Cabin Tales Author Interview #18: Farida Zaman

An interview with Farida Zaman, author-illustrator of I Want to Be: A Gutsy Girl’s ABC, and illustrator of more than a dozen picture books and early readers. Hear about her love of fractured fairy tales, her dedication to creating a signature style, and her own experience of being a gutsy girl when she chose a life in the arts. 20 minutes.

Read the full transcript:

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:10] Interview with Farida Zaman

FZ: I illustrate and write now. I used to only illustrate. … my debut author-illustrator project with Second Story Press came out in spring 2020 called I Want to Be: A Gutsy Girl’s ABC.

CA: … Do you have projects that you’re writing and illustrating both right now? 

Gutsy Girl cover

FZ: Yes. … I’m illustrating a picture book written by my daughter, Layla Ahmad. …And I’m … finished a manuscript that I’m fleshing into a book dummy. …

[2:10] CA: …Do you work on more than one book at a time?

FZ: Very much so. … I also do educational work … schoolbooks and book covers …. I used to do much more editorial and design and advertising…. I’m working on a collection of jigsaw puzzles … I wear a couple of different hats.

[2:50] CA: …. Is there a place where you get your best ideas from? 

FZ: My best ideas come from what I see around me. I take a lot of notes. …. I like trying out new things. … So my audience will see something different in my work. But I try and keep my look as unique as possible.

Foolish Men cover

[3:40] CA: Are there some favorite projects?

FZ: …Years ago I did a … on Moghul emperors, and the author was Rina Singh. [The book is The Foolish Men of Agra.] And it was really really exciting to research the history of these people. I’m drawn to textures, textiles, and cultures…it kind of gave me the opportunity to study and to decorate the book. …

[4:15] CA: Have you ever based a story or illustration on your own childhood? 

FZ: … Emotions perhaps. The Gutsy Girl came out from a place of shooting for the stars. …That was always my goal growing up. … My parents originally wanted me to study something way more academic. … I wanted to show the family thatyou can make a living doing what you love. …

[5:30] CA: …Have you ever been inspired by another artist’s work? 

FZ: … Jane Ray — she’s a British writer — she’s always inspired me. …She has a great knack of retellings … her work just looks like tapestry to me. …

[6:30] CA: Have you illustrated fairy tales or classic myths or anything like that yourself? 

FZ: … Jack and the Beanstalk…. It’s sort of like a fractured fairy tale…. It can be really exciting that way.

Yoga Game cover

[6:55] CA: Have you ever written or illustrated anything spooky, scary?

FZ: I’ve done things about anxiety…. Like monsters … versus a little girl. … But nothing really kind of out of the box scary….

[7:15] CA: Do you do school visits? 

FZ: I do. I illustrated up book on yoga…by Kathy Beliveau. … that was a very fun book to work with students … The art component is really fun, drawing your favorite pose.

[8:00] CA: … What would your journal look like? Like, is it messy? Is it organized?

FZ: … I’d like to be the person that shows it on Instagram page by page and it looks so delicious and beautiful. Not my sketchbook. … I have a sketchbook for picture book ideas, where I do storyboarding, …stick figures and …notes. I think that’s really important. …When you get stuck with the words, it really helps that you can draw because then you see where the gap might be and how melds together ….

[9:30] CA: Do you have any recommendations to young artists or young writers for getting or keeping or organizing ideas? 

Artful Smoothie cover

FZ: I think keeping a sketchbook is crucial. … Find inspiration in where you are and, you know, what you like to do also.

[9:50] CA:… Are you a planner? Or do you just see what you’re going to come up with? 

FZ: … I’m not a planner. I do things spontaneously. … And then I start tweaking. … When you plan too much, you can lose certain components of the story. …It’s really interesting to look at the older version of a story that may be becoming a book… It’s so exciting when you see that happen.

[11:30] CA: Do you have any favorite plot twists… or surprises?

FZ: I like a good giggle. … something different, something that changes something old to something new.

[12:15] CA: Do you have any techniques for making an interesting middle? 

