We welcome Helene Magisson, the wonderful illustrator of Magic Fish Dreaming to the blog for a conversation which is sure to inspire aspiring author/illustrators.
We are so delighted to announce that Helene has published her first ever written and illustrated book with the equally amazing publisher Red Paper Kite ! In the conversation that follows Helene shares her dizzying and wonderful journey and some thoughts on the power of picture books and story.
June: I have enjoyed following your journey as a creative and having worked with you also the process by which you work, Helene how does it feel now to have your first ever written and illustrated book?
Helene: For me, writing and illustrating CLAUDETTE, is a new and very exciting adventure that I would like to continue and develop. It has been such a real pleasure of great creativity.
June: What was different about illustrating your own story as opposed to illustrating the stories of others?
Helene: When I illustrate someone else’s manuscript, my role is to complement the text, and of course, I would never infringe on the author’s space at all. Also, the interaction with the author to develop a project via the publisher is always a rich and interesting experience.
The process was quite different when illustrating my own story CLAUDETTE. Being both, author and illustrator, enabled me to have lot of freedom in my creative process. I was free to adjust the text and illustrations as I felt. I was able to freely assert my style (in terms of writing and illustrating) and to be myself more.
June: Where did the idea for Claudette come from and how long had you been thinking about and working on this story?
Helene: I always have been fascinated by the world of puppets. It is another creative and magical way to tell stories. Also, I value the idea of freedom (especially freedom of thoughts)
so using a marionette to talk about freedom was an interesting tool in my opinion.
I kept it on a shelf (just like Claudette in the story) for a while and eventually decided to have a good and last hard work on it in early 2019.
A few years ago, I wrote this story in French quite spontaneously, without the intention to publish it one day. I just wanted to add some new illustrations to my portfolio. And later, my agent encouraged me to work on it and translate it.
Also, as I have a European background, I felt it was interesting to take time to gain a better understanding of the Australian industry.
June: Did it come to you first as pictures, words, or both in combination?
Helene: It really came as a combination. For me writing and illustrating work strongly together. It is fantastic to have the ability to tell a story through images and words. The story can then be developed in both ways simultaneously. I could not separate them.
June: How will launching this book differ from being part of the launches of other books, what do you notice about the differences in the way an illustrator versus an author have to approach the launching of the book?
Helene: This time I have to carry the entire job myself. I have to be creative in both ways, so thankfully, I have the support of Claudette, the real marionette that I have crafted, painted and dressed up just for the occasion. Now she assists me everywhere I go and hopefully she will behave herself. (She will be part of an event coming up in January 2021, so stay tuned.)
June: Helene, can you tell us a bit about when you first had the dream to be an artist and when you knew you would create picture books?
Helene: I know that I was born an artist. I have always been very sensible to everything related to any form of art.
I had some wonderful artistic experience visiting fantastic exhibitions in museums or watching gorgeous shows in different countries all over the world that have inspired me and enriched my imagination and creativity.
But it is when we settled down in Australia, that I decided to become a children’s book illustrator.
I have always loved writing but being a non-native English speaker, I first chose to be an illustrator. And finally, I started to break down language barriers, to eventually follow what I can do with passion.
June: What do you say to others wishing to go into the area of picture books? How do you think they can prepare for this work and what setbacks might they face?
Helene: I would tell others that before they start, try to understand the industry well, how it works, and how to approach a publisher in the right way. Observe, listen, but most importantly read a lot and have a good artistic understanding.
Creating a picture book is a bit like telling a long story just with a few words, and images are here to support in a clever way, with interesting and strong art skills, what the text won’t tell.
Many people think that creating a picture book is easy, but that is absolutely wrong.
June: Can you share a little bit about what it feels like to be a creative raised in so many countries and to now be an Australian creative? How do you think Australia has influenced you? How do you think you will inspire/influence Australian and global readers?
Helene: I have so much to tell on that topic! I feel that all my travels through culturally different countries have really nourished my creativity. What would our world be without all these cultural exchanges and mixes! I think it is necessary to keep a harmonious balance between what we can bring with our cultural background and what we can receive from the country we live in, so that we can be enriched and inspired by both.
