Hairdresser looks to skies for inspiration to change career

Parents of young children will no doubt be familiar with requests for stories ‘out of your head’ as opposed to the neatly printed and wonderfully illustrated kind.

But what happens when you cobble together a meandering adventure involving a hero who learns a key lesson via a process of trial and error, only for you to be asked a week later for the same story again.

While most of us dodge a bullet by offering to make up a brand new bigger and better story, or simple defer to something penned by a published author, Yvonne Fleming – a former hairdresser from Maghera – has turned her stories and doodles into to a series of children’s books called The Weatherbies.

Yvonne explained how the characters were born: “It came about quite a few years ago. I was sitting out in the garden with the kids on a lovely sunny day. We were watching the clouds, picking out shapes.

“I took some pens and started doodling, I drew a few characters based on the weather, gave them names, started telling stories.

“I didn’t think any more of them, then one night I was putting my wee boys to bed and they said, ‘tell us one of your stories about the Weatherbies, mammy’.”

After Yvonne told one of her ‘made up’ stories to her young children Steven and Shane, her husband Peter remarked that the characters had a lot of potential.

Yvonne had been a hairdresser, running her own salon, but she gave it up to become a childminder when her boys arrived.

She said she was always drawn towards art at school and the books have allowed her to return to her passion.

She began writing down the stories and with the help of her husband, who had a recording studio at their home, recorded some songs to go along with her sketches of the characters.

Yvonne said: “We did a book of characters along with the songs which we took round 16 schools.

“That was 10 years ago when we started doing a bit of market research. We got great feedback from kids, parents and teachers.

“I knuckled down, developed the character designs a bit more, and applied online for an illustrator.”

With the help of James Salenga, an animator from the Philippines, the characters were designed in such a way as to give them more potential for movement, for example in a TV series or merchandise range.

Yvonne’s first two books – Sammy Sun and Rosie Rainbow – were funded using a Kickstarter crowdfunding appeal, before an international publishing deal was signed with Tiny Tree, a publisher who Yvonne had first met at London Book Fair.

In January NI company Flickerpix came on board to work on a pilot for animation.

‘Colin Cloud Is Making Shapes’ was officially released last week, having got the thumbs-up from her teenage children.

Yvonne said: “Ten years ago when I started to develop the books into what they are now, the boys were the target audience. They grew up listening to the stories.

“Now Steven is 18 and Shane is 14. I still run the stories past them for approval.”

Of her favourite children’s book when she was growing up Yvonne said: “When I was wee I loved the Mr Men. I loved the images, the simplicity, as a child it captured you. I loved to copy the drawings. I liked the Wombles as well. As I got older I grew into Roald Dahl.

“The joy of books is they can be about anything. They can still be enjoyable and fun without having to make perfect sense.”

Of her own books she said: “The Weatherbies are a wee community of friends. The stories try to give positive messages about the environment, and looking after your friends. For me it’s about educating without them knowing it.

“Ronnie Rain is a bit of a joker. He makes puddles for the others to step in. Sammy Sun dries them up. It’s explaining the water cycle in a fun way.

“The books are aimed at pre-school children, but also when you get to maybe P2 and P3 children can read them themselves.”

She continued: “The first three books introduce the six key characters - Sammy Sun, Colin Cloud, Rosie Rainbow, Ronnie Rain, Willy Wind and Flo Snow.

“Those are the basic weathers that kids will relate to.

“There’s reams more characters like Tommy Thunder and The Lightning Twins but you can’t bombard them all at once.

“The bad guys are the pollutants. I didn’t want any of the weather to be portrayed as bad. Kids fear the weather, so I didn’t want to escalate that.”

She added: “They live in Sky Town which I made a plasticine model of to help illustrate the potential for development. Everybody everywhere is connected by the weather in some shape or form.”