Child Abuse Awareness Month: Dimity Powell "At the End of Holyrood Lane"
We are nearing the end of Child Abuse Awareness Month, but please don't think that this issue ever goes away! Children and families are always in need of support so that we can stop needing to raise awareness for child abuse at all.
Today Dimity Powell has graciously agreed to share with us on the blog. She discusses her poignant, beautiful book "At the End of Holyrood Lane".
Award winning children’s author, Dimity Powell, loves filling every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews exclusively for children with over 30 published stories and is the Managing Editor for Kids' Book Review . Picture books are her jam. Her latest titles include, This is My Dad (2022), Oswald Messweather (2021), Pippa (2019), the SCBWI Crystal Kite 2019 award-winning At the End of Holyrood Lane (2018), and critically acclaimed, The Fix-It Man (2017). Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker, semi-professional chook wrangler, Border collie lover and seasoned presenter who can’t surf despite living on the Gold Coast, Australia. Drop in and meet her any time at: www.dimitypowell.com
What inspired you to write At the End of Holyrood Lane?
Authors love to collect: names, ideas, inspo, reasons. Our ubiquitous gatherings never
cease, so one day when I was meeting with the then founder of Paradise Kids (an
organisation dedicated to helping kids heal on every emotional level) here on the Gold Coast and she mentioned the need for a mainstream picture book addressing domestic violence, I couldn’t let it go. While DV was as prevalent then as it is now (some seven years ago), it was far less commonplace in the media and therefore our collective social consciences.
Books like yours are definitely making a big difference in helping bring these issues into our collective social consciences.
What was the process like from inspiration to publication?
Like a lot of my picture book developments: dubious yet impassioned at first, tentative and raw, stumbling but determined and then, with this book in particular, exhilarating when I finally hit the sweet spot. The original tale was initially deemed too raw and niche by most of the publishers I first sent it to. It was poignant and gentle but the injustice made you cry. Notably, each of them took the time to comment on the manuscript saying it was a much needed topic to share but too difficult to take on. It wasn’t until I altered my perspective and made the story more metaphorically meaningful to appeal to a global audience that I realised the power behind Flick’s tale and what it could mean for people. Fortunately, EK Books understood this too and immediately took us on.
Do you have a scene or sentence in the finished book that is your favorite?
The sentence I have a love hate relationship with occurs in the first Act. ‘Whenever angry
clouds muscle in and wild winds bully the curtains, she hopes with all her heart they will just blow over. But sometimes, no matter how hard she hopes … it pours and pours.’ It’s wieldy but subtly implies impeding physical and emotional threat by a violator or terrifying threat such as a thunderstorm that really resonates with people no matter what their frame of reference. We are all afraid of something after all. I often use phrases like this to demonstrate figurative language and personification to students.
My favourite scene(s) are the blue page toward the end when Flick finally stops running,
turns around and decisively faces her fear – the crux of the whole story. Nicky Johnston’s
dramatic use of altered light and colour and change of direction is a stunning backdrop for the three simple words that appear on that spread, ‘She seeks help.’
The scene I have framed on my wall is the last spread of Flick joyfully rejoicing with her ribbon wand and little Uni after the passing of the storm. It’s a scene of pure warmth and elation.
These illustrations are so beautiful! The scene you have framed is so sweet and joyous.
Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves?
Well for starters, Flick’s unicorn is super cute. I love him! Plus it speaks to kids everywhere who may have a nemesis or fear that makes them want to just run away and hide. For some of us (like me as a kid) it was loud booming tropical thunderstorms. But sadly for others, the threat of family or domestic violence whether as a witness or victim is just as terrifying. If standing up to a raging storm is hard imagine how formidable it would be facing a clever aggressor.
One little story can’t address all the complexities of DV but my hope is that it helps children and their carers who may be in difficult fear driven situations understand that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and scared but that by acknowledging their fears, they diminish the power they have over them. That be choosing not to be scared is the first mighty step towards bravery. I want kids to know that after every storm, there is always sunshine. It’s important to not give up on yourselves or those you love and not give in to your fears. These are important messages in anyone’s language and ironically, as relevant today as ever whether from a DV, facing fears, coping with natural disasters or mental wellness point of view.
How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use At the End of Holyrood Lane to engage in deeper conversations with kids?
By focusing on a number of different elements used throughout the book, including the use of a silent (sub) character such as Uni the unicorn. He’s Flick’s constant companion through thick and thin and thus relatable to kids. The use of metaphors and symbolism could be explored in depth as well. The deliberate use of certain numbers - five beech woods for instance - the meaning of Flick’s name and the lane she lives on all allude to deeper meaning. The visual clues suggesting impending dread and conflict are shown in the illustrations – an ominous face in the black storm clouds allow children to tie the words with the concept of being yelled at, berated, anxious about the outcome.
By focusing on the emotion of fear as I do when presenting to early primary aged children, and encouraging a forum on what frightens us using Flick as a starting point, we can brainstorm ways to overcome our fears. In this way, Flick’s story allows for discussions about whom to turn to in times of need, when to ask for help and how.
Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids?
Be brave and bold and stick to your intentions. The key though must always be the story. No matter how driven you are to tackle a certain subject, it should always be cached within a great storyline and feature relatable characters. Avoid didactic overtones; no one likes being told what to do especially kids. Memorable characters in recognisable situations will stick with kids much longer than overt moralistic observations.
Ideally issue based (picture book) storylines should have some degree of adult appeal too which ensures better understanding and invites those ‘deeper conversations’ with kids. I’ve had adults and grandparents sob after reading Holyrood Lane; it resonated so fiercely with them either because they themselves had been victims of DV, knew children who were suffering those experiences or simply had a grand kiddie they knew would benefit from the storm scenario. So in other words, be aware of your audience as well and don’t be afraid to relinquish some integrity in the name of saleability if you really want to get your story published and shared. It’s not selling yourself short. It’s finding that delicate right balance – the sweet spot.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?
My latest picture book, This Is My Dad also illustrated by Nicky Johnston and published by EK Books, has just dropped and is a beautiful look at Leo, an only child who is faced with a dilemma when asked to celebrate a parent he has never known or had. Leo’s story is a tender acknowledgment of families of all shapes and sizes with a sprinkling of space aliens and dragons.
Aside from that, there are other picture book scripts in the works which I’d love to see in the wild one day plus edits and illustrations have just begun on a follow up picture book to, Pippa, which I know many kids have been hanging out for!
Dimity, thank you for joining us today and sharing your work! Where can we connect with you online to learn more about your work?
Visit me anytime at www.dimitypowell.com from there you’ll reach me on all the Socials (except Tik Tok coz I just haven’t got my head around that one yet!). I am also represented by some terrific agents if you’d like to engage me to engage your audience.
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