Wednesday 20 October 2021

Witch in Training - Q&A with author Michelle Robinson

Today we welcome Michelle Robinson onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Witch in Training, illustrated by Briony May Smith!

 Betty is brewing her first-ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...

With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Q&A with Michelle Robinson

What was the inspiration behind writing Witch in Training?

I have always desperately wanted to be a witch. The late Jill Murphy has been one of my favourite writers and illustrators since I was young. I find Mildred Hubble, The Worst Witch, very relatable. As a child, I used to make my own ‘potions’ out of anything I could find in the kitchen, bathroom and garden. As a writer, I love the idea of spell books and I particularly like spells that rhyme. The idea of chanting words aloud, stirring a concoction of special ingredients and magicking something into being is just so appealing. It seems only natural that any young witch would need to learn the ropes along the way.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your writing process?

I try and write something most days, even if it’s just for fun. My favourite time to write is very early in the morning before the rest of my family are awake. I find my mind is still in dream mode. The birds are just finding their voices, I haven’t started worrying about any admin, chores or personal troubles, and I can write freely without my critical mind clicking into gear. I work anywhere I can sit comfortably, which is most often in an armchair or on the sofa. I find sitting at a desk makes writing feel like serious business. Of course, I take my work seriously, but I like to feel relaxed when I’m writing. I don’t actually own a desk or an office chair.
Can you tell us more about your journey into the world of childrens books? 

Writing is part of who I am. I have written pretty much every day for the last twenty-odd years. I get anxious and muddle-headed when life gets in the way of work. Before becoming a full-time author I spent ten years working as an advertising creative, writing copy and conceiving ads all day, every day, for very long hours. I hated it, but it was a good training ground for learning to accept criticism and how to identify strong ideas. I had always wanted to write for children, and I started to give it a try in every spare hour outside work. My first attempts weren’t great, but I stuck at it and put myself on some courses with the Arvon Foundation. Eventually, my stories improved and I was taken on by the Catchpole Agency, who I’m still delighted to be represented by.

What was it like seeing Brionys illustrations for the first time?

Briony’s work is so special it honestly feels like very real magic whenever I look at it. I know it must be very hard work to create illustrations of such a high standard, but Briony makes it look easy. Beautiful, charming pictures seem to flow from her fingertips. The light and dappled shade she creates wows me every time. I particularly love how her characters manage to have a dreamlike appeal while also being realistic. Briony is one of the finest illustrators the industry has. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be making books with her.
Do you have a favourite spread in the story?

Honestly: every single one of them. The house on the first page is so inviting, I want to move in. I particularly like how Briony included the characters from our previous book in one scene — I’ll let readers hunt that one out. If I was forced to pick, I adore the sea monster. The light filtering through the water and highlighting its scales is amazing, and I love how it shows Betty’s fearless character. I always try and make my writing as pithy as possible to leave more space for the art. It’s wonderful to have images like this to lose yourself in and feel awestruck by the moment.

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?

Tough question! My favourites always seem to vanish from my brain whenever I’m asked. I love The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway, which has an absurd premise and is excellent fun to read aloud. Silly stories are truly wonderful and I wish they were as appreciated within the industry as they are by the families who devour them. I really love Fred Blunt’s work, like Lionel and Gnome. He has a brilliantly daft sense of humour and his drawings always make me laugh. His latest collaboration with Steve Webb, Cows Go Boo, is super funny too. And of course, I love Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy. My children have long since grown out of it, but I keep a copy on my shelf. If I ever want to remind myself what standard I’m aiming for, Jill’s work is right up there at the top. I’ll keep on trying!


A special thanks to our guest this week, Michelle Robinson!
Witch in Training is now available from all good booksellers.