If only Pablo could draw new parents

PUBLISHED: 13:24 12 April 2007 | UPDATED: 14:30 07 September 2010

Fiona Dunbar

Fiona Dunbar

by Bridget Galton AS A child, Fiona Dunbar spent hours in her bedroom doodling and drawing cartoon strips. That was my creative expression - telling stories in pictures with a pencil got my juices flowing. It was an intensely private thing and the thou

by Bridget Galton

AS A child, Fiona Dunbar spent hours in her bedroom doodling and drawing cartoon strips.

"That was my creative expression - telling stories in pictures with a pencil got my juices flowing. It was an intensely private thing and the thought of anyone else seeing it was mortifying," says the Crouch End mum-of-two.

Her latest children's book Toonhead is a comedy thriller about a boy called Pablo who discovers he can predict the future with his doodlings and ends up kidnapped by unsavoury characters eager to harness his unusual gift.

Pablo's parents are abstract artists who ban him from watching TV and shut him in a room with drawing materials in the hope he will turn out work like his namesake Picasso.

But he sneaks around to a friend's house to watch cartoons and starts secretively doodling in his bedroom.

"Toonhead practically wrote itself, partly because Pablo is a lot like me," says Dunbar, who left school at 16, attended an art foundation course but rejected the world of fine art to draw storyboards for TV adverts.

Dunbar loves introducing supernatural elements in her stories. Her popular Lulu Baker trilogy featured a girl with a magic recipe book and offered a heady brew of fantasy ingredients, herbalist notions and mythology.

"These magical elements are purely indulging and entertaining my own fantasies," she admits.

"I love fairy stories but I find more captivating and seductive than complete fantasy worlds is that element of believability - a situation that kids relate to resembling their own lives but with a twist, like a girl down the road with all these magical ingredients. It's within grasp and they can imagine it happening to them."

Dunbar said advertising was "very lucrative but soul destroying" and switched to illustrating children's storybooks but didn't like having to realise someone else's characters.

After giving birth to children Helena and George she was a full time mum for several years which she found fulfilling but eventually grew "incredibly creatively frustrated".

When her children started school she realised while reading them stories that she might be able to write her own.

"It sparked off that creative impulse again. I thought 'I really think I could do this. I have got the imagination.'"

In Toonhead, Dunbar, who describes herself as having "a low boredom threshold" amusingly satirises a certain uptight middle class parent so keen on promoting their child's individuality and fighting globalisation that they forget about fun.

Pablo's parents live in a tip that stinks of turpentine and enjoy improving pursuits while their lonely child amuses himself upstairs.

Dunbar is unwilling to be drawn on the extent to which her eco-friendly Crouch End neighbours and fellow school run mums lent inspiration for Pablo's parents.

"Oh you wouldn't meet parents like that in Crouch End!" she jokes. "I did have fun with those parents, they are quite hilariously tragic. These parents who think they need to protect their children from bad cultural influences. It's a very good impulse but some people take it too far and need a sense of perspective. They are not bad people, they mean so well but they are so wrong."

Toonhead

by Fiona Dunbar

Hachette £9.99.

Pink Chameleon, the first of a new trilogy in the same vein as Lulu Baker, is out on July 1.

Bridget galton

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