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

Friday 6 November 2020

Guest Post: Serena Geddes

Gifted Australian author/illustrator Serena Geddes’ work of over fifty titles worldwide, covers the Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell, the Marguerite Henry’s Misty Inn series by Kristin Earhart and Hijabi Girl by Hazel Edwards. 

Her first picture books, the enchanting Rosie and Rasmus and its partner, Where the Dragons Live, are presented in soft watercolours with stunning jackets. 

Their positive themes of friendship and being true to yourself, inspire and encourage self-belief in children.

You confess to being a visual storyteller. The pictures come first then the text with you.Rosie and Rasmus is your first picture book. How were these two charming characters conceived?
Rosie and Rasmus came to life around nine years ago when I was experimenting with watercolours. I always wanted to find a lost dog and Rasmus’s character traits were based around a loveable dog. Rosie was wordless in my initial concept illustrations. There was a deep unspoken language between them which I wanted to capture in their daily interactions and they continued to develop from there. 

As an adult I kept an eye open for a wondering dog to save. Now I have my own, I realised it was never the dog that needed to be saved.

Was a second book initially planned and are there more books to come in this series?
Rosie and Rasmus was pitched as a stand-alone book but my agent at the time flipped that into a two-book deal. I was incredibly nervous; it took me over a year to write and edit book one amidst other projects. I had no idea what book two was about but Rasmus had to leave so he could embark on his own journey with his own message to share to his readers. At this stage there is no third book, but there are plenty of dragons that I could develop into other stories. 

Your themes are building blocks for children’s characters. Shy children find it hard to fit in and make friends. Does this in any way reflect your own childhood experiences?
There certainly are elements of my childhood in the characters and stories I write. At home I would stomp around, climb trees and dress up, my inner child was (and still is) very much a pirate. At school or when we were out, I was more the observer and would follow others. I didn’t always initiate the first move when there was a new child at school, even though inside I really, really wanted to say hello.

It was two years before you wrote the follow-up, Where the Dragons Live. Was there doubt about its construction?
There was, but the two years wasn’t due to the rewrites. The art work needed to be in the US twelve months before its due date for release, so I had twelve months to rewrite and illustrate my picture book. Rosie and Rasmus took four years from the submission being accepted in December 2015, to the time it was on the US shelves in June 2019. So, two years wasn’t a long wait.

Before you began creating children’s books you worked for Walt Disney Animation in Sydney. How did that, if at all, influence your current path?

It was five years after I left Disney that I submitted my artwork to publishers. Disney was my biggest creative teacher with drawing, learning techniques and working quickly. It didn’t necessarily lead me to picture books. 

I became curious about publishing around 2008. I felt my drawings resembled some of the art I was seeing in these books. The sweet connection that tied it to Disney, was my fellow co-worker and friend, Tina Bourke whose picture book Sophie’s Big Bed was at my local bookshop. She was the voice of encouragement that lead me to hit send and submit my portfolio. That was eleven year ago.

What do you hope readers will take from your books?
After Rosie and Rasmus was released last year, I found people received very different messages from the story I was writing, I was surprised, but I also loved it. I hope that my readers receive the visual messages, they hold more the feelings my words don’t always reflect.

Which media do you prefer for your illustrations and why?
I often work in traditional watercolour, gouache, pencil, ink and pen. I enjoy the feeling and texture of the paper and getting my hands dirty, but I am exploring some digital platforms. My art is very soft and gentle and working digitally will allow me to explore some bolder colours and techniques. Who knows, maybe a new voice will come through with this medium.

Have you anything planned for the foreseeable future book wise?
I have been dancing around a few picture books’ concepts the last two years that I’d like to finish and submit, and an early reader called Frankie and Finn.

Pepper Creek Ponies
is a series with Scholastic written by Jess Black that I am working on due for release next year and Hijabi Girl by Ozge Alkan and Hazel Edwards is in its early stages for two more books.

As an author-illustrator, what advice can you offer to other budding artists like yourself?
I found by drawing my day characters would come through. They showed up in my emotional experiences, my discussion topics. They were my doubts and my concerns; they were my humour and my tears. They were every part of me and they all became stories I am starting to tell. Draw, write, create from your experiences so readers can grow from it too.