#BookReview and #AuthorInterview
A child’s dream takes him on a fantastic journey as he sleeps at night.
He finds fruit flavoured rainbows, makes mischief with monkeys, flies his dragon to faraway places and chases the night shadows away.
An imaginative tale to delight all ages.
Just the front cover is enough to pull you in to its entrance, with its vibrant melody of jewel coloured lustiness, enigmatic wonders, and dazzles of gold embossing that all dreamily lull you over with an irresistible charm. And the magic doesn’t stop there. In My Dreams is filled with heart and soul, beauty and imagination at its grandest scale in the sweetest, heavenly fantasy world imaginable.
Stef Gemmill has penned a tale that ignites the wonder in every child, and most likely will also take adults back to this carefree, delectable world out of the realms of reality. Who wouldn’t want to cast their minds, whether awake or asleep, to candy-coloured lands where you can float on marshmallows, lick stripes off rainbows that taste of your favourite fruit, engage in an orchestral-quaint underwater meeting with the creatures of the sea, or fly on a dragon to faraway places and islands of Love… The dreamy narrative sweeps us further along, text swaying, gliding and rolling in amongst the deliciously rich crimsons, emeralds, sapphires and golds that splash and bleed into a fusion of visual delights. Illustrator Tanja Stephani creates spectacular scenes and cute details that emanate with energy, the starring child and supporting characters full of life and joy, and landscapes of a worldly (and other-worldly) diversity that have transported through Gemmill’s words.
In My Dreams is a magnificent escape and soothing outlet for young children to explore, and advance with their own forms of creativity and imaginative play. This book is warm, comforting, stimulating and richly enchanting – definitely one you must possess in your stash of treasures.
Review by Romi Sharp
*Special thanks to New Frontier Publishing for providing a copy for review.
Stef, congratulations on your latest release, In My Dreams! It’s such a beautiful, mesmerising and imaginative story. How did this story come to you? Did you feel the same way writing it as it feels when reading it?
Thank you Romi. I feel this is a very special book, too.
When coming up with story seeds, I like to dig deeply into my favourite childhood memories. This story is a mixture of memories – a make believe world I used to daydream about where I was the Queen of the Forest riding on a dragon protecting the wood animals and talking trees. I lived near a block of bush and would hear the trees whisper to me at night. The lines blurred between my make believe world and my real life and it was the happiest time in my life. I wanted to capture this feeling and wrote a story idea and a few lines which are still in the final published book. I called it ‘In My Day Dreams’ but later changed to title after feedback from my writing group.
The first few drafts of In My Dreams featured a series of day and night time dream sequences, then I tied in a plot line of someone disappearing into their dreams then slowly waking back up. With a ton of fun and adventure and an element of danger in between.
Which are your favourite phrases from the story? What dreamland would you like most to visit? Why?
That’s a tough question. So many of the phrases and scenes have a personal meaning. The child in me would love to ‘splash in jelly puddles and showers of strawberry rain, lick the stripes off rainbows, tasting the flavours of my favourite fruit.’ Rainbows do look incredibly delicious and exciting to children. They are colourful and hint at something magical. But the dreamland I would love to escape is one filled with magical animals and filled with laughter, happiness and love. The words on the spread ‘We hunt with friends for treasure, lining our pockets with kisses and kindness from the island of Love’ make my heart burst. The images Tanja Stephani has paired with this phrase are truly magical. I want to hug and kiss the elephant shooting love hearts from his trunk! Such incredibly deep creativity in that one spread alone.
The pages are just oozing with joy and adventure, and at the same time so gently soothing and reassuring. How do you hope In My Dreams will reach children, and their families, particularly at a time when things have been so uncertain?
On reflection, my day dreams and imaginary worlds gave me somewhere to escape from the pressure of the world around me. A time to escape from stiff wooden classroom chairs, from chores at home and from parents with real world problems. Our dreams and imaginary worlds are our special places where there are more important things for us to do as children.
Now it’s more important than ever to encourage creative play and let our children tap into their imaginations. It helps them understand the world in which they live and their relation to it. Creative play helps them learn to solve problems, create new possibilities and even change the world. Now is the time for reading, dress ups, drawing on paper, writing poems and letting your child disappear into their imagination. It will reduce their stress and worries. And one of the most important ways to keep calm in these times is writing, reading and listening to stories. It is a type of mindfulness for children, encouraging them to live in the moment.
Having Tanja Stephani illustrate your story must have been like a dream! Her stunning illustrations certainly portray vivid, imaginative qualities. What was the process like? Any outstanding moments that took you by surprise, or illustrations that you absolutely fell in love with?
Tanja is an incredibly talented artist who can capture the emotion, smell and tastes of words and sensations a child would want to feel reading about a wild ride in someone’s dreams. And in their own dreams.
My first reaction when I received Tanja’s rough art was ‘she has been inside my head.’ The spirit of a child’s dream is captured beautifully and the washed pastel textures and colours enhance that feeling. You can smell the darkness at night, feel the splash of jelly puddles and the wind in your face riding on the back of a dragon. The way she has linked elements of the story together, particularly the toys and animals from the boy’s bedroom on the first spread, is so clever. And I never imagined an elephant blowing love hearts out of it’s trunk like a child blowing bubbles through a hoop. I am especially fond of the three mice that pop up in most of the spreads. These small details will delight children and hold their interest as the book is read to them. Children will want to search each page for the toys and creatures and listen to the words over and over again.
What are your strategies, as an author, for honing your craft and getting published that you could offer other writers?
I have a few strategies as I have been chipping away in the world of writing and publishing for a number of years.
My number one tip is to write original stories that matter to you and the world.
Secondly, don’t worry over the first draft. Just get it down on paper. My first drafts are like rambling thoughts and snippets of poetry. On the second draft, see if there is a plotline emerging and tidy that up. Then on your third, fourth, tenth draft make every sentence sing.
Redraft until your work sounds like it’s written by someone else. It should sing a loud song to you and others. Get feedback from your writing group and listen to what makes sense. Only then should you submit to a publisher. There are no second chances to submit and if it isn’t perfect it will go into the rejection pile.
If you story has no interest, it is never wasted. I have reused parts of stories, characters, scenes and favourite phrases in other books. As creators, we learn and grow by creating and crafting stories and art. Not by thinking about it. So keep writing and drawing and stretching yourself.
When selecting places to submit your work, start with competitions and local writing groups that publish annual anthologies. The School Magazine is a good starting place and many established authors had their first works published in this excellent educational magazine.
Any news or upcoming projects you could share with us?
I love bookish projects and always have a few on the go. As well as editing a fun chapter book, I’ve been reviewing Kat Hall’s illustrator roughs for my next picture book, Toy Mountain due out in 2021 with EK Books. I am very excited about this story as it addresses the hot topic of our ‘war on waste’.
My local annual arts event, the Surf Coast Arts Trail moved online recently. Previously it focussed on visual arts, but as the event went online it opened up to writers and other performers. Some good things do come out of this strange time of social distancing. I am working with children’s authors Renee Treml and Kaye Baillie on a discussion panel hosted by Nicole Maher of Great Escape Books where we will chat about our writing process and path to publication. And of course rejection will in there too!
How amazing! Thank you so much for the wonderful interview, Stef! 😊
Stef is an author of children’s picture books and short stories. Previously a music journalist and technical writer, she swapped the mosh-pit for toys and tantrums and had her first book contract snapped up from the slush pile in a mere 20 days. Stef has two picture books out now, A Home for Luna and In My Dreams, and loves to support fellow writers in realising their publishing dreams.