This week I am delighted to share an interview with award-winning children’s author Dimity Powell. I previously introduced Dimity to you in her popular guest post Libraries: A wonderous universe to explore.
Dimity likes to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews stories exclusively for kids and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, as creative digital content, and picture books including The Fix-It Man (2017) and At The End of Holyrood Lane (2018) with more to follow in 2019 and 2020.
Dimity believes picture books are soul food, to be consumed at least 10 times a week. If these aren’t available, she’ll settle for ice-cream. She lives just around the corner from Bat Man on the Gold Coast although she still prefers hanging out in libraries than with superheroes.
In this post, Dimity discusses her latest picture book At the End of Holyrood Lane. The book, illustrated by Nicky Johnston and published by EK Books, deals sensitively with the tough issue of domestic violence.
At The End of Holyrood Lane is a poignant yet uplifting picture book that deals with domestic violence in a way that provides understanding and offers hope to young children.
‘At the End of Holyrood Lane is enigmatic. Different children will be able to interpret the story in different ways. I think this is excellent. Kudos to both author and illustrator for a successful creation that I hope will enrich many children’s lives.’ Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook.
Welcome to readilearn, Dimity.
Thank you for inviting me.
Dimity, At the End of Holyrood Lane was written for a very special purpose and a very special situation. Can you tell us a little about how you came to write this story and why it was important to you to do so?
Writing a children’s picture book about domestic violence was never something I originally intended to do. The idea only occurred to me after one of my chats to Paradise Kids founder, Deirdre Hanna. It was her insistence that more mainstream picture books addressing this topic be available to kids that really promoted serious thought about it. Although I was initially shocked at her suggestion, by the time I’d driven home, a story was forming.
In the story, rather than describe domestic violence explicitly, you have employed the metaphor of a storm. Can you tell us why you chose to do it this way?
This happened more by default than design. Flick’s (our main character’s) original story was much more explicit, her situation more obvious. This made it quite confronting and difficult for most publishers to accept. With the benefit of those rejections and much reflection and even more rewriting, I settled on using the metaphor of dread initiated by a fear of thunderstorms to project Flick’s anxiety.
Being scared of something is universally recognisable and therefore easier to relate to and understand even if you are not in an abusive situation. By approaching Flick’s tale in this way, I hope I’ve managed to give the story greater global appeal. In other words, Holyrood Lane is still an uplifting story of hope and triumph whether you are a victim of domestic violence or not.
Not all domestic violence stories end happily, but you have written a story that leaves readers with a sense of hope and a way of coping with life’s storms. How do you hope readers will respond to this powerful message?
Sadly, this is true, and Holyrood Lane really only touches on one aspect of domestic violence. There are so many, and this story does not profess to provide the answers. In Flick’s case, the aggressor is eventually removed, and her life slowly reverts to some kind of normal. She still experiences moments of anxiety and dread, but she has taken the first immensely positive step forward by asking for help, thereby empowering herself and overcoming her fear. She decided that something was more important than that fear. This is the true measure of courageousness and something I hope young children and adults alike take away after experiencing this story.
Not all children experience domestic violence. Will all children find something of themselves in your story?
Yes, I really think so. I’ve already seen how young children are relating to Flick and her urge to run and hide whenever situations get too turbulent or too stormy to handle. Some have even related their fear of thunder with hers. But it need not be a dread of loud noises that causes a child to cringe in terror. Spiders, black dogs, the dark, being left behind, any of these situations can cause anxiety and I think young children will instantly connect with these emotions because for them at their age, these are very large and sometimes daunting realities.
Also Flick is an incredibly endearing character. She carries Uni, her toy unicorn with her everywhere she goes as her friend, comforter and companion in good times and bad. Most children have their version of Uni to get them through all of life’s new and confronting moments.
Flick is carefree and gleefully childlike in all that she does as well: skipping through autumn leaves, dancing around the house, causing accidents unintentionally. Again, this is very typical behaviour in young children and one many may see reflections of themselves in.
How do you suggest parents or teachers discuss the book with their children?
Openly and honestly as they would any other book. This is a great book to share together and initiate discussion about what might or might not scare or upset you.
I’d also strongly encourage parents and teachers to read the comprehensive Teachers’ notes provided. They suggest dozens of ways this story may amplify learning and understanding and are all Australian Curricula linked. Visit Dimity’s website for fully downloadable activities relating to dealing with fears and emotions along with links to crisis support and management sites.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been penning stories about runaway ponies and mysteries since I was in primary school. I loved writing in my diary from a young age too but never contemplated writing professionally until after I stopped travelling and began a family, about eleven years or so ago now.
