Today I'm chatting with Melissa Gijsbers, single mum of two chronically ill teenage boys, Melissa has crowdfunded, and self-published two books, and her new book, Lizzy’s Dragon was recently released with Stone Table Books.
Megan: Hello Melissa.
Megan: I have watched your journey for the last couple of years and have been blown away by your tenacity in the face of so many obstacles. However, even though times have been tough, you haven’t given up on your dreams of writing and publishing your books.
Can you share a little about your journey as a writer, and how being a single parent with two chronically ill teenage boys have impacted your writing journey?
Melissa: I have always loved writing. It's something that I could do that I was good at, that was mine. My siblings are very musical, and were heavily involved when we were teenagers, but it wasn't my thing. When I was in high school, I won some writing awards, but being an author wasn't considered an 'acceptable' career path and I was encouraged to look at other things.
Life got in the way for a while - I ran my own business for over 9 years, and was a blogger since before it was popular, so I still wrote, but not creative writing.
When my youngest son turned 7, I was told I had to return to work, so I closed down my business, and discovered creative writing again.
In 2012, I joined the 12x12 in 12 and Chapter Book Challenges, and things have gone from there. Through the Chapter Book Challenge, I discovered that I really like writing in that format.
Four years ago, my younger son came down with Glandular Fever, and that turned into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, last Easter, my older son was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
It's a hard road, but many things we've been through have sparked ideas for stories, though when things are really hard, it gets overwhelming, and sometimes it can be hard finding the energy to write.
I've been a single parent for nearly 12 years now, and I often go away to my favourite cafe and spend a blissful couple of hours writing, but I haven't been able to do that lately with my older son in and out of hospital.
Although we do have a reputation around the hospital, all the staff ask me how my latest book is going.
Megan: That is amazing. You’re single. You work. You're looking after your teenage boys, taking them to hospital and doctors’ visits, and you also run writing workshops for kids.
How do you find time to write, besides the blissful couple of hours here and there?
Melissa: I do my best to fit it in around everything! I carry my iPad with me most of the time so I can add to stories when I have a minute. I have found the Scrivener app useful for writing snippets. I also have a notebook with me at all times so I can jot down things if an idea hits me.
For editing, I print out my manuscript and carry it with me so I can edit on the go rather than having to make sure I have my laptop or iPad with me
Megan: Wow! You certainly make sure that you make the most of every minute that you possibly can.
You’ve self-published two books. Where did the ideas come from for those books?
Melissa: The first book, Swallow Me Now, came about because my kids were being bullied, and they wanted a story that had a realistic ending, rather than one where the bully and victim become best friends, or the bully magically goes to another school. It's based on experiences I had as a missionary kid struggling to fit in, and experiences my kids had of being bullied.
The second book, 321 Done, was inspired by something my son did. My older son is a speedcuber, this means he solves the Rubik's cube very, very fast. Shortly after his brother was diagnosed with ME/CFS, he did a fundraiser at his school to raise money and awareness about ME/CFS to see how many times he could solve a cube in half an hour. This book is a fictionalised version of this event.
Megan: I’ve seen your older son solve those cubes. His fingers are like speed lightening. How have the books been received? And has anything about that surprised you?
Melissa: The books have been well received. The biggest surprise is how many parents & kids have told me how much the books have helped them - they have enjoyed the strategies for bullying in Swallow Me Now.
And how much the cubing community has embraced 321 Done - it was the first book that features a speedcuber that has been published.
The biggest surprise with my books is how much people are enjoying my story.
Megan: It must feel wonderful for your books to have been so well received. Especially all the hard work you put into it, as you also crowdfunded to get them published too.
So, what has kept you following your dreams despite the difficulties?
Melissa: Writing is something I feel I have to do. It's something that excites me. Sharing my love of writing and books gives me a buzz. In the midst of all the difficulties, it's something that feeds me.
I often have people ask what I'm doing to look after myself, I reply that I write. They often look at me as if I'm crazy, but it's what I do!
Megan: I totally get it.
Melissa: So many people don't!
