Book Chat: Megan Higginson
It's a great thrill to welcome our first guest to the page: the multi-talented Megan Higginson. Megan is an author, illustrator, and very active advocate for books and the love of reading. She has recently released her first picture storybook, Raymund and the Fear Monster, which has garnered a truckload of positive reviews and enthusiastic readers.
Thanks so much for joining us, Megan. Share with us, if you will, a little bit about your journey as an author. My journey as an author is a long and winding one. As a child I never believed I could write stories. I didn’t even learn to read until I was about eight. Writing was hard. With drawing I always felt I sucked at it even though I desperately wanted to draw and paint and would study illustrations and paintings for hours, trying to work out how the artist did what they did. Besides all that, I loved books and was an utter bookworm. As a child, I would sit up a tree in my favourite reading spot and often imagined the characters having more adventures long after I had closed the last page. Sometimes I would even make up my own characters and take them on adventures. I never thought to write the stories down. I thought I was too stupid. Besides, whenever I wrote a story in class (primary and high school) and had to read it out, everyone would laugh at my story. To make it worse, my story would be sooooo completely and utterly different to everyone else’s. I also thought they laughed because it was because I had written something silly or horrid. But, looking back, I realise it was because my stories were funny and yes, they were completely different to everyone else’s. As happens for a lot of mums, when I had my kids, I read to them heaps. I decided that I wanted to write and illustrate my own books. I even made up a story, Here Comes the Tickle Fish. I wrote it and illustrated it and read it to the kids every night. It was one of their favourites. As time went on, I entered local writing competitions and won every year. By 2013, I was divorced. I decided to go on a mission trip to the Philippines. While there I met some lovely kids at a local orphanage. When I returned home, I began writing stories for them every week. Sometimes they were retellings of Bible Stories. Other times they were retellings of stories I’d heard. And then I started to make up my own stories. After a few months, the writer within me was released. And then I made plans to return to the Philippines on another mission trip. I wrote Raymund and the Fear Monster for the orphanage kids. I also illustrated it (rather badly), printed out four copies at Officeworks, and gave it to them. When I came home, I thought that was that. However, the writing bug had bitten hard and I couldn’t stop. I decided that I wanted to take writing seriously and enrolled in a Writing Picture Book course with The Australian Writer’s Centre. I haven’t looked back. What are some of the topics and themes that you are most interested in exploring in your writing? Why do you think these appeal to you so much? Fear and living with courage are two themes I find in most of my stories. I didn’t realise it until recently, but I always have a scare factor in every one of my stories. And somehow the main protagonist has to conquer their fear in order to do what must be done. I’m aware that I’m drawn to these themes because I lived with fear my whole life. I grew up with a violent alcoholic father, I was homeless at 16, pregnant at 17, and then found myself in a toxic relationship. During my marriage I also became very sick with Fibromyalgia. There was a point in my marriage where I finally had had enough. I didn’t want to live in fear anymore. Someone said to me once that I wore fear like a comfortable old coat. Well I decided to chuck that old coat and got divorced. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and about fear and what it means to have courage. Somehow that all seeps into my stories. Tell us about your debut picture book, Raymund and the Fear Monster. Raymund and the Fear Monster was originally written for the children I met in a Philippine orphanage in 2013. Many of them lived with fear and I wanted to create a story that was special for them. After sharing my story with others, so many parents said that they had a child who would love the story. I realised that my story could go way further than I expected. It is now selling worldwide. Blurb: ‘A monster that eats fear is terrorising Raymund’s village. Raymund is small and not very brave. Will Raymund be able to overcome his fear, defeat the monster and save his village?’