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
Yes, must have quiet! Most of my daylight hours are spent at the desk. I never have music playing when I’m conjuring a story because although music is great for prompting emotion, I find it too distracting. I like to be able to clearly hear the words before writing them. That said, I have been known to write whilst in the field. One of my most productive writing spots is in the waiting room of my car service centre. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the smell of grease sparks my creative juices.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
My rough notes and brainstorming are nearly always in pencil in my trusty notebook. First drafts are usually handwritten too as I find this really frees up my thought process. Then I transfer everything to the computer. Without spell check and track changes, I’d be lost!
When do you write?
Creatively, I ’m more productive during the day. It is rare I pen new work at night unless I’m home alone. That need for quiet thing again.
Where do you get your ideas?
Life. It’s the best treasure chest of ideas I’ve got. It’s so much fun delving into that chest of memories, experiences and situations and discovering the stories hidden within. Sometimes it’s just the feel of the breeze in my hair or a scent on the wind that triggers a storyline.
I also use external prompts like stories I might have read in the newspaper or a snippet of conversation I’ve overheard to build ideas around.
Do you think of the story in your head before you write it?
Yes, always. Thinking is about 80% of the writing process for me. Or perhaps that is called procrastination! When a new picture book storyline pops into my head, I’ve often ‘heard’ it completely in my head before jotting it down.
What do you like best about At the End of Holyrood Lane?
The language. It’s lyrical quality. The placement of each word. Its brevity. The way the words sing together to evoke feeling. And I adore the way Nicky Johnston’s illustrations squeeze even more emotion out of my words. Her understated yet powerful images reinforce the metaphor to the nth degree.
Astute readers will detect a multitude of symbols and meanings in each of the layers within the text and illustrations – I hope! This is one of my secret joys in creating picture books; to enrich the reading experience in as many wondrous, surreptitious ways as possible
How did you feel when you wrote At the End of Holyrood Lane?
Challenged. Overwhelmed. Elated. Fulfilled. At its completion, I felt an overriding sense of accomplishment. The whole process of bringing this story into the limelight has been beyond satisfying. I am quite proud of the result.
How do you hope readers will feel?
Touched, empowered and grateful and perhaps just a little bit more in love with Flick. She is hard not to like.
How would you like teachers to present At the End of Holyrood Lane to children?
I’d love them to share this story with their students without too much preamble. Perhaps take some time to re-read it discussing the pictures, what children can see and how that along with the words makes them feel. Invite them to guess what they think is going on in Flick’s world. Children are very astute.
I hope books like this one provide positive, safe conversation starters which will lead into gentle discussions around abuse in the home, what to look out for, how to overcome it and so on. It’s not the answer but I hope, it provides a confident, thought-provoking step forward.
What is the most important message you would like them to discuss?
That feeling scared of something is a normal emotion and generally ok. That sometimes things can frighten us making us want to run and hide, but there are some sorts of fears that should not be part of normal life, and if children are experiencing fears like that or know someone who is, they should know that they are not alone, that it’s ok to ask for help. The message here being that true love should always feel safe.
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
Encourage a child’s creativity whatever way they choose to express it. Allow them the freedom to write without limitation and value this above the need to correct and perfect. Make it fun and focus on the story first and less about the functions to make it work. Tidying up a garden can be done later. We have to see how it will grow first.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Live life, embrace every situation, then record it in your notebooks! You never know when it will morph into your next great story. The two other essential things children need to become great writers are: to write often and READ. This deserves capitals because I believe it’s the singularly best way to sharpen your writing instincts and enliven your writing mojo.
Then I’d encourage them to get involved. Enter writing competitions. Participate in kids’ writing workshop camps. Attend book launches. The list is endless.
What is your favourite picture book?
Hardest question ever. Nearly every day I discover a new favourite, which is good as it indicates what a wonderfully rich assortment of reading treasures there are out there for our kids, and us.
A book that continually stimulates heart-melting moments for me is the Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King. I adore the quirky language, the poignant storyline and always, King’s fanciful illustrations.
Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?
I really don’t have one. I like to rate each story on its own merits no matter who wrote it. But I am quietly in awe of Peter Carnavas. His writing style prompts laughter and tears, wonder and awe. I admire his ability to tell a story in both pictures and words in the most stripped-back essential way. A true storyteller.
Thank you, Dimity, for sharing these insights about your writing process and your picture book At the End of Holyrood Lane. We wish you success.
Thank you, and thanks for having me!
Discover more about Dimity and her writing at:
or connect with her on social media:
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At The End of Holyrood Lane is available from EK Books, online and in all great books shops throughout the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Signed copies available directly from the author at www.dimitypowell.com
Published: September 2018
Author: Dimity Powell
Illustrator: Nicky Johnston
Publisher: EK Books $24.99
Format: Hardcover 32pp
Ideal for: 4 – 8 year olds and above, schools, children’s charity institutions, DV organisations, children in need organisations
This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources Author Spotlight Author Spotlight: Dimity Powell. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
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