Anne is chatting with me today about her new book series, Ori the Octopus. Her second book in the series is Ori’s Christmas.
Megan: Hi, Anne.
Anne: Hi Megan.
Megan: Well, let's get stuck into the interview, shall we?
Can you tell me a bit about your new book, Ori’s Christmas?
Anne: Having young children myself, I understand how difficult it is to get them to compromise most of the time. I decided to use this as a theme for a book. And given Christmas is a time when most kids get spoilt, that would be a good example of the perfect time to compromise.
Also, as with the first book in the series, Ori the Octopus, the book has actions in it, so children can participate in the story telling and the four craft pages in the middle can be pulled out to keep little hands busy for a little while.
Megan: So, you had a theme, and the Christmas season. I love hearing the stories behind the stories. How did you come up with the idea for a picture book series featuring a helpful Octopus? I mean, it could’ve been any creature.
Anne: The first book, Ori the Octopus, is about Ori helping his friends all at once. As he is using all of his legs he gets confused and drops everything. His friends see him sad, so they step in and they all do the tasks together. The original inspiration truth be told, was the multi-tasking busy mum. It grew from there into a story of friendship, helping others and teamwork.
Megan: The eternal wish of mothers that they had another pair of hands, or four.
Anne: Around the house when I'm being pulled this way and that I say "Hold on, I'm not Ori the Octopus!"
Megan: That’s hilarious!
Anne: Although other messages can be derived from Ori. Once I was reading at a library to a group of young kids and their mums. Afterwards one mum said to me that my book told her that we all need to ask for help sometimes. So, we all get messages even from a simple preschooler book!
Ori is also helpful in Ori's Christmas in that he plans the day's celebrations, but his friends figure out how to compromise so the day is enjoyed by all.
Megan: Your website is super interactive. It has videos of Ori the Octopus, free printable activity sheets which include colouring sheets, mazes, counting and matching sheets, drawings, and even some sea themed Christmas Carols. What was the idea behind your website?
Anne: I wanted free and safe entertainment for the younger children. I am aiming to be selling a book that is followed up with more...I call the activity sheets '5 minute fillers' - to give mum a break to hang the washing out or what not.
Also, the first book has cut out puppets in it. The kids can watch the puppet videos on my website then get inspired to make their own shows with the puppets from the book.
With the second book, there are loads of Christmas activities to do as you said, carols, cards, mazes etc.
Megan: That is amazing. I’m sure there be plenty of parents and teachers very happy with the activities, and I’m sure the kids would enjoy them.
Have you done any author visits?
Anne: Lots of author visits. I have done about 49 events for the first book and have just started with visits for the second.
Megan: Wow! That is a lot. What is the most gratifying thing about reading your books to children?
Anne: I do libraries, book shops, schools, and many preschools. Lots of fun -great fun - I love it. I get to act like a kid myself.
Megan: Any fun experiences you want to share?
Anne: Here is one of the funniest moments...at a preschool during book week. We stand up for the dancing. One boy is having a good look and then announces, "You're really short like my grandma" — priceless! You can't buy that humour and candidness.
Megan: That is so funny!
Anne: I also want to share one that is coming up and I am excited and nervous. When I arrived here from Malta my parents took us to live in Mt Druitt and I went to a local primary school there from year 2 to year 6. I have organised, through a not for profit org called Paint the town REaD to go and read at the school next month. I will read to the playgroup, then to kindy. They also want me to talk to the parents about what I experienced when I first came here, it wasn't all good and I think sharing it might reach someone.
Megan: I love how telling our stories can help other people.
So, you’ve self-published your two books. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route?
Anne: Self-publishing. Well, it is difficult to get trade published, no lie in that. I was really passionate about wanting to do this, text and ills. I read up for about a year then started to retrain and off I went!
Good and bad point of self-publishing. The worst problem is that your book doesn't always make it on that elusive shelf space. you have to work so much harder for that shelf space.
Megan: Why did you decide to illustrate the book yourself?
Anne: I love to draw! Always have. I have got some good feedback on the illustrations but I know my style will not fit all books. But for this series I think it fits well. Simple, cheerful, colourful characters, with faces that can easily portray emotions.
Megan: You’re on the right track. Illustrators have told me is that the illustrations need to show the character, emotion, movement, and to extend the words on the page.
What experience have you had in illustration? Did you learn as you went, or did you do a course?
Anne: I completed two illustrator courses, one on-line and one in town (Sydney). I also had to get some training in photoshop as I use that in my illustrations also. My illustrations are a mixture of painted objects and illustrator pictures.
Megan: What made you decide to do the courses and not just dive in and illustrate your books without doing the extra work? Considering you’ve always drawn.
Anne: I did at first. I painted the whole book but wasn’t happy with the result. So, I retrained and used a mixture — much happier with the results.
The illustrations definitely look better with the mixture of illustrator pics and painted, so after I did the course yes. But even then, I had to play around with it. I ended up having nine versions of Ori before I had one I liked. Now I've got loads of images I can play around with.
Megan: What are the most valuable lessons have you brought away from this experience?
Anne: The illustrations you mean or the whole getting a book out there?
Megan: The whole experience. You can break it down if you want.
Anne: I've learnt lots at every stage but the message I keep telling myself is — persevere and keep trying new things. If you fail, you will learn something.
My husband and I are both trying new careers right now. Before this I worked in health management and so did he. I am now writing books for kids and loving it and he is starting his own business in law. Even if we don't succeed, life is short, and you've got to try things while you can and, I figure we're being good role models for our kids.
Megan: So, Anne, what’s next for you? Is there another Ori book on the horizon?
Anne: Sure is - hopefully out for book week next year. This one is with another special message that is close to my heart — taking care of our environment. So, stay tuned.
Megan: Well, I think that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for your time today, Anne, and for participating in my 'In Conversation' series.
Anne: Thanks Megan - that was easy peasy lemon squeeze as Lola would say (of Charlie and Lola). Thank you for doing this interview. Bye!
Three fun facts about Anne — here they come… (drum roll).
1. Anne likes to do accents (see her Ori Octopus puppet videos) and impressions of famous and not-so-famous people.
2. Anne loves to dance. However, with the closing of her teen-hood night clubs and other responsibilities, Anne doesn’t get out dancing anymore. So, she struts her stuff at home in the living room, the study, and kitchen…anywhere there is space really.
3. Anne’s philosophy: “The best thing about having children is that it allows you to still act like a child yourself.” Examples: watching kid’s movies, going boogie boarding, fishing, ordering kid’s meals, lots of art and craft and generally acting silly.
Anne lives in Sydney with her husband and her two young children.
She has taught dance, been an entertainer at children’s parties, and she reads and teaches art and craft to children. She paints children’s canvasses and makes greeting cards.
Anne has been encouraged to share her story-telling, her illustrations and her creativity resulting in her Ori the Octopus series. The first book Ori the Octopus is closely followed by Ori’s Christmas, both released in 2017.
Website: Anne Donnelly.com
Facebook: Anne Donnelly
Ori’s book blog tour:
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