#raymundandthefearmonster #blogtour #booksontourpr #day3
A collaborative relationship made in heaven! The inner and working strengths of both author Megan Higginson and illustrator Ester de Boer are certainly ones to be admired, and inspired by. No doubt bringing a picture book such as this, via the self-publishing route, is a challenge in itself. But these super talented creators have added their own conquering powers, and passions, into this project right from the get-go. Learn more about the progression of Raymund and the Fear Monster at this timeline piece, and join us here today for a joint interview between this fiercely, fabulously creative duo. Thanks, ladies! 🙂
Congratulations on the release of your bold and daring picture book – Raymund and the Fear Monster!
How did the collaboration first begin?
M: Ester and I became friends around the same time I wrote ‘Raymund’. We started up a writer’s group together and Ester read ‘Raymund’ and loved it. She said that if I ever decided to publish it that she wanted to illustrate it. I had seen her illustrations and knew what she could do. So, I said yes without hesitation.
E: When I met Megan, we both had so many life experiences in common (we even both grew up in North Queensland). Though it’s fuelled by her own life story, when she read it, I felt it was also mine. We connected through a shared vision.
Megan, how did you feel when you initially saw Ester’s sketches? Were her illustrations what you had hoped for this story?
Ester’s initial sketches of the monster were a really scribbly style which she thought might work. However, I remember the day Ester invited me over to her place as she’d just started work on the opening page with the monster looking down on the village. I walked in and she had the page up on her easel. Underneath but covered by plastic was this huge piece she’d been working on for years, a bit at a time in her natural style. I just stared at the opening illustration. It was beautiful.
‘It’s not what we discussed. It’s more closer to my natural style. I can change it if you don’t think it will work,’ Ester said.
I just stared at her. ‘You haven’t had a chance to illustrate a picture book in your natural style. Here’s your chance. I say, go for it.’
And that was that. A year and a half later, and I am over the moon at how beautiful and monstrously fun the book turned out.
Ester, how did you go about interpreting Megan’s text? Did your Fear Monster change shape or form throughout the process or did you envision it straight away in your mind?
E: I wanted the monster to represent childhood fear without being really nightmare-inducing (trust me, I can do the latter!) If you look at the fear monster, it’s actually kind of cute- it’s big, round and fluffy, the teeth aren’t fang-like, just badly needing dental care, its expression is more dopey than scary and despite the fungal growths, even the feet aren’t likely to torment the imagination of anyone but a podiatrist. – So the answer is, I had a fairly good idea straight up. The hands and feet, though, were originally more Dr Seuss-like.
Have you surprised each other with any unusual or challenging ideas at any point?
M: Unusual or challenging ideas? Ester wanted to put poo on nearly every page, including the cover! I asked her to keep the poo to a minimum or it would run the risk of becoming yet another ‘poo’ book. Poo is a bit like fear. Good in small amounts.
E: I’ve worked with kids with special needs for years, teaching strategies for dealing with stress among other things, so I thought it’d be good if the story showed Raymund using some kind of self-calming strategies. Megan’s the best to work with – an artist without the fragile ego (they exist). She loved the idea, as it supported her vision, so she went back to the drawing board and worked it in without removing the flow of the story.
Megan was part of the illustration process also, with both negative and positive feedback along the way (erase- try again… erase- try again… ) She constantly surprises me with her ability to research and promote- she’s a machine! Seriously! I’m sure people study at uni for years to do what she’s taught herself through sheer grit and determination.
What secrets can you reveal about the process, specifically about taking the self-publishing route?
M: Do your research to find out which self-publishing route you want to go, as there is more than one, and get recommendations from others who have done it well. DO NOT skimp on editing or a good graphic designer, or a fabulous book cover. Decide whether you want to print 1,000 copies overseas and deal with selling them etc. Or if you’d go the Print on Demand route.
E: Seek brutally honest, expert advice, and then harden up and actually take the advice. I cringe at the phrase “good enough for kids”. Illustration is an artform that I’m still in the early stages of learning. I have to put ego aside and hear the tough feedback, because compliments don’t make you grow. Many great self-published stories gather dust because of hideous covers and nasty word art graphics (just sayin’..)
Who works harder? Author or illustrator? 😉
M: Haha! There’s a hard question. Ester and I have both worked very hard in our own way and to our different strengths. I think that’s why we make a good team.
