Maisie Parrish is a successful author and founder of Maisie Dough, the leading UK company for dough craft. Her fans around the world love to recreate her famous character designs, and her skill has even led her to work with Disney – Food Heaven meets her to talk about her inspirations and what the future has in store… When and how did you first begin decorating cakes? I began cake decorating in 1998. It was quite by accident, something I’d never even thought of doing until I was asked to “have a go”. Can you remember the design on your first ever cake? My first design was a nautical cake with two Victorian children and some boats. It appeared in a cake decorating magazine – I had never covered a cake before, but it was of course on a dummy and not a real cake for photography purposes. I had to learn to be really neat and tidy, and to understand how easily the sugarpaste can mark. I did find it difficult to support the figures I initially designed, so everything from start to finish was trial and error. I didn’t start doing cakes as a hobby, or for my family, it was as if I had been thrown in at the deep end. You’re best known for your character designs – why does this area of cake decorating most appeal to you? I’m a bit of a Peter Pan myself, and I love childlike figures. I recall from my childhood loving Mabel Lucie Attwell books, and the Enid Blyton fairy and pixie stories, and I think that has always stayed with me. Of course, now I have to push the boundaries and do more difficult figures and facial expressions. What tips would you give anyone starting out in cake decorating and in particular character modelling? The best advice is to learn the basics from a good teacher – you will pick up tips that would take years to learn. There is nothing worse than seeing the characters on a cake with all the same faces, and the only way to tell they are different is by their clothing. When we are inexperienced this is the way we do it, but now it is so easy to learn from all the books and DVDs available to us. How do you achieve your character’s brilliant expressions? I experiment with the basic shape which can be anything from a child to an old person. I study people around me when I am out and about. It is something I enjoy very much, and if you enjoy something, you are usually good at it. Sugarpaste is not clay, and so there are limits to what we can do with it. You were asked to create a range for Walt Disney, can you tell us more about this? I was approached by the buyer for Disney to do a range of Welsh-orientated characters. At the time I was making them in salt dough, and I lived and worked in Wales. What would you say has been your biggest achievement? My biggest achievement is in the pipeline at the moment, and if this happens the whole world will know who Maisie is! But to date it is having the love of all my fans around the world – that is very special, something you cannot buy. I do actually shed tears when I have to leave some countries, the love you feel is quite extraordinary. My fans are my extended family, I love them. Have you ever had any disasters, and how did you solve them? I honestly have not had any disasters, but the hardest thing to do is to make your own face. That went into the bin a few times before I was happy with it. You can’t make it look pretty, and you don’t want it to turn out too ugly, it’s a difficult one. What’s your favourite cake decorating technique? I love making faces. I have tried to do other techniques with royal icing, but it bores me – for me there’s nothing quite like modelling and creating those lovely characters. How do you get your great ideas for new designs? Now this is a question I am asked all the time. I do find that I recall quite a lot from my childhood. I am also a very inspired person, and like some songwriters inspiration comes from nowhere at times, perhaps from my higher self. Inspiration is all around us if we just care to stop and think about it. What’s the most satisfying thing for you about decorating cakes? The fact that I have just completed my 12th published title. No compilations, all new work, that is something I could never have dreamed of doing, and I look forward to many more in the future. Also cake decorating is not a fad pastime, it has been around for a very long time, and even though it goes through changes, it is constant and always will be. What is planned for the future? I want to leave my legacy, which is for every child in the world to know who my characters are, and to love them as much as I do. I am still full of ambition and inspiration, and won’t ever retire because I love the magical childlike word I am privileged to work in. Watch this space! Follow Maisie's cake decorating tutorial for the below Penguin cake on page 24 of Cake Decorating Winter 2013, or see www.maisieparrish.com for more.