Gregg Dreise Presents

It was a wonderfully dynamic, interactive, educational and personal guest presentation by Gregg Dreise, an award winning illustrator and writer of books like Silly Birds and Mad Magpie, at the recent Book Links AGM at the State Library of Queensland.

Gregg is a descendant of the Kamilaroi tribe, from south-west Queensland and north-west New South Wales. You can find out more about him on the Speakers Ink site.

Gregg  began by honouring the Indigenous people of the local area we were  meeting in, and then gave the audience a sample of what he does when goes on his various visits into the community, but especially into schools.This gave us a chance to learn some of his language and sing it, and do the accompanying actions just as the students would.

Then he used a number of images to structure his talk around the memories of his upbringing, including one of his mum as a little girl, which he gave a a thought provoking back story to.  I’m not going to fully detail that here, as I think that will be something Gregg may one day do himself if he ever writes a memoir or maybe if he is busy one of his family might do this.  If you attend one of his presentations you will hear it directly from him as well.

Gregg  gave some critique of the notion of ‘blackness’ and Indigenous identity as well how little diversity appears in Australian children’s books, in libraries, publishing and schools. 

This observation was used to spring board into suggestions of how illustrators might consider including more diverse characters in their picture books.

However, it was suggested not to do this in a tokenistic way, or with stereotyping, but in a naturally inclusive way. 

Later on this point was discussed further by the authors in attendance of the AGM.  As authors shared with Gregg that they have little control over the work of illustrators if they are not author/illustrators.  He suggested that authors could at least make a note about wanting diversity in the illustrations of their book.

Gregg said, non-Indigenous could still include Indigenous characters, but should ensure they do their research and be accurate in those portrayals.  If there is an opportunity to include, do it! But just do the research.

He said often, however, there are picture book stories  that require very little change of the writing to embrace an inclusive society, rather a subtle change in illustration where the main character could be Indigenous instead of Anglo Australian, or in a wheelchair instead of walking is what makes the difference.  He gave us a specific example, which he had gained permission from the author to do so, to show how simple the task of inclusivity can be.

He did not advocate however taking on traditional stories, and explained that authors who truly want to support Indigenous people should instead empower an Indigenous person to tell and illustrate that story.

At times it might be relevant to consult Elders when undertaking a project, but the writer should be open to the answer being no, or yes and not try to railroad communities into assisting them with their research or books.

Mentoring is a rewarding experience, and can not only be taken on board as best practice when wanting to support Indigenous people, but can and should be acknowledged.  This is also work he himself does for regional and remote students especially.  Equally if writers receive assistance in research or from Elders they should acknowledge it.

On a positive note Gregg observed that in film and television there are great advances in diversity and the positive deconstruction of ‘blackness’ with films like Black Panther and also Star Wars.

He shared that Indigenous authors and illustrators should avoid stereotyping their own communities, and showed us an illustration where he represented the different skin shades of Indigenous Australia today.  Sometimes ‘blackness’ is taken as a sign of Indigenous authenticity, when it is not the major indication in contemporary society.

Another very heartening aspect of Gregg’s presentation was sharing the story of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and his work mentoring young Indigenous writers and illustrators.

So far we have gifted more than 260,000 new books to over 250 remote Indigenous communities where books are scarce.
Working with more than 30 generous publishers, we gift culturally relevant books to schools, libraries, playgroups, women’s centres, youth centres and other service organisations.
We have books available for babies through to adults, 40 per cent created by Indigenous authors and illustrators, with a new catalogue released each year. 

He is hosting a group  of talented Indigenous creatives in Sydney soon and taking them to Google and Hachette so they can aspire to become writers, illustrators and more.  It’s all about the doors that writing and books can open and broadening the horizons for Australia’s Indigenous people.  This work is made possible through a bequest from Pamela Lofts.

He showed us an example of a beautiful book co-produced with a school, which exemplified the kind of work possible.

I was very blessed to have a fantastic earlier discussion session with Dimity Powell and Gregg where we discussed the potential of  picture books and poetry to contribute to social justice and unity in diversity in the Australian literary community and how we might advance that happening.

June Perkins, Dimity Powell and Gregg Dreise

It was a highly uplifting and inspiring conversation for all three of us, and  we will be continuing our conversations as like minded, but very diverse background humans.

There were of course many more things shared during the presentation and this day, so this blog is only highlights that particularly struck me.

Book Links will  be sharing a blog of the day with several comments from participants in the AGM.  I will add the link to this post when it goes up.

