Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Guest interview: Raelke Grimmer & Adil Soh-Lim

It's ANZAC Day today. What better day to feature a couple of young Australians who are making their mark in the world? Raelke Grimmer and Adil Soh-Lim are both from South Australia and recently launched their informative ebook for children, What In the World.

Welcome, Raelke and Adil!

Please, tell us a little about yourselves.
Adil: I'm currently a 20-year-old student at the University of Adelaide, in my final year of a Bachelor of Arts/Science. After that, I might become a conservator (of the art/cultural artefact variety). I have parents, an older brother and a younger cat. I've always loved art and drawing. Music and literature and science and politics are also wonderful, but art is home. At least, that's what I like to tell myself. Because something has to be home, really.
Raelke: I’m 21 and last year I graduated from a Bachelor of Creative Arts in Creative Writing at Flinders University. Now I’m studying a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics at the University of Adelaide. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I learned how to write and am fascinated by language and languages. I speak German and have also studied French and Spanish in the past.

How did you come to create your book?
Raelke: When we were in Year 10 at high school, we had to complete a long-term project which could basically be anything we wanted. They encouraged us to choose something we were interested in, so immediately I considered a writing project. The idea for the picture book came to me in an instant one night, and I decided to ask Adil if she’d be willing to illustrate my work for her project.
Adil: Raelke and I were friends in high school, and we had to do a self-directed project in Year 10. Raelke, already a pretty impressive writer, decided she wanted to do a picture book. But she wasn't so sure about illustrating it. I didn't have a project yet. So she asked me, I said yes, and, despite a few frustrations over difficult rhymes and silly-looking illustrations (and because of a great deal of parental guidance), everything went fine and the book was finished on time and finished properly.
Raelke: I should add that to present our work, we got five copies printed at a printers, and from there our high school project slowly became a publishing project.

Researching can be tricky. How did you go about it?
Adil: For both the website and my illustrations, I used my Wildlife Fact Files (inherited from my brother), Wikipedia (:D), a lovely site called  ARKive, the IUCN Red List online, Atlas Obscura and the UNESCO World Heritage List. This isn't an exhaustive list, either. There are a few more here. Personally, I think they're all great.
Raelke: I used many of the same resources Adil used, but I also tried to cross-check my information with books. I was really paranoid about my teachers thinking that writing a picture book was an ‘easy’ project (when any children’s author certainly knows it isn’t!) so I searched for facts about each animal and each country and ended up with a thick folder of notes to hand in with my project.

You have a lovely website. What (or who) made you decide to add all that extra information to complement the book?
Adil: I have an old family friend in Hong Kong who helped us organise printing for our book. He thought it was great, but had the idea of a companion encyclopaedic website. It took a while to bring me around, but I'm glad he did. Although it's similar, the website is not exactly what he had in mind - which is good, because it's now ours as well. Also, my brother made it. He's a very good brother.
Raelke: I loved the idea of the website from the very start. It gave us the opportunity to widen the educational scope of our book and make it appropriate for a wider age group.

Has it helped the sales of your paper books?
Raelke: From the perspective of being able to reach a wider audience than people in Adelaide, yes, it has helped.
Adil: Maybe! I like to think so, and it would make sense if it had. At the same time, we have no exact way of knowing. We've had a few sales through the website, which we can track, and possibly some interest and recommendations generated by the website, which we can't track.

Do either of you have a favourite animal?
Raelke: Lions! I’ve loved them ever since I saw the movie The Lion King (that’s my favourite movie). They’re gorgeous creatures. I have my very own Simba toy which I’ve had since I was three. He’s still going strong!
Adil: I have many favourite animals! Red pandas are really cute. Parrotfish have an interesting life cycle. African Grey Parrots (like Alex) are cute and really, really clever.

Raelke, you’re studying creative writing? What sort of books do you plan to write?
I graduated last year and I plan on writing YA fiction and children’s books. I love the versatility which comes with writing for a YA audience, and the challenges which come with writing children’s books. I can’t imagine writing for any other audience.

Have you had anything else published?
I write articles for the magazine Lip Mag  and I have had a couple of short stories published online after placing in writing competitions (‘Twisted’ at and ‘Forget Me Not’). Keep in mind these stories are both for a YA audience).
My short story ‘The Marmalade Cat’ is set to be published for ebook download by Alfie Dog Limited, and I have a couple of other projects coming up later in the year.  

Adil, your illustrations are beautiful -so simple but so attractive. Your study doesn’t include any art. Are you not tempted to become an illustrator?
Adil: Of course! Who wouldn't be tempted to become an illustrator? It's also the perfect kind of art study for me, because I don't have a lot of initiative or creativity when it comes to making art or thinking of ideas (which is a little embarrassing. I plan to work on it). I actually really respect people like Raelke who have the conviction to study their passion, even if it may mean low or insecure income for most of their lives. I was also discouraged from studying art at university because    1) it's not really necessary to become a competent artist and 2) I really like all the other stuff I'm studying too. I honestly believe that having knowledge and experience from other areas like science and politics enriches the mind and hence the art it produces as well.

Has your work appeared anywhere else?
Yes! I recently did some illustrations for the Home and Community Care Service Principles into Practice Project. My illustrations aren't online, but I think they do good work anyway. I've also done a few concert posters for the Adelaide University Choral Society. Raelke has also sent me two new manuscripts, and our brainstorming looks pretty promising.

Your book was winner of the Best New Project by a Young Person in South Australia in the Express Media Awards 2010. Can you tell us a little about the awards?
Raelke: Express Media is an organisation for young writers 25 and under. They publish a quarterly literary journal called Voiceworks, and each year they run The John Marsden Prize for Young Writers. In 2010, they decided to extend their awards and offer recognition to young writers in different areas too. They offered an award for Best New Project by a Young Person in each state in Australia and chose our project as the winner. It was great to gain recognition after all the hard work Adil and I have put into our project. We started this book way back in 2006 and we’ve been working hard on the book ever since, slowly building it up from our initial school project to publication, to the website, to our ebook on Amazon. It’s encouraging to have support such as the Express Media award along the way.

Your book is now out on Kindle. I notice it's very small on the Kindle 3. Is there an optimum e-reader that you think would best showcase your work?

Raelke: At this stage, I think the iPad and tablets are the optimum devices for the book, although also PC reading apps. One of the deciding factors in choosing to create an ebook was the potential for the book to be used in classrooms on interactive whiteboards. We hope to offer the ebook in ePub format through our website soon.
Adil: It might be an idea to reformat the pages to fit on a little eReader, but even so, it's best to read it on a big screen with good colour. Although, I'm thinking of Little Little Golden Books and the idea of a teeny tiny book is sounding better...

Raelke’s blog:

Thank you both for agreeing to be guests. I highly recommend your book to anyone with young children, or anyone who just loves animals and/or words! Don't forget, everyone, if you don't have a Kindle, it's possible to get a free Kindle app for your computer or your iPad.

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