Annabelle Sami is a writer and performer. She grew up next to the sea on the south coast of the UK and then moved to London, where she now lives. She studied English Literature and Drama and undertook an MA in English Literature at Queen Mary University. When she isn't writing she enjoys playing saxophone in a band with her friends, performing live art and swimming in the sea.
Forrest Burdett is a queer illustrator from New Jersey with an eye for whimsy, a heart full of magic, and a passion for vibrant colours. He studied Illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology and now lives in Portland, Oregon. He spends his days creating, reading, and eating an obscene amount of chocolate. Find out more at forrestburdett.com.
Dreamweavers: Night of the Scary Fairies (Little Tiger Press)
Review: "This is a wonderfully imaginative book that explores the magical and mythical together. It is full of diverse characters and backgrounds."
Dreamweavers: Night of the Scary Fairies is the first in a new magical and adventure-packed series by Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Forrest Burdett. Look out for portals into strange dreamworlds, bad fairies and new friendships...
Find out more about 'dreamweaving', diversity and representation in children's books, and creating tension in books for younger readers in our Q&As with author Annabelle Sami and illustrator Forrest Burdett. Here, Annabelle introduces Dreamweavers and reads from a short section of the book:
Q&A with Annabelle Sami
"I think authors should write stories that reflect the worlds that their readers live in - worlds that are inherently diverse and varied. Everyone has a different family make up, cultural identity, quirks and charms."
1. Can you tell us what inspires you to write for children and the kinds of stories you enjoy creating?
I am inspired to write for children because I think they are the most important people in the world! It's a joy and a privilege to write for people with such massive imaginations and curiosity for life. I've written about this in more detail in an article for the Fab Prize!
2. What is your new series, Dreamweavers, about?
Dreamweavers is about a sensitive and kind boy called Tito, who makes friends with the mysterious new girl at school Neena. Neena tells Tito that he is a dreamweaver like her - someone that can control their dreams and enter the dreams of others. But there's trouble in the dream world and it's up to Tito and Neena to stop her uncle, a darkweaver, from merging the spirit world and human world together!
3. What inspired this story about children who can control their dreams?
I've always been intrigued by dreams and the power they hold over adults and children alike. I still remember the dreams I had as a child so vividly, and I think that's because children already have such vibrant, imaginative inner worlds. Writing a story about children who adventure in dreams seemed the perfect opportunity to meld those weird, wonderful and magical qualities that intrigue me about dreams into a book series.
4. Can you tell us about the children at the heart of these adventures? How important is it for you as an author to bring diverse characters into your writing?
I think authors should write stories that reflect the worlds that their readers live in - worlds that are inherently diverse and varied. Everyone has a different family make up, cultural identity, quirks and charms.
The protagonist of Dreamweavers, Tito, is a sensitive boy who thinks at first that he's not suited to being a dreamweaver because he can be a bit of a 'scaredy cat'. But Neena tells him that those qualities, having big feelings and an even bigger imagination, are actually what make him a good dreamweaver. Reframing qualities that might be seen as negative for a boy is just as important to me in creating diverse characters as including characters of colour. Diversity should be about all the intersecting qualities that make humans complex and interesting.
Tito also has two mums, something I included as that will be my own experience as a queer person when I have children. It just made sense to write his family that way! Neena's family have moved over from Pakistan on the run and she lives with her Mum and Grandma. So both characters have non traditional families really. But this isn't spoken about in the book - their families love them and that's all that matters.
5. Neena's family are 'soothsayers' - Do you or anyone in your family have any special abilities, like the soothsayers in your story? Would you enjoy 'dreamweaving'?
I would love to dreamweave! I do lucid dream a lot, which is where you're aware that you're dreaming, and that kind of inspired the book too. Me, my mum and sister are all quite intuitive and spiritual. So not soothsayers exactly, but a little bit witchy for sure!
6. How did you decide what your dreamweavers can - and can't - do? How did you create this world and what kinds of stories have you drawn on in doing so?
I worked with my editor Mattie a lot on the mechanics of the magic in dreamweaving. Before I'd even written the story I came up with the basic instructions of dreamweaving and wrote those down. But every new book has new technicalities that we have to speak through to make sure it makes sense.
I was very inspired by the way Anna James explains the magic in the Pages & Co books whilst still leaving enough room for it to be mysterious. You don't want to explain absolutely everything otherwise it takes away the intrigue of the magic in the first place.
