4 minute read

Fiona Dunbar (1961–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1961, in Hemel Hempstead, England; Education: Attended Buckinghamshire College of Further Education. Politics: "Liberal Democrat." Religion: "Spiritual, not religious." Hobbies and other interests: "My work IS my hobby! But I also love cooking and anything creative."


Agent—Hilary Delamere, The Agency, 24 Pottery Lane, London W11 4LZ, England.


Illustrator, writer, and artist. Square One Studios, London, England, commercial artist, 1979–87; freelance illustrator, beginning 1987; writer.


British Society of Authors.



You'll Never Guess!, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1991.

My Secret Brother, Hutchinson (London, England), 1992.

Under the Stairs, Red Fox (London, England), 1993.

Cupid Cakes, Orchard (London, England), 2005.

Toon-Head, Orchard (New York, NY), 2006.


The Truth Cookie, Orchard Books (London, England), 2004, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Chocolate Wishes, Orchard (New York, NY), 2005.


Betsy Duffey, Camp Knock Knock, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Shelley Harwayne, What's Cooking?, Mondo (Greenvale, NY), 1996.

Betsy Duffey, The Camp Knock Knock Mystery, Doubleday Book for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1997.

Stuart J. Murphy, Every Buddy Counts, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter, editors, Lines in the Sand, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2003.

Anna Wilson, editor, Princess Stories, Macmillan (London, England), 2005.


Graphic artist and illustrator Fiona Dunbar contributed her artistic talents to a number of picture books by other writers before making her own writing debut with You'll Never Guess! In this 1991 picture book, which features Dunbar's engaging artwork, readers are treated to a clever guessing game as misleading silhouettes are displayed on the edges of a family portrait picture frame. Readers attempt to guess what has created these shadows, but a turn of the page reveals that the silhouette is usually of something completely unexpected; in one case what appears to be a little girl is actually a rather silly-looking dog! In a review for Publishers Weekly, a critic enjoyed Dunbar's work, calling You'll Never Guess! "a dashing debut for a promising author-illustrator" in which "readers will … be especially entertained by Dunbar's unexpected ending."

Dunbar has more recently shifted her attention to an older audience with a series of books that include The Truth Cookie, Cupid Cakes, and Chocolate Wishes. The quick-reading novels feature Lulu Baker, a teen whose goal, in addition to surviving adolescence, is to rescue her widowed father from an unhealthy romantic entanglement with the maniacal temptress and evil stepmother-wannabe Varaminta le Bone. Fortunately, Lulu has help from a powerful source: a magical recipe book titled The Apple Star, which literally falls into her hands, perhaps a gift from her deceased mother. Also for older readers, Toon-Head focuses on a boy named Pablo who can predict the future by drawing cartoons. While his talent at first seems like a good thing, when his special gift is discovered by some unsavory characters, Pablo must find a way to focus his cartooning to keep himself safe.

Dunbar told SATA: "I am self-taught, both in illustration and in writing; the latter is something I fell into sideways. I had always assumed I was most suited to the visual arts, so no one was more surprised then I was when the writing started to take off. Yet when it did, it felt like a tremendous release. When you are illustrating, your job is to interpret other people's ideas most of the time; being allowed to lose myself so completely in my own imagination was a revelation! Although I had written and illustrated some picture books, catering to such a young readership can be confining. Now it's as if I'm directing a movie in my head, only I don't have to get the funding first—fantastic!

"One of the most exciting moments ever was when I read the Greek myths for the first time; I think I was about nine. I find those stories—as well as myths from other parts of the world—an inexhaustible source of fascination. Hans Christian Andersen's stories also had a powerful effect on me, especially The Snow Queen. Still, my influences come from very disparate sources and, unsurprisingly for a former illustrator, the visual arts have an influence too, such as Saul Steinberg's drawings or Tim Burton's films. As an adult I am strongly drawn to the absurd and the satirical, from Lewis Carroll to Douglas Adams. I love the wicked playfulness of Roald Dahl. I enjoy the kind of fantasy that is rooted in reality, and that is the sort of story I tend to write."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Every Buddy Counts, p. 943.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, review of You'll Never Guess!, p. 65.

School Librarian, February, 1993, review of My Secret Brother, p. 14; November, 1993, review of Under the Stairs, p. 148; autumn, 2004, Lucinda Fox, review of The Truth Cookie, p. 145.

School Library Journal, August, 1991, Marianne L. Pilla, review of You'll Never Guess!, p. 144.


Fiona Dunbar Home Page, http://www.fionadunbar.com (December 19, 2005).

Watts Publishing Group Web site, http://www.wattspub.co.uk/ (December 19, 2005), "Fiona Dunbar."

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