Megan: You also have a new blog, Diary of a Chronic Mum. Can you tell me about it, and why you started that blog?
Melissa: I started it so that we could follow our own journey and see how far we've come, as well as sharing some of the strategies we use to cope.
I hope that it will help others in a similar situation, as well as being a way to help me cope - writing about it all!
Sometimes, in the midst of a difficult situation, you forget about how much things change and how far you’ve actually come.
Megan: So very true. It’s really wonderful that you can use your own experiences to help others.
You have a new book coming out, Lizzy’s Dragon with Stone Table Books. Can you share how that opportunity came about?
Melissa: That came about as a result of a friend reading Swallow Me Now! He got a job as an editor at Stone Table Books and they were looking for middle grade books and he asked if I wrote fantasy. I said I'd give it a go. We came up with the idea for a water breathing dragon and the rest, as they say, is history!
Megan: I love the fact that this opportunity came about because of a book you had self-published, and your friend was able to get a taste of writing style, and like it enough to ask you to write for them.
So, tell me. What is Lizzy’s Dragon about?
Melissa: Lizzy is a girl who really loves reptiles and wants a lizard as a pet, her parents won't let her. Her annoying little brother, Joey, seems to get what he wants! One day, she finds a strange looking egg. When it hatches, Lizzy finds the most unusual lizard she has ever seen.
Megan: Sounds fantastic. Where is Lizzy’s Dragon set?
Melissa: Somewhere in country Australia during a drought. There is no town name mentioned, so it could be anywhere.
Megan: So many fantasy stories are set overseas in places like England and Scotland. Why did you pick Australia for the setting?
Melissa: When we came up with the idea for a water dragon, we thought of bushfires! I lived in country Victoria during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires and my Dad was a forester and fought the fires. It's something I was familiar with, so setting in Australia was an obvious choice for this book. Plus, as you say, there aren't many fantasy stories set in Australia.
Megan: So, it sounds like you worked closely with the editor on this book. How was that experience compared to writing your previous books and having total control over the end product?
Melissa: I really enjoyed the process. I find I do my best work when I'm working closely with an editor. The publisher found an amazing illustrator who brought my words to life.
Megan: A good editor is wonderful. They really do help you bring your story into a whole other realm don’t they?
Melissa: They do. They are able to see things that I missed, and help to turn a good story into an amazing story.
Megan: Do you have any current projects you are working on?
Melissa: My 4 year old nephew has asked me to write him a story about a boy and a unicorn! I am also working on a couple of stories for adults, not sure if they will be novels or novellas.
It's fun playing around with different formats and genre.
Megan: It certainly is. I love just writing whatever story comes in my head. I think about the audience when I rewrite.
Well, it sounds like you have plenty of stories to be working on. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Good luck on the launch of Lizzy’s Dragon.
When and where will Lizzy’s Dragon be available?
Melissa: Lizzy's Dragon is available now through Stone Table Books and on Amazon, or request your favourite bookshop or library stock it.
Megan: That sounds great. Well, I think that about wraps it up. Did you have anything else you want to add?
Melissa: For anyone who thinks they don't have time - if writing is what you really want to do, then go for it. Even if you can only get the occasional 10 minutes here or there. You don't have to write for hours every day to be an author. I don't, and I'm making my dreams come true.
Megan: And that is the crux of it. No excuses! Just go for your dreams and make everything that seems like an obstacle and opportunity. An opportunity for growth.
Thank you so much for your time today, Melissa. I'm sure that your story will inspire a lot of people.
Melissa: Thank you for the interview and the opportunity.
Three fun Facts about Melissa:
Melissa Gijsbers lives in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne with her two teenage sons and their pet blue tongue lizard. She is an avid reader and writer and runs a group for writers at her local library. She currently has three books available for purchase and is looking forward to adding to this list. You can find out more about Melissa at www.melissagijsbers.com and www.melissawrites.com.au
Follow the blog tour:
Just Write For Kids: Character Q & A: Interview with Lizzy's Dragon, Bubbles.
Tales to Tell Me: Lizzy’s Dragon by Melissa Gijsbers.
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