I can’t explain the emotions your story and your illustrations provoke.  Powerful stuff.  It’s not often that my husband tears up while reading a book.

Karen

Cape Town

My first (self) published book!

I never set out to write and illustrate an autobiographical poem.

The book (as it ended up)… actually began as a couple of scribbles in my art journal while we were road-tripping in the United States.

I remember that we were in rural Pennsylvania… staying in a small apartment underneath someone’s house.  It had a big window which overlooked an open field and the farms beyond.  And it was snowing outside.  And Nick and the kids were huddled around the kitchen table, building a giant puzzle.  And I was sitting in a wing-back chair with my feet as close to the fire as could possibly get them… and I began scribbling little characters on a scrap of paper which looked like this…

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… and this…

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… and something about those farmlands and fields made me think of my childhood… when we lived on a small farm… when I was a tomboy-who-used-to-climb-trees… and I remembered my nickname:  Hat

And I begin to reminisce about all the things that “Hat” used to do (and love)…

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And somewhere along the line, it became a poem…

And as I wrote about Young Hat (and all the stuff she loved doing)… I began ask myself why (and how) I lost so much of that… HAT’ness… for such a long, long time.

And thus, the journey began…

Creating this book was my personal journey of healing and self-discovery.  I took it a page at a time.  The story evolved as I did.  With every couple of pages, there’d be a new ‘ah-ha!’ moment… a memory, a recollection… a gradual understanding (and embracing) of who I actually was…

The process of creating How Heather got her HAT’ness back changed and awakened me in ways I could never have anticipated.

I kinda… *found* myself… somewhere along the way.

And I realised that some of my earliest dreams (of writing and illustrating stories) had never gone away.  I still love writing and illustrating stories.  It’s part of my MUCH’ness.

 

Here’s a few FAQ’s for those curious to know more:

Is there a reason you chose to self-publish?

I chose self-publishing because it’s really tough to get one’s book or idea in front of the decision-makers of big publishers.

There are soooo many gatekeepers.  So many KEEP-OUT signs. Their websites contain dark warnings not to approach them – and to never, ever attempt to post them “unsolicited material”.  All unsolicited material will be dumped, unopened in to the recycling bin.  If one wants to approach the international publishers – one apparently needs to enlist the services of a reputable literary agent.

Of course, trying to enlist-the-services-of-a-reputable-literary-agent is almost as much as a schlep as approaching the publishers directly.   They – too – have long lists of rules, boxes-to-tick, hoops-to-jump-through and what-not.

And to complicate matters, my books and ideas are a bit unconventional and just don’t seem to FIT into any of the usual specified categories and genres.

So – since I already had a sizeable group of blog-followers and tribe’sters – I decided to self-publish.

I started small.  I printed about 2000 copies of the book (paid for courtesy of crowd-funding) and I’ve posted copies to tribe’sters from around the world.  Orders continue to trickle in (mostly by word of mouth).

I’ve also uploaded the book to Createspace (the print-on-demand publishing service belonging to Amazon).  When someone orders my book from Amazon, their very clever printing machines produce a (lovely!) copy… and Amazon collects payment and ships the book.  It doesn’t pass through my hands at all.

What I love about print-on-demand is that it requires ZERO admin from me.  I  receive a small commission in my bank account every time somebody orders my book from various online retailers around the world.  Suits me fine.

The totally sucky part of self-publishing is the marketing / promoting / selling part.

The book – obviously – isn’t going to sell itself.  It’s not going to announce itself to the world.  It’s not going to get itself OUT there.  And I find it really, really hard (if not excruciating) to market, sell or promote myself or my work.

Of course, like any aspiring writer / illustrator  – it would be a dream come true to have an international company taking care of all the logistics of publishing, marketing and distribution.

Dream.  Come.  True.

But… I’m not going to sit around and wait for that to happen.  I decided to make it happen by making it myself.  And I’ll continue to write, illustrate and self-publish my own books indefinitely.

If the doors open and I’m allowed access to the decision-makers of The Publishing World – awesome! 

