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Book Chat: Elizabeth Mary Cummings

Elizabeth Mary Cummings brings an incredible depth of experience to her writing. A teacher, author and mental health advocate, Elizabeth's concern for the environment has taken book form in her latest release, Ocean Devotion. It's a pleasure to welcome Elizabeth to Book Chat.

Hello Elizabeth, and thanks for popping into Book Chat! Congratulations on the publication of Ocean Devotion. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated book, with a very important message about the health of our oceans, and the planet as a whole.

Firstly, I’d love to learn more about your journey as an author. Was writing something you’d enjoyed from an early age?

Absolutely – I was always making up stories and my sister and I used to turn these into plays and set up and show them for our family – charging them for tickets and even making snacks for the interval!

You’ve had an impressively varied career as an educator – working in specialisations including primary school teaching, language teaching, musical appreciation and mental health. In what ways has your creative writing intermingled with these journeys, and vice-versa?

Gosh – it’s all completely intertwined. As a teacher, the use of story is vital with students building their literacy skills and developing their understanding of the world in which they are living. Teaching foreign languages are an extension of this and mental wellness involves knowing one’s own story and how we connect it to others. In the work I do in mental health, I use narrative to help those supporting people going through tough times to understand better what a person might be suffering.

Ocean Devotion focuses on plastic pollution in the waters of Hawaii. Was there a specific moment when you realised you had to write this book in this particular setting?

Ocean Devotion is part of my daily life. I swim every morning around 6 a.m. all year round no matter the weather – though in big swells the swim is more of a dip! Being so connected with the outdoors you can’t help but love it and when you love something you want to care about it, to share your passion with others and do what you can to protect it. So when Melissa brought the concept to me and I saw her delightful illustration I knew I HAD to publish this!

Did you initially set out to write Ocean Devotion in rhyme? What draws you to working in rhyme?

No! In fact it was Melissa Salvarani the Italian illustrator who came up with the picture first and the story concept based on the actual floating plastic island in Hawaii… however the story was in Italian and we needed to translate it meaningfully in a way that Australian children would relate to, ensuring clear messaging and simple structure to complement the images. The rhyme just evolved!

Do you have a particular method you use when writing in rhyme?

No though, I say what I have written again and again to make sure it works.

Is there a particular approach you take to writing picture books, and if so, did you apply it to Ocean Devotion? Or did the manuscript come together in unexpected ways?

Each book is different. Some are bolts of lightning and then get finessed over time. Others are a slow burn growing and evolving and others are a clear concept or plot or character arc that requires time spent making it balance across the pages.

The artwork in Ocean Devotion beautifully complements your text, and amplifies its emotional resonance. I’d love to know about the nature of the collaboration between you and your illustrator, Melissa Salvarani, as you brought the book to fruition.

Melissa and I met at Bologna Book Fair in 2018 – it was a shared love of each other’s work from the start. COVID has made it hard as both our families are abroad (hers in Italy and mine in the UK) and our plans to meet up in Spain where she lives were dashed with the pandemic lock down. I am hoping we have further opportunities to work together in the future.

You are clearly drawn to addressing very significant issues – such as the environment and mental health – in your books for children. Do you feel that addressing these topics through fiction gives you any particular advantages as a writer that you wouldn’t have if writing them in a non-fiction form?

I am not sure - it is an interesting question! I guess it is just how it comes out when I write.

What’s next for Elizabeth Mary Cummings?

Ha – I have a few secret projects on the go but what I can say is that Big Sky will be publishing another environment-focused book in their Our World series next year!

Where can readers find you online? And what’s the best way for readers to get hold of Ocean Devotion, as well as your other books?

They can order online through the usual channels or ask their local bookshop to stock it. Any issues, do get in touch:

Thanks very much for sharing so much about your journey and passions, Elizabeth. All the very best for the launch of Ocean Devotion. It's a beautiful and important book, and I wish you every success with it.

This post is part of a blog tour for Ocean Devotion, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please continue following Elizabeth's journey this week on the fine blogs below.

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