March 25, 2012

Interview with Children's Author/Illustrator Liliana Stafford

When did you first know that you wanted to be a children's author/illustrator?
I was in my late thirties and my children were growing up. I needed a challenge and writing provided it. Once I began I felt as though it was something I could do for the rest of my life and never grow bored of it.

Did you come across any obstacles when trying to get published?
Rejection letters are a part of every writer’s journey and I had my fair share. Even after acceptance a manuscript can take a long time before it becomes a book. Just Dragon took seven years from acceptance to publication and the horse and pony series were ten years in the making. I wanted to give up many times but I love writing and decided that whether I was published or not I would always be a writer.

How many books have you written?
Eight picture books, one of which I have also illustrated called The Stone Elephant, and four junior fiction novels.

What did you like to read growing up and how has it influenced your work?

I read everything and anything I could get my hands on but my favourites were Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Magic Faraway Tree. 

The biggest influence on my work was the books I read to my own children. I was so thrilled with the books being published at that time particularly picture books that I haunted children’s book stores to find new titles.

Can you please tell us about what inspired your book, The Stone Elephant?

My love of nature and a picture in a book leant to me by a friend of a stone elephant in Cambodia. For a long time I didn’t know that the stone elephant in the story was a rock formation until Ed and I went on a holiday to Bright in Victoria. 

Driving up a long winding road to the top of Mt Buffalo I saw a rock that looked like the head of an elephant. We stopped and took photographs. As we drove the rest of the way to the top of the mountain the text for The Stone Elephant was in my head and that night back at our holiday chalet I wrote the final draft of the story.
When and where do you write?
Everywhere but mostly in a studio on my back veranda. When I first started writing I wrote in a walk- in wardrobe. It was small but private. Now I have the most wonderful studio. I do my best writing late at night after everyone has gone to bed. I often go into my studio to shut my computer down and instead I start working on my story. I am still there one or two hours later.
I always begin a new story in pencil in a notebook until I feel ready to put it on the computer. Scribbling in pencil stops me thinking too much and creates a feeling of play. If a story isn’t working I go back to scribbling in pencil till it starts to come together. I also do a lot of writing in my head walking round the park with our dog Mitzi.
For The Stone Elephant, I filled a note book with pictures and scribbles of everything to do with elephants.

What in your opinion is the most challenging thing about writing for children?
Remembering to let go and trust the process. When I try too hard nothing good happens but I don’t sit around waiting for the muse either. It’s a fine balance. The hardest thing is the length of time it can take from finished manuscript to published book and sometimes even to finished manuscript. Some stories take days or weeks, others take years. I have had to learn that a story can’t be hurried and to give each one the time it needs.

What do you enjoy the most about presenting and visiting schools?

The students. The work they produce is always so fresh and alive. I also gain a lot from their enjoyment of my stories. 
It sends me back to my studio eager to write more.

I particularly enjoy working with indigenous students. They have a great sense of humour and enjoy both stories and art.

What's next?
I am working on an illustrated story book for 6-10 year olds called The Garden Dwellers. Here’s the beginning sentence of the synopsis: 
There’s trouble in the garden. Rumours, disappearances, stolen magic pennies and mischievous neighbours are worrying The Garden Dwellers; a group of little people no taller than an egg cup.
I am also writing a fantasy novel called Into the Island for 9-12 year olds set on the west coast of Ireland about the pucai or fairy people.
And in my spare time I am painting large abstract paintings!

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