Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
To answer this question I regret I don’t have a sound tool here to let you hear my witches laugh. In fact that laugh is very empowering when we do it together with more people. It is as getting all the strength deep down into yourself, finding a way to come out. I love my witches laugh because it is fun and because it makes me feel strong. My dream is to end every meeting: if it is a book conference, a peace action or a book reading for children, with a group’s witches laugh. Believe me, everyone would leave that place with tons of good energy.
How did you get into writing?
Well this is a special story. I think most (if not almost all) writers start their books with idea’s, fantasies which they turn into words and afterwards look for illustrations. For me it was the contrary.
I was a documental, social photographer. But once I visited Quebec where I live since 2008 about five months a year, my focus and passion came from nature photography. Nature is so beautiful in Quebec. In Belgium I was/am always busy, but when I am in Quebec, it seems I can take all the time in the world to observe and photograph. Watching all these little (and a bit bigger) creatures that visit our backyard and in parks is so relaxing, feed for imagination, fun and apparently I have a lot of patience for this nature observation.
So it wasn’t a surprise that after a while my photo library was growing and became really huge. And many people told me ‘you have to do something with these photos, you have to publish them.’ Yes I wanted to do that too, but how? The idea was planted as a seed in my mind. Regular it aroused, especially with the squirrels, chipmunks and groundhogs that visited us.
After spending some days with my godchild’s daughters in Belgium, I flew back to Quebec and suddenly it became clear to me. I can make a children’s book with these girls as main characters together with Eufrazie the squirrel. But sitting again in our backyard, I saw Margot the groundhog waking up after her hibernation. At some way she made it all clear, ‘not Eufrazie, it’s about me, Margot, that you have to tell your story. And so, probably totally different than any other writer, my books didn’t start with words. It started with my photos. The books were born page per page, image by image and with the photos came the story.
What are your top 3 books of all time?
– ‘Het meisje met het rode haar’ -The girl with the red hear- by Theun de Vries (1956). I don’t know if this book is translated into English. The story of the book is based on the life of Hannie Schaft. She was member of the armed resistance during WO II. There were not many women in the armed resistance and the book tells the story of how Hannie Schaft and her female comrade took care not to kill innocent people. They have killed some SS chiefs and I had somehow the idea (for however this could be possible) they killed out of love, to protect. But then at a certain moment Hannie Schaft’s lover was killed and as a reader I could feel this was a big shift, a break in her motivation and action. Hannie Schaft continued to do the same thing as she did before her partner died, but it wasn’t anymore out of love. What this book made so visible for me was that the line of using violence to get your goal is so very thin. When you do this for a start, where is the shifting point. It definitely was an important book that convinced me in my support of non violence.
– ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’ by Alice Walker. It was a difficult choice which book of her to choose. In any case I can say that Alice Walker’s books have played an enormous role in my personal development. I don’t remember in which story she wrote it, but after reading I never forgot. It might that it are not the exact words, but it was about “A theory is fixed and the points are clear, while a fiction story goes on, it is always moving”.
How I would love that more ‘ideological’ people or organizations, could become more open and moving as a novel.
– ‘From where we stand – war, women’s activism & feminist analysis’ by Cynthia Cockburn. This is an enlightening book that shows global perspectives on women’s politics and activism for peace. Analysis build on ‘from where you stand’. And I think this is an important basic attitude, always to look ‘from where we stand’, I think this could help communicating in the world.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Well this took me quite some time, in fact I started my first book about 4 years ago. The book was born after many trials and errors, step by step. Fortunately I had good proofreaders who did not spare me their criticism. The original story was confusing. It was a 10 year old girl who gave me her thoughts “There are two parts in the book, one part is the story with the girls, which is interesting for children a bit younger then me. And then there is that other part, with all those fact on the groundhog, well this part certainly will also interest my sister who is 12.” And this I could understand well and after more than a year, I unraveled it in two different books.
The books are originally written in Dutch.
The English translation of ‘Margot gets an unexpected visit – the fanciful adventures of a groundhog’ was published in 2016.
The English translation of ‘Groundhog Secrets, everything you always wanted to know about woodchucks’ was published on June 1, 2017.
Have you got any writing rituals?
Yes, I started this book on an extraordinary way. As a photographer, I started selecting the photos I thought/felt I could use. Then sitting in the backyard with a cup of coffee and watching the pictures and the fauna around me, the story came image by image. That’s how Margot came up and claimed her role as leading character.
Outside I wrote a first draft of five to seven photos, depending on the story line. Then I went inside to my computer and worked in photoshop on the image pages. The other day, I went outside again with my coffee, and the ritual repeated itself.
I’m sure that being outside and a cup of coffee will be in the ritual for the next book. How the photos and the words will come in, that I am not sure, we’ll see.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
Yes marketing and social media is very important. Once my book is published, of course I want as many children and adults as possible to see and read it. But as a Self Publisher, you have to do all the marketing for your book yourself. If you don’t promote, well people just will not know that it exists.
But I came from far, didn’t know anything about marketing. So I started to read whatever I could find online, followed webinars and workshops on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and marketing. First in my mother tongue Dutch. Then in English. I learned a lot, but there is still so much that I still need to learn.
You have to be active on so many different places that sometimes I just wanted to quit. In the meantime I learned that different authors regularly are dealing with this feeling. It’s important to find ways to take a break and keep going on.
I am so glad to be part of the BookGoSocial Children’s Author Group. To hear others recognize this sentiment but went on anyway too.
Do you read your book reviews?
Yes, I love to read them. Of course I hope to see positive notes. But I try to learn, to pick up these elements in the comments that help me forward, to improve.
What advice would you have for other writers?
I consider myself still as new in the writer’s world. But the advice I want to give is don’t give up! Use difficulties and critics to get better, keep going!
What are you reading now?
Lately I read a lot of children’s books in English. Now I want to read ‘Kom hier dat ik u kus’ by my favorite Belgian writer Griet Op De Beeck. I hope her books will be translated into English and you’ll be able to read her too because she is such a talented author, with such meaningful stories. When I read her, sometimes I put the book aside and hear myself say loud ‘this is so beautiful said’.
What’s your next step?
I dream to start a new book. Of course photos will stay very important in it. I only haven’t decided yet what it will be about. There are those ideas for another story on Margot the groundhog. Will she not be too lonely when she goes into hibernation…
But there also is this project on trees ‘Zij Zeggen Zoveel’ (They Say So Much) that pops up again and urge for my attention. It would be a book about the Spirit, Desire and Trouble, the Beauty and Harshness of Life…
Follow Lieve on Twitter @SnellingsLieve
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