I chose a princess as the protagonist of my book because it is an archetypical character in children’s fiction. If you know that a picture book is about a princess, you can infer a lot about what the story, setting and characters are likely to be based on the countless princess stories you’re already familiar with. I was then able to turn that on its head by introducing new elements to surprise the reader and make the main character of the story much more relatable.
Additionally, princesses are typically revered and looked up to by the children who read their stories. They are something that a lot of young girls in particular strive to be. If a princess can get depression, anyone can. I think it’s important that the children who read my story can relate to its protagonist in quite a personal way so that they know that they aren’t alone and that this thing that they’re struggling with that they can’t explain can happen to just about anyone else. Depression can make you feel very alone, so just knowing that there is someone out there - even a fictional princess - who is going through something similar can be a huge comfort.
The setting of The Princess and the Fog is a strange mix of traditional old-fashioned fairy tale and modern day. A huge purple castle sits at the heart of a bustling modern metropolis. The Princess rides horses, everyone else drives cars. Television and print media apparently exist but so do knights and adventurers with swords and shields. This, again, is designed to make the story relatable on a number of different levels. Children will find the fairy tale elements of the situations as familiar as the real life ones.
In my research into writing for children I learned of the importance of metaphor. Children do not tend to like stories with aggressive morals. While the book deals with real-life problems, I have managed to avoid “outing” the children who read it by disguising the issues that young readers may be facing behind metaphors. Readers may understand that the book is describing a situation similar to their own without feeling like it’s singling them out or trying to teach them a lesson. The story is designed to be enjoyed in its own right but with a hidden depth to it that should communicate with any young readers who are feeling the same way as The Princess.
In my early design ideas for the book I was toying with various ideas for how to represent depression visually. I had previously used the idea of a hole in one’s chest and an obscured, scribbled out face in an earlier independent project called There’s A Hole In My Chest and didn’t want to use it again as I thought it would be too grim for children. Early ideas included some kind of slow, lazy slime monster not unlike The Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth, a hat or helmet of some kind that couldn’t be taken off once it was put on, and a ball and chain, but none of these quite described the feeling adequately. I decided that whatever it was it needed to be opaquely black, thick, impossible to remove and in some way at least partially obscure the protagonist’s head and face to create a sense of loneliness and isolation from the outside world.
The title The Princess and the Fog popped into my head one day and it just fit perfectly. It ticked all the boxes, I could illustrate it in a similar frustrated scribbly way as the obscured faces in There’s A Hole In My Chest, and I just couldn’t resist the pun. The exact depiction of The Fog developed considerably over the course of making the book before I settled on how it looks in the final product, particularly after notes that it obscured too much of The Princess’s face and could be seen as scary for some readers.
The King and Queen
It was important to me to have the King and Queen both appear very physically strong, in their own ways. The Queen is extremely tall with very large legs but she’s very thin and a little unbalanced, while The King is short and squat with diddy little legs but with a very large upper body. In this way, it shows that they each have their own strengths that make them a very well-balanced team, both as parents, supporters and as the co-rulers of the unnamed kingdom in which the story takes place. Most children will look to their parents as their first port of call in times of crisis and The Princess is no different. The King and Queen are the first two characters to offer help to The Princess in dealing with her affliction. Although they get it a bit wrong at first, they are an essential part of the large support network The Princess is eventually able to put together. I hope any parental figures reading this book will be inspired to be as strong and determined as The King and Queen.
The Supporting Cast
The other characters in the story that The Princess eventually enlists for her support network all play important parts in aiding her gradual recovery. Most of them straddle that same weird line between fairy tale and reality by representing both a trustworthy adversary one might find in the battle against depressive illness and a friendly fantasy character. The Druid, for example, brews up some potions for The Princess to try to help her fight away the fog.
With his lab coat and diplomas, The Druid is clearly a metaphor for a doctor offering to help medicate the problem. But not everybody responds to medication. Everybody experiences depression differently and no one cure exists that will work for everyone, so I felt it important that the story never explicitly states which of the many solutions The Princess uses to try to rid herself of The Fog actually ultimately works.