Bookbug Author Spotlight: Emily MacKenzie

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar cover by Emily MacKenzie
Category: Bookbug

Bookbug's Author Spotlight gives you the chance to learn more about the work of authors, publishers and illustrators connected to the Bookbug programme. This month, illustrator Emily MacKenzie answers some questions about her work. Emily is based in Edinburgh and is the author and illustrator of Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit: Book Burglar, our current Bookbug Book of the Month. Emily also has a range of other illustrations and screen printed work. You can find out more on her website. 


Tell us a little bit more about your work.

My work for children's publishing is mainly character based, spontaneous, colourful, inky and humorous. I enjoy getting jokes into my work or expressions that make people giggle. I also love screen-printing and get a kick out of bringing my characters to life in the form of screen-printed, embroidered 3D plushes and soft sculptures which I sell online.

What is your earliest reading memory?

I have LOTS of very happy reading memories but I'm not quite sure which is the earliest! My favourite books were Otto the Bear by Ivan Ganstschev and The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft and Erik Blegvad. I adored the rich autumnal watercolours of bears, forests and fruit trees in Otto the Bear and the winter landscapes with the little lost teddy bear stuck in a tree in The Winter Bear. I also loved Dogger by Shirley Hughes. Basically, I had a soft spot for books about bears and cuddly toys! When I learned to read at school I loved the One, Two Three and Away! series which included stories about characters Roger Red-Hat, Billy Blue-Hat, Jennifer Yellow-Hat and the Village with Three Corners. I would love to read them again now!

Who or what is your biggest influence?

I'm very lucky to come from a very creative family, where my graphic designer parents always encouraged me to make, paint, stick, invent and draw. They nurtured my love of books and creating, took me to our local library often and encouraged me to make the most of my wild imagination. I grew up in a very rural part of Northumberland with a pine forest behind our house, I invented little stories about wild animals and was inspired by the nature around me. Also my uncle and aunt (Mick Manning and Brita Granström) are a prolific children's author/illustrator team and have been a huge influence, constantly inspiring me. I'm also very influenced by the work of Quentin Blake. I've been in love with his colourful, crazy, exciting, speedy, inky, funny and sometimes scary illustrations my whole life. I love his stories too. His work is a constant source of inspiration and comfort.

Are there any contemporary picture books you wish you’d written or illustrated? 

Emily Mackenzie- photo by Diana Pappas

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. It's a beautiful wordless story that I remember so vividly from my childhood. I think it was my first experience of a story without a happy ending and I guess, my first introduction to more complex feelings of grief and loss.

Aside from the wonderful world of picture books, which genres or authors do you like to read?

I love Bill Bryson's travel writing. His witty observations and accounts of scenarios he's experienced never fail to make me laugh. I'm currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which I'm really enjoying and have Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Dr Tuula Karjalainen lined up to read next. I love The Moomins and Tove Jansson's illustrations so I can't wait to read this biography.

Briefly describe your typical working day

My working day nearly always starts with a big cup of strong Yorkshire Tea in my favourite mug! I like to have toast with Marmite or pesto for breakfast and then I get to work. I tend to spend a couple of hours reading and responding to emails first and making to-do lists, then it's time for another cup of tea and inky work in my studio. If I have a deadline I try and have a full day of drawing and inking, stopping now and again to find further inspiration and sketch in my layout pad then I work with my inks on my light box on final artwork. Tea and cake breaks and a tasty lunch to look forward to help me stay focussed! If I'm not as busy though it's nice to break up my day with walks or go and meet friends for a catch up or spend a day screen-printing; I love the flexibility that comes with being freelance!

How do you get out of a creative rut?

Each day a new illustration project brings new challenges and surprises so if I'm having difficulty getting stuck into a project I often go for 'thinking swims' at our local pool, walk around the Botanics, draw in The Museum of Scotland or do some screen-printing to get my brain working again. I've found in the past that I get a lot of my ideas in the bath or in the middle of night, so I often have a 'thinking bath' if I'm trying to develop a new idea for a drawing or a story or need to brainstorm something I'm a bit stuck on. I'm in the process of designing a desk to fit over my bath to make drawing in the tub a little easier!

What is your top tip for budding authors or illustrators?

Always have a pen handy! A notepad is good too, but be ready to scrawl ideas down on napkins, bus tickets and receipts; write everything down and keep your ideas and drawings in a box. Whether it's just a name of someone you've met that you like, an idea for a character based on someone you sat next to on the bus or a fully formed story idea that just popped into your head while you were pushing your trolly around the supermarket, it's great to keep a record of it all so you can refer back to it for inspiration.  I keep a notepad and pen by the bed so I can write down ideas in the middle of the night. This happens surprisingly often!

Can you give us an insight into what you’re currently working on?

I've just had great fun completing artwork for my second book for Bloomsbury, which is be published in 2016. The character who features in this book has been alive in my head for years now so it's been a dream come true to bring him into the world and I can't wait to see him in print! I'm also storyboarding and developing characters for new book ideas as well as working on some commissions and preparing some work to screen-print this spring.

Finally, tell us a random or surprising fact about yourself

I once took a llama called Olive for a walk!

Catch up on other Spotlight blogs, including Cate James and Petr Horacek.