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Author Isobel Harrop MAG
Isobel Harrop is a teenager who enjoys sea otters, 1960s design, and collecting stuff that she doesn’t need from second-hand shops. She comes from a town where nothing really happens but now is a university student in the south of England – “somewhere a bit more interesting.” The Isobel Journal, both quirky and interesting, provides a unique glimpse into the mind of a teenage girl. This is the first book Harrop published without using the school’s copy machine and staples.
The Isobel Journal – both its subject and format – is extremely unique. What gave you the idea?
My U.K. publishers, Hot Key Books, found me on Twitter in 2012 when I was 17. I was tweeting about going to school, my friends, and my life in general, not with any particular audience in mind, just entertaining myself and my friends. Hot Key thought I was funny and had the idea of taking my tweets and using them as part of a book written by a teenager, for teenagers. Originally they were going to have the tweets illustrated by somebody else, but when they found out I liked to draw, we decided to put the two together and create The Isobel Journal. It evolved over time. I’d send them my scraps and doodles along with proper drawings every few weeks. Hot Key and I worked on it together for about a year. I was very lucky to get to create such an unusual book!
These themes were just the ones that jumped out when we looked over all the drawings and tweets I had been making. They came from what I was talking and thinking about the most. Especially sea otters – I’m always thinking about them.
How was the writing/editing process for your graphic novel different from that of a full-length novel? Did you find it difficult?
Well, I was still in school at the time, so in the evenings I would work on my drawings. It took a while because of the way we put the book together, but I don’t think it’s comparable to writing a novel. It was a fun experience and easy enough to do.
The text in your book is quite short and abrupt. Did you find it hard to write this way? Or did it come naturally?
The text comes from things I tweeted. Hot Key picked out their favorites – the ones they thought were the funniest or most poignant. When I worked on the drawings I would look at the tweets to get inspiration – they weren’t hard to write because you’re forced to write like that on Twitter, and they were just things I wanted to say.
Was it difficult for you to publish your personal thoughts and opinions? Did you ever want to retract something or was there anything you felt you absolutely had to keep in the book?
It was a bit cringe-worthy looking back at things I said. Most were written when I was 15 or 16, which suddenly seemed embarrassing at 17, and even worse when you’re 19, like I am now! That’s the curse of the Internet really – every embarrassing moment is frozen in time. I was worried that everything was too personal, and I wanted to change a lot, but I decided in the end that the only way it would be truly authentic would be to keep it all. People seem to appreciate that, especially other teenage girls going through the same things.
The cute and interesting illustrations that make up your book are more often than not accompanied by text. What came first, the drawings or the words?
Words came first, but I did a lot of drawings that weren’t based on any of the tweets. We tried to come up with new captions for some of the empty pages, but I thought some of the images spoke for themselves.
How many of the drawings in your book came from your real journal?
I did a lot of drawings specifically for the book, but I’d say about a quarter of the images were from notebooks, the edges of schoolwork, and other things like that. I constantly doodle, and I didn’t want those drawings to go to waste. I think doodles are the most natural way to draw.
Doodling is a part of every teenager’s life, whether they realize it or not. Do a majority of your drawings start out as doodles or do you try to focus on a certain subject?
Ha ha! Follows from my last answer. So many of the doodles literally came from the edges of stuff I should have been doing in school. I don’t think I’m alone in doing that. I don’t often expand my doodles into bigger drawings. If I want to do a “serious drawing,” I usually sit down with an idea and just go for it.
What part of the publishing process has been the most challenging? The most fun?
Most difficult has probably been being the center of attention. I’m quite shy, so having to talk about myself and show off my work has been a different experience, but I think it has improved my confidence, especially when I get comments from people saying how they liked the book! In some ways, that has been the best part. I have been given so many special experiences most people my age will never have. I have spoken to rooms full of people, traveled from England to America, and met some of my artistic heroes. I am extremely lucky to have been the girl Hot Key stumbled upon that day in 2012.
Since your book has been published, what has surprised you the most?
Just the overwhelmingly positive reaction! Maybe it’s just my shy, self-deprecating British self talking, but I never expected it to be received so well. I thought it would be a one-off experience and once it was published it would all be over. I feel now like this could be my career.
You mention several bands and singers in your book. How much of an influence is music on your art? Do you listen while you draw and write?
Music is very important to me, as it is for a lot of people my age. When you’re a teen you use music as a way of defining yourself. I am no exception. It wouldn’t have been right to leave it out. I actually find music a bit distracting when I have lots to do though! I turn it on when I want to relax and have a little dance.
Are you considering writing another book? Would you ever want to try writing in another genre?
We’ll see! I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve and would like to try doing proper writing, as opposed to just tweeting silly things. I am immersed in the world of young-adult literature, but I feel like I haven’t done half as much as many of the lovely authors I meet. I think one day I will find the story I want to tell. I’m only 19 after all, so I’ve got time.
You just finished your first year of college. Did you find that people in the publishing world took you less seriously because of your age?
I haven’t found that at all. I am surprised though because I sometimes feel like a lost kid in a supermarket, like “Why are you guys taking me so seriously? I am literally a baby!” Once my age stops ending in “-teen” I will have to stop thinking like that. Young-adult publishing seems to be full of very nice, supportive people, especially women, and I couldn’t ask to have found a better community.
You’re studying English literature. Are you considering a career in publishing, writing, illustration, etc.?
I just want to take each day as it comes, finish my degree, and see where I am. There are lots of things I’d like to do. If I could draw pictures every day for a living that would make me very happy.
What’s something you’ve learned from this experience that you feel aspiring writers/illustrators should know?
Putting yourself out there is the best thing you can do at this age. If you’re a writer or an artist or a musician, the Internet is where things happen now. It’s the best way to reach people. Maybe what happened to me was a fluke, but I know quite a few people who have shared their work online and made new friends, connections, and even gotten jobs from their Internet presence. Don’t expect anything straight away, but even the small rewards like feedback are worth it.