If those doors remain closed forever… fine!  I’ll carry on doing-what-I-do anyway.  Creating this first book has been so rewarding and life-changing.  I’m already working on the next two!!

Is this a children's book?

I never intended this as a children’s book.

Illustrated books (and certainly poems) are usually the domain of the children’s section at book stores… and, to be honest, I’m not sure why that is…

I think grown-up’s need illustrated poems as much as kids (if not more so!).

The reason why this story is an illustrated poem is mostly because… it was the most authentic way for me to tell my story.  This is what I do… this is how I am… this is the kind of stuff I create…

There’s some content in my book that might not be suitable for younger kids.  I cover topics like eating disorders, low self-esteem, self-abuse and a difficult marriage.  One of my darker pages says this:

“And she tumbled down in to a pit of despair… and binged on cheese pizzas and plucked out her hair… and piled on the kilos and tried not to care… and punished herself for her husband’s affair… and diminished, diminished, diminished some more… until nothing was left of the ‘Hat’ from before”…

That might be a bit much for younger readers…

However, that being said – I have received some delightful feedback from readers as young as 9 who loved my book.  And *got* the message – and nobody was freaked out and traumatized or whatevs.

So – to sum up:  This is not a children’s book.  But children can read it if their parents’ think they’re ready for it.

Do you want to create children's books?

Not really.

I have thought long and hard about this.

When I created my book – I included a note in the back that mentioned a plan to create a “lite” children’s version of the book.  So those middle sections wouldn’t be too dark… too intense… too grown-up…

I love kids (I have two of my own) – and I have a lot of empathy for them and especially-especially for the *different* ones.  The ones who just don’t FIT…

I liked the idea of creating a second Hat-book for those kinds of kids… letting them know that it’s okay to just BE who they are.  They don’t have to fit in.  They don’t have to explain themselves.  They don’t have to be “normal”… they don’t have to diminish or water themselves down…

The thing is – I am finding it really really hard not to water myself down (in the process of creating a children’s book).

Most parents expect children’s books to be very safe… polite… politically-correct… and I’m not sure how I can do all those things and still be “Hatty”….!?

I’ve found that in trying to create a lite, children’s version of my book – I’ve had to re-think some things… delete some things… bite-my-tongue… try to find *polite* ways of approaching difficult topics… try not to piss parents off…

Y’know….??

I mean – there are people who find the rat-popping thing deeply offensive – and feel it would traumatise children.  If they’re freaking out at the idea of children performing experiments on dead things – how am I going to broach the deeper stuff like burdensome expectations… eating disorders… self-abuse… and stupid-reasons-people-get-married…. without causing all kinds of offense and getting myself in to trouble with parents?

I’m kinda done with biting my tongue, watering myself down, trying to be polite… I’ve done that for SO many years already.  And trying to create a lite version of my first book is causing more angst than it’s worth.   I created a few pages… and they just seem so… meh.

So – I think I’m going to stick with books-for-grown’ups.  That way I can just be myself.  And those who like it – will like it.  And those who don’t like it… won’t buy it.  And that’s totally fine.

Here’s a detailed blog post that I wrote that explains my process in more detail:

Making peace with the fact that I’m not a children’s author…

 

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A few extra story nuggets…

  • I’ve always loved rhymes.  As a child, my favourite author was Roald Dahl.  I especially loved his Revolting Rhymes.
  • I’d secretly write and illustrate poems during class at school.  Most of them were ranty rhymes – expressing my hatred of school (and of some of the teachers)…
  • I also had a *thing* for musicals as a child.  I watched the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Camelot more times than I can possibly remember.  While watching the films, I’d record the songs on tape cassette – and then play them endlessly until I’d learned all the words and all the harmonies.  (I still know all of the songs from those musicals – it’s my party trick!)…
  • As a child, I was involved in amateur children’s theatre (mostly musicals).  Although I never possessed much of an acting talent, I loved the rest of it… the singing, the dancing, the colourful costumes and the exciting vibe backstage.  Another one of my big-fat-crazy-dreams is to create a musical theatre production of the Hat story.  I’ve already written some of the songs…