All the best,

June Perkins

The Fix- it-Man

ISBN  9781925335347   Hardcover Picture Book   EK Books Endorsed by Paradise Kids

It is a challenge to cover the deeper topics in life for young children in a way that is relatable, honest and caring, but Dimity Powell’s The Fix -it-Man sets out to do just that.   Nicky Johnston’s gentle, joyful and equally caring illustrations take the reader through the happy, although sometimes challenging times, in a family that is about to be broken by something that just can’t be fixed.  A double centre spread of predominantly subdued grey father and daughter nestled in a bean bag, is particularly moving, and marks a shift in the narrative from the fix-it- man to a fix- it- girl.  Another especially powerful metaphor for grief in the story is the broken teddy bear, ‘Tiger’ who needs mending.  Our young narrator says, ‘Pieces spill out from Tiger’s heart, as Dad takes him from my hand. ‘I can’t fix him Dad.’ The idea that in the healing process at different times all family members can play a role, and need to care for those still living, is especially powerful.

I can see the book often being used by early childhood educators, psychologists and hospitals as a tool to trigger discussion of how children and parents can find ways to recover from loss, especially how father and daughters can assist each other. But at the same time children will enjoy the journey of a courageous and vivacious little girl who sometimes breaks things precisely because she is so vibrant, and who is lucky to have a kind- hearted Dad who is her hero.  Well done Nicky and Dimity for a simply beautiful contribution to children’s picture books and EK publishing for publishing it.

Book available from all good bookstores.

Dimity will be signing books

Berkelouw Books on the Sunshine Coast, April 22nd, 2017

Dimity Powell – How to Launch a Children’s Book About Loss

dimity-jan-2012

Today’s special guest is Dimity Powell who will share her journey to create the picture book The Fix-it-Man.  

I first met Dimity through an online writing group, where all the participants wrote every Monday morning, and we left messages in a facebook space on our writing progress and challenges.  I then interviewed her by phone for my blog because she seemed so interesting.  Little was I to know that soon I would move from Far North Queensland to Brisbane and finally meet Dimity in person at the CYA conference.  She was up from the Gold Coast for it.

I love this excerpt from her website which sums up what kind of person she is:

“Dimity Powell writes for children because she believes being a kid is one of the coolest things you can be…next to riding dragons and lying under palm trees. She believes in magic and that ice cream tastes divine in any flavour, except maybe rainbow sherbet. She hopes the dozens of stories she’s conjured up over the years will be read by children who love to curl up with books as much as she does.”  Website

Dimity is widely published in anthologies, the creator of digital narratives, and the author of one junior novel,  PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail.  She is a true artist who has devoted herself to  honing her craft of picture book writing, looking for the ‘sweet spot’ in her stories and it is with great delight that I attended the Brisbane launch of her very first picture book, The Fix it Man.

This interview took place a few weeks before the launch of the book.

**

What most inspired you to write a story tackling how a family can deal with loss?

Initially, I didn’t set out to write a story about loss and grief. However, as the story spilled out and the symbolism behind the words became more apparent, I felt it was something a bit special and an important story to tell in spite of the sadness behind a child losing her parent.

What inspired the title?

My husband, the original fix it man, although he was not aware of it at the time. The true-life inspiration for this story came from an incident involving my then infant child whose infinite belief in her father’s ability to fix anything and everything (because he did and still does) forced me to ask the question: what if one day he couldn’t fix something?

What are your favourite lines in the book?

I actually like the opening line – it’s the one that began the creative outpouring for me. I like its naked simplicity and absoluteness. It’s the sort of assured statement that young children often make.

Other lines that particularly resonate with me are the ones about dad breaking too: ‘His lap is cosy and warm but his face is crumpled and wet’. I felt it was important to show that even the omnipotent fix-it man was hurting emotionally and in danger of breaking, too.

Which is probably your favourite illustration in the book?

I have a standout favourite but really all of Nicky’s images cause me to choke with emotion; they are incredibly tender and yet simultaneously powerful. My favourite is the two-page spread of dad bringing cupcakes and peach and honey tea to mama. It’s a poignant statement about mama’s well-being but is also awash with warmth. It was one of the first images from Nicky I laid eyes on and fell instantly in love with. I also adore the images on the final two pages, which exude love and suggest everything will be all right.

sample-page

How long did this picture book take you to write and then to find a publisher for?

