AUTHOR INTERVIEW (& Book Review): Laura Wallbridge
I met the lovely author Laura Wallbridge at the Greenleaf Press Sunshine Coast Writer's Festival last year, and am thrilled to interview her here about her first picture book, Elliott's Rainbow Heart.
Published by Empowering Resources, and illustrated by Ben Clifford, the affirming picture book is about a chameleon, Elliott, who only likes to eat blue things. However, when he can't find anything blue to eat in the rainforest one day, Elliott has to consider trying something new, and opening himself up to new experiences, feelings, and thoughts.
While children of all backgrounds and with all sorts of interests will enjoy reading about Elliott's quest to give himself a "rainbow heart", the story is particularly powerful for young ones who might themselves struggle to cope with change and who resist trying anything new. Laura gently weaves her understanding of, and empathy for, this issue into the text, while the illustrator's bright, exuberant pictures makes each spread absolutely leap off the page.
Better yet, throughout the story there are many different rainforest creatures for children to find. This gives the story additional layers, and will have kids wanting to pore over the book time and time again.
I recently sat down with Laura to find out more about how Elliott's Rainbow Heart came to be written, the themes it explores, her creative process, and more. Here's what she had to say...
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explores?
Elliot’s Rainbow Heart follows the story of a chameleon who only likes to eat blue things. With a hungry tummy and no blue things to eat, Elliott goes on a a journey. After a chance encounter with a beautiful creature Elliott bravely goes on a quest. A quest for something more, something strange, something rainbow!
The story aims to nurture children who struggle with new experiences and encourages them that these emotions are alright, and that is is good to try to new things anyway.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
The struggle of trying to get my children to try new foods was definitely the initial inspiration behind this strong. A struggle that most parents can relate to I think. I've always had this idea of a story about a chameleon who wanted to find its colours, so the two converged and Elliott’s Rainbow Heart was the result. The story has changed a lot from where it started. As I was writing it, unintentionally, it touched on a lot of issues for kids with sensory perception issues too. So It think children who experience that will be able to relate to this story also.
The timing of the release has led to a lot of people asking if the rainbow has anything to do with support for same sex marriage. It doesn’t, it is pure coincidence, but a happy one. I am all for equality and support and love for all. If people find themes of that in my story then I am all for that. I like people having their own interpretations and finding their own meanings.
Do you have a favourite picture book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
This is so hard. When I was young I loved fairy tales primarily, and also books with some humour. These days there are definitely a few that I keep going back to with my three kids. They are books that we enjoy reading just as much for the hundredth time as we did the first. Watching them engage with a book and get joy out of it has added a whole new dimension to my love of picture books.
The Gruffalo - Hard to go past this. The build up of the description of the terrifying Gruffalo, the mouse's clever scheme to escape. So much to love in this beautiful book.
The Very Cranky Bear - I’ll pick this one simply because it was the first of the series and the first we fell in love with. I love all of Nick Bland’s books. I adore the ‘jingle jangle jungle’ in the opening line of this book. I feel like Nick would have fought to keep that in there. I could be totally wrong, but it always struck me as a “risky” opening line and I think it paid off in spades. I’ve never forgotten it.
Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas - Aaron Blabey gets my kids cackling like no other author. As a parent, watching them so happy and also enjoying a book is kind of perfect. We have a heap of his books, and my older son really enjoys his ‘Bad Guys’ books and reads them to his younger sibling too. All three kids still enjoy this one though. Yes, it is probably because of the world “bum”, but I’m ok with that, because their reaction every time is glorious.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
My background is actually publicity. I am a publicist by trade. My career pre-children was with record labels and I stayed with a focus on contemporary musicians until very recently. I think lyrics and the story-telling nature of songs is as important to me as the written words in books.
I was thrilled at the Sunshine Writers retreat that Peter Canarvas spoke of his affiliation with music and how that impacts his own creative process. I am going to try using music as more of an influence in my writing in the future. The idea of that really appeals to me.
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
As a working, single Mother of three I grab my writing time where and whenever I can! I find it harder to write when I put aside dedicated writing time. For me, it always flows more when inspiration strikes. When I am able to specifically set time aside to work on my writing if the creativity is not flowing then I take that as an opportunity to edit and polish my work, day dream a bit and play around with new ideas and make lots of notes. I think that process is really valuable and plans the seeds to an idea to grow - so I can jump straight in when that inspiration does hit.
What got you into creating books?
Words and writing have always been a passion of mine. The way that words can trigger your imagination; how a story can take you away and make you feel things. It’s like a kind of magic.
Books were all about enjoyment and quality time with my family growing up. They also represented escapism through some very difficult times. As I got older, writing become a release from stress, and a creative outlet.
The desire to create something special that I can enjoy with my own children became what felt like a necessity over time. So I finally stopped talking about writing a book or imagining myself writing one and just did it.
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Listen to everyone's advice and draw on the experience that others are happy to share with you (it is an extremely generous industry) but ultimately follow your own heart. Not everything you write will be for everyone. That is ok. Keep going and create something you are proud of. The rest will fall in to place in the way that it should. I believe that for all forms of creativity, not just writing. It is such an intensely personal thing that artists share, so write for you and your loved ones first and foremost and then worry about who you will share it with later.
What about a favourite word or quote?
I have always really liked the word enveloped. I love the sound of the word spangled - I wish it wasn’t immediately associated with the American national anthem. Such a pretty word.
In terms of quotes, I am a bit of a sucker for things that err on the side of corny. I heard a quote form JK Rowling that I particularly adored, “I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book”. I think we can all agree with that sentiment.
To find out more about Laura and her work, look for her here:
My Website - https://www.laurawallbridge.com/