Write CY sat down for an e-chat with award-winning children’s book author, Melissa Hekkers, to discuss….well, children’s books. Melissa is a freelance journalist, photographer, traveller and blogger and the author of three critically acclaimed children’s books, CROCODILE, FLYING ACROSS RED SKIES and PUPA. She collaborates with artist Anna Fotiadou, Marlen Karletidou, Zara der Arakelian and Louiza Kaimaki and lives in Nicosia.
Write CY: So, how did you get into writing children’s books? When did you realize you wanted to do it?
Melissa Hekkers: I always was a storyteller. Having been bought up in two different cultures always gave me the prerogative of sharing and talking about my experiences, from a very young age. I think this eventually became second nature to me.
It was when I began travelling to the Far East that the urge to put things down on paper became more urgent. Then coincidence came into being. The Pantheon Cultural Association played a big role in me publishing my first book, along with my ever growing friendship with Anna Fotiadou, who first put imagery to my work.
In any case, holding a pen in hand is something I have always done.
WCY: What makes writing for children a special experience? What do you get out of it as a writer?
MH: In the workshops I deliver at WRITE CY, I attempt to convey to participants that all children’s books, whether picture books, audio books, fiction and non, didactic or not, for young(er) or old(er) kids, have this one common denominator which I like to call ‘a mysterious hope.’ For me, latching onto this element of hope is a drive which calls for a vision, which in the end can only bring out the best in you and is surrounded with positivity, regardless of whether the story has a happy ending or not. Hope is to be found in the most mysterious of places. I treasure reaching for that crescendo.
WCY: Do you keep to a writing schedule when you’re working on a book?
MH: I can’t say that there’s any specific schedule to my writing, although taking notes and jotting down ideas is something I do on an everyday basis. Once an idea or a plot has been ruminated enough in my head, then I tend to spend long stretches of time writing, with long stretches of time in between to digest what I’m trying to get at.
WCY: Whose children’s stories or books do you enjoy?
MH: Unfortunately, I feel that the children’s book I enjoy the most are those that I read as a child, or should I say the ones I read with a child’s understanding. Authors like Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry were authors that introduced me to the sublime art of ‘talking’ to children.
Nowadays I’ve gone back to reading comic albums, such as Boule et Bill, Asterix, Tintin. Having spent countless hours reading these as a child, I have never revisited these from an adult’s perspective. It’s super exciting!
WCY: What’s on the horizon book-wise?
MH: There’s two things, one more concrete than the other. Very much in its flourishing stage is a colouring book for children with a historical angle to it, as well as a hopeful message for the future of our island. This one doesn’t lean too much on words however.
The other is a fiction, young adult’s book that addresses the life of a refugee child. This is very much in its character building stage—there’s still a long way to go.
Melissa Hekkers was born 1981 in Brussels, Belgium, and since 2004 she has been living and working in Nicosia, Cyprus. In 2007 she published her first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled CROCODILE, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award of the same year. In 2012, she launched her second children’s book FLYING ACROSS READ SKIES (English and Greek), an experimental approach to literature, for which she was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. A year later she diverted from writing for children and published her first poetry book COME-FORTH. In 2014, her third children’s book PUPA (Greek and English) was very well received. Melissa is a freelance journalist, columnist and features writer for The Cyprus Weekly and other magazines and online platforms.
Her work can be viewed at www.melissahekkers.com
Melissa will be giving a workshop in children’s book writing in Greek at Write CY on Saturday, February 13, 2016 from 11am to 2pm.