Um, how long have you got?! The idea spawned around 2009, and then three years later, I penned the first draft. In 2013, it was shortlisted in the KBR Unpublished Manuscripts Awards. It was then I decided to rework the whole thing under the umbrella of a structured mentorship with Dee White. Then, just after pulling the wheels off the whole jalopy as it were, Anouska Jones from EK Books got in touch. Turns out, it was just the sort of story EK Books was keen to publish, problem was, it was now in shreds. After many discussions, many rewrites, and another year or so, it was finally ready to resubmit.

Apparently, everyone at EK loved it but it caused a few tears. It was never my intention to reduce the whole acquisitions team to a blubbering mess! In spite of getting the green light, I still had to work hard to convince everyone (by everyone, I mean the CEO) that this was a story of substance that would find a place in the hearts of readers everywhere even if they weren’t suffering the kind of loss depicted in the story and was therefore worth publishing. Tenacity and sheer refusal to give up finally won the day. I was offered a contract in June 2015. Essentially, this picture book took nearly as long to come into existence as I’ve been writing professionally!

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How long have you been working on the craft of picture books? What has helped you most in your quest?

Since I began writing professionally for children in 2009. I relish the exacting requirements and unique challenges that set picture book writing slightly apart from other genres. Each time I hear how an accomplished picture book author achieves getting the exact balance of language, rhythm and story helps me with my own writing, however probably one of the best ways to really appreciate this art form in all its various guises, is to simply read picture books, as many as you can, as often as you can. You can learn volumes by simply immersing yourself in them.

Why do you love the picture book genre so much? What do you think it can do that other formats can’t?

I truly feel picture books are the elixir of life. They can entertain, enlighten, and enthral and the good ones educate, all at the same time. They are the first exposure to the marriage of visual literacy, sound and stimulating vocabulary for young children providing essential steppingstones into the world of reading and books that will hopefully last a lifetime. More than that, they provide legitimate, endless opportunities that encourage intimate exchanges between children and their parents or carers, thus reinforcing those relationship bonds. They are meant to be shared; to be heard; to be marvelled at.

A picture book’s ability to take a banal everyday occurrence and transform it into a thing of beauty and wonderment is truly magical. There is no topic too taboo for the picture book medium to address because it can relay them in a safe and nonjudgmental format and as such, I believe they should be embraced and studied by age groups far beyond those they are written for.

page-32rgbHave you tested the book on young audiences and how did they respond?

I’ll let you know after March!

Can you tell us how your launches have gone (as this will be in March) and what it has been like to plan them?

Yes! Planning for them wasn’t so difficult as The Fix-It Man is a picture book rich in symbolism. Nicky and I were able to pull ideas for the launch from the many prompts included in the text and illustrations.

By sheer fluke and coincidence, Nicky and I decided on the same decorations to make, motivated by one of her beautiful images. As with all parties though, the execution of the plans and fine tuning of the details (designing the various flyers, confirming venues, snagging dates and so on) was really the most time consuming thing, albeit hugely enjoyable!

Our intention is simply to share the joy we both experienced in the creation of this book and how much it means to us.

What are you doing at a launch that is about a book about loss?

Ah, a good question given I’m a hopelessly sentimental type prone to weep at the mere rustle of a tissue. So perhaps a song and dance to lighten things up! Really, I plan to launch this book with honesty and sincerity that I hope kids will connect with. There’s not a lot you can do to dress up grief (which is why I used a PowerPoint presentation as a visual back up) but you don’t need to be maudlin about it either.

tfim-cover-ek-books

Thank you so  much for this insight into your creative processes and your motivation for writing this book  Dimity.

Fix-It- Man is available at all good bookstores! 

(Dimity Powell, author, June Perkins (owner of this book!), Nicky Johnston- illustrator)

Note: The launch was just beautiful.  May be writing a more detailed account of it when I have a chance with my mobile phone pictures! In brief: there was a fun introduction by Peter Carnavas about everything we could have been at, followed by Dimity giving a story power point about the writing of the book complete with a picture of the author and illustrator by Nicky and a sharing of the story board.  This was followed by Dimity reading the book, complete with support tissue giver outer from the audience and two other helpers (one to fly kites!) and one with a puppet. Then Nicky spoke about the journey from her perspective.  And of course there was the signing of the book and lots of chats with those gathered.  Dimity’s sister, and mum and Dad were there and it was lovely to meet them.  A well done launch!

You can catch up with Dimity at the following upcoming events!

