July 22nd, 2016

A Conversation with Author/Illustrator Fiona McDonald

Today we're chatting to Fiona McDonald about her wide range of books, craft, and art.

Finished low res1. Hi Fiona! Your work has so much personality – can you tell us about your knitted characters and their how-to guides?

For me, toys need character. They are much more than something soft to cuddle or to dress in fancy clothes. They are the confidants, co-conspirators, fellow adventurers, as well as comforters in time of need. So, when I came to design my knitted dolls and creatures, they all had to be individualised. This is one idea I really like to try to convey, that the dolls don’t need to look like the pictures in the books, they are to become the maker’s own creation. I have discovered that often one doesn’t have a lot of control over how a doll turns out. Some are very sweet and docile, others, well, they can be a handful, a bit like children really.

11872247_711362845662100_8216752712730738638_o2. You do a lot with craft and textile and your work is really creative. Let’s talk about your fairy gardening! Do you have a fairy garden of your own?

I have had several fairy gardens over time. I like to set them up and then leave the fairies to it. But you know, the fairies in my garden tend to be a lazy lot when it comes to gardening and by winter, when the pretty flowers have gone, so had the fairy enthusiasm for keeping it well weeded. By spring I usually have to do a total makeover.

Goblin MArket 13. What attracts you to fantasy and magic?

I’m not sure, to be honest, I have long assumed everyone is attracted to them but I have discovered people who claim they aren’t. This is very puzzling. However, what I do know is that when I was 8 years old, I discovered C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew, and I’ve been looking for Narnia ever since. This is probably why I have ended up becoming a writer and illustrator.

Ring a ring a rosie 4 low res4. You have a gothic, Edward Gorey-esque style. Where do you find inspiration for your art?

I find inspiration in all sorts of places. Again, I don’t know what attracts me to the darker side of things, maybe that delightful Dickensian thing of being safe and cosy while listening to something terrifying and uncomfortable. Recently, my lovely agent, Isabel Atherton, sent me a link to the drawings of Domenico Gnoli. She certainly knows my taste, and I was entranced. I had to respond to his work immediately, a kind of compulsive reaction. I drew a picture of some little girls playing in a street. At first sight everything seems fine but on closer inspection… This was followed up by an unexpected visit to a marvellous junk shop in a little village not far from my home town. It was a cold, wet day and the building was huge, gloomy and jam-packed with stuff. I fell in love with the place and felt a drawing set in the shop begin to emerge. The little girls, or their friends, have decided to play hide and seek in the shop. Usually inspiration is immediate, or grows quickly out of something seen, heard, read. It can be a word, a mood, a piece of music. It grabs me and won’t let go until I have begun to make something.

To Sleep

5. Your painting and pen/pencil work is wonderful. Can you share some more pieces with us, telling us a little about them?

I trained as an artist at Australia’s oldest private art school, Julian Ashton’s in Sydney. You begin in the still life room drawing endless charcoal pieces of skulls and Roman senators. Then you move onto the life class and do charcoal nudes. Finally you get to paint in oils. Art school was one of the best times of my life. Several years ago I discovered the work of Paula Rego, a Portugese/English artist. Her pastels look edible. This sparked a series of large pastels featuring women and girls doing rather strange things. Often the women wear a blue dress, I’ve only just realised how many do since I’ve been looking through old photos and putting them up on Facebook.
Karen 012 I love pencil too. There is Girl in the Afternoon, an experiment with illustration to a piece of flash fiction I had written. The picture is to be evocative, not a literal interpretation , of the writing. I would love to do more of this, perhaps incorporating the text into the picture.
Bird in the afternoon pencil drawing low res I’ve also been working on a character called Melusine. She has a fish tail and a crab claw. She has turned into a Victorian era explorer of colonial Australia and has found her way into some Eugene von Guerard landscapes. Like all my pictures, there just has to be a narrative (even when unwritten).
melusine experiment 6. Ghost Doll and Jasper—where a doll is touched by stardust—is my favourite! Can you tell us about this magical graphic novel and the inspiration behind it?

I loved writing this book! I want to write a sequel, I will write a sequel, whether it gets published or not. This is the kind of book I loved as a child. One young reviewer on Amazon.com said it was really good for fans of Harry Potter and ‘stuff like that’. They gave me 5 stars too! Again, it is the toy and magic theme that got me. I can’t leave off playing with dolls and bears, dragons and stuffed animals. My love of toys has led me to opening my own toy shop with my fabulous daughter, Beattie Alvarez, who is also a writer and illustrator and toy maker. We sell our handmade toys and all our books here. It is like going to play every day. And that reminds me, I must finish designing a knitting pattern of Ghost Doll and Jasper!
131357_217691111695945_894496548_o 7. And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

A new, independent publisher has started up in my town and the owners have become good friends. I’m doing my very first, written and illustrated picture book with them called, Edward’s War to come out about May next year. I’m also working on an idea that came to me in a dream. It is an epic fantasy, heavily illustrated, that I call, ‘Game of Thrones meets The Hobbit under the auspices of The Dark Crystal’. Got a couple of YA novels chuffing along as well. This should keep me well out of mischief!
Lumpies finished low res

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by Fiona McDonald


“Isabel Atherton helped me find the best place for my first picture book – the award winning ‘The Only Child.’ She is not only a experienced and professional book agent, but also a trusted friend, who guides like a friend and shares ideas. The process of book publishing with Isabel was a really sweet and smooth journey for me.”

Guojing, Creative Authors Client.