Mental Health Week is all about raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing in the wider community. A critical part of reducing stigma to support those with a mental illness (and their carers); is public awareness and an understanding that mental illness, like mental health, is part of the human condition.
Sharon tells a very personal story about how she came to write this book. Thank you Sharon for sharing your story behind the story.
My family knows depression intimately – for my late husband Greg and I, his black dog was an unwelcome participant in our marriage and family life, often lurking in the background, nipping at his heels on a regular basis. Early on, it was manageable, but in 2006 something changed – the black dog gained a firmer grip and in 2008 Greg began a regular pattern of hospitalisation. We would visit on weekends, but I would often visit by myself, travelling to Sydney and back to Thirroul on the train.
It was after a particularly good visit that the seeds for my book ‘Coming Home’ were sown. Greg had been upbeat, was looking ahead, making plans and I left him smiling. Travelling home on the train, the idea for the story started forming and I remember rummaging in my bag for my notebook. It wasn’t there, but I pulled out an envelope and began to weave our own experience into a new narrative. I never set out to intentionally write a children’s book about depression.
The story instead, found me.
Over the next few weeks I completed a rough first draft, using Greg’s garden as a metaphor for his mood, his roses as a symbol of hope.
The story revolves around Gemma, a young girl who is struggling to understand why her dad seems sad day after day. He sits alone in his unweeded garden – the metaphor for his mood and he seems to disappear from daily life – sinking into ‘another place’. Gemma wonders whether it is somehow her fault, did she do something wrong? Her mother is reassuring and explains that Dad is suffering from an illness called depression, which ‘you can’t see like a broken leg, but it’s there just the same’. Gemma continues to involve Dad in her life and then one day, he begins to feel a change – his mood begins to lift.
The ending was how I wanted our own story to finish.
My online writing buddy, Jodie gave me advice, Sandy Fussell helped me finesse it some more and entering it in a competition gave me valuable feedback and the encouragement to continue.
During this time however, Greg’s illness worsened until in February 2010, he took his own life, unable to stand the torment of his illness. Our real story was not to share the same ending as the book after all.
It now seemed more important than ever for the book to have an audience. Depression affects one in five families – maybe the book could help explain depression to children and raise awareness, so I began submitting the ms to publishers.
Rochelle Manners of Wombat Books was interested, but admitted that the topic was ‘challenging’ to publish. She urged me to get the ms professionally appraised and I sought the advice of Dr Virginia Lowe who was able to help me with some final tweaking of the manuscript and provided a letter of recommendation. I also met with representatives of the Black Dog Institute, who read the manuscript and agreed to write a letter of support which would accompany the manuscript on its trips to publishers. I resubmitted it to Wombat Books and Rochelle offered me a contract in February 2010. We agreed to publish in October 2012 to coincide with Mental Health Week.
Ironically I was relieved, thinking that the hard work was over.
How naive I was….the work was only just beginning! The task of selecting the right illustrator for the book would not be easy as I believed the illustrations would be more powerful if they were portrayed realistically. The work of Shannon Melville – particularly her black and white drawings led Rochelle to the offering of a contract.
Shannon set to work and in October 2011, she had completed the first roughs and in May 2012 the final illustrations were ready, most taking between 10 to 15 hours to complete individually. Shannon has been able to capture the essence of the text, with contrasting endpapers and the use of both black and white and colour illustrations, while the expressions on the father’s face clearly show the pain often experienced by those with depression.
The book has become my way to honour Greg’s memory and while I gain satisfaction from its publishing, it will always be bittersweet.
Thank you once again Sharon for sharing your incredibly personal, bittersweet story. You have written a very important book, one that will help many families.
Now before I introduce Shannon I would like to offer readers the chance to receive a copy of Coming Home to help acknowlege Mental Health Week.
What you’ll need to do is tell me (in the comments section) how depression or mental illness has affected you, your family or someone you know.
I will put everyone’s name into a hat and draw one randomly. I will contact you if your name is chosen.
Okay so next I would like to welcome Shannon Melville. Welcome Shannon! Shannon has completed some questions that I’ve put together for illustrators appearing in PASS IT ON’s segment Illustration of the Week. These questions give us an insight into the workings of an illustrator. Thank you Shannon for sharing a little bit of how you work as an illustrator.