E: In this case, definitely equal, I think. Our roles are very different, but we’re both very motivated.
Raymund and the Fear Monster is a prime example of positive self-talk and mindfulness to shrink overwhelming doubts. Have you had any moments yourselves when you needed to face a fear or overcome a challenge?
M: I have lived with fear most of my life. I grew up in with a violent alcoholic father. When my parents split up when I was 13 years old, we had to go into hiding. I was kicked out of home at 16 years old and homeless for two years. I got pregnant at 17. Got married at 19. I got was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at 30 and CFS/ME was hot on its heels. I got myself out of a bad situation several years ago. So, yes. I’ve had to face fear repeatedly and overcome many challenges, way too many to list here.
Over the past several years I’ve come to understand fear more and more. It’s okay in small amounts. It keeps us alert. However, fear can stop you from having fun, enjoying life and taking up opportunities when they present themselves. Fear can be like a chain, entangling you within its grasp, and keeping you in one place, never able to really be who you’re meant to be or enjoy life.
E: I was the most incredibly timid kid. I avoided eye contact, spoke in a whisper in class and was practically scared of my own shadow. As an adult, my social anxiety became so bad that I dropped out of uni twice and for weeks could hardly leave the house. I remember working with kids with these problems and thinking that I really should have been in their seat. I truly thank God I have come a HUGE way from that! But I’m a work in progress.
What is your favourite part of Raymund and the Fear Monster? Why?
M: Oh, wow! That’s a hard one. I have a favourite illustration. It’s the double page spread of the jungle and the Raymund and Zoe are right in the background and Raymund is looking back towards the reader. Ester’s done this gorgeous work of creating a text box with the jungle surrounding it. Ester’s also included heaps of wildlife in the jungle and it’s so much fun poring over the illustration and trying to spot all of them. As far as the story is concerned, I think it’s when Raymund approaches the Fear Monster even though he’s afraid. His legs are like jelly, and his heart is pounding, but he steps towards the monster and says to the monster, ‘I’ve come to get rid of you!’
E: The part where Raymund takes a big breath and steps toward the monster- it’s a powerful moment, because it represents the decision to step forward, even though all the same old emotions are there.
What do you hope readers will gain from engaging with this book?
M: First and foremost, I hope they enjoy the story and illustrations. Secondly, and I suppose most importantly, I hope people of all ages will come to realise where fear is holding them back in their own lives and begin taking steps to face those fears and start to enjoy life.
E: Encouragement, inspiration, motivation. Life is tough, and it doesn’t wait for us to feel ready. Stepping forward into the unknown is scary, especially if you’ve been burnt before. It’s a risk, whereas hiding is a predictable certainty- the certainty that nothing will ever happen. When I was younger, I worked in a nursing home. So many of the elderly residents told me their greatest regret in life was that they didn’t take risks.
What tips can you give aspiring writers and illustrators on working as a partnership? What to do and what not to do?
M: As an author, I endeavoured to stay out of my illustrator’s way as much as possible. There was a paragraph that was cut during the editing process. Though it was (I felt) great writing, it no longer fit into the story and I figured that Ester could illustrate it. And so, a whole paragraph become the double page spread of the monster in his cave and the words, ‘until is became a monstrous beast.’
The only time I really said anything to Ester about the illustrations was to ensure that the illustrations showed the techniques Raymund uses in the story. The great thing is that Ester and I had a similar vision for the book, so she was going to do that anyway.
In answer to your question: listen to each other. Authors leave the illustrators to do what they do well. Be willing to cut words that are no longer are necessary and can be shown in the illustrations. If you collaborate as closely as Ester and I have, be willing to listen to each other. Work to your strengths.
E: Our partnership works because we are each skilled in different areas. We’re both creative writers and artists, but Megan is super organised, business minded, and (who’dathunkit?) something of a natural prodigy at marketing. If you were to open up her brain, you might see impressive rows of polished filing cabinets. I’m a very out of the box thinker, and creative in a kind of manic way. If you were to open my brain, you’d probably see an ADHD monkey leaping up and down clanging a pair of cymbals. We rub off on each other, though. Recently, I’m certain I heard, in between the sound of monkey chatter, the sound of various noise-producing implements being filed into categories. (I have also – just between us– caught Megan acting very strangely, when she thinks no one is looking, so… is it a good thing? I don’t know…)
Thank you both for your time, and congratulations again on a spectacular book! 😊
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