The Child in Me: Yasmeen Ismail

The Child in Me: Yasmeen Ismail

What kind of child were you?
My mother would have described me as wild, but I don't believe that. I was very small, as children are, and very quiet until about 4 years old. From that age on I was very loud. In fact, until 4 my parents told me that I wasn't really talking. They did wonder that I might be mute. But personally I think I just didn't want to engage with the world.  
 
What are your most vivid memories?
There are a couple that come to mind. I remember being in nursery with "my Martin" (that's what I called our teacher, Miss Martin, she was mine, you see) and asking my friends (one of them is now my husband and the other a very close friend) if they wanted to play farms with me (now remember, this was during the time that I supposedly wasn't talking, I thus conclude that it was just my parents that I wasn't speaking to). They didn't, and continued playing dinosaurs. I felt rejected.
 
On another occasion (whether before or after "farmgate") I recall using my safety scissors to cut all the fringe off the blinds in the living room. I was, I vividly recollect, harvesting hay for my horse, Sandy (named by my sister), in my Fisher-Price farm set. I have just noticed the farm theme of my memories. Mother was displeased.
How did you start reading and what books have stayed with you?
I learned to read in "my Martin's" class. We would have pages with the letters on and a picture of something beginning with that letter that we could colour in. Actually forming words came later in junior infants. In Ireland we had books called "Ann and Barry", and we would read them all. The first sentence I read was as follows, "Ann and Barry like jam." Jam was a popular theme in 80's Ireland.
 
One of my very favourite books as a child was my sister's copy of Fairy Tales by Terry Jones and Michael Foreman. When I was little I loved the pictures, when I was older I loved the stories. The themes seem rather dark and I enjoyed the macabre and heavy detailing in the illustrations. At the time it felt like a book for older kids, teenagers even! I felt very grown up reading it.
 
How did you start drawing – do you remember the first things you drew?
I don't remember the first thing I drew. But I know that I drew a lot and that it gave me pleasure to create pictures. I would draw rainbows any chance I got. If I was asked to draw a car you can bet your ass there was a rainbow in it. A house? There's a rainbow! Sometimes I would draw several rainbows on a single page.  RAINBOW!
What do you find difficult to draw?
Right now? Nothing. I have had too much practice. I guess I find some things boring to draw, like microwaves, or cupboards. It's really about enjoyment. I could get lost in pure joy drawing a mermaid, or a unicorn. Actually, come to think of it, I find ghosts very hard to draw. I don't understand why.  
Do you bring your own childhood to your work?
YES! Everything I do is to please the demanding 4-year-old inside me (not literally, you see). If I write or draw I innately think to what I would have liked as a kid. My aesthetics are just the same now as they were 28 years ago. My most recent book, Specs for Rex, is from direct experience. I got glasses at a young age and was terrified of the humiliation that awaited me at school. Luckily that humiliation never transpired. I was left alone, no one cared.
What are you reading at the moment?
I have started reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I have high expectations!  
 
Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail is out now from Bloomsbury Children's.