'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 26 June 2010

Author/Illustrator Interview: Rachel Boult

Talented artist and writer, Rachel Boult, is here at Kids Book Review today. Rachel has written and illustrated several children's books and spoke to us about her work and being a self-published author.

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I started writing stories and making little books around the age of seven. Back then, all my stories seemed to have a Christmas theme, and the characters all had names that started with the letter ‘J’. I also have on record that my 3 life goals were to be a Mini-Pop, a teacher, and a bird.

Today, I would say that I’ve accomplished those goals, if not literally, then at the very least, metaphorically (see below). I began writing more seriously in high school, and went on to study Creative Writing at University. I have never really tried to make a career of it, it is just one of my many forms of expression.

So here are the manifestations of my goals:

1. Join the Mini-Pops. I formed a band with my best friends while attending school in Montreal, and I got that rock star thing outta me by my mid-twenties. I think it’s important to say that we wrote three great little songs, and played cardboard instruments. I also made some eco-conscious music with my cousin, and we even got as far as producing a Youtube music video called “Root Cellar Jam”. So, it wasn’t really the Mini-Pops, but it was just as rockin’.

2. Become a teacher. This is straight forward. I have worked with kids for most of my career, and have a Bachelor of Education. Sometimes I think that little girls want to be teachers because they want to hold onto their childhood. That theory checks out with me!!

3. Be a bird. Well, let’s see here. I fly from one project to the next, I have light bones and long legs, my head is often in the clouds … Have I convinced you yet? Really, my whole life I have spent my free time in my own little world, getting lost inside my imagination and finding my way out through some sort of creative project. Doesn’t matter what, I’ll do it. Chirp chirp!

What genre do you write in? I am a children’s author. I am not sure I can define it further than that. I have written all types of children’s books, for all age groups.

What other genres have you written in? When I got my first degree in Creative Writing, I focused on poetry and drama. I have written many, many poems in my day, and a few plays. Most of which will likely remain unpublished for life. I keep a journal too.

What do you love about writing and illustrating for children? It’s story-telling at its simplest, and there’s a certain challenge to paring your story down to the most basic and yet colourful language, while still keeping it playful and lively. Focusing on voice and rhythm while I write is fun for me. There’s a similar sort of discipline when writing poetry. Also, I really understand kids, so writing and illustrating for them just comes naturally.

What made you decide to self-publish your work? My first book was a graphic novel called Shyness and Bloom and it was the biggest project I had ever done, and probably still holds that record. It took me three years from start to finish, and to be honest I just thought of it as a personal project, and wanted full creative control. I considered getting published, and sent many manuscripts off to publishers with my fingers crossed. But very soon that motivation wore off as I learned about the difficult process, and I thought, hey, you know what would be more fun that trying to get published? Doing it all myself!

Can you take us through the steps involved in your self-publishing journey? I started with simply coil-binding or stapling together photocopied pages of my stories and illustrations into little books, and giving them to friends and family. Then I found a local small-run book printing place, and re-wrote and illustrated a few of my favourite stories, formatted the pages of the books into PDFs, and had three books printed at once.

Acquiring the ISBN and registering with the National Library Archives was relatively painless, as far as I remember. It was costly with all the proofs, and took forever with all the sneaky, sneaky punctuation errors and typos. But I finally had twenty of each of my first “professionally published” books done, which was all I could afford. I intended to sell the books at the Christmas craft fairs that I did each year along with all my other creations.

Then as soon as I finished those three books, and felt I had mastered the self-publishing feat, a little magic happened, I think. I switched gears and began to paint animals in space. I started with six paintings, and after I finished the first set, I wanted to sell them but I didn’t want to lose them, so I decided to somehow turn it into a book.

Animals, space, and dreams are three of my favourite things so with that as my inspiration, I wrote the verses, painted a few more pictures, and put it all together. It was the first book that I made that started with the illustrations and it became clear that it was heads above the others. I felt confident enough to invest in getting a large quantity printed, so I would be able to sell them in book stores, and that’s where I am now.

How did you decide on a printer? I had two friends who recommended the company to me. It is a family owned printing business called Everbest Printing. The Canadian representative, Doris Chung, who is the granddaughter of the man who started the company, was amazing to deal with. She was so helpful and friendly and continues to offer her advice and help as I learn how to promote my book.

How do you go about promoting your self-published work? Well, this is a venture I am just beginning. Getting it in local bookstores, talking to bloggers, sending books to friends, and trying to get reviewed are my first steps in this daunting task.

How long does it take you to write, illustrate and publish a book, from the initial idea to completion? That is so dependent on the book! I have spent up to three years on a book, and Sleepy Lion Lullaby took me maybe three weeks. Okay maybe a little longer, if you count waiting for the printers. Each step of making a book is an adventure. Sometimes you struggle through the writing, and sometimes it just flows.

Editing can often be quite the chore, but with the simple format of Sleepy Lion Lullaby for example, I wrote that in one night. You never know how long it will take and by the time you finish, all the hours are forgotten. You are literally at the mercy of inspiration.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your self-publishing journey? There were no blocks really, because I was guiding the whole process myself. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, and you call all the shots. I suppose though, that getting out there is the biggest hurdle. Self-promotion and number crunching are not on my list of favourite things to do.

What’s a typical writing and illustrating day? Hard work and good sleep! I like to work fast and efficiently when I get a good idea or embark on a big project. I’ll work for weeks at a time, diving headlong into my vision and prioritizing completion. Then, when it’s done, I have a nice rest, and wait for the next idea to come.

What advice do you have on writing and illustrating? Don’t start your thoughts off with “I wish I could,” or “I should.” Just do it and call it done.

If you couldn’t be an illustrator and writer, what would you be? You mean if I couldn’t paint or draw, couldn’t think up stories, or didn’t know how to write? No hands, no imagination, no education? Yikes. Or do you mean if I just couldn’t put all that together into one project? Honestly, I would just paint pictures and do craft projects, just be silly with my friends, just enjoy sharing ideas, and just keep teaching art to kids. Not too much would be different I guess - I’d still be me, still love life, still create.

What books did you read as a child? Many. I had tons of the Serendipity books by Stephen Cosgrove, which I loved. Moral stories, talking animals, you know.

What else do you like to do, other than write and illustrate books? I love everything I do! I spend a lot of my time in my art studio teaching kids art classes which is always so much fun, and the best nights are when my friends come over and we paint together.

What would be your perfect day?
Setting: A cabin at a lake in the summer
Events: A slow morning with tea and breakfast, swimming, laughing, eating blueberries, then happy hour, delicious dinner, and a fire before bed.
People to spend it with: Either my man, my dog, my girlfriends, or my sister. Or all of them together.

What five words best sum you up? Creative, goofy, genuine, whimsical, reflective.

What’s next for Rachel Boult? Good question. Creatively speaking, I’m up for anything! But in general, I would really just like to become a wife and mother and devote the rest of my life to my family, love and creation, to keep showing kids the power of their imagination, and to always be open to inspiration.

See our review of Rachel Boult's latest children's book, Sleepy Lion Lullaby