 

Where in the World – How to Create Sensational Story Settings

April 5th  10-11am

Where the Wild Things Are Bookshop

191 Boundary St, West End, Brisbane

TO BOOK

 

Riverbend Books Kids’ Reading and Craft with Dimity Powell

April 8th  10.30 -14.00

Riverbend Books

193 Oxford Street, Bulimba, Queensland, Australia

 

For More Visit the Following Links

Dimity Powell Facebook

Dimity Powell Website

The Fix-it-Man

Blog Blasting The Fix-it-Man

tfim-cover-ek-books

Welcome to my contribution to the The Fix-it-Man blog blast!

You can find more sneak peak posts  and sneak reviews TODAY at all the following super cool online spaces where people review and interview authors.

 

The Fix- it-Man, by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston  

Reviewed by June Perkins

ISBN 9781925335347 Hardcover Picture Book EK Books. Endorsed by Paradise Kids, Reccomended retail price $24.99

It is a challenge to cover the deeper topics in life for young children in a way that is relatable, honest and caring, but Dimity Powell’s  The Fix -it-Man sets out to do just that.

Nicky Johnston’s gentle joyful and equally caring illustrations take the reader through the happy although sometimes challenging times in a family that is about to be broken by something that just can’t be fixed. A double centre spread of predominantly subdued grey  colours depicting a father and daughter nestled in a bean bag, is particularly moving, and marks a shift in the narrative from the fix-it-man to a fix-it-girl.

Another especially powerful metaphor for grief in the story is the broken teddy bear, ‘Tiger’ who needs mending. Our young narrator says, ‘Pieces spill out from Tiger’s heart, as Dad takes him from my hand. ‘I can’t fix him Dad.’

(Extract from upcoming review: for the rest visit this blog in April and also watch out for a moving interview with the compassionate Dimity Powell).

a6-fix-it-man-brisbane-launch-post-carrgbd

You can meet Dimity at the launch or visit her website  Dimity Powell’s Website

CYA Conference – 10 Year Anniversary

CYAkatrinandhelene

CYA was; brilliant, entertaining, informative and educational.  I enjoyed catching up with talented artists and writers such as award winning Katrin Dreiling and Helene Magisson and listening to the amazing Morris Gleitzman.

I did my first ever in person pitches to editors and agents. They were friendly, constructive, and helpful. I’m going to be busy working with their advice now and a couple are keen to see some more work, when I am ready.  Thank you! Thank you!

The session I loved the most was definitely the Morris Gleitzman master class.  We had a total of three hours to learn from him.  He entertained us with stories, showing, and not telling, about his own writing journey as well as guiding us through some of his books.  These were so memorable (and often very funny) that I related one in the car on the way to an engagement party after the conference. He gave us insights into how he structures and builds a story, blends in exposition, and extensively drafts outlines of his novels before he begins to write – the technique is drawn from his television writing background. We even had a chance to ask a few questions at the end, and yes I jumped at the chance to ask one!

My daughter, who is fifteen, thought this was the most brilliant public speech she had been too, and was absolutely riveted.  She went to art character development sessions with Sarah Davis, which she absolutely loved and enjoyed spending the day with artist/illustrators.

Another inspiring session was the success stories from previous participants in the conference – I just loved these.  They were encouraging to all aspiring authors and illustrators to follow their dreams – and to have an international outlook with their work. I was so delighted to see Helene Magisson up there sharing her story.  She mentioned our upcoming project, Magic Fish Dreaming! with some excitement amongst her ongoing journey and I was so happy that such a brilliant illustrator is looking forward to our collaboration.

Jennifer Loake’s story was particularly inspiring, as she went from having her picture book story placed very lowly at the competition, to persevering with it, and editing it until it has been published.  And the idea behind her story was just something she always believed in and wouldn’t give up on! If you are thinking about a career in writing for children and young adults I highly reccomend attending this event, and entering their competitions. You receive feedback on your story and how to improve it.

I have begun sending a story I entered in it last year (and have been editing for 12 months) to publishers just a a few weeks ago – perhaps now I will find a publisher for it.

A big congratulations to Tina Clarke and the wonderful team of volunteers who were so warm, welcoming and helpful. A special mention to my writing buddy Dimity Powell who I met in person for the first time.  After attending the conference for years she decided to be a volunteer this year and add to everyone else’s experience, including things like giving me a pep talk before I went into do my publisher pitches – thanks Dimity!  Oh no I forgot to get a photograph of us together – another time maybe!

(c) June Perkins