How did the idea for The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm come about?
Karen Foxlee: I think the idea came from a few different places. I’ve always loved magic and mysterious things and I’m fascinated by monsters. The story was also written during lockdowns, so I was constantly thinking about travel and exotic locations. I somehow combined the two in my imagination. A girl who travels to far-flung places solving monster mysteries and helping monsters in need. And then the more I grew the character Mary-Kate, the more I realised she was anxious about a lot of things, so that added a whole new layer. I love how it all came together. Mary-Kate does worry a lot, but I really loved the idea that despite this and in many ways, because of this, she is actually really good at helping others, monsters included.
Can you tell us what inspired you to start a series rather than your usual standalone novel?
KF: I think in a strange way, the answer is just that it felt like a series. I’m not sure how to explain that. I just knew in my heart, once I found the character Mary-Kate, that she’d have lots of adventures, and that she’d solve lots of mysteries, and that she’d learn so much about herself along the way. That was really exciting, because I’d never really considered writing a series before. I guess I was just waiting to find the right character!
What went through your mind when you found out you’ll be illustrating Karen Foxlee’s first young reader series?
Freda Chiu: Pure excitement and disbelief! My publisher at Allen & Unwin, Anna McFarlane, contacted me about illustrating a new children’s fantasy series involving monsters a year and a half ago. I have always had a penchant for horror and fantasy, so I knew it would be right up my alley. When I found out the author was Karen Foxlee, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Her work is always so sensitive and delicate that I knew it would a perfectly balanced story, even before I had read the manuscript!
In this novel, Mary-Kate is an anxious little girl who’s super witty and oh so curious. How do you develop the kid characters you create in your novels?
KF: I’d have to say that it depends on the story. Some characters take forever to form and are a lot of hard work, while others just spring onto the page fully formed. I think all my characters contain parts of me, more than anything, but I sometimes borrow from other people I know – for instance, my daughter. I definitely channelled my “inner child worrier” when breathing life into Mary-Kate.
How did you visualise drawing Mary-Kate? What sort of research did you do?
FC: I tend to start with the overall tone and my feelings towards the story. Mary-Kate Martin is a sweet and sensitive soul who is anxious but a logical thinker and not afraid of monsters, so it was important to capture these layers to her character.
Mary-Kate’s design went through two iterations — the original design was rendered in an inky style however, it didn’t capture her sensitivity, so I went back to the drawing board and came up with a style that had a softer, spookier feel.
I also brainstormed things I associated with Mary-Kate. She made me think of a willow tree. Willow trees are often associated with wisdom, they sway with the wind and their movements are soft, but they are also very strong … just like our heroine. I captured this feel in her shape, medium and in the line work.
And I had to give her an outfit that matched her personality. Mary-Kate is very particular about being orderly and making sure colours feel balanced and co-ordinated, so this was another important consideration in her design.
Lenny’s Book of Everything was such a heart-warming novel that made me bawl my eyes out. What is the first kids book that made you cry?
KF: Yes, Lenny’s Book of Everything still makes me cry too! I think the first story I can remember crying to was The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. My sisters and I would bawl our eyes out reading that one. I loved the betrayal and drama and that ending! I think it really was my first experience of being completely moved by words! I started writing very young and I was always trying to get an emotional response, either from myself or others, through my stories.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? What was your favourite scene to draw?
FC: For Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters, getting the cover right was the most difficult part for me. Creating the look for a new series is a challenging (and super fun!) task because there are many things to consider. I had to think about colour and how the series branding, composition, and details like Mary-Kate’s pose, would work across subsequent books that don’t even exist yet!
My favourite scene in the book to draw was the one where Mary-Kate and her new friend, Arabella, went searching for clues at the cemetery and came across a large angel gravestone. It was a very beautiful and poignant scene, as it was the first time we saw the usually bubbly and confident Arabella’s vulnerability.
The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm is available online and at your local Dymocks store.