November 30th 2017 was publication day for my latest book, the children’s picture book, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure which tells the story of Dolphin, an Arctic seal who finds himself stranded in the Caribbean.
On December 1st 2017, the illustrator (Trinidad and Tobago artist and poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné), publisher (CaribbeanReads), and I (author Joanne C. Hillhouse) engaged in a promotional live facebook chat, which I’ve copied (with minor editing and a bit of jigsawing) below. Oh, there were emoticons but you’ll just have to picture (most of) those; I’ll keep the hashtags.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Since I first read Lost! and started illustrating, I’ve been wondering about the true story of Wadadli the seal. It’s fascinating! Joanne, did the idea for a book come to you immediately?
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Immediately, no. Actually Wadadli’s story was some years before I wrote this. I was as surprised as anyone that it had imprinted on me in any particular way. I do think because I was doing a lot of school visits at the time and because I read to children as a volunteer reader with the Cushion Club, I kind of wanted to experiment with writing a children’s story. And the children at one of the schools I visited and the kids of the Cushion Club were actually the first to hear this story.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …An image of the actual seal Wadadli that inspired this story (quite literally finding himself stranded in the waters off Antigua and having to be helped home). I think you did an amazing job re-interpreting him and creating all of the other creatures he meets along the way, plus the world of the story.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Yes, I think this was one of the first photos I saw in the early stages! It’s sometimes hard with animals, to give them human expressions, but luckily Wadadli had those gorgeous eyes to begin with.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Very soulful eyes, yes.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …I’m always curious about a visual artist’s process… how did you approach this project?
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …I wanted to get a feel for all the characters’ personalities, especially Dolphin. I wanted to bring out those qualities of curiousity and playfulness that make him so endearing in the book. It was a joy to illustrate because the underwater setting made it the perfect fit for watercolours, my medium of choice.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …I always thought your aesthetic and style would be a good match for this story. #superfan
CaribbeanReads …I agree this definitely fit your style. As soon as I saw some of your earlier work I knew it would work well.
CaribbeanReads …How did this story come about Joanne?
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Wadadli, of course – the arctic seal who had made big news here and in environmental circles in the wider Caribbean after being stranded in waters off of Antigua. The need to have an actual children’s story for this children’s author label I carried erroneously (lol) for so long (since my first book The Boy from Willow Bend). The invitation the story extended for me to delve in to fantasy, which fascinates me. And the characters, the characters are always a draw, the main draw, when I’m writing – the main character’s challenge of making new friends when you’re in a strange place and feel like you’re sort of a weird one yourself (that’s actually what came first and everything kind of filled in around that). So that meeting scene between new friends is the first thing I remember clearly.
CaribbeanReads …Why did you picture him as a daydreamer?
Joanne C. Hillhouse …lol projection?
Joanne C. Hillhouse …He’s clearly a lover of stories – see his bond with his nema – and stories are all about living a little bit in your head. Plus it helped define him as a little bit different from his friends and provide an instigating incident for his adventure.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …I say that after the fact; in real time, as I was writing him, because he was a daydreamer.
CaribbeanReads …It definitely works
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Thanks.
CaribbeanReads …How did that day dreaming influence your illustrations, Danielle.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Dolphin’s daydreaminess really helps define him, I think. It was the first thing that struck me when I started doing concept sketches of each of the characters. It set him apart from his friends…. aside from his nose of course. In the illustrations, I wanted his eyes to always be wide and filled with wonder.
CaribbeanReads …You definitely got that right!
Joanne C. Hillhouse …CaribbeanReads, as a publisher with an independent press, you have to be careful in your selections as your booklist is much shorter…what moved Lost! up the list in your mind? Why did you want to publish this book?
CaribbeanReads …We fell in love with the story. The two main characters are so different and equally loveable. The words conjured up beautiful images.
CaribbeanReads …We do have to be very careful about what we invest in but this was a no-Brainer. Children will love the story and the characters.
