Today, I have the great pleasure to offer the interview of Ellen McNett, one of my dear friends as well as a Belgian author! Her first work, the picture book “Kalila le Koala a le vertige/Kalila the Koala gets dizzy” got recently published – it is not only absolutely stunning, but also delivers a very important message to its young readers! Without further ado, let’s welcome Ellen!
1/ Hello Ellen, thanks for accepting this interview! Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
Hello Cindy, and thank you for this interview!
I’m an elf and was born in the Middle Earth, hum in the middle of the Gaume country (the most southern part of Belgium) a few years ago (yes, yes, only a few years!).
I’ve always been attracted to books since I was a little girl, and to writing when I was a teenager. I read tons of books one after the other, emptying the shelves in both libraries where I went regularly, and spent a considerable amount of time writing about my feelings. Words are part of my balance! Up to the point where I studied translation (English and Spanish).
I’ve always been quite creative and dabble a bit in everything, so writing is not the only way I express my creativity with. I also knit, sew, crochet and sometimes draw as well. Creation/art is a real outlet for me, a way to release and vent the everyday pressure. As also is sports (swimming, road biking and running mainly), which I started practicing regularly a bit more than 2 years ago now, with the objective of one day take part in a triathlon.
2/ You recently published your first book, the most adorable picture book “Kalila le koala a le vertige/Kalila the koala gets dizzy” at Livr’S éditions. What was your creative process?
I don’t recall exactly how the idea for this picture book popped into my mind, but it all began when my younger sister got pregnant. I was back to writing since a moment already, but as soon as I learned I would become an auntie, I felt the need to prepare a very special gift for this baby I didn’t know yet but whom I already loved with all my heart.
I wrote this story in secret before my niece was born, and told no one about it. I had the dream that maybe one day I would be able to give her this book. This dream has now come true, thanks to Livr’S and Chrystèle Lim!
3/ How did you meet the illustrator and the publisher?
Since a few years and even more since the start of my book blog, I regularly visit a few book fairs. It allowed me to get to know the publishing world better, and also to get to meet a few people in this domain. I already knew of Livr’S as I had met the team a few times already. As for Chrystèle, I found out about her with the previous picture book she illustrated which was also published by Livr’S (Perle de Jade et l’oiseau blanc). I figuratively fell in love with her drawings and her universe. I told her about my project, discussed it with the publisher and then my text was read by the editorial board. You know the rest of this story!
4/ Did you draw inspiration from any particular book? Do you have any significant reading memories from your childhood?
I vaguely remember having read a picture book once in a doctor’s waiting room. I can’t recall exactly what it was about, but I know I appreciated the messages it conveyed. This is something that is very important to me when I write. Outside of the fact that I simply love telling stories, I also cherish the idea of transmitting a message or speak about important values and questions through my texts. But that’s about it with regards to the inspiration I had. At least that I am aware of, as I am convinced our readings influence what we write, consciously or not.
The books I remembered reading during my childhood were written by the famous Countess of Ségur. I had all her books, my parents went to flea markets to find the titles missing from my collection. I also spent hours on end reading the magazine “Raconte-moi une histoire/Tell me a story” if I remember correctly. It came with a tape recording of the stories written in it, with a specific “ding” sound when it was time to flip the page. I loved going to the village’s bookshop to buy the next issue! I also remember our bedtime ritual, with my parents reading one or several stories from big children’s books.
As a teenager, I then read several books from Stephen King, which are a lot less cute!
5/ You’re not only writing picture books, but also novels! Can we know a bit more about your future projects?
I indeed am working on several projects. Which are not moving forward as much as I’d like to, mainly due to lack of time, but I also try to not pressure myself too much about it.
Amongst these projects, I have a contemporary urban fantasy novel, which I started writing a few years ago and is already well advanced. I have my plot line and the chapters’ headlines, I also know the epilogue and have written about the half of the first draft.
Then there’s another children’s book, with a steampunk universe, which I briefly started but will require more thinking.
And I recently started a contemporary novella. Probably my most personal text so far, we’ll see where it goes.
Besides that, I still have several ideas in mind, but try not to get too sidetracked given my recurrent lack of time.
6/ Finally, which advice will you give to someone starting to write?
Go! Write for yourself, don’t think about the « after ». Just go to the end of your story, get it all out. Then let it sit for a while, before re-reading it, rewriting, reworking, reading it again and again. Surround yourself with truthful beta-readers as well. While it is always nice to hear only but positive comments about our texts, it doesn’t help us grow as writers. You need someone who will dare confront you. Who will tell you “no, this doesn’t work”, or “this is not relevant/inconsistent/not clear enough”, or “it lacks conflict”. And if you write about topics which are not your own voice or you don’t master, please make sure to have sensitivity readers help you to make sure you’re not hurting certain communities by writing clichés and wrong representations we don’t want to see any more.
But in the end, simply have fun!