Dimity Powell Takes Us on a Trip Down Holyrood Lane

 Dimity Powell, author of evocatively and beautifully written (and illustrated by Nicky Johnston) titles including The Fix-It Man (my review and interview) and At the End of Holyrood Lane (my review) is here to discuss the creation of the latter in an insightful interview. Dimity is a well-established presenter in Australia and overseas and a strong advocate for literacy as a workshop leader and Books in Homes Role Model. As you would be aware from her Boomerang Books reviews, Dimity has a flair for exquisite language, and her picture books are conveyed no differently. I’m grateful for this opportunity to talk with you, Dim!

Congratulations, Dim, on your newest, very special picture book, once again collaborating with the gorgeous Nicky Johnston!

Thank you, Romi!

Following your successful partnership on The Fix-It Man, was this second joint venture something you always planned or just a lucky coincidence?

It is something we both secretly always wished for – we adore working together – but was definitely more of a case of fate than design. When EK Books accepted Holyrood Lane, the first person publisher, Anouska Jones and I thought of to illustrate this story was Nicky. Her style was just right for projecting the type of feeling this work required.

Your story deals with a delicate topic on domestic violence and emotional safety through the metaphorical torment of a thunderstorm. We know Nicky has the knack for capturing the deep and true essence of a story. How do you feel she portrayed your intention? Was there much collaboration throughout the process?

She portrayed every intention brilliantly! Nicky has a phenomenal initiative grasp of the story behind my stories. It’s as if she has direct access into my head and is able to see exactly how I’d love the characters and their emotions be displayed. This occurs with little to no consultation at all, which stuns me. I can only paint with words. Nicky’s illustrations do all the rest of the work.

What I really enjoyed about working with her on this project was when I happened to be in Melbourne last year (for the Victorian launch of The Fix-It Man) and was invited into her work studio. Oh, what a sublime experience that was. She had a query about a certain spread of Holyrood Lane and invited me to offer solutions. Together we nutted through the various ways of portraying the message. It was a turning point in the story for the main character, Flick and for me. I have never experienced such joy working so closely with such a divinely talented creator as Nicky. I know this is not everyone’s experience so I feel very blessed.

As mentioned, At the End of Holyrood Lane is an intensely moving and powerful tale that prevalently and superbly brings an awareness to its readers. What was your motivation in writing this story and what do you hope your audience gains from reading it?

I hope first and foremost readers engage with Flick’s story in a way that is meaningful for them and leave it feeling more hopeful and reflective. I was prompted to write this book after a meeting with a prominent children’s charity founder, who proclaimed more mainstream, accessible picture books addressing this subject matter were needed. I rose to the challenge. But in doing so, had to clear tall hurdles. Most mainstream publishers felt this type of story was ‘too hot to handle’. Fortunately, for me, EK Books had the foresight and determination to take it on with me.

Did the story go through many re-writes? How did you perfect the language and level of emotional impact for an audience that may be as young as three or four?

Oh, yes! After several knock backs, I set about restructuring Flick’s story into a more metaphoric one, one that would appeal to children worldwide regardless of their situation and whether or not they were victims of abuse. If it wasn’t for the initial reactions and the feedback received from those publishers, I would not have had the impetus to fight on so determinedly nor explore my story from a different perspective. Reasons to be grateful for rejections!

Each rewrite brought me closer to that sweet spot, where words and emotions sing in perfect harmony. To ensure that the words matched the emotional maturity of my audience I sought the help of my erstwhile writing critique buddy, Candice Lemon-Scott. Normally when we assess each other’s work, it only takes one or two feedback sessions to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a particular manuscript. Working on this one was like slogging it through the finals of a tennis match; there was much back and forwarding, but finally after about six rewrites and months of massaging, I knew I had a winner.

What is the significance of the title? Is there a hidden meaning behind it?

Yes and no. I love the term Holyrood, having noticed it on my travels and always thought I’d love to incorporate it into one of my books one day. After rewriting Holyrood Lane a few times under the old working title of Holding On, I realised I needed something better, stronger and more meaningful. Holyrood has various religious connections, appropriated to be an ancient Christian relic of the true cross and was the subject of veneration and pilgrimage in the middle ages. It is also the placename of several notable locations throughout Europe. I liked the subtle spiritual connotations and the sense of venturing away from the norm into a potentially better unknown that this title evokes.

