Anna Wilson – Q&A

Anna Wilson is the author of Shine Like the Stars which was published by Anderson Press on 5 January 2023.

Anna kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Shine Like The Stars.

It’s a gentle, mindful book for pre-school children that I hope will encourage them to feel connected with the natural world and be reassured by the healing power of the rhythms of nature.

I personally find it reassuring to know that even after the worst kind of experience, I can go to bed and ‘sleep on it’ and when the sun rises the next day I have the chance to start all over again! Nature is always repairing and repeating, and so can we. This is the story I wanted to tell.

I’ve also added in some factual pages at the end to explain things such as the phases of the moon and the way the tides work. I have taken familiar sayings such as “ray of sunshine”. “tide and time” and “silver linings” to show how we even get our language from the world around us.

I’m hoping the book will inspire feelings of confidence and self-worth as well. Harry Woodgate’s beautiful artwork for the book certainly inspires me!

2. What inspired the book?

I wrote it after moving to Cornwall in 2019. It was a move I was excited about, and that first summer was incredible. But… then came the winter, and boy, what a winter! I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the wind and rain which battered the windows and roof. Some days I could hardly bear to go outside, it was such a battle to remain upright.

These feelings were not helped by the fact that I had no heating in my house! During that time, I felt very lonely and miserable. I missed my old friends. And I was struggling to write.

On one particularly miserable day, I called a fellow writer for a chat. She said, “Maybe it would help if you thought of your writing the way plants behave in winter – you don’t see much growing in the garden at this time of year because it is all underground in the dark earth, waiting for spring. I think your writing is doing this – the words are there, but they are buried deep, growing quietly and slowly in the dark. Be patient and they will show signs of new life when the spring comes.”

The idea of drawing inspiration from the natural rhythm of the world around me took hold, and I began to write again. Just a sentence here and there. “I am in the ocean,” I wrote. “Sit with me, breathe with me… I am the sun, I rise every morning. I set every evening. Sit with me. Watch me.”

And so the first draft of “Shine Like the Stars” was born!

3. How does the collaboration between author and illustrator work?

The publisher, Andersen Press, chose Harry Woodgate to illustrate “Shine Like the Stars”. That is how it usually works. I am often sent a few samples of illustrators’ work and asked to give my opinion, but in this case Andersen had their eye on Harry, and I am so glad! Harry is the perfect illustrator for this book – they see the world very much in the same way I do and the colours they use are so vibrant and engaging. The book could have turned out very blue and green within the settings I had chosen to write about, but Harry has cleverly used a wide and varied palette which draws the reader in to each picture.

I first saw some black and white rough sketches from Harry. During this phase there was quite a lot of back-and-forth as my editor and designer made comments and suggestions about how the pages would be laid out. At one point we had a bit of a disagreement about how the ocean picture should be presented as the rough sketch was one of a town beach, whereas I wanted to show the ocean as a big, wild place. We came to a brilliant compromise with a beach and a rough sea with big waves. We agreed it was important to have children on each spread.

We also discussed whether there should be the same child on each page, which is what you would usually have in a picture book, or whether we should show a variety of children. Harry’s ideas for showing a diverse range of families were brilliant, so I am happy that we have gone down this route. It has been an absolute joy of a collaboration!

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?

I always say that producing a picture book is like a wonderful dance back and forth which involves four people, essentially: the writer, the editor who helps shape the words, illustrator who interprets the words and the designer who cleverly brings it all together on the page. This dance means that there are always surprises along the way! It never ceases to amaze me that an editor, illustrator and designer can bring a book to life from the random scribblings that emerge from my brain! I sometimes think it is as though they have taken up residence in my mind – they manage to read it so well! It is rare for this process not to work. It really is like alchemy.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I swim in the sea all year round – no wetsuit, just the addition of a bobble hat, neoprene shoes and gloves in the winter. It makes me feel alive and connected to my natural environment. Especially when a seal chases me across the bay or a cormorant or gannet dives nearby! If the sea is too rough to swim in, I sit and stare at it, just like the child in “Shine Like the Stars”. I sometimes take my notebook to the beach and jot my thoughts down, but more often than not I simply breathe in and out and let the sea calm my mind.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

That is far too hard to answer! I do love to re-read books occasionally, though, as I find it amazing how differently I feel every time I come to them. I think probably “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – or all of the Narnia books if I could be allowed to have a bind-up of the whole lot! These are the books I have re-read most often. Every time I do, I become a child again, eager to climb into the wardrobe and out the other side…

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Oh, another tough one! Maybe “Why do you write for children?” I find that a lot of people think it is a “cute” and even and “easy” thing to do. If I had a pound for every person who has made a comment along those lines… The reason I write for children is that I think it is the most magical audience to write for. Children see the world from a perpetual viewpoint of wonder and awe. They get excited when they experience even the most mundane things for the first time. I will never forget my son, aged one, sitting in the garden and following the flight of a butterfly, a look of rapture on his face. I try to recapture this sense of awe when I write for children. I hope that I achieve it.

About the Book

You are part of this earth. You grow like the seed. You shine like the stars.
We are all connected to the natural world, and it is connected to us. And just as the stars shine brightly in the night sky, so can you.

Told from the point of view of the natural world, this exquisite and thought-provoking story invites us to connect with the world around us and achieve our potential.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may earn a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy Shine Like The Stars from your local independent bookshop.)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jackie Law says:

    This sounds magical. I’d love to read more nature books written for children 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It does sound great, and like you say, good that it focusses on nature.

      Liked by 1 person

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