Ten-minute Chat with Úna Woods

Una Woods – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

On Culture Night 2018, Úna Woods asked for a ten-minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Una for ten minutes of her time for a quick chat about her debut picture book, Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

How does it feel to have your first book published?

I have always dreamed of writing and illustrating my own picture book. To finally see it printed is so exciting. I can’t wait to see it in bookshops!

What made you sign up for Culture Night in 2018?

My Friend Paula Moen persuaded me to go along to the Culture Night pitching event, as I was always talking about writing and illustrating my own book. It was great to finally have the goal of pitching my book to somebody and it was such a great opportunity to meet a publisher face to face.

Tell us about your Culture Night Pitch Perfect experience.

I was so nervous when I knocked on the door, as I didn’t really know what to expect. I pitched my idea to Emma Byrne,  the Design Manager in O Brien Press. At this point I didn’t really have a full story, but I knew that my story was going to be based around a friendly Dublin Vampire. I brought along some sketches and I had done up some colour samples, so she could see what style I intended for the book. She really liked what I had brought along. It was so great to be able to show someone my ideas and chat to them face to face. I felt really lucky to have met Emma, as she mentioned she liked vampires too. And so the adventure of making my picture book began!

Do you have any advice for writers and illustrators pitching at Culture Night this year?

Go along and enjoy every moment of it. It is such a great opportunity to be welcomed into a publishing house  and to be able to pitch your idea! Also take any advice they might give you.

Where did you get the idea for Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

I grew up in Clontarf, very close to Marino Crescent, where Bram Stoker was born, so I always had a curiosity about vampires. I was fascinated by the idea that the most famous vampire in the world – Dracula – was created in Dublin, really close to where I lived. I also feel that people are too busy nowadays to even take the time to notice what is going on around them, so I wanted to include this as a theme in the story. I liked the idea that possibly the vampire might be walking around Dublin, right past you, and that you are too busy looking at your phone or rushing to get to the next thing, so you miss him just walking by.

The illustrations in Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? are so stunning and unique. Could you tell us a bit about your Illustration process?

I started by sketching. I did lots of drawings on paper first to evolve and get to know my characters and how I wanted the scenes on each page to look. After lots of sketching and polishing of my rough drawings, and when I was finally happy with how the pages looked, I started working digitally, using Adobe Illustrator. I redrew everything again, using clean lines and simple shapes. I also designed the patterns I wanted to use throughout. I love polka dots and funky animal prints, so there are plenty of those.

I don’t usually work with too much black, but I knew I needed to as the story was set at night, so I picked a really bright, limited palette of colours to contrast with this. I had loads of fun drawing up all the pages. It was great fun to pick different locations throughout Dublin that the Vampire would visit. I liked the idea of tying some of these locations to Dracula and Bram Stoker, so I opened my story at Marino Crescent in Clontarf, which is the birthplace of Bram Stoker. There are also other links throughout the book, such as the Library in Trinity College and Dublin Castle. It was also important to me to show how multicultural Dublin has got, so it was great fun designing lots of different background characters and picking funky fashion choices for them.

What was your favourite character to illustrate?

I enjoyed illustrating the bat most of all, as he is just so cheeky. He likes to get involved in everything. I loved drawing him in the Dead Zoo spread, curiously looking at all the stuffed bats in the glass cages!

What was your favourite place to illustrate?

My favourite place to illustrate was The Long Room Library in Trinity College. I loved drawing all the books and adding details from the Book of Kells. This was probably the spread I spent the most time trying to get right.

What is your creative schedule like? Do you work on your books at night-time, early morning, sporadically, etc?

I have two children, Rosie (12) and Dylan (11), so I do most of my work when they are in school. I love drawing in the evening, and this is when I would mainly do my sketching. I find this is my best time to come up with creative ideas.

Describe the character of the Dublin Vampire in three words.

Mysterious, Curious and Friendly!

What is your favourite childhood book and why?

My favourite childhood book was Conrad, the Factory-Made Boy By Christine Nöstlinger. I reread it so many times! It was such a fun story, about a lady who liked to send away for special offers and one day a big parcel arrived and inside was a little boy.

And … ten minutes is up!

Úna Woods September 2020

Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire? is available to buy here and in all good bookshops!