Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview with Author Natasha Ferrill of the Lemonman Picture Book Series

Tell us a little bit about you:

I was born and raised in small town in Ontario, Canada called Deep River.  Growing up in such a small town and as an only child allowed me a lot of time to work on my creative ideas and projects.  I was a writer from the very beginning.  I begged my mom to teach me how to read just after I had turned three years old, and she did.  She taught me using "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss.  And since then, I've been writing and haven't looked back!  In elementary school I excelled in English and Creative Writing classes.  I can still remember being given a short story assignment in grade five, that was to be around two or three pages in length.  I came to class the next day with a thirty page murder mystery manuscript…needless to say my teachers all knew what my passion was!  People often ask me if growing up as an only child was ever lonely and my reply is ‘you’re never lonely when you have an active imagination!’  When I wasn’t playing with my friends, I would spend hours by myself, developing characters and imaginary worlds and writing it all down into stories. 

Once I had finished high school, I moved to Ottawa Ontario, the capital city of Canada, where I attended and graduated from Carleton University, with a degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a concentration in Psychology.  Although my true passion has always been writing, I wanted to secure an education in something other than the arts so that I could start a career, while writing on the side.  After working in various different project management positions, I accepted a job as a research assistant for a health centre and am currently doing that full-time, while writing in my spare time.  I live with my cat, Zoe – who is a bit of a princess.  In my spare time I love reading and writing, watching movies and my favorite TV shows and spending time with friends and family.  

How did you begin your writing career for children?

The urge to write books for children has been inside me since I was a kid myself, so the decision was very simple.  As a child, I would write and illustrate books in my spare time, for school assignments, for gifts, basically any chance I could get I would be writing and creating picture books.  I always admired the great children’s book authors and felt a sense of magic whenever I would read a classic book, or delve into a brand new one that I had never seen before.  That magical feeling has stuck with me my entire life, and I knew that I wanted to continue to experience that through the process of my own writing.  A Picnic, a Toad and Swampwater Road is my first published book, and I hope to have many more in the coming years!

Was there someone or some event in your life that inspired you to write the Lemonman series?  

One night when I was three years old, I had a dream about The Lemonman, a character that was developed while I was sound asleep.  He was sitting at a dining room table having Christmas dinner with a worm who was wearing a top hat, and the idea has been stuck in my head ever since!  The day after that dream I took a scrap piece of paper from an old agenda book and some markers, and I drew the first illustration of The Lemonman, that was back in 1983!  At the time, for whatever reason, he was only a lemon wedge – he has since evolved into a full lemon!  I worked on creating the idea and writing The Lemonman stories from the time I was a little girl, but something just never seemed quite right.  Through the years, the stories evolved and the characters developed and changed a million times.  It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I finally came up with the whole idea for The Lemonman series, and the decision to write entirely in rhyme. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I currently work full time as a research assistant for a health centre, doing research in youth mental health.  It’s a fulfilling career, just as writing is, and I can’t see myself doing anything else!   

Is there a children’s book that you have read that you wish you had written?

The one book that I really wish I had written would have to be “Winnie-the-Pooh” – the simple vocabulary, timeless storyline and enchanting characters are complete perfection and it is my belief that A.A. Milne was nothing less than a genius.  

What feelings or lessons do you hope your book leaves its readers?

The growing concern with literacy skills in North America warrants the need for earlier reading among children, along with early exposure to books and reading activities within the family home.  According to the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services, approximately one-fifth of all children four or five years of age are showing delays in vocabulary development, and by age eight more than one in every three children fail to meet the provincial standards for reading and writing.

High quality picture books need to focus not only on bright and colorful illustrations, fun and entertaining stories, but also on the introduction of challenging words for children. Many existing picture books use simplistic vocabulary that children can easily identify, but with the recent push from parents towards chapter books as opposed to picture books, it is apparent that the picture book world needs some improvement.

The Lemonman series is filled with challenging vocabulary and sophisticated concepts that will inevitably stir up questions for the young reader. The following line from A Picnic, a Toad and Swampwater Road includes the words undoubtedly and astray, as an example of stimulating vocabulary and a sophisticated concept.

"It's been a pleasure," Cunningham said, as he wobbled on his merry little way,
Completely unaware that the directions he was given would undoubtedly lead him astray. 





Additional features in the series include lessons on time, months, seasons and weather. The time of the year (month and season), time of the day and the type of weather are noted in every story in the series to help children learn more about these concepts. An example of the month and weather:





"It was a bird chirping, flower blooming sunny sort of day,
Smack dab in the middle of the lovely month of May."

