Virtual Book Tour Guest: Interview with Children's Book Author Anne Sawyer-Aitch

It's a pleasure to have children's book author Anne Sawyer-Aitch here with us today! Anne (pronounced like the letter “H”) is a puppeteer and stilt-walker. When she decided to create her first book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger, she began experimenting with different styles of illustration, and
finally discovered a technique that uses her skills as a maker of color shadow puppets. She calls it “Illuminated Illustration”, and it involves cut-away designs, layering, and backlighting. In her capacity as a puppeteer, Anne creates puppet pieces of all kinds: parade floats, giant stilt puppets, and intricate color shadow shows. She is a MN State Arts Board Roster Artist, teaching puppetry all over the state, and has been touring around with her first book & her Nalah and the Pink Tiger show for the last two years. Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is her second book. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For More Information
About the Book:

Title: Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City
Author: Anne Sawyer-Aitch
Publisher: Magic Lantern Press
Pages: 44
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Format: Paperback

The adventures of Nalah continue! One day Nalah finds herself bored and lonesome because all of her imaginary friends have gone away on vacation. But wait – not all. Mad Tooth, the little mouse who lives in her sock drawer, is still busy munching away on her knee-highs. When she finds out why Nalah is sad, she offers to take her down through the sock drawer into a mouse metropolis. The result is a tale of wild dancing, cousins and mice, taffy and a sock monster.

“Gorgeously illustrated with a process I've only seen before in Anne Sawyer-Aitch's 1st book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger. My 4-year-old particularly enjoyed the x-ray view of the stilting guard of Mad Mouse City, and was inspired to make several of her own versions of the illustration. Another fun story with a relatable young girl as protagonist and vivid fantastic characters she encounters.” – E. Bestrom, Good Reads reader

For More Information

  • Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is the second in a series of picture books I’ve mapped out. I have a little niece who is a crackerjack. By that I mean she is wild and funny and amazing. She is always up to hijinks that seem to create big messes. She is the unbridled inspiration for this series.

The first book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger, came out of a noisy game of Let’s Pretend. Nalah claimed there was a pink tiger in her room. He jumped from the dresser to the curtain rods to the closet. Every time we tried to catch him, he moved to another locale.

That night at 3:00 AM, I woke up with bed head and the story fully formed in my brain. So I scribbled it down with stick figures, storyboard style. Then I fell to sleep again. Fortunately, I was able to read my hieroglyphics in the morning.

From there, I had to settle on an illustration style. I’m a puppeteer - yes, that is how I make my living – and decided to borrow from a technique that I use for color shadow puppets involving layers of color and cut out designs. I photographed these on a light table. I call the style “illuminated illustration.”

My current book, Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is about another animal in her busy little world. One day Nalah finds herself bored and lonesome because all of her imaginary friends have gone away on vacation. But then se discovers that  Mad Tooth, the little mouse who lives in her sock drawer, is still busy munching away on her knee-highs. When she finds out why Nalah is sad, she offers to take her down through the sock drawer into a mouse metropolis. The result is a tale of wild dancing, cousins, mice, taffy, and a sock monster.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Sequels are a little more challenging than the bolt-of-lightening stories that come in the middle of the night. I wanted to keep the loose zaniness of the first book while maintaining some sense of continuity in her world. Seemingly at odds with that second goal is the need to have the book stand alone in its own right.

I’d say there was more mental composting involved in Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City. I put lots of ideas and sketches in a notebook at first. Then I was lucky enough to get a Tofte Lake artist retreat fellowship in northern Minnesota. I had a week away from distractions to take all those bits and pieces and shape them. I don’t feel very qualified to give advice, but I will say that it was very helpful to not have constant and immediate access to the Internet during that retreat week. We had to walk about a quarter of a mile to the main cabin to get any kind of service. That took care of the immediate temptations of email, Facebook, and general noodling around on the Internet.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I have self-published and been published by a small press called Scarletta. I found Scarletta because I read an article in a newsletter about somebody who worked in a company owned by the same people. It took me 3 weeks to get up the nerve, but I called them, article clutched in my sweaty little hand. That led to an appointment, where I showed my ideas and portfolio. Before I knew it, the book began to happen.

Self publishing is another great way to go. It gives you artistic control, for one thing. There are lots of companies out there, like, Lulu, and Lightening Press that can help you from start to finish. And it is becoming more and more common for people to self-publish and market their own works.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Just how good it felt. There will always be things that you look at later and think, “Oh, I wish I had done that differently.” But mostly, I thought, “Hey, why didn’t I do this years ago?” I was the only one stopping me. 

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

Nalah is going to go to Paris to visit her piggy friend Percival. Percy has a thing for wigs, and has left Nalah’s bathroom sink to pursue his dream of creating porcine poufs in the City of Love. That book, as yet untitled, will probably appear somewhere in 2016. I’m also working on a toddler board book about sleeping baby animals.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

Currently it’s because I’m planning on adopting a doggie sometime soon. I grew up with wire hair fox terriers. They are the madcap jokers of the Universe. You just can’t keep a straight face on for long around them. Also, I’m designing a new studio/home, so I’ve been visiting quite a bit.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I don’t know if there’s any message, but the central theme in the Nalah adventures has to do with playfulness and imagination. Remember when you were able to entertain yourself with a shoebox or a pile of sticks? How about the games of pirates, runaways, or cops and robbers you played with neighbor kids? We had a game called Sea Monster. I think a lot of kids are missing out on that precious, wild time in their lives now. Too much screen time, not enough playing with sticks. There. That’s me off my soapbox now.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Thanks very much, and to anyone who is thinking about creating something, whether it’s a book, a birthday card, or a banana split, get busy. Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder and say “It’s time now.” You’re the one who is going to make it happen.

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