Where the Dragons Live is Serena Geddes’s new picture book. It is published by Aladdin (Simon & Schuster) and is a companion story to Rosie and Rasmus.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Serena.
You’re welcome and thank you for being so patient waiting for my reply.
What is your background in children’s books, illustration and animation?
I’ve been a children’s book illustrator for eleven years and more recently, author/illustrator to two picture books Rosie and Rasmus and Where the Dragons Live. Starting out I was happy to take on any project, board books, picture books and chapter books to up my skills as quickly as possible. This has led to working with some inspiring authors such as Belinda Murrell on the Lulu Bell series, with Kirstin Earhart on the US Misty Inn series, J.C Jones on Run Pip Run and Jess Black on Pepper Creek Ponies.
There was long gap between working in animation and moving into picture books but it was a gap that enabled me scribble and sketch my co-workers and learn illustration on the side. Animation was an unexpected career for six years and where I gained most of my drawing experience working for Walt Disney Studios in Sydney. We worked traditionally on sequels to The Lion King, Peter Pan, Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and numerous other animated shows.
Who (if anyone) has mentored you as a children’s book creator?
I have had many influencers, supporters and mentors over the years, all for different reasons and some not even realising they were. Susanne Gervay was my biggest supporter of Rasmus; it was always her first question when was Rasmus going to be in a story. Her love of Rasmus truly inspired me to explore his story further. When it came to writing there were many fellow authors who shared their words and ideas all helping me sculpt a stronger story. My agent in the US was a huge influence with writing as well as my editors.
I am currently being mentored by my good friend Adam Wallace. I’m yet to determine whether he’s any good though, I guess we will find out with my next picture book submission and if it gets published!
And lastly Catreeana Sanders who was my creative coach. She worked with the story, art aspects and supported me during the very tight deadline. I have learnt that it takes many people to make a story come to life from the initial concept to the finished book.
Please tell us about your other book.
Rosie and Rasmus – follows a shy young Rosie who is longing to be seen. She stumbles across a rather unexpected friendship in a green dragon whom she meets while sitting under a tree on top of a hill that overlooks her little village.
Both are seeking different things and on their journey to find it, a beautiful friendship blossoms.
How does your new picture book Where the Dragons Live follow on from Rosie and Rasmus?
I always knew Rasmus would have to leave the village. After the friendship grew between Rosie and Rasmus there were a lot of questions from my readers with the ending. I knew there was a sequel and I knew Rasmus had grown wings, which meant there was somewhere he had to go.
His favourite book was the link between these two stories and it led him to the island of dragons.
Your covers are ideal for these stories. Could you explain how you have composed them?
I absolutely love the covers but I can’t take full credit for it, it was a collaborative process between myself and the book designer.
She felt Rosie and Rasmus had an enchanting, classic feel which she wanted to be reflected on the cover. I feel they are windows into the story and I hope it entices the reader to open the books.
For what age-group are these two books intended?
Boys and girls 4 to 8 will love these books, because who doesn’t love a dragon and a book about friendship!
Where are these books set, and please introduce your story and characters?
Rosie and Rasmus is set in a Tuscan/French village. These are two of my favourite places to visit and I always felt a dragon would live in a little Tuscan village somewhere. As an author /illustrator, I was able to create the combination of places that housed a little dragon on top of the rolling Tuscan hills.
Rosie is a wallflower. She is an observer, a believer and an imaginative creator who longs for a friend. Rasmus is a merger of precious things. He started out as a big, adorable dog in my mind, the kind of dog I always wanted to find as a little girl and take home, but he was also many aspects of my adult self.
To fly he needed to believe that he could and that it was possible for him, this was my internal message. As my first author illustrated picture book, I had to believe in myself and that I could do this for it to fly. In the sequel, Rasmus (and I) had to learn that it is ok to be our true, goofy, adorable, joyous selves no matter where we are.
How have you shown the relationship between Rosie and Rasmus?
