Welcome Sally and Sonia to my blog – home to the PASS IT ON networking e-zine, thanks so much for visiting.
When I heard that you were looking for blogs to host your tour I was excited for two reasons.
1. Because both of you have been involved with PIO over the years and
2. because it is such an honour to play host to two such talented people.
The theme of this blog post explores questions relating to how the book came about, where the idea came from, how the book was pitched, why Sonia was chosen as the illustrator, any hiccups on the way, that sort of thing.
So with those questions in mind, here are the responses from both Sally and Sonia. Thanks guys – fascinating stuff!!
The Evolution of a Story
Do Not Forget Australia tells the story of the French village of Villers-Bretonneux , which was destroyed in a battle during World War 1, liberated by Australian soldiers and is the site of a big memorial to fallen Australian soldiers on the Western Front. The townspeople there looked after Aussie soldiers stationed there, and have maintained the graves there for almost a hundred years. The people of Australia – particularly Melbourne – fundraised to help with the rebuilding of the town, and especially the school. This wonderful friendship is remembered by big signs at the school (in French and in English) saying ‘Do Not Forget Australia’.
I wanted to tell this story to children and, after research and thought, came up with the idea of focussing on the (fictional) story of a boy from the village and how his school was destroyed and rebuilt. It took me lots of drafting to come up with a story that worked. One problem was how to show the Australian side of this story. I wanted there to be a second child, in Australia, but needed to come up with a way for the two children’s lives to overlap. In some drafts I did away with the idea of a second child completely, but after I submitted the story to Walker Books Australia, they suggested the need for a second child (which they didn’t know I’d already decided against) and so it was back to the drawing board.
Eventually I had a breakthrough. What if Billy, the Australian boy, had a father who was a soldier stationed in Villers-Bretonneux ? And what if that father met Henri, the French boy? The two boys would never meet, but they would share common ground, and could perhaps be aware of each other.
Eventually I had a story which Walker Books were happy with, and I signed a contract. Sometime later I was sent some art samples by an illustrator called Sonia Kretschmar. Did I approve of her work as a possible match for her story, my publisher wanted to know. I was stunned by Sonia’s work and said a very definite yet.
While Sonia worked on the art, I was busy working through edits which, as with every book, went through several rounds. Then the two started to come together in roughs, and proofs and dummies until, finally, earlier this year, I held the finished product in my hand.
It’s been a long process – I first decided I wanted to write this story in late 2007, and wrote the first draft on ANZAC Day 2008. But it’s been worth the time spent to get it just right. I’m really happy with the finished product – and hope readers are too.
‘Do not Forget Australia’ is a parallel story set in France and Australia during World War 1. I think I was chosen for this project because I had a great time doing the research for ‘Song of the Dove’ (written by Errol Broome and published by Walker Books in 2011) which was set in Italy in the 1830’s. My zeal for historical accuracy, however, uncovered a couple of details in the story which needed to be tweaked (for example, on one spread the character ‘Henri’ looked over at the spire of the town’s church. I obsessed about finding reference for this spired church in 1917 Villers Bretonneux – one didn’t exist there until it was rebuilt in that style in the 1920’s). The church was subsequently deleted from the story.
All up it took about 2 months for research and roughs, and about 6 months for finished art, but I always seem to run out of time (depicting crowd scenes and intricate machinery does not make it easy when you have a deadline) . I also seemed to have quite a bit going on in the first 6 months of 2011, which is when it was completed. It was a lovely project to work on, and I hope that I managed to capture some of the sadness and joy of the story and the time in which it is set.
Thanks girls for giving us some insight into how a picturebook story is born. Do Not Forget is Australia is a wonderful story that reminds us that even in times of war, in fact especially in times of war, friendships are still able to flourish.
To follow the rest of Sally and Sonia’s blog tour see below for a list of whens and wheres…