ISLA FISHER first became a familiar face in the UK thanks to her schoolgirl role as Shannon Reed in Home And Away more than 20 years ago.
Since leaving the Australian soap she’s gone on to appear in a string of hit films, including Wedding Crashers and The Great Gatsby, but the 41-year-old is also a successful children’s novelist.
Born in Oman to Scottish parents and having spent her younger years growing up in Bathgate, West Lothian, Isla credits her mum and gran with inspiring her to love books and become a writer.
Her latest book, Marge And The Great Train Rescue, is dedicated to her gran Anna.
“I adored my grandmother,” Isla said. “She lived the last 10 years of her life as a quadriplegic in hospital. She had a stand made to hold a book open, a special stick with a rubber thimble on the end to help turn the page, and she re-read every novel she’d enjoyed in her youth.
“She once told me she was perfectly happy and not to feel sorry for her. I spent school holidays in her room reading alongside her.
“I fell in love with books as a child thanks to her and my mother, and I feel that when you get lost in the world of books you are never alone.
“You discover other people’s thoughts and feelings are like yours. Books save us from both depression and ignorance.”
Isla wrote two young adult novels with her mum, Elspeth, in the mid-’90s and returned to writing in recent years after she started inventing bedtime stories for the three kids she has with Ali G and Borat star, Sacha Baron Cohen.
“I began making up stories in funny voices and Marge, this naughty babysitter who breaks all the rules mummy leaves for her, just became the most popular character,” Isla continued.
“I also felt that for emerging or reluctant readers, there weren’t that many comedic books. Laughter makes kids want to read more.
“It felt like there was a missed opportunity during this transitional phase before kids are ready for more sophisticated authors like Roald Dahl or Jeff Kinney, so I wanted to create material that would engage young readers but not push them beyond their years emotionally and socially.”
Isla says the character of Marge is based on a couple of friends.
She laughed: “If my two best friends had a lovechild it would be Marge. One of them is the eternal Peter Pan who is in total denial about reality and the other tells magical, amazing stories.
“I live vicariously through Marge. She does all the fun things I wish I could do but I have to act sensibly because I’m the mummy!”
Isla officially launches the latest Marge adventure at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday.
It’s her first time in the capital since she filmed Burke And Hare there seven years ago.
“I feel very proud to be launching the book in Edinburgh,” she smiled.
“My dad Brian is from Bathgate and mum is from Stranraer.
“I was named after the island of Islay, because my dad loves the whisky from there.
“I didn’t get to spend too much time in Scotland as a kid, leaving for Australia when I was six, but all my memories from there are very special.”
Isla’s books are full of laughs, she is a talented comedic actress and her husband’s characters have audiences rolling in the aisles, so it’s no surprise to discover she thinks making kids laugh is important.
“Laughter is such a wonderful way to connect with kids,” she said.
“From the time they are babies they laugh at anything from blowing a raspberry on their tummy to trying on a silly hat.”
With a family and a busy movie career, how does Isla find the time to write?
“I record any ideas into my mobile while I’m on the move and then I write in a bookshop,” she revealed. “I sneak away at 10am every day, shove pastries in my mouth and type away.”
She adds: “It feels so much more satisfying to have my books connect to tiny people than my films for some reason. If my books are successful, I owe it all to the kids in my life who have read them and helped in the editing process.
“Kids are so honest and the moment a story becomes boring they make it all too clear!”
Isla Fisher, Edinburgh Book Festival, Charlotte Square, Sat
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