Fairies Vs Unicorns with Ashley Spires and Cale Atkinson!

We’re crazy for fairies and unicorns, which is why we had to interview Ashley Spires and Cale Atkinson, writers and illustrators of two new books: Fairy Science (by Spires) and Unicorn 101 (by Atkinson). These books are the perfect pairing: fun, magical and a new take on our favourite magical creatures!

Who is more magical: Fairies or Unicorns? We want you to let us know! Vote for your favourite and you will be entered to win a Fairy or a Unicorn prize pack!

Vote for team 🧚

Vote for team 🦄

Can you each tell us a bit about yourself and what your newest books are about?

A: Hi, I’m Ashley and I’ve been writing and illustrating books for about 15 years. I live just outside Vancouver with one dog and a few million* cats. My new book, Fairy Science, is about Esther, the one fairy in Pixieville who believes in science instead of magic. She tries to explain science to her fairymates but she is routinely ignored. When a tree starts to wilt she is the only one capable of saving it. The book might look like a whimsical fairy story, but it secretly introduces the scientific method to kids. It’s the book equivalent of a fruit smoothie with some hidden spinach in there.

*not actually a million though some days it feels like it

C: I’m Cale and I’ve been a picture book author/illustrator for around five years, while previously working in comics, animation and video games. I live in Kelowna with my far too talented wife and lesser but still talented dog.

My latest book, Unicorns 101, follows the world’s top professors, as they educate the reader on all there is to know about unicorns. Find out unicorns biology? History? Eating Habits? It’s all in there and more!  Some facts include: Buttercup Sparklecheeks was the first unicorn to trot on Pluto; at one time in history, there were dino-corns! One unicorn accidentally made it rain waffles for a week! Unicorns have giant slides inside their homes! Rare and exotic unicorns include the mer-corn and the hamster-corn!

Art from Unicorns 101

Unicorns 101 and Fairy Science both deal with popular subjects (unicorns and fairies) but in very unique ways. How did these books come about for each of you?

A: I’ve been wanting to do a fairy book for years. My sketchbooks are full of character designs and my notebooks are full of fairy stories that just never clicked. I like to write stories about characters who see the world a bit differently than those around them, and that led me to wonder how life would be for a fairy who was anti-magic. Once I got onto the idea of a fairy scientist I realized that this could be a good book for STEM educators and fairy enthusiasts alike.

C: Unicorns 101 came about after I had drawn a couple illustrations of some silly, yet very serious, unicorn professors. I loved the contrast of something as magical as a unicorn, mixed with lab coat wearing scientists. Little did I know that those illustrations would grab the attention of my publisher! As I began talking with my editor, the idea of setting it up as a non-fiction format ‘unicorn educational book’ seemed like the perfect fit for these moustached scientists! From there on it was nothing but researching glitter, investigating hooves, and mingling with Unicorns.

You both wear two hats, as writers and illustrators. What’s the process like for you when writing and illustrating the same book?

A: I love to design a character before I write a draft. I usually have an outline, something scribbled point form in my notebook, then I work out what the main character will look like. After that comes the draft which gets reworked about 56 times. This book is the first in a series so I took some time to do final illustration samples to make sure we all had a good sense of what Esther’s world would look like going forward. This book has more little details and hidden surprises than any book I’ve done, so I was thankful that I worked digitally because I was finding things I wanted to add to each page for months!

Early character designs of Fairy Science’s main character, Esther!

C: I do a lot of back and forth when I’m starting to put work into a new idea. Rather than just jumping straight into a manuscript, I’m usually simultaneously doing various drawings and scribbling bite sized notes. I love how you can use both words and art to tell your story, and the challenge of balancing the two to work together. I also find it helpful to jump to the other hat when I’m feeling stuck or blocked.

If you were able to choose one mythical creature to bring to life, which would it be?

A: Dragons. Giant flying fire-breathing dragons.

C: Since Ashley brought us giant Dragons, I’m going to go with Gryphons, and other bird-mammal hybrids. I want a budgie-pug crossover! One ‘Pudgie’ please. 

Cale Atkinson illustrated If I Had a Gryphon: no wonder he likes them!

What was it like coming up with the designs of your own unicorns and fairies, with so many other depictions to compare to?

A: I didn’t actually look at a lot of other depictions. Fairies in fine art tend to be ethereal and somber, two words that will never be applied to my illustrations. I basically drew the characters in my own style and added some wings and antennae to fairy them up a bit.

C: Luckily for me, I don’t think there are too many other unicorn professors out in the world! There are a lot of wonderful unicorn books out on bookstore shelves, but overall I avoided looking at them, and focused on my own vision. I knew that I wanted to make the book’s designs match the story’s explosion of silliness. Drawing the artwork in an unapologetically bright ‘cartoony’ style felt like the right fit for these colourful and majestic ‘corns.

We have to ask, which is better: unicorns or fairies?

A: I’m sorry, I’ve signed a Magical Non-Disclosure Agreement that prevents me from answering that.

C: I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for fear of the association of magical animals coming after me.

Ashley Spires
is the author and illustrator of many books including the bestselling The Most Magnificent Thing and the Binky The Space Cat series. She thrives when working on far too many projects and consumes large quantities of tea and chocolate to make her deadlines. Ashley lives in Ladner, BC with her husband, her dog and far too many cats. Find out more at ashleyspires.com

Cale Atkinson is an illustrator/writer/animator currently residing
in Kelowna Canada. Believing in tea more than sleep, Cale is constantly working on numerous projects. His work can be found in children’s books, animated shorts, television, and games.  Cale’s always looking for new and exciting projects that challenge his skills and allow him to grow creatively.  Find out more at cale.ca