Welcome to GatheringBooks, Lynette!
Thanks Myra, glad to be here.
Your pathway to becoming a children’s book author seems quite unique – with your PhD in Film Studies and your ‘day job’ as a lecturer – what made you decide to become a writer of children’s books?
I’ve always loved telling stories. I used to make up stories off the top of my head for my younger cousins when I was growing up, and when I was getting married I started telling my nieces and nephews stories on the long car rides to Aberdeenshire. My husband to be at the time heard those stories and urged me to write them down and get them published. When I took 10 years off full-time work after I got married in order to start my family – I have 3 children, Lilian aged 11, Callum aged 7 and Cori aged 4 – I finally found the time to do it. There was a different motivation for the kinds of books that I wrote. When Lilian was 7 I noticed that it was quite a feat for her to move onto text heavy books from the picture books she had grown to love in her kindergarten years. I decided to write the books to “bridge the leap”. The leap to text heavy books is negotiated by most children aged 7 in Singapore. I want to show children how the words on the page can transform into vivid pictures in their minds and take them on exciting adventures, while giving them the comfort of the beautiful illustrations they are familiar with.
How does your background help in the crafting of possible storylines in your books?
Movies are all about stories – even those that do not have an overt narrative. Being exposed to how these stories are constructed in various ways to different ends, I am constantly thinking about creating stories of my own that will engage the imagination of children. Though my background as a Film academic comes with a vast wealth of storylines to draw inspiration from, I also majored in English Literature, and this is also a strong influence on the stories that I write.
Pittodrie Pirates, as you explained in your Author’s Note is a Scottish name -a combination of early Celtic language and Scottish Gaelic. While I am aware of the significance of Scotland in your life having read the Author’s note, do share with us what made you feature a make-believe European land in your series for early readers?
There’s something idyllic about the idea of Scotland – a place faraway from Singapore, where nature has a rugged beauty and is left undisturbed by man, where life is simple, and people are authentic. There’s also an air of magic about Scotland, and one can easily imagine fairies living in the woods there. When I was young books were an escape, from the more routine facets of life (school and homework mainly), and I want to give my readers the same experience of a journey away from the mundane – one filled with enjoyment.
Food featured prominently in your stories – there is even a mention of char siew pau in Book One: What’s a Blue Furry? Then there is the breakfast tree, udon noodles and edamame beans in Book Two: Ahoy, the Gold Ships – any special reason for this?
It’s very Singaporean to be thinking about food! The food (particularly the Asian kind) is an anchor for children in Singapore and the East, and one that introduces those in Europe and the West to some of our local flavor. It is that hybrid quality that is rare with Singaporean children’s literature, however it is that very quality that infuses our culture – Singapore is in many ways a meeting of East and West, when you consider the food that we eat, the music that we listen to, the fashions that we wear, and the books that we read.
There is an evident love for adventure, laughter, and make-believe in your stories, as could be seen in the children’s pirate ship, The Rainbow Guppy, the fairies in Book 4: A Surprise in the Bluebell Woods – do tell us more about this aspect in your stories.
The answer to this is similar to why I chose the idea of Scotland as the setting for the books – authors have different rationales for why they write. Some teach children about the life that they know and keep to a realist aesthetic. I try to evoke an experience that is quite different. To read a Pittodrie Pirates book is to go on a journey (like when we watch a mainstream narrative film), to experience a thrilling adventure in a place we have never been before, to have our imaginations tickled, to laugh, and to be in a secure, happy environment where the stresses of life are left far behind.
Are the characters Abbie, Lachlan, Kerris, Ruari, and Lilian based on actual children that you know of? Tell us about the inspiration for each of the lovely characters in your story.
The characters are my eldest daughter (Lilian) and my nieces and nephews. They are quite like what I imagine them to be – full of fun and mischief, smiles and hugs, kind and loving, brave at times, and always ready for an adventure.
Our current reading theme at GatheringBooks right now is “Once Upon a Childhood: Throwback Reads” – could you also take a nostalgic book-walk with us, and tell us about your early reads as a child? What were some of your favourite books when you were young?
My favourites were Tove Jansson’s Moomin series, the Trixie Belden detective books, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto Chan: the Little Girl at the Window and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I also read quite a lot of Enid Blyton. I loved the classics as well – Charles Kingsley’s The Waterbabies, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams to name a few.
Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’
The Velveteen Rabbit
What is your advice to novice writers who also dream of publishing their own books someday?
There are lots of opportunities to publish, and various routes to publishing as well. The important thing is to get feedback about your books and improve on what you have written until you’re pleased with it. You might have to submit your work to a few publishers before you find a good match – it’s always worthwhile to check what kinds of books the publishers already have in their catalogue so that you send your work to those who will be interested in what you have written.
What are some of the events that fans of Pittodrie Pirates should be on the lookout for? Any upcoming books or book events that you will be a part of?
Together with a team of writers and illustrators, Lee Kowling and I will be conducting a series of workshops in Tampines this March called “Artseen” that will culminate in the publication of a picture book anthology. We’ve been featured at the Singapore Writer’s Festival recently and also done heaps of storytelling and art workshops as well and will continue with these at various NLBs and Community Centres as well as schools. You can get the latest updates about these (and see pictures from past events) at pittodriepirates.com