AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dimity Powell
Dimity Powell is a bright light in the world of children's literature in Australia, and is currently the Managing Editor of popular website Kids' Book Review. Her first picture book, The Fix-It Man, published by EK Books, has been wowing kids and adults alike since it was released last year, and I am thrilled that she managed to fit a Q&A with me into her busy schedule. Read on for the rundown on Dimity's books, creative processes, tips and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explores?
The Fix-It Man is a tender, emotionally charged picture book about a little girl and her father and how they overcome grief and heartache following the loss of her mother. Despite the gravity of the story, the tone is one of hope and love, focusing on the powerful relationship between a father and his daughter.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
It was the accidental breakage of a china bowl and my daughter’s reaction to it that triggered this story concept. She believed her daddy could fix anything and everything. I wanted to know how a young child would cope when faced with the a situation where her daddy could not fix something and needed fixing himself. As the story evolved, the focus on Dad being the fix it man shifted to his daughter. In real life situations like this, children very often take on the emotional role of the adult, becoming the carers when their parents’ own emotional amour has been compromised.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?
Both Nicky Johnston and I have been overawed with the reception this story has received so far, all of it overwhelmingly positive. It’s taken us rather by surprise, but shouldn’t have because most of us have experienced a period of grief or loss at some point in our lives. Tragically, even very young children are subject to such emotions, so for grief care workers, teachers, parents, carers and counsellors, The Fix-It Man has not only struck a chord but proved to be a helpful conduit connecting children with real life experiences.
I think the tender way this story addresses the subject of death and grief and the sensitive way these emotions are rendered in Nicky’s illustrations is what gives The Fix-It Man such universal appeal and creates instant appreciation.
I hope readers will be really moved by both the visual and narrative impact of this story and ultimately feel uplifted and hopeful despite the very sad reality of a little girl losing her mother. Emotional acceptance and emotional purging are necessary parts of life. I hope this book encourages both. Older readers should appreciate the deliberate use of symbolism to create mood and meaning while younger readers can safely enjoy the visual narrative play, colours, and characters as they follow this family’s emotional journey.
Do you have a favourite picture book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
I adore Glenda Millard’s and Stephen Michael King’s, The Duck and the Darklings. Dimity Dumpty by Bob Graham also holds a special place in my heart.
One of my favourite characters of all time resides in the YA novel, The Pause by John Larkin. Declan O’Malley is one teenager I never expected to love so much.
What influences do you think shape your writing?
Life. Past experiences and sensations. The memory vault is a marvellous place to visit when short on ideas, which I never am. Perhaps subliminally I am influenced by what I am reading or have recently read although I never consciously am aware of it.
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?
How long have you got! There were many. The hardest thing was convincing people to support a story about things we don’t ordinarily like to acknowledge and accept, like death – but should, for better emotional well-being.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?
Be as open, charming and communicative as you can be with everyone involved in the publishing process. Essentially they are all working to make your story the best it can be. If you are ever in any doubt about something, simply ask – nicely of course!
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next book or other project?
There’s always a new story of mine being published somewhere, usually in an anthology for kids, or as a digital narrative on an app somewhere. You can discover all the new books on my website. I can tell you now though that Nicky Johnston has just completed the finals for our next picture book together, due out in September 2018. We are both super excited about this – another one guaranteed to make your heart melt.
Do you have any suggestions on some ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
There are some truly terrific Teachers’ Notes, activities and suggestions to enhance reading of The Fix-It Man and my junior novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? all on my website. I refer to them a lot.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I used to be able to do the splits. I used to be able to do a lot of things.
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I like to draft new stories by hand and as long as I have my note book and pencil, can curl up anywhere, on any form of public transport, in any weather and scribble away. Most days however are spent in front of the computer tapping away, with a drink by my side. Always a drink. After that, silence is my main requirement when weaving words at home.
What got you into creating books?
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Hold on to dreams and never say never. If never does arrive, who cares? At least you had fun along the way, hopefully doing something you love.
What about a favourite word or quote?
Happiness is not what happens to you, it’s what you make of what happens to you.
To find out more about Dimity and her work, head to her website.