I’m thrilled to share with you today an interview with children’s author and dear friend, Zanni Louise, about her new children’s book, Archie and the Bear.
Zanni was one of the first bloggers I started following. I so easily became lost in her words about life and motherhood. She has a knack for captivating her readers, luring them into one tale after another with the magical words she weaves. It’s no surprise she’s turned this talent into children’s book writing.
Archie and the Bear is the second of Zanni’s books I’ve shared with Miss Six and Miss Four and they absolutely love it.
‘A boy who thinks he’s a bear and a bear who thinks he’s a boy, but mummy that’s too funny,’ Miss Four announced when we first read the book. Funny, a little bit silly, and 100% heartwarming.
Grab a cuppa and learn about Zanni and the makings of Archie and the Bear.
What inspired you to write Archie and the Bear?
We were camping at Mt Warning a few years ago. It was one of the first camping trips we’d done as a family, and something about being in nature, together, inspired fun and creativity. On the second night, we were eating in the communal eating area, and a boy wearing a wolf suit was playing handball with a few others. ‘I wonder if that’s a boy wearing a wolf suit, or a wolf wearing a boy suit?’ asked my husband, Greg, who is King of the Dad Joke. The kids thought this was a great concept, and we chatted about it for a while. The next Monday, I was meant to be working from home, and I distracted myself by writing down a ‘fun’ story. I found myself writing Archie and the Bear. It had a lovely flow; the story almost told itself.
You have beautifully woven the themes of friendship, acceptance and being true to yourself through Archie and the Bear. What led you to write about these themes?
I think friendship comes into most of my stories, intentionally or unintentionally. I’m very social, and both my kids are too. Friendships are important to us, so I guess we spend a lot of time thinking about others, and our relationships. I once heard that most authors have an obsession; something they get stuck on. If I could pick one reemerging theme in my writing, it’s friendship.
Acceptance is a big part of successful relationships. We talk a lot about tolerance at home, and I think I am fairly non-judgemental, and accepting of people’s choices. And being true to yourself is something we also value in our home. I have always been fiercely independent, and my husband has too. I think integrity is also very important to us. My kids have picked this up. They often turn up to the markets or an event dressed in very unusual attire, and it’s something we don’t discourage. Once, my adult brother and his partner turned up to the Sample Food Festival in Bangalow (which is a very orderly affair), wearing bear suits! Individuality and self-expression is a big theme among a lot of people I am related to!
When I read Archie and the Bear to my daughters, they were giggling by the second page in. Was it important to you to add humour to Archie and the Bear?
That’s nice to hear! The more I write, the more I gravitate towards humour. It isn’t an intentional choice. It probably comes from the type of books we like reading at home, and the way we talk in our household. There is a lot of humour and laughter (and Dad Jokes). Humour solves most of our problems!
Is Archie based on anyone in your life?
No, not really. But when I think about Archie, he reminds me of a lot of people. I ran away from home quite a few times as a kid, for various reasons, like not enjoying nap time. Maybe I was channeling myself into Archie!
What made you choose a bear as a main character in your book?
Bears are very popular in picture books. Again, it wasn’t a conscious decision. But there is something paradoxical about a giant, scary bear and the soft cuddly association many children have with bears. Also, they are very foreign and mysterious for Australian children. I think my initial idea was that the bear was cute and cuddly. David’s interpretation is much more interesting, and I think he really captured that dual fear/closeness kids feel towards bears. In The Netherlands, my youngest daughter was terrified to go near the big brown bear’s enclosure at the zoo. It’s quite a shock seeing them in real life!
Do you know the story of how the teddy bear came about? Apparently, Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy), liked bear hunting, or something like that. On a particular hunt, it looked as if the president wasn’t going to get a bear, so the guides tied a bear to a tree for him to shoot. Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. His compassion captured the media’s imagination, and so the teddy bear was born.
Did you write the first draft of Archie and the Bear in one burst, or did it come to you slowly over time?
It actually came in a burst. I edited it after I’d written it, but it did flow as one piece. That doesn’t always happen. Some stories take years to emerge, even though they are only 300 or so words long! Finding the right angle to take in a story doesn’t always happen so naturally.
You have two young daughters. What was their reaction when you read Archie and the Bear to them for the first time? What was their reaction when the published, hard cover version arrived at your door?
They both loved the story when I read it to them, which was what inspired me to send it to the publisher. It was very exciting for all of us when the book arrived in the mail. My daughter Elka carried the hard copy around with her for the afternoon. You can watch the video she made that day here.
The illustrations in Archie and the Bear are absolutely gorgeous and help tell the story beautifully. Did you discuss your thoughts on illustrations with David Mackintosh, or did your publisher handle this? The illustrations have a European feel to them. I wondered if your recent European travels inspired them.
I didn’t have anything to do with the illustrations, other than writing the story for them! David is exceptionally talented. He was approached by Margrete, at Little Hare, and fortunately he said yes! I love his interpretation of the story. I love how big the bear is, and how intimidating the forest is. I love the humour. The little sandwich on the bear’s nail! Gush.
Do you test out characters, themes and story ideas on your daughters during your writing process?
Often. Most of my manuscripts are read around the kitchen table. My husband and kids are always pitching ideas and suggestions. I pick up snippets of their conversations for story ideas, particularly things that are emotionally charged.
I have written one 30-story series based on two characters, Florence and Fox. My daughter didn’t start taking herself to sleep on her own until she was six. The promise was that if she did, there would be a new Florence and Fox story in the morning. A great incentive, on both parts!
Your first book Too Busy Sleeping was a 2016 CBCA Notable Book. Do you think Archie and the Bear will be received just as favourably?
I have no idea, although I hope so! It’s getting a great response so far. It’s been picked up by a number of foreign publishers, and my publishers are very excited about it.
You have just signed a contract with Scholastic for your new picture book, Errol. Tell us about that and any other upcoming projects.
Errol is a funny, stubborn little penguin, who is not following his mother’s instructions. The story is about the parent/child dynamic, but mostly about Errol’s independence and ability to assert himself. I am also working on a four book series with Bonnier Publishing, called Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush. And I always have several other stories on the go!
In addition to being a children’s author, you run writing workshops, are a freelance writer, blogger, mum and wife. With so much on your plate, how do you find the time to be creative?
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband, who wants me to succeed, so takes every opportunity he can to look after kids so I can write. When we are both busy, I just do what I can. It may only be a scribble in a notebook, but at least it’s something. I find sleep, exercise and hanging around children are the fuel I need for my creativity. So as long as I am getting enough of these, time isn’t too much of an obstacle. I believe in stealing moments.
What is your advice for aspiring or new writers?
Be persistent. A writing career is long and requires endurance. I have been chipping away for nearly eight years, and it is only now I can start calling myself a professional children’s author. Rejection comes, time and time again. You spend a lot of time waiting. But don’t be deterred. Focus on the love of writing, if nothing else. Write for pleasure, and the rest will come.
Thanks, Zanni, for letting us learn a little more about you and your writing process.
You can purchase Archie and the Bear here.