It is very interesting and stimulating to be at the intersection of two different cultures. In Europe the picture books can be very poetic, imaginative, magical and even abstract. Some are nourished by legends, fables and fairy tales that have beautifully shaped Europe’s culture for many centuries.
In Australia I have discovered a very contemporary and realistic world in picture books with a strong and unique identity full of charm, so close to nature and diverse as well.
With my European background, I hope I can bring this poetic and whimsical voice in picture books while at the same time having this contemporary style that Australia inspires me.
June: What kind of books would you like to see in the world for future generations? Do you have any dreams and ideas for many more books? What do you think the power of picture books is?
Helene: I would love to see many more books that make children dream and escape reality a bit (reality is already everywhere), books that will enrich the children’s imagination, and enable them to be creative as we will really need more creative people in the future.
Also, I would love to see more bridges being built between countries and cultures. Books make us travel, they open doors to other cultures and other artistic styles. Especially during these times of Covid, books are one of the strongest way to keep an opened mind towards others. They are essential, they are our mental food.
June: Thanks so much for your time and all the best for launching the book.
Helene: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’d also love to give thanks to the wonderful publisher, Red Paper Kite. They are an exceptional published producing many beautiful books
Book Trailer for Claudette
To purchase this book and also in many local bookstores
I loved this chat with Michelle Worthington where I answered questions about being a poet from young people~ tune in and have a listen. There are many other delightful interviews with creatives including comedians (that’s not me!) and circus professionals (I wish that we me!), as well as other writers for children.
So happy to recieve two signed books this week, from Canada.
My dear friend Kim who was like an Aunty when I was growing up in Tasmania, gave Magic Fish Dreaming to her friend, Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, author of Northern Lights the Soccer Lights and he gave her a signed copy of this and another one of his books, Hide and Sneak to give to me.
Thrilled to receive these today, with a note and some lovely photographs, card and pot holder from Kim herself, who is creative.
I recently received a lovely email informing me a Queensland school library had purchased After Yasi, finding the Smile Within and the teacher librarian wanted to make a pdf of it available to their students and staff.
I was surprised as the book has been gently present online, and only about 50 printed versions of it exist ( it is print on demand). It was really sad last year when ABC Open, where many of the photographs and stories from the cyclone and cyclone recovery were featured, closed down, and now the material produced by open producers and contributors is no longer as freely available.
I am so glad I made a book with the help of my friends from the Cassowary Coast. Furthermore, I archived all of my ABC Open and personal blog posts and videos that I could and these are available via my sites.
Interestingly next year cyclone Yasi, is coming up to its ten year anniversary. Last year I was interviewed for a pod cast about it as another cyclone was on its way, and penned and published a story for children based on the experience which was shared in the Spooktacular Stories.
It was quite an experience, to write a cyclone story for children, which I had wanted to do for sometime. However, I am sure I needed distance from the event to approach it in a creative and what I hope is an uplifting way.
It seems strangely relevant to think about the resilience the Cassowary Coast Community had to find in its recovery from the cyclone, and perhaps the book will be helpful to anyone struggling with the pandemic.
The people of the Cassowary Coast community despite the heartaches, found its way back to joy and growth and creative expression gave many hope!
You can find out more about After Yasi on my dedicated blog to cyclone yasi and the journey after the cyclone.
For all the followers of the Magic Fish Dreaming blog, poetry, story and art are wonderful ways to deal with anxiety, and stress, and to release grief. These modes of expression were widely utilised after Yasi, although often there were times when it was hard to write or draw. That is when dance, music and song often helped!
Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator? Drawing and painting have always been a natural part of our lives as we grew up in a family and community that really encouraged creativity as an important aspect of everyday life and avenue for learning and reflection. We painted and drew a lot with our siblings growing up and it has just continued to evolve as we seek out opportunities to collaborate with growing number of like-minded individuals.
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