I had the pleasure of interviewing author and illustrator Gillian Seale about her debut chapter book Postpixie Missing in Action, her Kickstarter campaign, and her unique book-writing business called Tailored Yarn.
MARY ANN MAHONEY: Hi Gillian! Thank you for speaking with me today!
GILLIAN SEALE: Hi!
MAM: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
GS: I’m a Scottish lass, mother of three, previously accountant and first-time author / illustrator who enjoys playing badminton and board games. I’m studying a psychology master’s at Chester University which is proving both challenging and interesting in equal measure.
MAM: What is Tailored Yarn?
GS: Tailored Yarn is my community-focused business, writing and illustrating bespoke children’s stories for families where parents have received a terminal diagnosis of cancer or other serious illnesses. The best way of describing it is like the popular idea of memory boxes, but in a very unique literature format. Each story will be uniquely tailored to the facts, memories and intimate details of each family, woven together in an exciting fictional story.
MAM: What inspired you to write Postpixie Missing in Action?
GS: I was inspired by my closest friend who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of eleven. We love meeting up each week and have read many books together over the years. I admire how she deals with life’s challenges with an unshakable faith and she never complains. Postpixie Missing in Action is for her niece and nephew (also diagnosed with this rare muscle wasting condition) who live in Ireland. It was her idea to make the message of the story about how much we still need to depend on each other in a world telling us to strive for our independence.
MAM: Was this the first time you’ve worked with a book editor? What was the experience like?
GS: Yes, it is. I tried asking a family member to edit it initially, when it was just for my friend to keep. However, when I decided I wanted to get my book properly published, I thought it made sense to hire a professional and I’m so glad I did. Although, I must admit it took me at least two weeks to pluck up the courage to open the document when I realised how many corrections were needed. This does confirm how essential that process is to make sure the final draft is completely free from errors.
MAM: What has the feedback of your book been like so far?
GS: I’ve had great feedback so far from friends, local librarians and my Riverside Writers group, who meet regularly each month in West Kirby library near to where I live. They have all been very encouraging and have inspired me to keep going with it. The main comments I receive relate to the hand-painted illustrations that are scattered onto every page in the book.
MAM: The illustrations of your book look fantastic! Who does your illustrations?
GS: I’ve completed all of the illustrations myself using watercolour, which I really enjoy. This is why there are so many; there are over fifty pages of intricate and delicate illustrations which have taken me years to do, but have made the book extra special.
MAM: Do you consider yourself to been more of an artist or a writer?
GS: If I could only choose one to do for the rest of my life, then painting would win every time. However, I do enjoy the creative side of storytelling, thinking up the plots and interactions with the characters. I also love weaving details that represent difficult issues into a story in an easy way for children to understand. For example, my current book deals with topics such as disabilities, mental health, dyslexia, food allergies and foster care, but they can be very cleverly disguised within fiction.
MAM: Why children’s books?
GS: They’re lots of fun to write. I guess the two main reasons are that I enjoy reading stories to my own children and adult books don’t usually require as many illustrations, which is my favourite part of the process.
MAM: Were there any misconceptions you had about writing before you started?
GS: Difficult question. I don’t think I had many preconceptions, as it all developed fairly naturally. I didn’t set out to become an author illustrator. I just pursued my passion. Then, after spending four years perfecting it, I felt driven to go further, making it available for a wider audience. Although I put a lot of research into it, nothing could have prepared me for the amount of hard work involved in the promotion and marketing side of getting a book out into the world.
MAM: How long have you had an interest in creating art?
GS: I’ve always enjoyed art, especially painting, but in my younger years, I naively didn’t think I could make a serious career out of being an artist. I wonder where I would be now, if I hadn’t dissuaded myself against choosing a more creative path.
MAM: How long have you been writing for?
GS: I’ve been writing for about four years now.
MAM: Have you faced any struggles as a writer?
GS: I have, actually. If anyone had told me as a child that I would become a writer one day, I would never have believed them. The truth is that I struggled with English at school and needed a tutor to help me scrape through my exams. When I tried writing essays at university, my grades were much lower compared to science and maths, so I quickly gave up. It wasn’t until I studied accountancy as an adult that I was diagnosed as being dyslexic. Then studying psychology was even harder, but I was more motivated. My academic tutor helped me understand that my dyslexia might mean that I’m much slower when it comes to the reading and writing process, but it could also be at the root of my creativity.
MAM: Do you believe in writer’s block?
GS: I haven’t really experienced writers block so far, but I do worry about finding the right level of inspiration for my future books.
MAM: Do you have any writing techniques?
GS: Like most authors I struggle to actually finish. I thought I was finished, then I spoke to a playwright who works in Liverpool theatres. After his feedback, I ended up adding in a lot more detail and the story’s subplots developed along a different line. I continually look over both the words and pictures and find myself making small adjustments. This process could go on forever. In the end, I had to set myself a deadline to have the book out by Christmas. So, getting good feedback to improve while setting deadlines really helped.
MAM: What are you doing when you’re not writing or creating art?
GS: I was playing badminton for the local Wirral league but it has been difficult to keep it up with both a young family and finishing my psychology studies. I completed all my taught modules last year, but have taken some extra time to research my dissertation.
MAM: Are there any authors whose books you particularly enjoy?
GS: I recently met Chris Riddell, who was the children’s laureate a few years back. I would be interested in doing more family book reviews for a mixture of well known and new children’s authors. In terms of adult books, I’ve read historical fiction by Dorothy Dunnett, and I like Jasper Fforde, who wrote a fantastic series in an alternative reality, where the main character is a literature detective who travels through books.
MAM: What are your inspirations for both art and literature?
GS: I loved Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books as a child, mainly because her illustrations are so incredibly beautiful and detailed. I also feel inspired by the classics like Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, J. K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, and C. S. Lewis.
MAM: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or illustrators?
GS: I would say don’t give up, especially if this is your passion. Listen to lots of podcasts to stay motivated and inspired.
MAM: Why have you taken to Kickstarter?
GS: I’m using this platform to raise the funds to bring out my first book, instead of applying to a bank for a loan. As my book is fifty pages of coloured illustrations, this was the best way to cover the costs of publication.
MAM: How long do people have to back your campaign?
GS: The campaign has over a month left to run and finishes on Tuesday, 17th December. I’ve reached over 25% of my goal, so every contribution is crucial and really makes a difference.
MAM: What kind of rewards are there for people who back your Kickstarter campaign?
GS: As well as a copy of the book, rewards include greeting cards; calligraphy prints; workshops in schools, libraries and hospices; charity bake sales; and planting trees to create our own woodland and help the environment. Also, if we exceed our goal, then I will be creating activities, puzzles, colouring sheets and healthy baking recipes for kids to enjoy.
MAM: What are your plans for the future of Tailored Yarn?
GS: Well, as I’m still waiting patiently for a family to write for, I’m filling in the time with my second book. It’s already been written and is just needing the illustrations to be finished. This one is about a boy who is spending time with his grandfather while his mother is in hospital. It’s for childbirth-related mental health charity, Action on Postpartum Psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is a surprisingly rare illness, despite being a result of sleep deprivation, stress and hormones, which many mothers can relate to. It remains an illness which few have heard of, which is why I’m promoting awareness while helping parents find an easy way to discuss this tricky, complex, and important mental health issue with their children. I’ve found a very gentle and beautiful way to do so.
MAM: Where can people follow you on social media?
MAM: It was great speaking with you, Gillian! Thank you for sharing this with me and Previous Magazine’s readers.
Disclaimer: Mary Ann Mahoney worked as the editor of Postpixie Missing in Action for Split An Atom’s book proofreading and editing service.