Hilda Kalap released her first children's book, Donna and Dermot on the Move, in July 2017. We felt it was time to catch up with the author and ask her a few questions.
How would you describe Donna and Dermot on the Move, and who would you say it is aimed at?
Donna and Dermot on the Move is a picture book aimed at 4-9-year-olds. It is the story of a girl and her dog, and how she is affected negatively by moving house. In thinking about the past and the future rather than appreciating what is good in her life right now, Donna becomes unhappy. Dermot, the dog, and her family help bring her out of this. It could be summed up in one word – mindfulness.
What gave you the initial idea for the book? What was your inspiration?
I was on holiday with my family in Pembrokeshire a couple of years ago, and was blown away by the beauty of the landscape. It reminded me of where I grew up, and I wanted to capture that beauty in a book. I realised that, for the first time in a long time, I was not concerned with what might happen in the future or what had occurred in the past – so no anxiety or regrets. Instead, it was about swimming in the wild sea or being mesmerised by rainbows and lily ponds. And I felt light and free. I was also studying energy healing at the time with a renowned healer named Donna Eden, who is always smiling. Donna is based on her and my two daughters.
What was your favourite story as a child and why?
I liked The Ugly Duckling. As a child, I felt like a real outsider. English was not my first language, I learned that when I was six. I got teased at school because of my brown skin colour, and I felt quite different. To see the ugly duckling transform into a majestic swan gave me hope.
What would you say is the underlying message of the story?
That you are not defined by others or external factors. That you are free, and have the power to create your own reality at any given moment. And to shine your light as brightly as possible.
Are you planning to write more Donna and Dermot books?
Yes, I have just completed a second Donna and Dermot book and hope to see it published next year. It is about healing ourselves naturally.
Do you plan to stick to writing children’s books? Or are you thinking about branching into other genres?
I have plans to write one more Donna and Dermot book and then will work on a non-fiction book.
How would you say Donna and Dermot stands out from other children’s books?
The illustrations by the wonderful Jamie-Leigh O’Neill are superb, and have brought my words to life in a way that has surpassed all my expectations. The book also works on two levels – child and adult. Not every picture book does this. The message is one anyone can relate to really because everyone feels sad, happy, anxious and down at some point in their lives. What I want to show is that we have the power to always choose joy over the negative feelings and so, I think from that perspective, the message of the book is ultimately empowering and uplifting.
Do you think that it’s important to get children reading at a young age? Do you think that they should simply read for fun, or do you think that children’s books should have a moral to teach?
Yes, there is a lot of research from The Reading Agency that reading builds empathy and I think that, by children learning to read early, they are more likely to develop a lifelong enjoyment of reading. In saying that, in many countries on the Continent in particular, children are not formally taught to read until the age of six. Stories are more likely to be passed down orally before then.
I did not learn to read until I was six, and I don’t believe that has held me back in any way. Once I did learn to read, I read voraciously and studied English literature at university, which required me to read an average of one book per week for three years.
I think books can be both simply for fun and can also teach us morals.
What was the last book you read? Did you enjoy it and why?
The last book I read was to my children and it’s Jacqueline Wilson’s Queenie. It moved me to tears in many places, and we all loved it. A 'pull-no-punches' story of what it’s like to be a child with tuberculosis in England, 1953. It intersperses segments about the Queen’s Coronation along with the friendship struck up between the ill child, Elsie and the hospital cat, Queenie, who gives Elsie strength to get better.
What advice would you give young writers who are looking to be published?
Believe in yourself and keep going. The rejections will come your way, but just see those as a challenge to overcome and do not be defeated by them, or take them personally. I received quite a few rejection letters and my book took years to be published, but eventually it did. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than seeing the interest in a child’s eyes when I read the story, and knowing it might be helping them in some way, if they too have moved house or felt upset. I get a thrill in being asked to sign copies for a grandson or granddaughter, and knowing that has made someone happy.
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