Perfect for younger readers, Unipiggle is a superb, brightly illustrated series. Unipiggle is a unique and fun loving combination of unicorn and pig owned by Princess Pea. They live in Twinkleland and get into plenty of trouble! Read on for insight into how Unipiggle came to be from author-illustrator, Hannah Shaw.
My Unipiggle publishing journey by Hannah Shaw
Like many author- illustrators, my writing process starts with sketches and doodles of my characters. As I draw, I let my mind wander and hope this sparks a narrative idea. I rarely start out thinking ‘this will be a picture book or this will be a chapter book’. Any potential my drawn characters might have will come to light quite quickly. I annotate and sketch away until stronger concepts form and I’m buzzing with enough ideas to write freely. This approach worked well with my published picture books such as Bear on a Bike, School for Bandits and my funny animal fiction; Stan Stinky and The Scruffs books. It has also worked (albeit without the writing part) when illustrating successful stories for other authors such as The Disgusting Sandwich.
Interestingly, my new series of Unipiggle: The Unicorn Pig came about because of an unusual request. I got approached by the editor of a local, mini magazine for children, they wanted me to do a few spreads of what was to be a freestyle comic. It was beautifully designed so I agreed, even though it wasn’t the way I normally worked. This project was exactly what I needed because I’d been struggling to feel motivated for quite a while and I was frustrated by a few rejections I’d had the previous year. With no creative constraints but a short deadline, it sharpened my focus.
That day I sat down and started drawing unicorns. I drew unicorns because my daughter, who was five at the time, had recently become very fond of them. I was very aware that unicorns were everywhere, as toys, on clothes, in sticker books, as inflatables for the pool or lovingly moulded in icing on birthday cakes! There was no avoiding them, especially when the five year old was around.
I liked unicorns but I had a little bit of a problem with them, many of them represented this idealised, flawless and perfect being; all sparkly, magical and twinkly. I began to wonder…Do Unicorns ever get their hooves muddy? Do Unicorns ever make smells or cause trouble? Because children certainly do! It made sense that children would love a story about a cheeky unicorn character, one that they could relate to. This is when I drew the unicorn pig that would eventually become Unipiggle, I showed the character drawing to my daughter, she laughed a lot and started asking me questions about him. I knew I was on the right track, next I drew a rebellious, muddy Princess character who would become ‘Princess Pea’. I put both my characters into a perfect, magical world with lots of rules to break and fussy parents. I was pleased to find I had the right combination of humour, tension and (chocolate!) magic for a decent mini-comic story!
The magazine published my unicorn pig comics in three different editions of their magazine. I got feedback from the parents of children who’d read it, they’d loved it, they wanted more! This inspired me to write and work on a longer story, this time I had plenty of ideas for a chapter book. My (newly acquired) agent Jodie Hodges was very supportive and had enjoyed the story, I was excited to see it gain lots of interest and a number of offers to publish. I was pleased that Usborne wanted to publish it as a full colour young fiction series and they clinched the deal, I’d only ever illustrated black and white fiction before but Illustrating the first book had all the enjoyment of illustrating a picture book except I had more freedom (and pages) to build up my story world.
With the team at Usborne and my hard working editor Becky Walker, I edited the story into two separate narratives which became the first two books in the series -Unipiggle: Unicorn Muddle and Unipiggle: Dragon Trouble. I spent a lot of time working on maps, cut-aways and birds-eye-views of the magical Kingdom of Twinkleland, I really wanted to bring the story to life for young readers. My illustrations always have lots to spot in them and this series is no different. I like to add surprises and fun and a little bit of anarchy into my illustrations (and my writing). I’m working on two more Unipiggle books and I cannot wait to see them on the shelves next year.
In the meantime, in lieu of real school/ library visits and festival events during the pandemic, I’ll be offering zoom links to schools or reading groups. I’ve been missing meeting readers! With support from the Usborne team, I’ve been making magical draw-a-long videos, worksheets and fun activities linked to the Unipiggle books for children to do at home during this difficult time. I love to hear from readers who have enjoyed my stories and have been inspired to draw and write about Unipiggle themselves.
Follow Hannah on Twitter / Instagram @hannahshawdraws www.hannahshawillustrator.co.uk
Any opinions expressed may not reflect those of the FCBG.