Childrens Book Event: Making Izzy and Skunk by Marie Louise Fitpatrick

Today I am so excited to have author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick on my blog. Marie-Louise is an author & illustrator and she has put together a great post on the making of one of her books called Izzy and Skunk. It shows the idea from the beginning to the finished book and shows some great early sketches. Enjoy the post and leave a comment for the author below :)
Making Izzy and Skunk by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

The idea for Izzy and Skunk came from watching kids at my niece, Ann's, seventh birthday party. At the beginning of the party all the children were being quiet and polite, then a little girl called Isabelle arrived. She had a glove puppet skunk on her hand and as each child took turns with it, I noticed they were projecting a noisier, more confident version of themselves through the puppet.

Bing! Idea!

Not that the idea came all at once; they didn't back then. It was 1991 and I wasn't as skilled at figuring out exactly what it is that has set an idea going, what exactly I'm trying to say and where to take it.

Back then I had to wait a while, sketch and write a bit, wait another while, sketch and write a bit more. But I did know I definitely had the germ of something...

Here are some early sketches of Izzy and Skunk. (Izzy is based on my niece, Ann.)


Because I do both the words and pictures I usually work out the idea/characters/pictures/design and words all at the same time, developing them through layer after layer of work, and that's how it was with Izzy.

Here are some early thumbnail sketches for the book - you can see I'm writing notes to myself around the edge. There would have been loads and loads of sketches and roughs, most of which ended up in the bin.

Eventually I developed the idea enough to make a decent pencil dummy - a rough version of the book.

I touted Izzy and Skunk around the London publishers in 1993 and got nice reactions but, ultimately, a load of follow-up rejection slips.

Over the next few years I kept going back to Izzy (and two other ideas -Silly Mummy, Silly Daddy and You, Me and the Big Blue Sea) and reworking them. I did some nice sample artwork for them - two pieces a book.

Another trip to London in 1996 got me a whole load more rejection slips for all three ideas and finally some real interest in Izzy. A publisher called ABC liked it but suggested that the ending needed more work.

'The story has a strong beginning, a strong middle, and then it just sort of fizzles out,' the editor said. 'Give me a stronger ending and we'll take the book.'

I wasn't sure what to do next, but she suggested that I think about what might happen to a real little girl, and I thought of how my niece had lost her beloved favourite toy when she was eight.

What would Izzy do if Skunk got lost?

Asking myself that question gave me the strong ending I needed, something which had eluded me for five years!

I sorted the ending to the editor's satisfaction but, just as we were about to sign a contract, ABC went under and I was publisher-less again. At this point (thankfully!) I found my agent. She placed Izzy and Skunk with Gullane Children's Books and I began working on the finished artwork in earnest.

The editors at Gullane had some concerns too. The new ending featured Izzy wading into a pond to rescue Skunk. They felt this was too dangerous, so Izzy climbs a big tree instead!!!!

They loved the colour palette I was using in the watercolour art but suggested the green I favoured was too blue and I should consider an olive green instead. They were right; olive green fits in far better with the other colours I like to use and I have favoured olive greens ever since.


Izzy was afraid of shadows...

...but Skunk wasn't!


Izzy is a story about a little girl who is scared of everything, and her glove-puppet friend, Skunk, who is not. I designed the spreads so that the 'scared' images (and words) are small and the 'not scared' images (and words) are big, to mimic the way Izzy is feeling.


Izzy was afraid of making mistakes...

...but Skunk wasn't!
Izzy and Skunk was published in 1999 and translated into many languages including Danish, Korean and Chinese. It won the Bisto Best Book of the Year Award in 2000.
Silly Mummy, Silly Daddy and You, Me and the Big Blue Sea also found publishers eventually! In fact, each was taken by a publisher who had previously rejected it, but only after I had reworked them both some more.

Thankfully nowadays I move ideas along much more quickly because I have learnt to ask myself lots of questions - what would that character do next? What would he /she do if this/that happened? - and I have developed a keener sense of story and a sharper ear/eye for the weak spots, both in the text and the illustrations.

And I always bear in mind that every idea needs a strong beginning, strong middle and strong ending....


I am currently finishing a novel called Hagwitch for 9-12 year olds, and doing the art for a new picturebook called Ellie-in-the Grey-Coat.


Timecatcher the Novel facebook page
Marie Louise Fitzpatrick facebook page

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  1. Wow, great post. I love how you draw!!!! That is amazing and the concept of the book and how it came about is awesome :)