator James Mayhew visited my school. Up until that point I had never realised that illustrating children’s books was an actual job you could do. I thought that if you were interested in drawing, you basically had to go into fine art, so meeting someone who wrote and illustrated children’s books all day long was a real inspiration for me. Hopefully I’m able to share some of that inspiration I felt with the children I meet, whether that’s encouraging them to follow their own passions, to have a go at writing stories, or just to read something new.
Can you tell us about the Waterstones ‘Sleepover’ Party you hosted in March 2019?
This was a great event organised by my friend Catherine, who worked at Waterstones at the time. It was in the evening after the shop had officially closed and a local company that hires out teepees for parties supplied little tents and fairy lights, so it was a really cosy atmosphere. All the children came in their pyjamas and dressing gowns ready for some fun and games and a bedtime story of Isadora Moon.
What books did you enjoy reading as a child?
There are so, so many books I enjoyed reading when I was young and I couldn’t possibly list them all, but I have a few top favourites that have continued to inspire me now that I write and illustrate my own books. These include the Pookiebooks by Ivy Wallace, about a little rabbit with fairy wings; the Brambly Hedgebooks by Jill Barklem, about a community of mice who live inside trees by a river bank; and the Dorriebooks by Patricia Coombs, which describe the adventures of a little witch who has a black cat called Gink and always wears socks that don’t match.
What are your plans for 2020 along with the release of your new book?
2020 is going to be a really busy year: I’ve got four books coming out! Two of these will be Isadora Moon books. In spring we’ll see what happens when Isadora’s magical family go on a sun, sea and sand holiday at a human resort in Isadora Moon Goes on Holiday. Later in the year, Isadora will have another adventure which will involve shrinking potion – but I can’t say more about it just yet! In between those two Isadora Moon books will be something new from the ‘World of Isadora Moon’. Finally, there’s one more book that I absolutely CANNOT WAIT to talk about, but again that’s all I can say at the moment. Watch this space!
Follow Harriet on: