A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Today I have the joy of interviewing Isabel Atherton and Bethany Straker about their gorgeous new picture book Smelly Ghost!
Spooky Town is home to many ghosts, ghouls, skeletons and scary creatures. However, none of these creepy characters wants to play with Smelly Ghost. He devours bone chips, chocolate toes, and eyeball pizza, all of which make his tummy growl and keep everyone far, far away. Devastated, Smelly Ghost wonders why no one wants to be his friend.
One day, Janice the mummy-cleaner suggests he try eating some creepy vegetables and spine-chilling fruit. What does he have to lose? He eagerly begins to munch on ghoul carrots and to nibble on slime bananas. Slowly but surely, the other Spooky Town inhabitants creep back toward Smelly Ghost, and he is soon playing with them every day. Not to mention feeling healthier and happier!
Smelly Ghost is an adorable book that encourages children to eat healthily, promoting not only a nutritious diet but also a healthy body and mind.
Hi Isabel and Bethany!
Congratulations on the release of your gorgeous picture book, Smelly Ghost, and thank you for speaking with me today. I love the premise of Smelly Ghost and I have to ask, what inspired you to write it, Isabel?
I – Thanks, Rose! Two words literally popped into my head ‘smelly’ and ‘ghost.’ When writing children’s books I quite often start with the central character. Once I had Smelly Ghost I needed to work on the plot, which I pondered for quite a while. I decided to base it around health and getting kids off the junk food and eating their greens and how amazing you can feel looking after yourself. Beth was great. We both love spooky, Gothic things and she encouraged me to go all out on what Smelly Ghost loves to eat. He is very partial to eyeball pizza.
B – Yes! I loved the focus on the nasty, oozing spooky junk food and having fun exaggerating what we as humans eat! It was a great idea for a picture book as the story is so visual.
The illustrations are equally gorgeous. Bethany, what made you choose that particular style?
B – That’s very kind of you. I wanted to incorporate the sort of detail that encourages the reader to look beyond the action – the characters in the background, the shapes of the houses lining the streets. I like finding little elements of humour that aren’t immediately obvious. The style is cartoon-like: something I loved as a child as it got me drawing and copying the picture books I had when I was small. Starting the process with just a pen and a piece of paper is important to me – I can’t be as passionate about something I’ve only created on screen.
Smelly Ghost has such an important message at its core, was it difficult to balance the message with the story, Isabel?
I – I was very conscious not to come across as preaching, so the message is gently put out there in what I hope is a fun manner for children.
Smelly Ghost is full of beautiful, eye-catching colours. Bethany, did you work to a particular palette that you chose before starting?
B – I love colour palettes that reflect this type of theme – plenty of purples, greens and blacks. I’ve never liked using too many primary colours, I like to show the grime and the dirt that would appear, especially in an environment like this one. Smelly Ghost and his friends wouldn’t be living in a rainbow-coloured town, they’d be surrounded by slime, grime and mould! The greens are loud enough to lift the spread so that it isn’t too grotty, though.
This isn’t the first project that you two have collaborated on, how has your partnership blossomed since Zombie Cat: Tale of a Decomposing Kitty?
I – I adore working with Beth and we’ve become very close since Zombie Cat. I feel we really vibe off one another’s ideas and we have fun more importantly!
B – The excitement that I get from one of Isy’s first sparks of an idea is something that makes me really fired up about a project. Isy always has a sense of humour with her work which is something I love. We talk a lot, we communicate about work and silly things, life and our daily issues. We’ve built up a trust that’s very important to me.
How do both of you approach the design process? Do you swap detailed notes or create rough sketches before drawing up pages?
I – Yes, we do swap notes. In fact, I actually sat down with our publisher in New York City and we did some rough sketches so Beth knew the kind of layout we were thinking. It’s 100% a collaboration. I remember when we did the spread where Smelly Ghost is behind the bins, Beth and I discussed the perspective and where he should be placed. There was a bit of back and forth on that till we nailed it, but I think it’s one of the best spreads in the book. Beth has made Smelly Ghost such a loveable character!
B – Yes I’ll often discuss a problem I’ve come up against. I will need to know from Isy which elements of the text she wants me to focus on and what she envisages from the look of a character. I will always start by sending her character sketches and ideas and we whittle things down and discuss all the way through the process if things are heading where we want them.
Are there any particular picture books that have inspired either of you?
I – I used to love Meg and Mog written by Helen Nicoll and illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. One of my greatest pleasures on the weekend is going to Barnes and Noble on Union Square and reading the children’s picture books. I’m British, but now living in New York, so now I am seeing all the wonderful classic US picture books that didn’t quite make it over to the UK.
B – How I’d love to be doing that! I think the picture books that have inspired me the most are those treasured books I had as a child. I’ve frequently mentioned how much I loved Martin Waddell’s ‘Little Dracula’ illustrated by Joseph Wright because of its cartoonish, humorous style and the detail that found its way into the background. In terms of truly beautiful artwork it was always Shirley Hughes. As a child, I just wanted books about ghosts, witches and monsters! Now I’m illustrating a book that my 7 year old self would have given anything to do.
How does it feel to see Smelly Ghost in the flesh, so to speak?
I – Simply amazing. It’s currently on my mantelpiece, so when I look up I can see Smelly Ghost’s friendly little face looking down at me.
B – When Smelly Ghost arrived, I was terrified. In general I hold my breath and go through each page when a book comes through, and once I’ve seen it all I can relax! It’s something I’ve always wanted and I still don’t think its sunk in!
Thank you Isabel and Bethany for sharing that with us!
Below is the fantastic book trailer for Smelly Ghost!
Isabel Atherton is an author, literary agent, and director of Creative Authors Ltd. When she is not helping her authors she likes to write illustrated books herself. She is the author of ZOMBIE CAT, an illustrated adult humor book (for Skyhorse Publishing), SMELLY GHOST, THE BAD EASTER BUNNY, SPRINGY CHICKEN and RUBY MOO’S DEEP SEA ADVENTURE, all children’s picture books (Sky Pony titles).
Bethany Straker is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website, www.bethanystraker.com
Rose Mannering is an English writer and international author. She signed up with literary agency Creative Authors when she was eighteen and secured her first UK publishing deal when she was nineteen. Her YA fantasy novel, Roses will be out on Nov 6th and her first picture book with illustrator, Bethany Straker, will be released in spring 2014.
Congratulations, Beth & Isabel! I can’t wait to read SG!