7. Did you enjoy creating the 'bad guy' in this book, 'bhoot' or 'the ghost'?
Yes, writing scary characters is very fun. Although I did have to pull him back from being too scary - this isn't a horror book after all! In the final two books of the series you'll see a bit more of the Bhoot and understand him more. I think it's important that no character is simply 'evil' or 'bad' for no reason. He's Neena's uncle after all, so I want him to be slightly redeemed by the end of the series!
8. In this book we also meet 'scary fairies' - what other kinds of beings do you have planned for this world?
In the second book, readers will encounter a Halmasti, which is a huge, hungry wolf! There will be appearances from other jinn that are inspired by Chitrali folklore (in Northern Pakistan). But I can't tell you anymore or it will ruin the surprise...
9. What would a writer's shed in the Dreamweaver's world look like?
Oooo, well it could be absolutely anything since it's a dream. But I think Tito would dreamweave a huge treetop complex with lots of swinging bridges connecting the huts together. It would be cosy inside and have an unlimited pizza machine.
10. What are you most likely to be found doing when you're away from your desk?
When I'm away from my desk I am usually playing on my Nintendo Switch, hanging out with my animal friends Rupert and Mittens, doing yoga or napping!
Q&A with illustrator Forrest Burdett
1. How did you become a children's book illustrator?
I've always been drawing and crafting worlds since I was a little kid. Books were a huge part of my childhood, and when I realized that illustrating them was a job, it was all I could think about. So, I went to university for art and worked very hard to get my wonderful agent, and it's been such a rewarding experience. Without Jen (my agent) I would not be doing the work I get to do. I owe a lot to her.
2. What kinds of stories do you enjoy illustrating, and what excited you about illustrating Dreamweavers?
Anything even remotely magical immediately catches my eye! I love anything with a bit of whimsy or magic, and I have such a soft spot for middle grade. I loved Dreamweavers in that it is a whimsical fantasy story, but there's also danger and adventure that excited me. And the characters are just so fun!
3. What were the biggest challenges in the illustrations?
I think it was finding out how I wanted to illustrate them. I am always looking to grow with every project I get to work on, and I want to make sure that the art and style reflect the story appropriately. I did a lot of experimentation but I'm happy with where we landed!
4. Who is your favourite character to draw? The children are a diverse crew - is this important to you in your work?
To answer your first question: I think it has to be Neena. I love her personality and her dreamweaving outfit. I also love to draw long, flowing, wavy hair!
Regarding your second question: Absolutely, 100%. As a person part of the LGBTQ+ community, I always wished there were more books that featured people like me growing up, and I'm sure people who are from other marginalized groups have felt the same. When it comes to my work, I want to make sure that any child could pick up a book I've illustrated and see themselves in it's pages.
5. What about creating the bad guys - how do you make them frightening but not terrifying?
Such a good question! I think it comes down to design and details. When designing characters, I focus on the silhouette first. You can create a lot of personality just by the shape of a character. For example, with the Bhoot, I went for a slender, long, sinewy frame. I then kept his facial expressions villainous without be excessive. Nothing too shout-y or aggressive-looking with harsh shadows.
The same goes for monsters: focus on the silhouette and then edit the details. Don't add too many teeth, or have blood dripping from their mouth, etc.
6. How do you create your images?
So, it depends on the project. For this book, everything was done in Procreate but I really tried to make sure it had a lot of texture, particularly with the inside artwork. I used a mix of watercolor-style brushes and pencil brushes to play with the look and keep it from looking too flat or too digital.
7. Best and worst things about your job?
The best thing? The fact that I get to draw for a living! I worked as a graphic designer previously, and while it's a similar vein of creating for someone else, there's nothing that compares to seeing your work out on shelves in a book you care about.
For the worst, it's probably that I have to be diligent about setting a schedule and routine. Since I'm a freelancer, I can only depend on myself to get things done and make time for all I need to do. It's definitely a challenge, and there are some all-nighters, but I'm getting better at it! .......I think?
8. What would a studio in the world of Dreamweavers look like? And where do you work from in the real world? What are you working on currently?
Ooo! Love this question: I think it would look a bit like Claude Monet's painting of the water-lily pond with the bridge. The bridge would then lead to a path surrounded by brilliant flowers and eventually a little cottage that's very Shire-esque, full of paints and books and cookies and lots of cozy blankets!
I actually work from my apartment, in my bedroom in fact. It's not my ideal setup, but it's a big space, and it has a TON of light (which is why I work in here). I'm currently redecorating and reorganizing so it should feel a bit better to work in quite soon!
And I'm working on a bunch of things! (Probably too many things...) I'm working on two picture books right now, as well as setting up an online print shop, AND making more YouTube videos. (phew!) I'm tired just thinking about all of that! But it's all exciting :)