Jana Diemberger

I was born in Italy and I grew up between Italy and Austria. I’ve also spent a lot of time in Nepal as my grandfather was a mountaineer. I’ve always liked to draw but I was not a keen reader. I loved to listen to the stories told by my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. They were great storytellers and I loved to visually imagine what they were saying.

We did not read books so much as we invented our own stories. The most popular characters were two that we invented and kept returning in many stories: a white sheep and a black cat that were having adventures involving an old woman called Babayaga, a figure from a Russian folk legend. Our stories blended aspects of traditional Italian and Austrian fairy tales with events that were typical of a child’s everyday life.

My mother tells me that when I was two years old the nursery assistant commented on my artistic passion. I have always enjoyed drawing from the imagination, creating fantasy worlds with absurd characters and stories of nonsense, or illustrating superstitious folk tales, myths and gory stories from many parts of the world. I like to explore different perspectives and the link between people and things. In the past I’ve illustrated a story about a Tibetan princess (to be published in Italy) and I’ve illustrated a few academic publications to earn a bit of money. My experience with my own daughter, Lucia, prompted me to write and illustrate a fun booklet on pregnancy, though I haven’t published it yet.

I can get quite obsessed with detail and would like to be more spontaneous. Sometimes I’m pleased with the result, other times I feel frustrated, hit a mental block and need a break. When this happens I draw something else or focus on other interests. I love boxing and won a silver medal at the Amateur Boxing Association championships in 2010.

One day, when I was working as a cleaner at the Faculty of Philosophy in the University of Cambridge, I drew a cartoon on the board; a professor added a speech bubble, and I responded the next day. He liked the cartoon so much that he published it in the faculty newsletter. This incident led me to resume my studies and eventually I graduated from the Cambridge School of Art in 2009 with an illustration degree.

If I was in a book, I would like to be a character that goes through many experiences and explores many different worlds...I love the sense of discovery and mystery. Though I’m not sure I would like to be any one character; I imagine myself in more than one role in a story.

Jana Diemberger is the illustrator of the Monacello series, written by Geraldine McCaughrean. Currently the series includes: Monacello: The Little Monk and The Wish-Bringer.

Read more about Jana in the Cambridge Evening News feature 'Why Jana's illustrations are proving a knock out' (16th May 2011)