The excitement of your book launch in Brisbane is imminent! What do you have planned for the big day?

The launch is taking place at the Brisbane Square Library, which is smack bang in the middle of Brisbane on the 23 September – a Sunday – so hopefully young and old will be able to make it. In addition to the usual cupcake consumption (they’ll look and taste gorgeous I can assure you!), there’ll be kids’ activities, special guest speakers from various domestic violence organisations, book readings, signings and a raffle with over $1,040 worth of terrific book prizes to be won. Kids’ Lit guru, Susanne Gervay is also travelling up from Sydney to launch this book with me for which I’m eternally grateful. This industry thrives on the support from people like her so I look forward to celebrating this with everyone at the launch.

You are hugely active in the literary community with workshops, festivals, school visits and the like. What other kinds of events and presentations have you been involved in recently? What value do you see for authors presenting to children?

I’ve been facilitating and conducting a few school holiday kids’ writing camps this year in addition to bookshop appearances and workshops. I really love these camps because on a personal level they consolidate what it means to write and how to do it well. They are also heaps of fun and put me in touch with tomorrow’s writers in a very real and exciting way. I’m not really teaching them to write; it feels more like a privileged position of mentoring; guiding and nurturing young raw talent is unspeakably satisfying.

One of the camps I facilitate is the Write Like An Author Camps designed by Brian Falkner. The immense value of having published active authors presenting to kids is that validation they gain from linking facts, tips, tricks and methods with real world experience. We (authors) are the living proof of what we do and say!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

My TBR pile is tall enough to crush an elephant should it ever topple which it has, toppled that is, not killed any elephants, yet. My Christmas wish would be for more time to read AND write. I’m bubbling with new picture book ideas but have been writing in snatches since entering pre-publication mode for Holyrood Lane. There are a couple more publications on the horizon for 2019 and 2020 though, which makes me happier than a bear with a tub of honey ice cream.

Things are also ramping up on the SCBWI front as we prepare for the next Sydney-based Conference taking place in February 2019. Bookings for this immensely popular conference have just opened and are filling fast. I have the enviable task of coordinating a dynamic team of Roving Reporters again next year whose job is to cover every inch of the conference and it share with the world. It’s another time gobbling occupation but a thrilling one nonetheless.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Dimity! And congratulations again on such a special book! 🙂

It was my absolute pleasure, Romi!

Purchase At the End of Holyrood Lane

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Review: At the End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

If there ever was a story that so finely balances a highly delicate topic with exquisitely gentle language and a resolution that makes your heart swell, it’s At the End of Holyrood Lane written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Nicky Johnston. So brilliantly does this book combine the rawness of agonising fear and anxiety in a case of domestic and emotional violence with a ray of uplifting hope and courage, depicted amongst the darkness of the metaphorical thunderstorm that causes such torment.

Through Powell’s powerful narrative and Johnston’s visually arresting illustrations, we experience the juxtaposition of a normally vibrant young Flick with this little girl troubled by the daunting uncertainty of her safety. Where a home should be a consistently sheltered environment, Flick has to weather the wrath of fierce storms that “smother sunshine and ransack fun.” They “make Flick feel smaller than she really is.” The rising intensity of the fuming rage accented with looming, dark faceless shadows brings the arc to a screeching crescendo, until the call for help allows the sunshine to glow and spill over a vibrant young Flick once again.

RizeUp Australia and Act for Kids are proud supporting organisations of this book and of families experiencing domestic violence in the home. At the End of Holyrood Lane, in essence, raises a gentle touch to readers in empowering them the ability to seek help in times of suffering.

Highly evocative and dramatically moving, the value of this book to homes and schools is unquestionable. Flick and her toy unicorn are a symbol of hope and sunshine that early years children will quite quickly warm to.

EK Books, September 2018.

Dimity Powell will be joining us in an insightful interview, coming shortly!

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Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.

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The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

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Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!