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Henry Hugglemonster creator Niamh Sharkey to host Belfast Cinemagic workshop

Jenny Lee chats to award-winning children's author and illustrator Niamh Sharkey

Dublin children's author and illustrator Niamh Sharkey will be hosting a monster doddle creative workshop as part of this month's Cinemagic Film and Television Festival

You are the creator and executive producer of Disney Junior's animated preschool series Henry Hugglemonster, based on your book I'm a Happy Hugglewug. What was your inspiration for the stories?

When I was a kid I loved The Muppet Show and my favourite book was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I always wanted to write about a family of monsters and took a lot of inspiration from my own large family. Henry was based on my youngest brother Fergus, who was a chatterbox and optimist when he was little and always in the centre of everything.

What did your family make of it and it's success?

My mum and dad are really proud of the show. I remember years ago when I was coming up with the idea for the book, we were in Disneyland Florida on a family holiday and I remember my dad asking a cast members had they heard of The Hugglemonsters, joking that it would be great if they would become a Disney show. When it happened they were so thrilled.

Do you have further plans to work in animation?

I'm currently working with Brown Bag Films on another Disney show which is out this autumn called Vamparina. It's about another monster family and I designed the house, the car and their world.

Has the whole Henry experience changed the way you work as an illustrator?

I'm a real advocate of reading and books for small children. I'm a storyteller, but now I realise you can tell stories in different ways. I'm currently working on an idea that is probably going to be a television series, rather than a book.

What was your highlight from your time as Irish Laureate for Children's Literature?

I loved helping raise the profile of children's books in Ireland. One of the most successful things I did was the Monster Doodle which involved rolling out giant rolls of paper and getting kids to draw monsters. It just opened out children's fear of drawing because kids are incredibly creative when given the opportunity.

When working on a new project, does the story or the images come first?

I'm an illustrator first, so I always start with a blank piece of paper and try to figure out the story through a series of thumbnail drawings.

What was your inspiration behind your last picture book On the Road with Mavis and Marge?

That started when I was asked to do a mural in my kids school about the universe. I created two characters – a chicken and a dog and the mural told story of them shooting up to the moon. I sent the two images to my publisher and at the same time I was watching a discussion on television on free range chickens. With Mavis and Marge I took the idea of being free range to its very limit, while also drawing upon the experience of my own children, who no matter where they travel to they love getting back to the safety of home.

What children's book did you enjoy as a child?

I loved John Burningham books such as Mr Gumpy's Outing – they were just really gentle books. I also loved the crazy language and playfulness of the Dr Suess books.

:: Niamh will be hosting a monster doddle creative workshop as part of the Cinemagic Film and Television Festival, on October 8 at No Alibis Bookstore. Children will get the opportunity to devise scary illustrations before a reading from Niamh and a screening of a Henry Hugglemonster Halloween episode. Details and booking at cinemagic.org.uk

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