What was it like working on Raymund with your illustrator, Ester de Boer? Ester and I have been friends for years. From the first time she heard Raymund and the Fear Monster she connected with the story. Ester and I are founding members of our writer’s group. She gave me a lot of feedback on the story over the four years of rewriting it. Once the manuscript had been finalised, as every author should, I stepped back and let Ester do what she does best. We did discuss some crucial scenes and sometimes, Ester would ask what I thought of a particular scene. It was and still is, very much a collaboration. You’ve also written a short story called Freya and the Fear Monster, which featured in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection Volume 2 in 2019. Does Freya’s journey in this story have a lot in common with Raymund’s? Freya’s journey is very similar to Raymund’s. Both children live in a village/town at the bottom of a huge mountain with a deep, dark forest/wood. They both have to deal with a big scary monster. The only difference with Freya’s story is that it is much shorter and doesn’t include much detail about the monster, or that he eats fear, or that he grows when he does eat fear. Both kids decide to tag along with the other kids who go to ‘get rid of the monster,’ they both face the monster, and they both defeat it. In Freya’s story, in parts of the story I played with assonance to emphasise important words in a phrase, to create a sense of rhythm, enhance mood, and to create a lyrical effect of words and sounds. In other areas I also used alliteration. It’s a fun story to read aloud for that reason, especially to younger children. Though older kids have enjoyed it too. You have recently become very busy as an illustrator too, and are now illustrating a full-length picture book (My Princess Wears a Superhero Cape by Melissa Gijsbers). Do writing and illustrating fulfil the same creative needs for you? Even though they are both creative, and have many similarities, for me they are not the same. They fill two very different places in my heart and soul. I love cats and dogs. If I don’t have one, I feel like something is missing in my life. I miss writing like crazy when I’m spending so much time illustrating, and vice versa. What’s it like illustrating another author’s work as opposed to your own? It’s been a fascinating process. I really love this story. It’s been exciting to let my imagination go wild to add extra layers to the story and create a fun and interesting visual narrative. Being an author though, I’m very conscious of making sure that I leave plenty of space for the words. I also love surprising the author. Do you have any advice for writers who may be feeling creatively spent, or uninspired? I received this great advice: Give yourself permission to take a break from writing/illustrating etc. Take the pressure off yourself. Binge watch Netflix. Hang out with friends. Read a great book. And take as long as you need to be able to recharge. Don’t rush the process. In The Artists Way, Julia Cameron talks about taking yourself on Artists Dates. This is timeout for yourself to do something that fills you up. For me, it is going for a walk through the local art gallery, or checking out the local street art. Though that is a bit hard at the moment. These are my usual go-to creative activities. Although my favourite way to fill my creative well is to go for a meander in nature, especially in the bush. I also enjoy learning new things. So, I sometimes branch out and try my hand at something completely different. What’s next for you? I have a couple of ideas. I have a fun dog story I’ve worked on heaps and even was mentored through by the lovely author, Dee White. I’ve submitted this story to various publishers over the past three years, but no luck. I’m thinking of illustrating and publishing it myself. I might even publish Freya and the Fear Monster as a picture book. I have some teacher friends who love my short junior fiction stories and one often uses my manuscripts, and my published stories in her year two class. I’m thinking of putting several of my short stories together with illustrations in a story collection. I’m also continuing working on my middle-grade sci-fi novel. I’ve nearly finished the third draft. I did have an agent interested in it when I had the first three chapters assessed a couple of years ago. So, I hope it will find a home with a traditional publisher. And I will continue to work on the craft of writing and illustrating. Where can readers find out more about you and get hold of your books? Readers can find more about me on my website: https://www.meganhigginson.com/ Raymund and the Fear Monster can be found on my website (Australia Only). https://www.meganhigginson.com/books.html Raymund is also available in online bookstores around the English-speaking world. I’m currently not selling the anthologies on my website as I only have a few copies and plan to sell them in markets in the new year (hopefully). Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/meganhigginsonauthor Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/meganhigginsonauthor/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRWdIwnVO1lAa9BI2vySWIQ Thanks so much for sharing so many personal insights into your incredible journey, Megan. It's been a real pleasure to pick your brain, and I can't wait to see how your journey continues. Check out this spectacular trailer for Raymund and the Fear Monster.