x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Tale largely a family affair

A Dubai-based British artist has a children's book published after turning to her husband and daughter for inspiration to overcome writer's block.

The author and illustrator Una Rawlinson with her husband Anthony and daughter Isadora at their home in Dubai.
The author and illustrator Una Rawlinson with her husband Anthony and daughter Isadora at their home in Dubai.

A Dubai-based British artist has had a children's book published in the emirate after turning to her husband and daughter for inspiration to overcome writer's block. Una Rawlinson, 38, based the main characters in Fishcakes and Jelly, recently published by Jerboa Books of Dubai, on her daughter Isadora, six, and her husband Anthony. The book appeared in shops last week.

Mrs Rawlinson had previously illustrated two children's books, but initially found writing one difficult. "I was basing it on a little girl and it was hard to write, but as soon as I thought what my daughter would do, it became easy," she said. "The first version was pretty dreadful. You need honest friends to help you there as my husband wouldn't dare say anything." Fishcakes and Jelly, aimed at children aged three to eight, centres on the aquatic adventures of a young girl and her father.

Mrs Rawlinson said her daughter "thinks it's entirely normal" that she should have provided the inspiration for the main character. The book is based in the UAE and features many creatures that can be found in the seas around the country, such as the dugong, turtle and whale shark. Humpback whales, sea horses, eels and even mermaids also feature in the text and pictures of the book, which is written as a series of rhyming verses that detail the little girl's undersea adventures with her father.

Mrs Rawlinson painted the illustrations in Fishcakes and Jelly but the pictures used for the front and back endpapers were the work of two school friends of her daughter, Jasmine and Katriona Hay, whose mother Fitriani sponsored the book. Mrs Rawlinson began work on Fishcakes and Jelly in February and took about four months to complete it. Before she illustrated children's books, she painted murals. The two books Mrs Rawlinson illustrated, The Camel that Got Away and Cherry Loving Leila, were written by Julia Johnson and Aniko Brauner, respectively.

Working with another person to complete a book has its pros and cons compared with doing it on your own, Mrs Rawlinson learned while completing her new book. "I loved doing both the words and the illustrations because I know exactly what I wanted to paint and to write about," she said. "It feels a lot more complete having done both. "I have a particular style and I could express that in any direction I wanted to go in. If you're working with an author, you're working towards how they want to, although when you're working on your own, you don't have anybody to get feedback from."

Mrs Rawlinson is now collaborating with Julia Johnson on another book, to be called The Goat Who Wanted to Fly. "It's about a sweet little goat that always dreams of flying. He eventually reaches his dream and he meets all the animals of the UAE. It's a very charming story," she said. Jerboa Books is linked to the bookshop chain Magrudy's and has published a wide variety of books, most of them written for children and set in the UAE.

dbardsley@thenational.ae