Please describe your chosen illustration
~What medium did you use?
Chalk pastel sticks and pencils
~How long did it take?
Approximately 10 hours
~What is it for?
Coming Home (Wombat Books); a picture book written by Sharon McGuinness. Publication date: 1st October 2012.
When did you know you had a talent for illustration?
~How old were you?
I remember the girl sitting next to me in year 1 copied my care bear drawing. It went on the school recipe book cover, so I guess you could say that was my first published illustration!
~How did you know? Did someone encourage you?
Both my parents encouraged me, particularly my dad who I recall creating oil pastel artworks with me on the back of his big old land valuation maps (around A1 size). My parents enrolled me in holiday and after school art classes. My dad was also gifted with art and I enjoyed seeing the work he created at night school in print making, painting, drawing etc. He always had lots of different art supplies for me to try out. My neighbour was a high school art teacher and I often knocked on her door to show her my latest work, she was kind to show interest and give me feedback. I always chose Art as an option in high school. Teachers and peers usually complimented me on my work or held my work up to the class.
Have you ever studied your craft at an institution of any sort?
Central TAFE (now Central Institute of Technology, Perth)
~How long was the course?
~How affordable was the course?
More affordable than university for me (although I have also completed university studies). I had a casual job on the side to support my studies.
~Would you recommend it to upcoming artists/illustrators?
It was an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design (major in illustration). We only got to focus more intensely in illustration in the 3rd year. If you also want to learn Corporate branding, Advertising, Web design, Art Theory, Packaging design etc. then the course may interest you. The illustration lecturers were great though.
~Do you run courses or workshops yourself?
No, although I have taken children’s holiday art classes. Twice a week I work with people with disabilities assisting them to create artwork. I find this work very rewarding also.
What computer programmes do you use?
~Can you recommend any?
Corel Painter, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator.
Have you illustrated any books?
~How many books?
Yes 5, currently working on my 6th book about a platypus and after this I have 2 more contracts lined up.
~Do you have a favourite?
Little Good Wolf by Aleesah Darlison and Coming Home by Sharon McGuinness are very well written, they are talented authors, the stories are all so unique it’s hard to choose a favourite.
To be honest I am enjoying working on the illustrations for my current one about a platypus, as I really love animals and nature. Rochelle from Wombat Books is always happy for me to choose which medium I want to use, so for Boondaburra written by Natalie Lonsdale I am using gouache. I am finding it quite therapeutic using a paintbrush and it is tying in nicely with the watercolour course I am currently enrolled in.
~How are you usually commissioned? What is the process?
A publisher will contact me and ask me what I think about a particular manuscript and if I am interested in illustrating it. I then say yes or no (most have been yes so far though). I sometimes am asked to do a couple of character sketches which the publisher and author look at.
If they both think I am on the right track then the contract is sent out for me to read and sign and post back to the publisher.
~Do you have contact with the authors?
All of the authors I have worked with so far live in different states so I haven’t met with them in person regarding their manuscripts. Sometimes the author and I will exchange a few emails, but this is usually through the publisher, to make sure we are all kept in the loop about what is going on.
~On average, how long does a picture book take to illustrate?
It is hard to say as they all vary depending on what styles are required, how detailed and what medium is used. They can take anywhere from 3 months to a couple of years, although all the books I have illustrated have generally been done in less than 6 months. I may have the contract for longer, but depending on my workload and other deadlines I may not be able to get started straight away.
~Is it difficult working to deadlines? Does it interfere with your creativity?
It depends how many jobs I am working on at once. Sometimes it can interfere with creativity if I get too stressed. I find that I have to be in a relaxed mood to work well on my illustrations. I think it usually shows through in the artwork if it has been rushed or if the illustrator enjoyed working on it. Fortunately I have 2 dogs to walk / jog and a gym nearby to let out some steam when I need to. I usually find it refreshes me and helps me concentrate again on my work.
Who is your favourite Australian children’s book illustrator and why?
There are many but here are the ones I entered in my phone whilst I was at Pinerolo recently: Tony Oliver, Pamela Lofts, Mark Jackson, Emma Quay, Sarah Davis, Nina Rycroft, Anna Pignataro, Craig Smith, Beth Norling and Rebecca Cool.
What’s your website or blog address (if you have one)?