Q& A WITH
Wendy Harmer’s fairytales have had a very happy ending – they’ve been turned into a hit kids’ TV show. Guy Davis spoke with the creator of Pearlie.
Wendy Harmer has done pretty well at everything she’s turned her hand to over the years, be it stand-up comedy, breakfast radio or writing novels. ( OK, so maybe hosting the Logies didn’t go so great for her, but does anyone ever do well at that?)
So when she decided to turn the bedtime stories she told her young daughter into a series of children’s books, it’s not too surprising that the tales of Pearlie the Park Fairy captured the hearts of kids around the world.
With 11 books to her name, Harmer has now made Pearlie a TV star, with the feisty fairy appearing in her own animated TV series on Ten. I must say that children’s book author is not the first thing that springs to mind when I think Wendy Harmer. But the same goes for Madonna. When I first started doing the books, it was around the time Madonna and Sarah Ferguson were doing their children’s books. I like to think, though, that I’ve outsold them both. I guess there’s a bit of cynicism about somebody going off to write kids’ books but Pearlie has been around since 2003, been translated into eight languages and is now the subject of a $ 10 million television production. So I think I’ve proven that I have a bit of serious intent.
Still, I’m guessing that you couldn’t have anticipated any of the character’s worldwide success when you first started telling Pearlie stories to your daughter Maeve.
That’s exactly right! There are two reasons why I invented Pearlie, the first one being that I’ve always adored fairies – I’ve always been into myths and legends, ever since I was a kid. And fairies are pretty universal in those myths and legends, so I’ve always been a fairy fan. But when I picked up fairy books to read to my daughter, I didn’t really like what was on off er. A lot of modern fairies are like Paris Hilton with wings – they dress up in frocks, flap around and dream about meeting a fairy prince. I wasn’t too keen on all that. And secondly, like a lot of Australian families, we live in a city. Most fairies are off in the deep, dark woods, so I thought it would be cool to have my daughter be able to look for fairies down in the local park. That’s where I came up with a fairy that lives in a park in the middle of a city as opposed to the bottom of the garden. Pearlie’s no pushover. Who inspired her? In mythology, fairies can be quite venal and spiteful – they’ll steal babies! So when it came time to create Pearlie, I gave her a bit of a temper. She can be very feisty and a bit bossy, a bit like me. [ Laughs] But more than that, five-to-eight-year-old girls are bossy,
Harmer: “ When I picked up fairy books to read to my daughter, I didn’t really like what was on off er. A lot of modern fairies are like Paris Hilton with wings.”
like making lists and love coming up with grand plans for picnics or parties and involving everyone in these grand plans. So I tried to make Pearlie like a five-to-eight-year-old girl, because they can run the whole household. I have to say, I thought the character of Saphira was a bit of a Wendy Harmer lookalike. No, that’s not me! Astrid, the head dream fairy, is me. And I’ve got to say that the coolest thing that ever happened to me is being caricatured in my own cartoon series. I feel like Bono when he was on The
Simpsons! You’ve had a very varied career, Wendy. With both kids’ and adult books to your credit, do you now consider yourself an author first and foremost? I always wanted to be a writer, but I kind of waylaid into stand-up and radio and all that. It wasn’t until the ripe old age of 48 that I managed to get back to being a writer. I do a bit of radio for the ABC and I made a documentary called Stuff for ABC TV, and I’m hoping to make another documentary next year, but I’m a real freelancer now. And it’s great.