Zimbabwean-born, West Australian-raised, Melbourne-resident, Suzanne Barton , author of the deliciously magical picture book, ‘Meeka’, has certainly had her own little taste of culture. Besides her love of writing for children, Suzanne is also the editor of the City of Melbourne’s ‘Melbourne Magazine’ and the creator of the radio drama, Neo Radio; inspired by 1940s cabaret. It is a delight to be able to chat with Suzanne Barton about her debut book. You can read my review here. Today I ask her about the journey into the creation of Meeka, and her biggest lessons learnt in self publishing and working with a support network.

Thanks for talking with us about your new picture book, Suzanne!

My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

Firstly, please tell us how your writing journey led you to write for children. What has been the most rewarding aspect of this career so far?

When it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a dabbler! I’ve worked as an editor, studied screenwriting and written everything from advertising copy to cabaret… but children’s books have always had a special place in my heart. So it’s been a long-held dream to see one of my stories published. The most rewarding part so far has been seeing children and families enjoying Meeka. That’s what it’s all about.

Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Meeka!

The concept of a greedy little bird in a bustling market is unique and simply delectable! Where did you draw your inspiration, and what significance does the Moroccan feature have for you? 

Thank you! I love spending time amid the hustle and bustle of a farmer’s market. Wherever I am in the world, I think markets are a great place to explore, and such a wonderful reflection of the diversity of the local community and cuisine. With that in mind, it was such fun to conjure up Meeka’s world.

The Moroccan angle happened a bit by chance, as the idea for the story first came to life while my Mum and I were enjoying a delicious Moroccan tagine in a restaurant. I’ve never been to the real Morocco, but I’d love to go one day!

How have you found the feedback from your readers so far? What have they loved the most about Meeka? Is this what you had hoped to achieve?

I have been delighted to receive some lovely pictures and notes from readers. It’s magic to hear that some children have wanted to read the book over and over, or give names to the characters, or try different types of foods, or even talk about how communities can work together to look after one another. Everyone seems to be taking something different from the story, which is wonderful.

Anil Tortop’s illustrations are, as always, energetic, charming and perfectly accented at all the right places. What was it like collaborating with her? Were there any surprises along the way?

Collaborating with Anil was a dream. She immediately understood my vision and offered oodles of her own ideas and inspiration, too. In terms of surprises – it was just wonderful to feel sure the story itself was in expert hands, amid the steep learning curve of indie publishing. The nuance, movement and detail of Anil’s work is so charming. I couldn’t be happier.

So, you designed the book through Tadaa Books and published through your independent publishing company, Bluebell Books. Can you tell us what this process has been like for you? What were the challenges and major lessons learned through this journey?

Finding the right people to work with on Meeka was so important. Even though I had some skills from my day job to bring to the table, connecting with the right illustrator, editor and graphic designer through Tadaa was the first major hurdle. There are so many steps in indie publishing, and Anil and Ozan were able to provide fabulous advice on all the tricky bits.

My biggest learnings would be: to be prepared, to make the most of the wonderful advice and moral support available through local children’s writing groups (online and in real life), and to make sure you have a great team around you. But above all – enjoy the ride! It really is a wonderful journey.

Fun Question! What is your favourite cultural dish to cook? Why?

Ooh, great question! A friend of mine recently built a gorgeous wood fire oven in his backyard, prepared lots of homemade pizza dough, and invited a bunch of people over for a party. We all enjoyed adding our own toppings and sharing our creations under the stars. That’s got to come close!

What projects are you currently working on? What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

I am currently working on more picture book texts, and a story for older readers. Pretty soon I will have some exciting news to share about my next project.

Look forward to hearing more! Where can we find more on you and your book?

Drop by bluebellbooks.org, Facebook or Instagram.

Thanks so much, Suzanne, for joining us today! 🙂

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