CaribbeanReads …My only concern was finding an illustrator to do it justice. I think we all agree that was a success.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …yep, agreed.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Yay! Such an honour. I agree that children will love the story and the characters. It’s a bedtime favourite in my house already.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Danielle, have you illustrated any other books or was this a new type of project for you?
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …I’ve worked on a few illustration projects, but this was definitely one of my favourites as I got to do full watercolour, every single page! 😀 I’ve always wondered, Joanne, how do you choose illustrators? Do specific ones come to mind for a book, or is it a process of looking through several options?
Joanne C. Hillhouse … Cool. It’s the publisher’s choice ultimately. But I was asked to make recommendations and you were at the top of my list …the only mark against you was that you weren’t Antiguan and I like to rope Antiguan artists in to my projects if I can…but I didn’t hold it against you (lol)…and clearly I didn’t know if you did book illustrations though I knew your art…and really it was your art …there was one underwater piece in particular that made me think heeeyyy …it was a woman sort of suspended and the suggestion of movement and at the same time stillness/solace…don’t remember the name…but really your entire oeuvre generally…, your style, your aesthetic, something about the delicacy and beauty and flow of your lines and the whimsy of your artistic voice (different in some ways from your poetic voice) that made me think you could see the world I imagined. I’m glad to know I was right.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Lost! was really a delight to work on. Thank you for inviting me to be such a big part of Dolphin’s story. 😊
Joanne C. Hillhouse …☺️
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Danielle, any particular challenges during the process?
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Working with a wee one-year-old assistant clinging to my legs! 😂 My little one, Rafael, was so fascinated by the illustrations. Other than that, not at all. CaribbeanReads was a pleasure to work with, and the story was so visual and lovely.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …😆😀
Joanne C. Hillhouse …And thanks. I’m just glad the story didn’t leave you uninspired. Lol.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Joanne, how do you switch so seamlessly from children’s fiction to poetry to blogging, etc? And you do each one so well. I’m in awe. #superfantoo
Joanne C. Hillhouse …It’s not seamless at all, but it helps that I don’t think in terms of genres. I don’t like boundaries around art (and some of the snobbery that inspires it) either as a reader or a writer. I write from character and curiousity (the things I’m trying to understand, or in this case the what if…). I did learn, and this was the challenge, that editing something you’ve written for a young reader poses certain unique challenges – in terms of reading level, vocabulary, abstract v. non abstract thinking etc.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …That makes a lot of sense. I find that when I don’t think of myself as a ‘poet’ or ‘writer’, but just someone trying to explore an idea through poetry or painting, the work is so much stronger. I love that idea of writing from curiousity.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Yeah writing helps me process and make sense of the world. So if you see me being miserable, I’m probably blocked.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …Me too! It all feels like chaos when I’m blocked. 😂
Joanne C. Hillhouse …For me, it feels like being cut off from myself. Hate that space.
Joanne C. Hillhouse …Oh, you know what else I’m curious about, the process visually of distinguishing between the world of the Arctic and the world of the Caribbean…underwater.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …I had to show some restraint with the Arctic underwater world, not go too crazy with colour. Lots of cooler blue hues, less undersea life. When Dolphin got to the Caribbean Sea, I used lots of warmer tones, swirls, different kinds of application techniques.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …And CaribbeanReads was really great about giving feedback!
Joanne C. Hillhouse …p.s. for anyone who doesn’t know Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and I first met in 2008 when we were presenters at a panel Celebrating Caribbean Women writers in Barbados (early in both our writing journeys) – so thrilled to have had the opportunity to work on a project with her FINALLY – she is one of our distinctive modern poetic voices. Don’t sleep on her talent. It’s actually not fair that she’s just as talented with images as she is with words.
(So that’s pretty much it. We opened it up to anyone to ask questions but, short of that, had fun having that conversation among ourselves; I think you’ll agree there were some interesting insights.)
Joanne C. Hillhouse …This was a rare treat. …Thanks for hanging Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and CaribbeanReads … Joanne C. Hillhouse signing off from Antigua. Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure to the world. #bestseller #speakingitintoexistence