We jumped at the chance to catch up with Hollywood actress, children’s author and mama of three Isla Fisher to find out all about her latest children’s book. Isla talks to us about the inspiration behind the characters in the series ‘Marge in Charge’, how acting is not always a bed of roses when it comes to bringing up a family, and her mantra ‘don’t worry about being perfect, you’ll miss out on all the fun!’ – Sounds like sage advice to us.
When did you start getting back into writing? Who (or what) inspired you to do so?
I noticed that for emerging or reluctant readers, there weren’t that many funny books. Laughter makes kids want to read more at that crucial age! It felt like there was a missed opportunity during this transitional phase of reading before kids are ready for more sophisticated authors like Roald Dahl , Jeff Kinney and Francesca Simon so I wanted to create stories that would engage young readers but not push them beyond their years socially.
What sparks your creativity?
All of the funny sayings, quirky incidents and moving moments in the Marge in Charge series are stolen from tiny people around me. I’m inspired daily having small children the same age as my characters and I’m also really inspired by other wonderful kids authors like Francesca Simon and David Baddiel.
Where did the idea of Marge come from?
If two of my best friends had a love child, it would be Marge. One of them is the eternal Peter Pan who is in total denial about reality, and the other tells magical, amazing stories. The stories are a bit like The Cat in the Hat meets My Naughty Little Sister, which are books I love to read with young children. I find kids are used to other kids misbehaving, but when grown-ups do it they find it hilarious.
What’s the underlying message from Marge in Charge?
‘Don’t worry about being perfect or you’ll miss out on the fun!’ – that’s the message from all the Marge in Charge books and I try to keep it in mind myself when I am juggling life.
What do you think are the most important lessons for children to learn?
The message from all of the books in the Marge In Charge series is “Don’t try to be perfect or you will miss out on all the fun!” The other obvious one is to hold a grown up hand’s when you cross the road and sharing is caring- unless it’s cake. I hate sharing cake. No one should ever have to share cake. Period.
What do you hope children will get out of your books?
I feel Marge in Charge is such a great introduction to reading for young kids because its approachable and contains the appropriate vocabulary- I really focused on the diction. I was lucky to have the wonderful Eglantine Ceulemans illustrate them. Her pictures enable children to explore the world within their own imagination and make connections to the characters and events, it makes the book more real to them.
There aren’t any high concepts in the books, they are stories about interpersonal dynamics within the family. Marge comes along and does all the silly things that kids would secretly like to do, such as eating nine slices of cake at a birthday party. Or cooking the kids chocolate soup for dinner. I hope kids just laugh and are encouraged to KEEP READING.
How do you think books help a child’s development?
Books take tiny people to places they just can’t go without imagination, on a pirate ship, inside a peach, through a looking glass. They help children find quiet time, provoke thoughts and discussions, and educate them. We can also use books to talk about bigger issues like intergenerational relationships, grief, rules, friendship, bullying etc. They are an integral part of childhood.
I can’t help but worry that books are slowly dying out for our children. They have access to wonderful new phones and tablets from the day they are born, that’s why I am such an advocate of child literary.
I read an article in the TES that said over 770,000 children don’t own one book. Isn’t that such a sad statistic? Luckily, there are lots of charities all over the world who give books away to children who can’t otherwise access them, I hope that more people start to use them.
Did you speak to anyone for advice about writing, particularly the children’s books?
I didn’t ask anyone for advice but I had a wonderful agent, who supported and encouraged me to keep on when I lost steam. I sent an early draft to David Walliams and he was so kind and even gave me a quote for the back of the book.
Who do you look up to? Who are your literary inspirations?
My literary inspiration would have to be the Bronte sisters. I can’t pick one, I’m sorry! They are utterly brilliant and feminists who were ahead of their time fighting the patriarchy. They even published their novels under male names!
Winnie the Pooh is still my favourite book character. He is just adorable – a loveable idiot. I still laugh when I read his lines to my kids, no matter how many times I’ve heard them before. A.A Milne is one of my favourite childhood authors, along with Roald Dahl, and Enid Blyton
How often do you read – how many books do you consume in a week/month? Best books you’ve read recently? And where’s your favourite spot to read?
I used to read two books a week. That was before I had children. Now, I have to read a lot of scripts, so unfortunately books become a luxury that I don’t get to indulge in as often as I would like.
As a busy mother and actress, what helped you to focus on creative writing?
I wish I had the secret to balancing it all as a mum, but I don’t have a clue. Acting is difficult with a young family. I don’t want to drag everyone around the world at a whim which limits my role options and I don’t want to be gone for huge chunks of time. Writing fits neatly around everything. I can write in the car pool line, in bed when everyone is asleep, on a playdate, wherever I can bring my computer (or my phone which has a dictaphone setting) I can write.
Do you think your acting career has helped you with your role as a writer?
It has certainly helped me to create strong characters in my books and keep all the voices sounding different. Storyline-wise, I prefer it when scenes end somewhere surprising, so I have tried to do that with my books, too. I love acting and writing equally. I get lost in both experiences, and effectively I get to act out all the parts in my head as I am writing.
What do you enjoy the most about writing?
The complete creative control. With acting you only play your part but when I write I get to inhabit the emotional landscape of all the characters and create their world!
Are there any literary heroines that you’d like to portray?
I would like to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. If only height wasn’t an issue! Or Lady Macbeth or maybe even Eliza Doolittle – but I think I would be more likely to be cast as Pippi Longstocking’s mother.
What are your biggest aims, both in terms of your career and your life in general?
My aim is to keep life as an open book and not have a plan. It’s more fun that way.
Tell us about the films you have coming up.
I have a comedy film called TAG, starring Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms out in the summer and a Harmony Korinne movie called The Beach Bum out later in the year starring Mathew Mc Connaughy, I play his wayward wife
If you had to pick one thing only would it be a good film or a good book?
Good book. I love to escape into my imagination.
Isla Fisher is the author of the Marge in Charge series. The last book in the series, Marge and the Secret Tunnel is published by Piccadilly Press, published 17th May.