Today, I would like to introduce you to a lovely lady I met here on Goodreads, Heather Grace Stewart. I have to admit that when I first met Heather and she asked whether I would like to read and review her poetry book, I was a little hesitant. I don't read much poetry and was worried I wouldn't like her book. She is such a bubbly, friendly person I didn't really want to offend her. I needn't have worried though; as soon as I started reading her book Leap I fell in love with it.
Heather's poetry reads like she is shining a light on everyday events that might sometimes elude us or seem insignificant. She make you think about things in a different way, which is one of the signs of a great writer. She writes about life and things that we can all relate to. I would highly recommend that you take a leap (sorry for the pun) and purchase her book. Or, of course, you could enter the giveaway on this blog and be in with a chance of winning a copy of Leap or a copy of her newest poetry book, which I am looking forward to finding time to read, Carry On Dancing. There are 2 Kindle copies of Leap and 2 Kindle copies of Carry on Dancing up for grabs.
To enter, all you need to do is 'Like' this blog post or leave a comment for Heather below.
Here's my interview with Heather:
You wrote your first poem at the age of 5 and this was published in a school newsletter. Do you still have a copy of that? And if so, would you be willing to share that poem with us?
Ha! Actually, that poem, 'At the Arena,' is published at the very front of my first poetry collection, Where the Butterflies Go. WTGB is my collected poems from the age of 5, skipping to my late teens (I never saved any from my childhood) and then work from my 20s to age 35. It was published 3 years after the birth of our daughter, and covers topics that range from war and famine and homelessness to marriage and motherhood.
You have three collections of adult poetry books. I have read Leap and all of the poems seemed to be inspired by modern life. Are any of them auto-biographical?
All of my work has some of my life in it. I write what I know, so it's close to impossible not to have a piece of me in there. But they're all composite characters - the "I" and the "me" is not necessarily something I said or did. I take some of me, then a piece of someone I once met, mix it with a characteristic or story from someone else I met, maybe someone I love, someone in my family or circle of friends. It's never about one person. I want my work to speak to as many people as possible, so I try to make it FEEL as though it could be about the reader; about the reader's life, and about our world today. That's my goal.
You’ve published a book of funny children’s poems, The Groovy Granny and I believe the illustrations were done by a child. Was that your daughter? How did the idea for this book come about?
It was all thanks to my daughter. I'd written those poems nearly a decade before her birth, and was having troubles finding a publisher. The Groovy Granny was previously published in an early-ebook called Bubble Mud and Other Poems ( Electric E books, 2000, I still have CD roms for sale!) I'd gotten a good response to that poem, so I took it, added more to it, and then added even more poems after my daughter was born. I read some of them to her one night after bed. She asked for more the following night, and asked me why there were no drawings. I explained I didn't have an illustrator yet, and she exclaimed, "I'll illustrate your book! I'll do it!" It was thrilling to see her inspired by these poems, but I didn't think it would last. Kids usually want to play after school, not sit at a desk and draw. But every day after school for about three weeks, Kayla came home and said 'What poem am I going to illustrate today?' She was so driven. It was a wonderful experience. I'm so glad we did it together.
What’s the target reader age for The Groovy Granny?
It's for age 4- 104! I hope adults will love it as much as the little ones. So far, grandparents seem tickled by it.
I read in your bio that you went from being a journalist at a newspaper to an editor for a couple of magazines before branching out on your own. Have you ever written any poetry inspired by your time as a journalist?
No, I haven't written anything specifically about that - that'd be interesting! I did write My Mark - about how we as Canadians have so much freedom and that it's a gift that we can vote and walk around freely- after visiting Israel on a press junket. A lot of my earlier poems were inspired by my travels in my 20s.
I read that your poems have been published in Canadian and British school text books. That’s quite an achievement. How did that come about?
That's thanks to my blog, Where the Butterflies Go. That blog audience has been so good to me. I've posted most of my poems about Facebook and Twitter and social networking on there, and educators looking for poems that wouldn't intimidate students and would engage them found those poems and contacted me, asking for the rights for their textbooks. It has gone from me selling rights for them to use it on their web sites to them asking me to actually record myself reading the poems for an audio CD that accompanies the textbooks (which I have to say was a nerve-wracking experience at first, but my engineering husband got me the coolest microphone so the recordings are of a superior quality, and my recording sessions are now actually lots of fun! ) Eduators in Quebec City, Texas and Germany have all recently contacted me to teach my Facebook poems to their students. I'm thrilled my poems are being used around the world in this way. I have always wanted to make poetry more accessible to everyone and also to make young readers realize poetry can be fun and about topics they understand.
Half the proceeds from two of your poetry books Where the Butterflies Go and Leap go to UNICEF. What is it about that charity that made you decide to donate your royalties to them?
