AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dannika Patterson
On my blog this week I chat with debut author Dannika Patterson, whose picture book Jacaranda Magic was released last year.
Let’s get straight into the interview…
Welcome, Dannika. Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explore?
Jacaranda Magic is a picture book that celebrates the joy of imaginative play in nature. It also explores the value and importance of boredom in inspiring children's creativity. It's distinctly Australian in aesthetic, with beautiful charcoal and watercolour illustrations by Megan Forward.
What was the inspiration behind writing or illustrating this particular story, and did it change much as you went?
The inspiration behind Jacaranda Magic was born when I compared my own memories of childhood to observations of the childhood that my young children (Olivia 4 and Thomas 5) are currently experiencing.
For the first 10 years of my life, I grew up in a long suburban street that had a cul-de-sac at both ends. From each end, bushland tracks led to pinecone forests filled with creeks to explore, mulberry trees to stain hands and fill tummies and the promise of endless outdoor adventures. My favourite place to be was up in the branches of the glorious jacaranda tree in my grandmother’s unfenced garden.
There were about 18 children who lived in my street, ranging in ages and ethnic backgrounds, who used to run ‘wild’ together up and down the street and in the bushland that surrounded it. There was always someone to play with and so many choices of things to do, but so often we would while away hours telling each other there was ‘nothing to do’ or that we were ‘bored’. We would spend hours discussing the things we could do (or why we couldn’t), and more often than not the resolution of these lengthy debates on what to play was resolved by inspiration from nature … and our wild imaginations, which are central themes in this story.
The environment I grew up in played a vital part in my early development. In the increasingly structured, over-scheduled and technology-driven world children are growing up in today, a trend is emerging from research in early childhood education in Australia indicating that young children are struggling to develop key creative, imaginative and gross motor skills due to diminishing access to unstructured play outdoors. The more I researched the many and varied benefits of open-ended nature play, the more passionate I have become about advocating it.
I wrote Jacaranda Magic not only for children to enjoy as an uplifting picture book in itself, but also to encourage children in the critical 4-9 year old age group to get outside and discover all the possibilities that nature offers when playing with objects in their natural settings.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?
I hope this story inspires today’s children (and their parent and educator readers) to get outdoors and exercise their wonderful imaginations, to feel boundless and free in their play, wherever they are growing up and whoever their playmates are. They – as well as their families and wider communities – will reap the physical, emotional, cognitive and social benefits of more time spent in unstructured outdoor play.
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
Yes! So many suggestions. Since Jacaranda Magic's release on September 1st, I have thrown myself into school and kindy visits and have been so inspired by the different ways that teachers and early childhood educators have used this book to extend children. In kindergarten environments we have used the book to connect children to environment with outdoor story times, nature forages and observations, art activities. We've talked about colour mixing, counting, imagination, friendship and feelings. For primary aged students the book has strong curriculum links and extensive Teachers' Notes can be downloaded from the Ford Street Publishing website.
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published? Biggest challenges in publishing/being a creative, in general?
I have genuinely appreciated all the challenges I have faced on my journey to publication with Jacaranda Magic, because they have allowed me opportunity for reflection and growth. The biggest challenge for me has been to learn to listen to my own instinct when it comes to my writing. Coming from a professional background of freelance writing for marketing and business sectors, I am skilled at creating work to a particular 'brief' and then jumping to make any changes necessary to keep my clients happy. So when it came to sharing early drafts of my stories for children with critique buddies and editors, my first instinct was to change anything and everything they suggested. It took me a little time to let go of that client/consultant mentality and realise that making changes to my stories is ultimately my call...for better or worse!
What influences do you think shape your work?
Gosh, where to start! Stories from my childhood, new books that I read, old friends, random conversations with strangers, smells, scenes, memories, daydreams, my children. Lately, it's passionate advocates for improving the quality of our children's lives that capture my heart and compel me to write the things that I do. Maggie Dent and Steve Biddulph are two of my personal heroes and constant sources of inspiration for me, both in my writing life and my own family life.
Do you have a favourite children's book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
My most loved and worn book from re-reading (over the past 30-ish years since I first discovered it) is my copy of Diana Wynne-Jones' 'Howl's Moving Castle'. Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series was one I asked my mother to read to me 'again' and 'again', then read constantly myself. I am now sharing it with my children on audio book (read by the divine Kate Winslet) with my children. It makes car rides so blissful.
My favourite children's book character is Julia Donaldson's Gruffalo. My kids call him "real-life make-believe" and I love that.
Where do you do your work, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I work wherever I find myself. For many years that was with a laptop balanced on my knees on my front steps while my kids were asleep in the car, and various snatched-upon moments like this. This year we have moved house and I have an office space for the first time in years. It's still a work in progress but I am hopefully that with a dedicated and more organised work space, my creativity will flourish!
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Seek out and digest all the advice, feedback, critique and tips that you can on your writing and/or illustrating work. Let it sit. Then listen to your gut. Accept what it tells you to, discard the rest, and move forward accordingly. In other words, when you get conflicting opinions and suggestions on how to improve your work or achieve your goals (and you will), go with your gut ;-).
Best investment you've made during your career?
Investing in time to write freely and creatively was a key turning point for me. For the first 6 months of 2017, every Monday morning, I hired a trusted babysitter for my young daughter (my son was at kindy) and took myself to my local library to write, write and only write for two and a half hours. No phone, no interruptions. I protected that time fiercely. I also wrote at other times throughout the week, as I could, but having that one dedicated, sacred writing time was a key investment for me in kickstarting my journey as an author.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your other projects?
Absolutely! I am happy to be one of 32 authors and illustrators who have donated work to the inaugural Share Your Story anthology 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas', that came out late last year
Proceeds from book sales go towards the purchase of much needed bicycles for pre-service teachers in Tanzania, providing transport to allow them to finish their studies and become qualified teachers. Our goal is to purchase 100 bicycles by Christmas 2019.
This collection of short stories and poetry celebrates the spirit of Christmas and was a perfect gift for those 'hard-to-buy-for' kids on the Christmas list last year - there's something in there for everyone! From Santa in his underwear to Christmas rules, from a missing star to Christmas bellyaches, this anthology is packed with Yuletide happiness that will bring a smile to all faces during the most magical time of the year.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I was once part of a Spice Girls tribute group. 10 points if you can guess which Spice I was... ;-)