And an example of the use of time:

"Professor Celery and Miss Strawberry agreed to join the fun,
"We'll meet at Cherry Blossom Park at a quarter after one!"

Aside from the educational value and lessons learned, my hope is that someday I can have multiple books published in The Lemonman series, and kids around the world can grow up with these characters in their lives, just as I did with so many book characters throughout my childhood. Children need books for so many reasons - not just for fun and learning, but also for a sense of stability in their lives, for comfort, and for the ability to escape into an unknown and magical world where a white rabbit runs late, a boy and his bear play in the forest and a lovable lemon learns about life.




I would love to answer this question by saying yes, but I most definitely do not write every day, at least not creatively!  I need to feel inspired before I can write otherwise it just doesn’t work for me.  Inspiration can hit at anytime, but unless I’m in that realm of story-mode, then I won’t write. 

Describe yourself in five words

Creative, Fun, Intelligent, Perfectionist, Determined

What’s next for you?

I have so many ideas for future books and characters, and with the second book already written, illustrations are scheduled to begin this fall.  The second book, A Party, Some Rain and Wiggleworm Lane, takes The Lemonman on an adventure with Wormington the Third, and the worm residents of Applenook.  In this story, the worms become quite a nuisance and cause rainy-day chaos in the town of Applenook!

“And never trust a worm, my friend, even if he is quite nice,
For a worm request will always come with an unexpected price.”


What were some of your favorite books as a child?

My favorite type of book has always been children’s books, both picture and chapter.  It was something about the way they made me feel as I read through each page – the magical stories, the colorful pictures, the interesting lives of the characters, and the way those simple words on a page of paper could take me away to another world.  Some of my favorites include “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll,  “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne, “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis, the Little Miss and Mr. books by Roger Hargreaves and of course anything by the wonderfully talented Dr. Seuss.  I could go on and list about a million more books that I would classify as ‘favorites’ but these ones, I would say, are my most beloved.    

What obstacles have you experienced  in your writing journey?

Writing in rhyme 

In doing my research, I continuously came across the notion that writing in rhyme was dreadful and that no publisher would accept a rhyming picture book – it’s clich√©, there’s only one Dr. Seuss and no one other than him can rhyme well enough while maintaining a fantastic plot.  I begged to differ, and I knew that my rhymes made sense, they flowed well and most importantly they told a wonderful story involving many different characters and situations.  I put a lot of work into each story that I craft.  In all honestly, most take months and years to perfect and especially because I write in rhyme, I need to re-assess hundreds of times before I feel comfortable with the words on the page.  Every single word on the page needs to have a purpose – it needs to be there to enhance the story and not just as a fill-in for rhyme beats (syllables) or rhyme words. 

Self-publishing

Going into this process, I made the decision very early on to self-publish my books.  The decision was made primarily so that I could have full control over every aspect of the book production and promotion, and of the overall series idea.  I knew exactly what style of illustrations I wanted, what images I wanted to appear beside each section of the text and what words I knew belonged on each page, and I knew that the only way that it would be done my way entirely would be to self-publish.  The only drawback, so far, is that self-publishing comes with a lot of additional and unexpected work – from the publishing process itself to marketing and selling my books.  Aside from a few unexpected set-backs, the overall experience has been a positive one.

Do you have any advice for others interested in writing books for children

The one thing I've learned from this process of writing is to keep at it and to keep dreaming.  As children, our imaginations run free, but as adults, sometimes we allow our lives and the people around us to stifle our dreams and our wild imaginations.  Be true to your inner child and never forget that little boy or girl who once dreamed that anything was possible.  I am a firm believer that anything is truly possible in life, if you just believe in yourself and your ideas and if you have the strength and motivation to keep working until you reach your goal.


Do you have a website or a fan page?  Where can we find your books to buy?   
My website is The Lemonman Website and it will be launched this August, so be sure to stop by and have a look around!  I also have a Facebook fan page: Facebook Fan Page, so be sure to come by and LIKE the page to become a fan and get the latest information on The Lemonman series!  My book will be available for purchase through my website, through Amazon and in local Ottawa area bookstores. 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 






 

 

 

 






                                












































 













 
 






















 




 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





 

2 comments:

  1. So glad to find you! I understand about the rhyming and how it is frowned upon by many publishers/editors. I write poetry in free verse except for certain instances when I feel the audience would prefer rhyme. As a music teacher I love rhythm and rhyme, and I KNOW children respond to that! I say write what you feel you should!

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