In My Dreams Blog Tour – Author Interview with Stef Gemmill

From the moment you see the cover design of In My Dreams you cannot help but fall in love with the variety of colours used, the characters that feature, and the overwhelming desire to use your imagination to try to determine what joy awaits inside. Each time I read this book I got vibes of The Beatles music videos – vibrant, peaceful, imaginative, and energetic. Portraying any one of those things in a picture book cannot be an easy feit, and yet author Stef Gemmill and Illustrator Tanja Stephani do so in a way that makes this such an incredible title to share with younger audiences, and to gift to young readers too. I am very pleased to be able to share the questions I asked Stef as part of her Book Tour (taking part this week across Blogs) along with her detailed and insightful responses.

  • What three keywords would you use to describe In My Dreams?

Fun filled fantasy dreams. I’ve used four words as I like to push boundaries. This might be why my books are a little different from the norm.

  • The book cover and illustrations are both breathtaking and vibrant, really emulating the magic within the story. What part do they play in the storytelling process?

Tanja’s illustrations take the story to another level! I use minimal illustration notes to leave space for the other creator’s craft to play out the story the way they visualise it. The opening scene in a child’s bedroom was a beautiful surprise, particularly how the boy’s toys come to life in each spread. In most spreads you can spy the three playful mice which creates an activity of ‘find the mice’ for smaller children. The illustrations of shadows and the depth of colour and texture add to the emotion and atmosphere. You can smell the strawberry rain and taste the fruity striped rainbow.

  • In My Dreams details being able to achieve the impossible, like actually tasting the flavours of the colours of rainbows. Where did these ideas come from?

Most of these scenes are from my childhood dreams. A world in the sky made of marshmallow clouds would have been heaven! I would have loved to ‘splash in jelly puddles and showers of strawberry rain, lick the stripes off rainbows, tasting the flavours of my favourite fruit.’  The words on the spread ‘We hunt with friends for treasure, lining our pockets with kisses and kindness from the island of Love’ make my heart burst. As a lonely child I was always on the hunt for friends to play with (pets counted as friends too) and fly to strange islands on a friendly dragon. The images Tanja Stephani has paired with this phrase are truly magical and it’s like she tapped into my childhood dreams. 

Don’t you want to hug and kiss the elephant shooting love hearts from his trunk? Such incredibly deep creativity in that one spread alone.

  • The child in the book has the most incredible adventures whilst dreaming and using their imagination, why is it important to promote using your imagination with younger audiences?

On reflection, my day dreams and imaginary worlds gave me somewhere to escape from the pressure of the world around me. A time to escape from stiff wooden classroom chairs, from chores at home and from parents with real world problems. Our dreams and imaginary worlds are our special places where there are more important things for us to do as children. 

Now it’s more important than ever to encourage creative play and let our children tap into their imaginations. It helps them understand the world in which they live and their relation to it. Creative play helps them learn to solve problems, create new possibilities and even change the world. Now is the time for reading, dress ups, drawing on paper, writing poems and letting your child disappear into their imagination. It will reduce their stress and worries. And one of the most important ways to keep calm in these times is writing, reading and listening to stories. It is a type of mindfulness for children, encouraging them to live in the moment. 

  • There is a part in the book that shows the child overcoming a fear of the dark, which so many children and adults can relate to. What made you include that particular part into the book?

Nightmares are a tricky topic to tackle in picture books – the text confronting and the images scary. But the children need to know it’s all in their mind. What ever is there frightening them is make believe and can vanish in a ‘blink of an eye’. I felt this story presented an opportunity to confront nightmares in a gentle way. The soft night shadows are ‘dark’ but not scary and this particular page can be used by parents to discuss strategies with children on tackling nightmares.

  • Lots of emotions are portrayed in the book. How do you ensure they are referenced authentically within a picture book whilst ensuring the intended audience is able to interpret them the way they are intended?

The stories I write are multi layered. There are a number of themes in this book including embracing creativity and imagination, escapism, personal empowerment and positive thinking. Stories need balance – a sense of where the story is going at the start, of adventure, of peril, of change in the character’s personal journey. And a good story needs a very satisfying ending so the reader is content our main character is safe. 

In My Dreams has all of the emotional elements a full length feature film would have but in 250 words. 

  • What advice would you give someone looking to publish a Picture Book?

I have a few tips as I have been chipping away in the world of writing and publishing for a number of years. 

My number one tip is to write original stories that matter to you and the world.

Secondly, don’t worry over the first draft. Just get it down on paper. My first drafts are like rambling thoughts and snippets of poetry. On the second draft, see if there is a plotline emerging and tidy that up. Then on your third, fourth, tenth draft make every sentence sing.

Redraft until your work sounds like it’s written by someone else. It should sing a loud song to you and others. Get feedback from your writing group and listen to what makes sense. Only then should you submit to a publisher. There are no second chances to submit and if it isn’t perfect it will go into the rejection pile.

If you story has no interest, it is never wasted. I have reused parts of stories, characters, scenes and favourite phrases in other books. As creators, we learn and grow by creating and crafting stories and art. Not by thinking about it. So keep writing and drawing and stretching yourself. 

When selecting places to submit your work, start with competitions and local writing groups that publish annual anthologies. Children’s magazines like The Caterpillar are a good starting place and many established authors had their first works published in this quality magazine.

Finally, don’t give up. Write and write and celebrate small successes along the way.

I would like to thank Stef and New Frontier Publishing for the opportunity to feature on this Book Blog Tour, and am delighted to say that this title is available to purchase from all good booksellers. Be sure to check out the other stops on the Book Blog Tour, details of which can be found below.

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