It is a pleasure to welcome author Naomi Hunter to Just Write For Kids this week to share her experiences both personally and in the children’s literature industry. Her openness and generosity is highly commended and appreciated in the community, and particularly for those with whom she’s touched deeply with her first book, A Secret Safe to Tell.
Here is a life-altering, empowering story of a young girl confused by the physical, intrusive actions of an older ‘friend’. With gentle, encouraging illustrations, A Secret Safe to Tell is a valuable, beautiful and sensitive resource to address the topic of keeping our bodies safe and healing those who have suffered this kind of violation.
Thank you, Naomi, for all that you do.
How did your writing journey begin? How have you developed your skills in the field?
As part of my own healing journey from childhood trauma I sought out any resources I could find to help in that process. Unfortunately, I discovered that there was such a lack of nurturing and empowering books for both kids and adults who are recovering from childhood abuse. I decided to write a children’s book that would help adults, who like me, needing to feel nurtured and empowered that they were not alone and that they did not need to feel shame, but also for children who may be experiencing abuse so that they may feel safe, nurtured and empowered to speak up and share their awful secret with a trusted adult. The other wonderful result has been that parents and teachers have been using A Secret Safe to Tell to encourage meaningful body-safety discussions with their kids.
I find writing a cathartic experience and, coupled with my primary school teaching qualifications, I find that the two are wonderfully supportive in creating age-appropriate, impactful and meaningful reading experiences for children and their families. I also experienced a challenging upbringing filled with traumatic and difficult situations to navigate so I can draw on quite a pool of helpful first hand resources when writing to help nurture and empower my audience.
Your book, A Secret Safe to Tell, shares a gentle message of being open about the difficult topic of childhood sexual abuse. What were the challenges in producing a book of this nature?
The actual writing of the story came very easily and it was written within one day. The following three years was spent polishing the manuscript and trying to get a publisher to consider it. The difficult aspect since its release has been convincing adults to consider it as a book that can be read to kids of any age. Once adults overcome their own feelings towards the topic, perhaps also taking into account the memories that this can bring up for many people, children just consider it as just a book. Adults who have read the book to their kids or students, have expressed their delight at how well it is written and how well it is received by the audience, regardless of age.
What response have you received from your readership so far?
The response has been amazing. We were very quickly notified, within a few months of its release, that 7 young girls had disclosed sexual abuse after reading A Secret Safe to Tell. These young girls have been supported and nurtured and have had their abusive situations stopped. When I first wrote it I just hoped that it would help just one child. The fact that at least 7 young children have been so positively impacted is just amazing.
Adult survivors from all over the world have contacted me to express their appreciation. Many finally feel understood and nurtured, removing their shame and guilt for something that for many, happened several years ago. A grandmother from the US contacted me last year and said that she had purchased A Secret Safe to Tell for her granddaughter, but her husband had found it sitting on the coffee table and she walked in to him crying, reading it. He then proceeded to let her know that he was abused as a child, over 65 years earlier. He had never told his wife of 50 years, or anyone else. Together they then sought justice. This is just one of the thousands of stories that I have heard. They are overwhelming and make all of the effort put into my work completely worth it.
It is also incredibly humbling to hear of the way A Secret Safe to Tell is being used in schools and child care centres. I am incredibly grateful to brave teachers who are willing to read my book to their students. One particular child care centre in Sydney spent a morning reading my book to their 3-6 year olds. Apparently the students read it over 10 times during that day, and even in their spare time many were seen to be flicking through and looking at the pictures. It is only if we are brave enough to encourage these discussions can we empower our kids to know that their body is theirs and that they need to speak up if they feel uncomfortable.
How did the collaboration between you and illustrator Karen Erasmus come about? How did you finding working with her?
Before I had a publisher confirmed to produce my story, I found Karen via the Illustrators Australia website. I immediately connected with her work and felt is was perfect. I soon discovered that Karen lived just around the corner from me in Mount Eliza. Once the publisher was confirmed, Karen was ready to go. I have found Karen to be great to work with. She had a natural ability to bring the manuscript to life and I am always receiving feedback from my readership about how beautifully illustrated my story is. It was vital to make the imagery relatable to the audience. She illustrated my second book, Even Mummy Cries and is currently working on my third book, Finding Heaven. She also illustrated, You’re Different Jemima (see Jedidah Morley’s article), which our publishing business, Empowering Resources released this year and is currently working on two other projects for our business.
You and your husband are the founders and directors of your own publishing company, Empowering Resources. How did this company emerge and what do you aim for your published books to achieve?
The original publishers of A Secret Safe to Tell went into liquidation last year leaving us, and many other authors, without any royalty payments. We decided that we could use the experience and contacts gained since the release to not only publish my books, but to also provide other authors a transparent, honest and reliable publishing service so they too can have their voices heard. We started with Jedidah Morley and her book You’re Different Jemima, which was originally going to be published by my former publisher. Since January, we have signed 8 new authors, including 12-year-old Pippa Dowling from Rosebud, Victoria and multi-published and award-winning author Aleesah Darlison. We have also signed 6 illustrators, a publicist and several designers who all share our passion for nurturing, educating and empowering children through high-quality children’s books and junior novels.
What else is on the cards for you as a writer and for Empowering Resources?
We have lots of exciting things happening. We have had A Secret Safe to Tell translated into Complex Chinese in Taiwan last year and the rights have been purchased by a publishing company in China for translation into Simplified Chinese next year.
We are also very excited to have recently joined with Rafiki Mwema, an organization who supports children affected by sexual abuse in Kenya. We have just signed a Kenyan artist to re-image A Secret Safe to Tell with African style illustrations and we are going to producing a bilingual Swahili and English version that will be used to raise funds for Rafiki Mwema. These copies will be sold in Australia, the UK and in Kenya and Tanzania. This is really exciting. It has always been a passion of mine to see A Secret Safe to Tell translated into many different languages all over the world to truly make a huge impact on childhood sexual abuse, and slowly we are making that a reality.
I have many books, both picture storybooks and junior novels that I am keen to write and several are already in the current publishing process. I would also love to see my books transformed into live theatre shows, touring schools and promoting empowering dialogue and support on sensitive issues, encouraging our young people through the many challenges that life brings.
That is so fantastic! Congratulations on achieving this amazing result for such an important topic! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Naomi!
You’re very welcome!
Check out Part 2 in which Naomi discusses her encouraging story behind her new book, Even Mummy Cries…
AND my review of A Secret Safe to Tell here.
CLOSED- For your chance to WIN a copy of either A Secret Safe to Tell or Naomi Hunter‘s new book, Even Mummy Cries, courtesy of Empowering Resources, simply ‘like’ or ‘share’ this interview or Naomi’s guest post on Facebook! More details below:
- Competition is a game of luck with winners selected at random.
- A ‘like’ or a ‘share’ via Facebook of either this post or the next post by Naomi Hunter on the Just Kids’ Lit website constitutes one entry into the competition. Both ‘like’ and ‘share’ receives two entries.
- Two (2) winners will be selected, each winning one copy of either A Secret Safe to Tell or Even Mummy Cries, written by Naomi Hunter, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
- Book copies are supplied and posted courtesy of Empowering Resources.
- Winning entrants are to provide their postal address within 7 days of competition close to: Laura Wallbridge, email@example.com. Thanks, Laura!
- Judging is final and no further correspondence will be entered into.
- Competition open only to Australian residents.
- Entries (‘like’ or ‘share’) close at midnight on Wednesday July 20, 2016.
- This competition is not sponsored by Facebook or any other entity other than Empowering Resources and Just Write For Kids.