Illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson talks about writing her first fiction book, Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, which marks the start of a new middle grade series.
What is Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball about?
This first book in the Amelia Fang series is set in the city of Nocturnia, where darkness reigns supreme, glitter is terrifying, and unicorns are the stuff of utter daymares! Amelia Fang, a ten year old vampire, would much rather hang out with her pet pumpkin Squashy and her best friends Florence the yeti and Grimaldi, son of Death, than attend at her parents' annual Barbaric Ball. But, when the King’s spoiled son Prince Tangine steals Squashy, Amelia and her friends must plan a daring rescue and they soon begin to realise that things in Kingdom of the Dark may not be quite what they seem . . .
What inspired the story and the series as a whole?
I’ve always wanted to create a book that scratched my Tim Burton itch – something a bit gothic-y and quirky. Amelia started out as a quick sketch and then the characters, the world and the story developed from there. As I began to write the first book, a bigger story arc beckoned, which now expands across the three books.
Why did you make the move into writing fiction as well as illustrating, and how did you find the experience?
I’ve always wanted to write as well as illustrate. I’ve worked on many picture books and I knew I wanted to write a book for older readers. Whilst I’ve illustrated fiction books, including the Witch Wars series (with Sibeal Pounder) and the Harper series (with Cerrie Burnell), writing my own stories was a completely new area for me. It’s very different to writing a picture book. Keeping within the word count is quite a challenge – I have a tendency to ramble on! I’ve had my ups and downs during the process, but that’s what keeps me focused. Being able to have complete control over the world, what I illustrate and what my characters look like has been an absolute dream. The whole journey from initial sketch to printed novel has been incredible.
What is your favourite element of the world of Nocturnia?
I very much enjoyed inventing all the little details such as the disgusting food and strange magical creatures. At one point whilst describing the process of making ‘Toe Jam’, I actually made myself feel a little sick! I also decided to go against traditional vampire characteristics. The vampires in Amelia Fang DO have a reflection and they do NOT drink blood (it gives them very stinky breath!). They’ve also evolved so that their tiny wings are pretty useless, a bit like our pancreas.
What can we expect from the rest of the series?
Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball ends with a big secret being revealed, and this leads on to a quest and a mystery to unravel in the second book, Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords. Ultimately, I want readers to have fun discovering Amelia’s adventures – I’ve had such fun writing and illustrating them! On the surface, Amelia Fang is a funny book, with plenty of jokes and comic escapades, but underlying that I’d like to feel they also touch on the importance of tolerance and how difference shouldn’t be feared. Books have such power to encourage empathy and understanding – which feels very relevant in current times.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I am currently working the illustrations for Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords. I’m also in the process of writing and illustrating my second picture book in the I Don't Want... series to follow on from I Don't Want Curly Hair with Bloomsbury. And there are lots of Evil Emperor Penguin comics in the works with The Phoenix!
Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is published by Egmont on 5th October.