I have always felt that education is the key to lasting change. If we can educate a girl in a third world country who wouldn't otherwise get an education, who would otherwise marry at 11 and never leave her community, just imagine the power that gives her in her world - and hopefully, power to pass what she's learned onto her own children. My poetry itself (the royalties from book sales ) doesn't make a lot of money, so I decided to try to change the world in small ways with the small profits I make from those books. Unicef's Gift of Education program is an excellent one, and so far, through my book sales, I've been able to fund three children's educations for a year, donated money to build desks for a school in India, and bought pencils for an entire school three different times. I love that words did all that. Words hold a lot of power!
As well as a talented poet, I understand that you also love photography. I read that your photos have appeared in National Geographic Traveler and Equinox, as well as the covers of over a dozen poetry books. How did that come about?
I've worked as a journalist for a long time - since age 23- I only recently stopped writing and selling my photos to magazines as much, because my books have taken up so much more of my time. I still write freelance for a few magazines, and I have a regular column with my alma mater, Queen's Review magazine, called Grace's Grads. I used to be associate editor at Equinox, so I had a contact there who liked one of my photos and published it. Sometimes, it really is who you know. At National Geographic Traveler, I just sent in the photo and got lucky that they liked mine. They'd sent out a request on a discussion list - the Professional Writer's of Canada association (PWAC). PWAC is a lovely community of writers, and it has helped me find a lot of work.
Many of your photographs also appear in your poetry books. If you were given the choice to either become a world famous photographer or a world famous poet, which one would you choose
Oh, absolutely the poetry. I have always been a writer first and foremost. I love photography, but I like expressing myself with my words best. My friends would agree and are likely laughing very hard right now!
Do you have any tips for someone who is considering self-publishing their own book?
Don't do it for the money. If you take away that expectation, you'll be fine. I'm not saying there isn't money in self-publishing, but it's rare, and it shouldn't be the reason you're doing it. It's going to have to be something you're passionate about, because there is so much marketing to do when you self-publish, and it's all on you. No support network like you'd have with a traditional publisher. I'm so glad that I published my first two books myself, because it helped introduce people to my work, but Winter Goose Publishing has provided me with so much support with Carry On Dancing.
As a reader do you prefer to lose yourself in a good novel or in a book of poetry?
It depends on my mood, really. It also depends if I am writing a collection at the time. I try not to read poetry while I'm compiling a collection of poetry. I want to make sure I'm not influenced by other poets. I'm going to be working on my next one in the fall, so right now, I'm reading lots of poetry and then I'll have to cut myself off in July or so! :)
Is there a book you own that you’ve read more than once?
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Wuthering Heights, Lord of the Flies, and Robert Frosts and Sara Teasdale's poems all come to mind.
If someone wanted to read your books, which would you recommend they read first, and why?
Personally, I'm happiest with Carry On Dancing - I think it's my best work yet - but my readers still rave about Where the Butterflies Go, my first collection, and those who like photography and the look of a pretty book on their coffee table favour Leap. I think I've grown a lot as a poet over time, at least I hope I have, so if the reader really wanted to track that growth, they should start with Where the Butterflies Go and then move onto Leap and then Carry On Dancing.
What do you think of e-books as opposed to print books?
I think they're both great, for different occasions. You can't take an ebook into the bath or to the beach, but it's wonderful to pack it up in a suitcase for a trip. I actually carry my ipad with me in my purse now, and I like that it allows me to choose from so many books to read while I'm waiting for my daughter to finish up her drama class or waiting at the doctor's office. Ebooks aren't for everyone, and I love the smell and feel of an old book of classic poetry, but I think ebooks are allowing more people to read, more often, so I'm all for it.
How important are reviews for you as a writer?
Oh they're quite important! They help get my books seen and more people interested in reading them. I try not to take them too personally though
How do you go about choosing a cover for your books?
I've been lucky enough to photograph the covers for all three of my poetry books! I know this isn't the norm for most authors - sometimes they have no say in their cover art. I loved working with Winter Goose Publishing on my last cover. Their design team did a beautiful job!
What are you working on now?
I'm preparing for several book signings and readings in my community this month, for National Poetry Month, and next month, I'm launching my book in downtown Montreal with a party, then going on my Carry On Dancing book tour to Toronto and Kingston! It's going to be an exciting few months.
Where can people buy your books?
All my books are available on Amazon.com - in print and Kindle - the easiest way to find them all is through my Amazon Author Page here:
Heather Grace Stewart - Amazon Author Page
Leap and Where the Butterflies Go are also available on iBooks in itunes, and on the Sony Reader, Nook Books and Copia.com
Leap is on the Kobo, and I'm working on getting Where the Butterflies on it too!
The Groovy Granny is available here, The Groovy Granny as a print softcover, hardcover and for just $2.94 for your iPad.
I also ship out signed copies - just email me at writer@hgrace dot com to arrange details.
Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Maria!
Thank you for being a fabulous guest, Heather! I wish you every success with your future writing.
Remember, to be in with a chance to win either a copy of Leap or a copy of Carry on Dancing (Kindle editions), please 'Like' this post, or leave a comment below. Good luck! Winners will be chosen on 16th May 2012.
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