Victoria Lane has made a successful career from writing; as an award-winning financial journalist for many years, editor and correspondent for many leading media publications, and of course, as a picture and chapter book writer for children. Today, we delve into Victoria’s writerly mind as she shares her inspirations behind her touching picture book, Celia and Nonna.
Review – Celia and Nonna
There is something so precious about children spending quality time with their grandparents. Every word and every image, beautifully interwoven by author Victoria Lane and illustrator Kayleen West, pour warmth and affection out of this book and into the hearts of its’ readers.
”Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house.” And Nonna just cherishes the moments they spend together; baking cakes and biscotti, cuddling and reading bedtime stories. But one day Nonna begins to forget things, and she moves to an aged care home where she will get the appropriate support. At first Celia struggles to grapple with the new arrangement, but her resilience, sensitivity and love allow her to accept the change, strengthen their bond, and bring joy and ease to Nonna. Gorgeous sentiments in Celia’s drawings help us, the reader, to remember and appreciate that no matter where we are, all we need are the ones we love.
Kayleen West’s illustrations are soft, timeless and emotive. I love the meaning attached to the realistic children’s artwork that are significant to both Nonna, and to Victoria Lane. I also love the clever connection between Celia and the swallows who follow Nonna and stick by her on her life journey.
Celia and Nonna; a message of embracing hard realities, finding strength and faith, an uplifting and important tale to share, all packaged perfectly in a delightful picture book. Ford Street Publishing.
Interview – Victoria Lane
Congratulations, Victoria, on the release of your first picture book, Celia and Nonna! How did you celebrate its’ launch?
Thanks Romi! We had a lovely launch at the Ivanhoe Library filled with friends, as well as some lovely contributions via social media of people’s memories of their grandparents. We brought biscotti and played ”Guess how many borlotti beans in the jar”.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? What do you love about writing children’s books?
It’s true, I started writing stories when I was a kid, mainly mash-ups of fairytales inspired by my older brother’s satirical Mad magazines. And I’ve been lucky enough to have made a career out of writing and editing, as a journalist and foreign correspondent. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve had the time to devote to writing fiction again and I love it.
What appeals to me the most about writing for children is the need to condense meaning into a picture book of limited word count. It is a challenge and a delight.
Celia and Nonna is a warm story of togetherness across the generations, and adapting to change. What special message would you like your audience to gain from reading your story?
It’s so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family. If a grandparent is in an aged care home, make sure the grandkids still get to visit rather than leaving them at home. Kids are very adaptable and accepting of change; we should give them credit for it. There are many ways to adapt to these changes, and Celia finds her own delightful way to navigate this confusing time. I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia, old age, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Does Celia and Nonna have a personal significance to you? What was your inspiration behind this story?
It certainly does. This story has two inspirations. The first was when my eldest daughter could no longer enjoy her treasured sleepovers at my Mum’s, due to her own illness. The second part was the experience of visiting my Dad in a nursing home and trying to explain the situation to my daughter. It was a very foreign place. For those few years, I was part of the sandwich generation, with caring responsibilities for both my parents and my children – I had a new baby at the time. It was an incredibly difficult period. So the story really became a tapestry of my experiences, folded into fiction. I felt it was really important to create a positive story with a positive outlook. I also wanted to keep the Italian flavour because it’s so important to show diversity in Australian children’s literature.
The illustrations by Kayleen West are beautiful, and provide plenty of elements that add to the meaning of the story. What was it like working with Kayleen? How much input did you have in the artistic design?
I think publishers generally like to keep the authors out of the illustrator’s way, and I think that does give the illustrator the freedom to interpret the words as they like. Kayleen’s work is just gorgeous, full of warmth and love, and I think they are perfect for the story.
I did get to ask for a few little touches, and one of the pictures that Celia draws is the castle in her Nonna’s home town in Italy. That meant a huge amount to me. It is still so emotional to see the image of the massive 12th Century castle (which was rebuilt after being heavily bombed in the First World War) that is a symbol of my mother’s home town. There is also a strong element of art and creativity in the way Celia responds to the family’s changes, and Kayleen managed that delicate balance in showing a realistic portrayal of a child’s artwork. And the beautiful endpapers are a little inspiration for kids to create their own art for a loved one after reading the story.
What was the most rewarding part about creating Celia and Nonna?
For me, it has really been seeing the heartfelt response from parents and children. The story really seems to have struck an emotional chord for many readers and that is so thrilling. The response has been fantastic.
One of the lovely past times the characters enjoy together is baking. Do you have any special traditions with family members that you follow each year during the holidays?
Not really – it’s hard to live up to the sumptuous five-course meals that my Mum used to prepare for any occasion! Her apple strudel was famous in our family, but it takes hours to prepare and it’s very hard to get the pastry right. We tried to write out the recipe together, but it was just ”add a bit of this, a bit more of that”…
What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a few other stories on the go at the moment, and I have also been busy with some junior fiction. I’m writing a series of early chapter books all set a fictional primary school in Melbourne’s north. Some of these are out on submission with publishers, so stay tuned! I would also like to find more time to introduce Celia and Nonna to aged care home and libraries, where it may reach more families.
Victoria, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
Thanks for having me, Romi! Same to you and all the readers at Boomerang Books.
Well, that’s it for the author interviews this year! I hope you have enjoyed meeting them as much as I have!
Thank you all for welcoming me into the Boomerang Books world of blogging, and I look forward to sharing more wonderful news, reviews and author insights with you in 2015!
Have a booktacularly festive holiday, and really treasure those moments with your loved ones!