Rosie and Rasmus have an unspoken relationship it’s like a common understanding of each other just through being and doing things together.
I felt as an illustrator I was able to represent that stronger visually than I could with words.
You have incorporated the fantasy element beautifully. How have you crafted this?
No one has ever said the stories have a fantasy element so it’s very heartening that you see this. It wasn’t a conscious thing, and as I reflect on your question, I’m taken back to my childhood and my imagination. There were mystical and magical books that we had and the illustrations must have been hidden under layer of my imagination.
How have you used the symbols of balloons and a kite?
I wanted to use the balloons, kite and flowers as a gesture of friendship and an unspoken invitation to play. It also signifies Rasmus and his desire to fly.
How would you describe your illustrative style and how your background in animation influences it?
In these books I have a very soft loose illustrative style. I was, in fact, asked by the designer who I’ve illustrated for previously, to keep the looseness in these two books. I usually clean up the linework and tighten the lines which I find can stiffens the artwork.
It felt so freeing to be able to draw loosely and by doing so it added movement and so much more emotion to all that illustrations. I also have a cartoony style which is stronger lines, I try to incorporate emotions into my drawings which is absolutely something I learned working in animation. How to use emotion is not only reflected in the face but also the body and the extension of your arms, head and feet leads the viewers eye to where you want them to look on the page.
What media do you use, and why?
I am most comfortable with pencil and watercolour though I do create digital artwork, it’s still a new learning tool for me and often combine both hand drawn elements and digital colour.
It is definitely easier for me to use gouache, watercolour and pencil’s they are more tangible mediums that feed my soul that I am yet to replicate digitally on my computer or ipad.
Could you describe your colour palette and why you have chosen this?
With Rosie and Rasmus I wanted to bring in the colours of Tuscany and the colours of the rolling hills. There was a warmth that came through in the village colour palettes and I wanted that to surround and almost hug these two little characters as their friendship developed.
Where the Dragons Live was an obvious contrast and I had to play around with warm and cool grey with a very bland environment. The colours were muted in comparison and when Rosie arrived, she brought in the colours from the village to warm up the cold island (balloons, bunting, plants)
What values would you hope that children appreciate from your Rosie and Rasmus stories?
I hope the series provokes discussion of loneliness, friendship, perseverance and believing in yourself. Appreciating that our differences are there to be embraced, not every child is confident and kindness can make way for a beautiful friendship.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new book series with Jess Black called Pepper Creek Ponies with Scholastic, book one is being released in Jan 2021. And sequels to Hijabi Girl by Ozge Alkan, Hazel Edwards both due out in 2021.
From my bag of stories, I have just submitted a young reader comic called Frankie and Finn (fingers crossed!)
And working on a picture books called Twiggy Wants a Pet.
What else are you reading and keen to recommend at the moment?
I am reading Beyond Belief by Dee White which is inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the second world war.
I am also reading Norton and Bear by Gabriel Evans and Naughty Dragons illustrated by my gorgeous friend Simon Howe. I get so inspired by fellow illustrators and how they draw, I often buy their books and read the pictures… then the story.
How can your readers contact you?
Through my website www.serenageddes.com
Is there anything else you would like to add, Serena?
Illustrator Tips –
I think it’s important to research what’s on the market but don’t adjust your style to suit the trend.
I began a daily drawing and filled journals with illustrations of my day or an experience. I incorporated different mediums and replaced myself with new characters, it was fun and I have a visual diary of my life that I reflect on more than I do my photos.
This helped for two reasons, I often experienced creative blocks which I associated with my moods. By drawing anything I saw or felt it showed I could create in any circumstance or while in any mood. The second reason this is a great tip is I developed characters and stories by just playing. This is where I go for new story ideas by reflecting on these daily sketches.
It also makes an easy selection for your portfolio and reference for characters and people when it comes to illustrating books.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful responses Serena. You sound very busy with a plethora of interesting works-in-progress. All the best with your books.