Getting published as a first-time author is challenging enough. But how about getting published as a first-time author, and in the same year, having your first baby? It’s a mean feat indeed, but one that our gorgeous and inspiring new author, Clare Flory, mastered with ease and grace.
For many parents, the life-altering change that occurs when you’re suddenly responsible for a little one can vastly alter your perspective and your priorities. For Clare, who had previously been working with kids with special needs, her maternity leave was a reflective one. She thought often about the kids she’d worked with before, and how one particular issue plagued many of them. And then, using talents she’d cultivated years back in a completely different career, she created a poetic, meaningful, and gorgeous story about the issue she cared so deeply about.
The only missing link between her story and the world was Ethicool, and we sure are glad we’ve found her now! Here is Clare’s intriguing and delightful story, and also a sneak peak into what you can expect from her debut children’s book, Samson C Turtle and the Deep Breath.
So Clare, you’re about to be a published children’s book author! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Definitely! So I haven’t had a typical children’s book publishing career, if such a thing exists. I actually trained as a graphic designer after high school, and then moved into teaching high school visual arts. I really wanted to work with younger kids, though, so I soon transitioned into primary school teaching. From there, I started a job that has been really special and meaningful to me, and that has been as a special aide to children with disabilities.
For that role, I worked with parents to help them best support their children. I would go out to family homes, and assist parents with different ways to help kids that might have, for example, vision impairment, physical disabilities, or issues with emotional regulation.
What I overwhelmingly noticed, though, was that so many children I worked with had anxiety, and that often, their parents weren’t sure how to help them.
That galvanised something in me. For the first time, I saw how much it could hold kids back, and I wanted to do something about it.
I loved my job working with special needs kids, but I’m not doing it right now because I’m on maternity leave. My gorgeous son, Leo, is seven months old and he couldn’t be any cuter!
I’d like to go way back now. Many authors say their inspiration to write started when they were quite young. Is there anything from your childhood that comes to mind here?
My parents used to read to me a lot when I was little, so I developed a love of books quite early.
But I suppose, unlike most writers, it wasn’t just the words themselves I loved, but one particular element of them.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with rhyme.
I find the rhythm and sing-song nature of rhyming books entirely mesmerising.
There must have been something about the musical nature of rhyme that stirred something in me because I’ve also always loved music. I sang from a young age, and when I was about 12, I also started playing guitar.
Music was a big part of my teenage years, and I would often write my own songs. As I reached my late teens, I was taking it all quite seriously, and was performing at numerous gigs and had actually recorded an EP.
At the time, I definitely imagined that I’d make music my career. But as the year rolled by, I was also naturally attracted to the classroom and influencing kids. As any teacher would know, teaching anything is quite the performance anyway!
We TOTALLY love that you’ve got a musical background! Do you think there’s a connection between the skills you need to be a successful musician and those required to write a children’s book?
Absolutely. I think my music background has been fundamental to writing a successful children’s book.
It was music that taught me about flow.
It was music that taught me how to rhyme; how to come up with the perfect next sentence; how to flawlessly integrate that into the next.
Writing, singing and playing music taught me so much about rhyme, rhythm and also the emotions behind language. I also got to write so many songs about different things, sometimes about real events, and sometimes about situations that I would imagine.
It was the perfect preparation, in my mind, for eventually writing a rhyming children’s book.
And writing a perfect rhyming children’s book is exactly what you did! Will Samson C. Turtle and the Deep Breath be your first ever book in print?
It sure will!
Wow! We often hear that pitching, as a first-time author, can be a real challenge. Can you tell us a bit more about why you think your pitch was successful?
I think it was a combination of the story and the cause.
Ethicool hadn’t expressly stated they were looking for a book on anxiety, but after I had researched the company and looking at the current collection, it was clear that there wasn’t a title covering anxiety, and given its prevalence, I thought it was an important enough issue to cover.
Here in Australia, a lot of people - especially kids - were left feeling very anxious after last summer’s bushfires.
And from my experience with anxious kids, I knew that there were certain things they should be doing to combat their anxiety. So I wrote the story and thought that I would pitch it as being an important issue, but one that I’d distilled in a fun, child-friendly way.
For anyone here that doesn’t already own a copy of Samson C. Turtle and the Deep Breath, can you tell us a bit more about it?
Sure! The main character in the story is Samson C. Turtle, and he’s a gorgeous old, wise green sea turtle in the ocean who helps other sea creatures tackle issues that they have. He’s approached by a number of different sea creatures, and he recommends a specific technique to help them feel relaxed and less stressed.
You’ll just have to read the book to find out what that is!
The creative process is something a lot of aspiring authors struggle with. Can you tell me a bit more about your creative process for Samson C. Turtle?
The idea for Samson C. Turtle certainly wasn’t a sudden brainwave. Instead, it evolved in me over time through a number of experiences I had.
Helping special needs kids with anxiety was certainly one part of that journey. But if I’m being honest, I, too, experienced a little bit of anxiety. One really formative experience I had was that I attended a 10-day meditation retreat in the Blue Mountains. It wasn’t just any meditation retreat, though. It was quite gruelling, and we were expected to meditate and focus on the sensations within our body for 10 hours a day. You would wake up at 4am, do a two hour block of meditation, have breakfast, do two more hours, and the day would continue in that vein.
It was so tough, but I learnt so much.
It absolutely transformed me. After the retreat, I felt I had a whole new toolbox to call on when things got stressful or I felt anxious.
I wouldn’t say I had the idea for Samson on the retreat, but it definitely planted a seed in terms of how I felt about anxiety.
The main idea for Samson actually came to me after my son was born. I would be awake in the middle of the night feeding him, and suddenly I would have sparks of great ideas about a book. I’d always loved sea turtles; I’d always been really drawn to them for some reason.
As the nights wore on, I would have more and more ideas, which I would write down in the morning. It all came together, piece by piece.
Illustrations are so important for children’s books. Can you tell us what you look for in an illustrator to work with?
When it comes to illustrations, I feel like I provide the words, whereas they provide the world [we love this quote, by the way]! For this particular book, I was looking for someone who shared a similar vision of what Samson’s world would be like and was able to completely bring that to life.
As it’s a rhyming book, I wanted someone who could see beyond the words and translate things not just directly and literally, but magically.
And one person who ticked all of those boxes plus more was the book’s now-illustrator, Lily Uivel!
What’s going to come first do you think, Samson C. Turtle the sequel, or Samson. C. Turtle the soft toy?!
That’s hard to say … both, maybe!
And finally! A big part of Ethicool’s vision is to inspire the next generation to create change. If you could inspire the next generation of kids to do just one thing, what would it be?
Personally, I think we can gain so much from kids or people really taking personal responsibility.
If each and every one of us just does our bit, just something here and there, then we can collectively contribute to great change in the world.
Remember it just takes one person - you - to start that.