FZ: The pacing of the story is so important. …. Sometimes we tend to come to a climax a little sooner in the book…. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle … And sometimes the clicking takes a long longer than you think it might. … It really helps if there’s some kind of twist in the middle … It is important to look at the story in different ways….

[13:45] CA: …Do you have a favorite first line…?

Korean Celebrations cover

FZ: I like a direct beginning and something that takes you straight into the story. …introduce your character. … who is it and what does she want? …. I like going straight to the point.

[14:30] CA: Nice. Do you have a favourite … ending?

FZ: For picture books, I think circular stories work the best… For a child, it’s a nice warm cozy feeling.

[15:05] CA: Do you have a favorite POV to write from? 

FZ: A child’s point of view. I tend to work … in present tense… I find that kids relate to that. It’s happening when they’re listening to it. …

[15:30] CA: And what scared you as a kid? 

FZ: The dark. As a kid, I was a very anxious child …. People are more open to talking about it now. … In the past, people like myself growing up, it wasn’t easily dealt with….

[16:30] CA: Did you tell stories around the campfire as a kid? 

FZ: … Later on maybe, as a teenager…. But not as a child.

CA: You don’t like scary stories.

FZ: Not particularly. …. I think monster stories are really cute, but I like friendly characters. I’m not into developing mean personalities.

CA: Do you have a favorite sweet monster or funny monster?

FZ: I love Cookie Monster. I love Grover. Sesame Street. I like that kind of monster. … Maurice Sendak’s monsters. The classic.

CA: Yes, he said he based those on his relatives who ruined every Sunday dinner.

FZ: I can relate to that.

Nearly Nonsense cover

[17:30] CA: Do you collect anything? 

FZ: I love collecting things. I collect bowls. … I collect toys. … that are little retro. … I love collecting children’s picture books. …

CA:I think it’s a shame that so many people never touch a picture book once their kid’s over 5. …

[18:10] CA: What would you say is the hardest thing about illustrating or writing a good book? 

FZ: I think word count can be quite challenging. …How do you make that work within 500 words or, tops, 700 words? How do you make it really interesting and stylized and rich, visually?

[18:45] CA: … What do you do to prepare to make a setting? …

FZ: … I’ll go online and look at furniture and … what she should wear, her neighborhood….. I think layouts are really important. … And the perspective …. To create drama, I think it’s really important. And creating a sense of contrast. Big and small. I think you can do that in your illustrations and you can do it in your words as well.

[20:05] CA: Do you have any favorite fictional characters? 

FZ: … The Big Red Lollipop. … by Rukhsana Khan. It’s illustrated by Sophie Blackall. It’s a lovely book. Personality really shines through. …. The eyes just tell you a story…

[20:50] CA: Do you have any exercises you would recommend for developing the character? 

FZ: I think it’s important to know what your style is… have a sketchbook filled with sketches of realistic, and then pare it down to something more simple. … it’s good to have different styles, but there should be a limit to it. Otherwise people will never know you. …

[22:00] CA: That’s great.  Thanks so much. …

[22:15] Farida Zaman introduces herself

FZ: Hi. I’m Farida Zaman. I’m an author and an illustrator. I illustrate picture books. And I’m writing picture books as well now. I’ve been doing this for the past three decades now, and I just love what I do. In my early years, I used to do a lot of editorial work as well, and I used to print and design. In between writing and illustrating, I also run workshops and art classes, too, for mainly adults.

[23:00] Find out more about Farida Zaman

You can hear more creative writing advice from Farida Zaman on Cabin Tales Special Episode X: “Picture a Story.” You can find out more about Farida Zaman and her books from her website at

[23:45] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with Kate Inglis, author for all ages. Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Visit the Cabin Tales home page.


Guest Author:

Farida Zaman is a Toronto-based illustrator, author, and educator known for her upbeat, sophisticated, and whimsical style. She has illustrated more than a dozen picture books. Her first authored and illustrated picture book – I Want to Be: A Gutsy Girl’s ABC – was published in 2020. She is currently an instructor at Toronto’s Avenue Road Art School, where she runs art workshops and illustration classes for adults and children. Find her online at, on Twitter @fzamanart, and on Instagram @fzamanart.


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