I've been writing from my petit studio perched above the quaint village of Ascou near Ax les Thermes in the Pyrenees in France.
I know... I still have to pinch myself!
Up until Feb 2014 life was plodding along, as it does with all its little ups and downs until I received a phone call from my sister that completely threw my world out of whack.
My father had committed suicide.
How does one deal with such an horrific event?
I won’t go into too much detail but I found the best way for me to cope with the grief and the anger was to immerse myself in work (we all have different coping mechanisms). At the time, I was completing illustrations for the te reo singalong title Matariki and organising The Between the Lines Exhibition in Hamilton and of course the other projects that dropped into my inbox and I kept taking them on as I didn’t want to think about Dad.
Keeping ‘busy’ was what I wanted to do for a while - until the pain eased as it invariably does over time. But keeping myself that ‘busy’ had a negative impact, not just on myself but also the people around me, especially my relationship with my partner, we never seemed to find the time to do the things we enjoyed, like going rock climbing or tramping.
But time does funny things and that ‘while’ turned into three years. Two years ago, I managed to drag myself away from the studio for five weeks. We spent some time with family in the USA and also in England reconnecting with family I hadn’t seen since I was a nipper. We also had a week in France which was where the idea of an extended visit was hatched. Originally, we thought we'd stay for a year but this timeframe changed after Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too was released to rave reviews in April this year, and I was offered another three illustration contracts with publishers. Taking a whole year out may set me back by two or more years… or even worse publishers would forget who I was!
The other deciding factor, a more important one, was Mark’s daughter’s pregnancy, Mark’s first grandchild is due in late October and yes, we will miss the birth, thank goodness for Skype and Whatsapp!
So, the decision was made – all we had to do was make it happen. I took on more work, some with horrendous deadlines and some that took a lot longer than they should have. By July this year I had completed five books, which in retrospect was crazy stupid, and dealt with another death in the family, this time my mother who had been ill for the best part of 25 years.
No wonder I felt tired…
And when I’m tired I tend to start over thinking. What was the point of all the hours of work? Did anyone care about the work I do? Do I really believe that what I do makes a difference to peoples’ lives, especially children’?
I know, it sounds ridiculous doesn't it?
I truly love what I do and I believe picture books are important for young children to make sense of their world!
So here we are, enjoying another gorgeous autumn day in Ascou in the Pyrenees.
I’ve had a wonderful 6 weeks away from the studio, enjoying the outdoors and allowing myself to have lie ins and completely forget about my work…
Woah! Back that truck up! Completely forget about my work?
Seriously, that would never happen, but having time away from the studio has allowed me to think about my work more objectively, to make a plan and to follow that plan. To work on my own stories which are always put on hold while I work on other peoples projects. To develop marketing strategies – which has been the hardest thing for me to grasp, and to develop some resources that I think children would enjoy doing.
Facebook has been a necessary evil – perhaps evil is too strong a word, but I do struggle with it. I’d much prefer to have a face to face conversation with a fan which is why I enjoy the Tamahere Markets so much, but in light of the fact that Tamahere is a world away at the moment I think connecting through a newsletter/blog and via email is a much more personal option.
What do you think?