Today, I’m very lucky to have Vikki Conley for an interview. Vikki is a children’s book author with several books published. Read on to find out more about Vikki and her latest book Amira’s Suitcase.
Andrew: Hi Vikki, it’s so great to have you on my blog. Can you tell us where you are from and about the types of books you write?
Vikki: I grew up in the country, on a farm nestled in between the mountains, the forest and near the seaside in South Gippsland, Victoria. I now live among the gumtrees and rivers in Eltham, Melbourne.
My books are largely inspired from the wonder that a childhood immersed in nature can offer. They celebrate the spirit of wonder, adventure and freedom that I wish every child could enjoy. My books explore characters that are curious and brave, and stories that spark imagination, creativity and wonder in young minds.
Andrew: Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Vikki: I’ve climbed inside a glacier in Iceland.
Andrew: Have you ever had a child who read one of your books say something that made you smile, laugh or make you glad you decided to become an author?
Vikki: Yes often. And it is not only the words. It is the look on a child’s face, one of complete awe and surprise that I love the most. One particular child was photographed while I was reading Little Puggle’s Song. Her expression reminds me of why I decided to become an author – to take children to another place, to help them imagine life in a different way, to feel something wonderful.
Andrew: Your latest book Amira’s Suitcase is out now. Can you tell us why you wrote Amira’s Suitcase? And who is it for?
Vikki: I’ve dedicated Amira’s Suitcase to all the children — all over the world — who have ever shared with me their story. For over a decade I worked with the international aid agency, World Vision, often in journalistic roles in some of the world’s poorest regions across Africa.
During this time, I spoke with families who’d been displaced in their own country. Some had fled conflict over borders, leaving with only the clothes on their back, walking for days. Others had lived for years in refugee camps, some with children who’d only ever known the wire-enclosed camps.
Essentially, Amira’s Suitcase is a story of friendship, but ultimately, I wanted to shape a story that might spark conversations in classrooms and at bedsides about welcoming new people into new places.
Amira’s Suitcase was also inspired by a pop-up art installation by artist Jiann Hughes. Cultivating Tastes featured four open suitcases that had been lovingly planted with vibrant garden herbs. Each represented culinary dishes from the countries of newly arrived communities to my local region.
Jiann’s artwork took me back to memories of Africa. It stirred in me ideas about journey, growth, arriving in new places, finding new homes and sprouting ‘seeds of hope’. I pondered how perfectly suitcases represented journey… and wondered if a seed could actually sprout in the corner of an empty suitcase… and from here my story grew.
Andrew: You paired up with Nicky Johnston for Amira’s Suitcase. What was it like working with Nicky and what does an author / illustrator collaboration look like?
Vikki: Although Nicky and I had never met, we coincidently had a connection with each other through my days working at World Vision. Incredible, huh? So, when we were paired up, it did feel like the universe had brought us together!
Normally the publisher manages the communication between the author and illustrator. Usually, I receive character sketches that the illustrator has developed, then pencil sketches of each page, and then the full colour artwork and the cover. I have the opportunity to provide feedback and comments to the publisher, which is great.
With Nicky, she invited me to send her any creative fodder regarding the story’s inspiration. I was delighted to send through a handful of photos, including Jiann’s herbs growing in the suitcases and some of the children I’d met in places like Kenya. I also referenced particular scenes from picture books including Florette (Anna Walker), The Terrible Suitcase (Emma Allen and Freya Blackwood) and My Three Blankets (Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood) –each had a visual or thematic connection to my story.
Then Nicky added her fabulous creative process to the development of 32-pages of beautiful finished art. Read more about Nicky’s illustration process.
Andrew: What’s the best thing about doing author visits to schools or libraries?
Vikki: Seeing the reactions on children’s faces, interacting with the children and hearing their questions.
Andrew: Where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
Vikki: My website www.vikkiconley.com has all of my books, plus teacher’s notes, free printables and fun activities for creative little folk.
Such a pleasure to have Vikki on my blog for an interview. You’ll be lost in Vikki’s beautiful language as you read her books to your kids, grand kids or students. Thanks for reading this interview. Come back for more Aussie author interviews too.