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What interesting facts did Toni Brisland find out about Patrick White whilst researching the award-winning author? How does his writing inspire her own? Find out the answers to these questions and more in our fascinating interview! Enjoy! 🙂
Congratulations on the release of your inspirational graphic novel for middle graders, Patrick White! How long has this project been on the cards for you? How did you go about self-publishing through Little Steps? And finding your illustrator, Anastasia Popp?
I commenced this project in 2012 and first sent the manuscript to the National Library of Australia for consideration for publication. When they decided not to proceed in 2013 because “the predicted sales of the book were not sufficient to cover our costs”, for two years after that, my MS did the rounds of the traditional publishers and when I couldn’t find it a home I put the MS aside and focussed on writing other things. But, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was important that young people be introduced to Patrick White in an interesting and readable way, so I approached Little Steps who had previously published two Picture Books for me. Their self-publishing procedure is on their website and because they are the self-publishing arm of New Frontier Publishing, now established in England, their editing and design teams are the same and therefore they produce a quality product. As part of their process, Little Steps recommends the illustrator and they suggested in 2019 that we engage Anastasia Popp of Moscow, Russia, whose portrait style they thought suited my work and who had worked for them successfully previously.
What is the most interesting or surprising fact you discovered about Patrick White through your research?
That even though he was born into an extremely wealthy, Australian colonial family, he rejected the lifestyle of a landowner who ran sheep and chose to write for a living instead which meant that sometimes he and his partner when they were living at Castle Hill were so poor that they bred and sold schnauzers and raised goats so they could sell goat milk and cream on the side of the road outside their home to make ends meet.
How do you most relate to the Nobel Prize winner, Patrick White? How would you describe your own writing style/s?
There are novels that can transform the way a person sees life whose language is so beautifully crafted, their structure so controlled, and whose mastery of story to create an imaginary world so great, that they present a challenge to any writer to improve their own writing style. Patrick White’s novels fall into this category and this is how I relate to them. Even though almost all writers including me will never come close to matching his skill, his work inspires writers to do better.
In my non-fiction account for middle readers of Patrick White’s life, times and literary works, I think my style can be described as clean and crisp, interesting and readable, and that I’ve handled the trickier aspects of Patrick White’s life simply and in a way that young readers can understand.
What were your initial reactions to seeing Anastasia Popp’s illustrations for the first time? Did she capture the mood of the narrative the way you had envisioned? What do you like about her style?
Little Steps had asked me to provide a list of the illustrations I would like to see in the book that they sent to Anastasia and I sent her some photos from my research sources. The first time I saw Anastasia’s illustrations I was totally blown away. I was so surprised at how stunning they are. Even though Russian, Anastasia already knew about Patrick White before she read my manuscript and I was amazed at how accurately she captured him, his friends and Australian scenes.
Her work enhances the mood of my narrative beyond my expectations. I love her sense of portrait, her colour palette and her ability to capture people and animals. And, what I admire about her as an illustrator, apart from the fact that she is very creative and works very quickly, is that she listens to how the author describes the work, tries to capture the author’s vision and considers suggestions for changes gracefully.
What do you think middle grade students will most be drawn to with your book?
I think the cover and Anastasia’s illustrations will draw their eye, and when they read the book, or use it as a reference source on Australian Authors, I think middle grade students will be drawn to the fact that Patrick White, even though bullied, sick with asthma and not living up to his parents’ expectations, was once a child just like them who can inspire them to grow up to be whom they want to be.
If you could meet Patrick White, what would you say to him?
I think I’d be too awe struck and overwhelmed to say anything and would just hand him my pile of his books to autograph starting with his autobiography “Flaws in the Glass”.
Who are some other influential writers that have inspired you along your writing journey?
No one has asked me this question phrased in this particular way! Joseph Conrad and Herman Hesse, H.G. Wells, D. H. Lawrence and John Steinbeck have also influenced me; and, poets Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost and Australian poet Martin Langford. Children’s authors who have inspired me are Robert Louis Stevenson and Kenneth Grahame.
Please tell us a bit about your upcoming projects.
This book is my last one for children. After I finished my MS on Patrick White I focussed on my poetry for adults and I wrote a novel for young adults about a family embroiled in the Vietnam War. This MS is still doing the round of publishers. My poetry has been published in numerous anthologies since 2013 and I have won and been commended in national poetry competitions. I have just pulled 65 of my poems together into a collection called “Emotional Attachments” and it’s currently with a poetry publisher for consideration. If it is accepted, I will suggest that Anastasia Popp do the cover illustration. I am continuing to write poetry for a second collection.
Thank you so much, Toni, for answering our questions! 🙂
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