Phamie Macdonald

You’re known for your Help for Heroes work, why did you feel you needed a change?  I worked so intensely that I feel like I burned myself out. Everyone who worked there was giving it their all. And I got myself into a mindset of not wanting to stop or slow down because how could you complain that you were tired when you were seeing photos of wounded ex-military running marathons with artificial limbs? Or rebuilding their lives; to learn to walk and talk again? So yeah, I burned myself out.

“This project brings me so much joy – mainly because I’m creating it with and for my inner five-year-old self”.

Tell us about your new venture ?  I’m writing and illustrating a series of children’s books. It’s a project I’ve been working on intermittently for years and something I’ve always wanted to do full time. I’d tell you more about it but someone much wiser than me once told me to keep my powder dry. (I’m happy to share one illustration though…)

Lockdown was a catalyst which encouraged me to think about the creative work that makes me happy and I felt brave enough to go for it, so I sold my full-time business and sat down at the drawing board. I mean, what was I waiting for? The apocalypse?! This project brings me so much joy – mainly because I’m creating it with and for my inner five-year-old self. But it also scares me half to death because I have given up so much to take a chance on it.

My favourite bit of the project is the illustrating – it’s so visceral, putting pen to paper and creating an entire world. I won’t lie – I find the writing much harder. I love language and playing with words but I find the structuring the story tricky. I found out recently that there are people who actually do this for a living and they’re called developmental editors so I was relieved to discover that I can get someone to help me with that bit.

What are your main obstacles at the moment?  Tiredness. All of this intense global instability and prolonged isolation is exhausting. But a friend kicked my arse today and made me get on my yoga mat and I feel 100% better for it.

What is exciting you right now?  Getting ready to pitch my book series to find a new literary agent. The development of this project has been a really long process and has had its twists and turns but I’m nearly ready to pitch and I’m starting to get excited (and nervous) to find out if there’s a place in the market for my work.

I’m excited by retro styling, especially 1940s and 50s Americana, and I’ve really drawn on that aesthetic and colour palette in my illustrations.

I recently watched The Queen’s Gambit and that excited me. It wasn’t just a TV series – it felt like a piece of art. It was a beautifully told story and a visual feast. Watching it made me want to be better at my own craft. It was a very powerful piece of television.

“I thought that was a really eloquent way to describe the creative state: where discipline and surrender meet is flow.”

How do ideas come to you?  The book series was a strange one because it felt like it dropped into my mind fully formed. It’s never happened to me quite that way before. There’s normally some striving and reaching to get into that creative flow state and find ideas but the book series idea was effortless. It rarely happens that way and I’m grateful that it did.

I saw a brilliant Venn diagram recently – the left circle was named discipline, the right one surrender and the overlap in the middle was called flow. And I thought that was a really eloquent way to describe the creative state: where discipline and surrender meet is flow.

What is your earliest creative memory?  Reading the Mr Men series over and over was a creative awakening. I was around 5-6 years old and everything about that book series made me smile. I loved the way Roger Hargreaves drew readers into his made-up, little Mr Men world – he used phrases like: ‘Would you like to know a secret?’ and ‘Shall I tell you something you might not know?’ I adored the simple illustrations, the colours and the way you could see all the other characters on the back of each book – those books were a source of endless fascination for me.

Picture books in general were a huge part of my creative awakening. I think the ultimate picture book is Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendek. I loved it as a kid and I still love it now. It’s just gorgeous.

What would a perfect creative experience look like to you?  It was having the idea for the children’s book series drop into my brain almost fully-formed, like it did. I don’t know if that will ever happen again but if it did, that would be pretty perfect.

Is it better to be famous or true to yourself, please explain?  I’ll always choose true to myself over everything but I’d never say no to a bestselling book series. I don’t think anybody creates art with the intention of putting it at the back of a drawer.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how do you think that has influenced your work?  Taming my scattered attention span has been a challenge. I can think of ten new ideas and I want to work on all of them but I have been learning to park the new ideas and work on the current ones to completion or else it leads to a frazzled brain and exhaustion and no finished product. It’s taken me years and years to learn this. I wish I’d learned it sooner.

What keeps motivating you to create?  I’ll let someone funnier and more eloquent than me sum it up:

“I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity.” ― Gilda Radner (American comedienne and actress)

Phamie Macdonald

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