Wednesday 20 October 2021

Witch in Training - Q&A with illustrator Briony May Smith

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

 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 Briony May Smith

Can you tell us more about your journey into illustration?
I always loved drawing and making up games and stories as a child, playing with my younger sister and brother. I never put the pencil down and decided to pursue illustration in the hopes of working in the children’s book world. I studied Illustration at Falmouth University and built up a portfolio of artwork. I have been very lucky to work with some of my favourite authors writing today, and Witch in Training was an exciting venture into books with a Halloween bent! Witch in Training is the second book I’ve illustrated with author Michelle Robinson. Our first book, Tooth Fairy in Training follows fairy sisters as the littlest sibling starts her first night as a tooth fairy.

How did you begin illustrating Witch in Training?

I started with the home and characters of Witch in Training. Betty and her mum go collecting ingredients for cauldron training - all the spooky, witchy, magical places a young potion maker might need to visit would be a fun exploration on each spread, but the start and finish are in their home. I used this as an opportunity to build a house best suited for witches, with broomstick parking, an adjoining potions room, and a witchy weathervane, all in one wonky stone and timber home. I experimented with a few character designs and settled on a traditional-looking witch green skin and a mane of purple hair, wanting to mirror the Tooth Fairy’s bright colours from mine and Michelle’s first collaboration. I had a lot of fun designing their clothing too.

What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Witch in Training?

I think my favourite spread to illustrate in the book was the opening spread. It was a lot of fun to introduce the world, the time of day, and Betty and her cat, Pumpkin Patch, to the reader, and play with the lighting and composition.

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

Growing up my three favourite picture books were:

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base

The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

Portly’s Hat by Lucy Cousins

They are all very different - Base’s story is an intensely detailed and clever tale of a birthday party full of intrigue and puzzles, things to be found on every page and a code to break at the end. Cicely Mary Barker’s fairies are like a field guide to the fairy world and enriched our games based in fairyland. Portly’s Hat is extremely charming and funny and bold and like The Eleventh Hour, one that I have very fond memories of being read to us when we were little, giggling at the same parts that make me smile now.

These three are still my favourites and sit on my bookshelf in my studio.

As a grown-up, I’ve added some more favourites.

I saw My Little Hen by Alice and Martin Provensen at a friend’s house and ordered my own copy. I love chickens and straw hats and the two unite beautifully in this picture book. There are many books illustrated by Aurelia Fronty that I love, possibly my favourites are Fil de Fee (Fairy Threads) or Tristan e Iseo (Tristan snd Iseult) written by Beatrice Fontanel. I also love Helen Stephens’s work, her books have a beautiful bold palette and charm.


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