I’d like to introduce to you all my featured author of the month, Joanne Leucyer! Joanne has been working for the Canadian federal government for over 25 years, with the last half in corporate communications and more recently as a change management advisor on corporate projects. She is also a professional and personal coach and a Reiki Master. Joanne’s favorite past-time is writing children’s books and doing writing workshops with kids. “I feel that my imagination has been in over-drive since 2009—I’m loving it! I consider myself as an eternal learner.” Joanne lives in a small rural community outside of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada with her husband Rick, their dog Kato and cat Black Magic. Joanne and her husband both love watching animated movies–especially the ones for kids (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Rango, Epic, and so many more…). They also enjoy time with friends and family.
Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Joanne: I’ve been writing stories for children for about 5 years now. The seed was planted in 2004 after spending a weekend with my younger brother. He’s a graphic artist and has always been extremely creative. On my way home, I felt that I just had to jot a story down on some scraps of paper. I called it Topsyturvia. When I got home, I filed the pages away.
In 2009, I got an urge to transcribe the story into my computer and just kept adding to it. At about 6,000 words, I decided to read it to my husband (who can sometimes be brutally honest). He told me that he thought it was a very good story. With a boost of confidence, I gave a copy to a few colleagues with children and they liked it too. My brother is currently working on the illustrations. Once I had that book written, more stories starting popping into my mind. In 2010, I published my first book The Witch, the Cat and the Egg.
Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.
Joanne: My first book, The Witch, the Cat and the Egg, was inspired by the Disney books I read as a child. I’ve always loved stories with princesses, fairies, magic, wizards and dragons. With magic anything is possible. I also love animals. The main characters, and the forest creatures, remind me of the magical stories that I read when I was young. The young witch, named Juliane, is a mixture of all the female characters that I loved in Disney books and movies like Cinderella and Snow White. Juliane is happy, kind, and loves to help others. She is friends with all the magical creatures of the forest. When I was a young girl, I loved walking through the woods. I wished that I could talk to animals. I still do! We have a small forest behind our house in the country. It’s my magical place that inspires me.
I had no idea that I would be writing a series. But, the idea for the sequel, The Witch, the Cat and the Water Dragon, came as I was working on the final chapter. There will be a book 3 in 2016.
Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?
Joanne: In my job, I write a lot of reports, email messages, presentations, and facilitate working groups, etc. Writing children’s fantasy stories sometimes seems like a stretch. But it feels like it has come naturally. Writing kids’ positive fantasy books is very liberating and therapeutic! I believe that you can have a great story without limbs flying or guns going off. There is a lot of beauty and wonder in the world and I want to have kids tap into that. I want them to read something that is fun that will give them something good to dream about.
Sierra: What is one of your favorite chapters (or part) to write?
Joanne: That’s a tough question to answer. The story evolves as I write it. I’m usually amazed at end, when I’m re-reading it, that I actually wrote the story.
Sierra: Is anything in your books that is based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Joanne: The stories come mainly from my imagination. But, they are peppered by my thoughts, feeling and values. I do base some of my characters on people I know, sometimes I use their names.
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Joanne: Did I mention that I really enjoy fiction and fantasy! I don’t have one favorite author. For me it’s all about the story. I have to like the premise and the characters, also the flow of the writing. For children’s books, I would have to say all the Disney classics. That’s what I grew up reading. Other books that stand out are The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Chrysalids. As for Y/A and adult books, Harry Potter of course. My husband and I are reading an oldie but goodie trilogy about Merlin, The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart (Merlin is my favourite character). I’m also reading a French series called Les chevaliers d’Émeraude (The Emerald Knights) by Anne Robillard – there are 12 books and I’m only on book 3. I’m half-way through the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. I really enjoy the style and pace of her writing. Did I mention I’m a Gemini? There are two of me to keep busy!
Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?
Joanne: Not yet! In my case, I don’t stress about having to work on only one book at a time. I work on the one that pops into my head. During the spring and summer, I focus on completing the book that I will publish for the fall.
Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
Joanne: J.K. Rowling – I’d love to talk about magic and wizardry with her over tea. J.R.R. Tolkien – If he were alive, I’d want to sit in a hobbit hole in New Zealand with him and ask what he thinks of Peter Jackson’s rendition of the creature Gollum in the movies The Lord of the Rings. Does he feel that the essence and likeness of the character was captured the way he had imagined it.
Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?
Joanne: I have 2 books coming out in October.
In The Witch, the Cat and the Water Dragon, the story continues with Juliane who is a young witch and forest guide to the magical Forest of Ennyar. The egg she had transported has now hatched and Tarak the last magical water dragon has emerged. As Juliane and the dragon will learn, friendship and courage will be required to face the unknown, and help save magic and the forest. For the images, I had to find a new illustrator. I met Brooke Alexander at a book fair in Ottawa, Ontario. As I watched her drawing with color pencils, I realized that she would be perfect to illustrate the sequel. Brooke is a wonderfully talented illustrator.
In My Friend Merlin, I decided to create a story around one of my favorite characters the wizard Merlin. I added a few twists on the legend, to make him more accessible to kids. A young druid boy named Merlin shows a young Prince Arthur that magic can be used to do good despite what King Uther and his followers have come to believe. It’s the tale of the meeting of Arthur and Merlin and how they changed the fate of magic. The book contains over 20 amazing color images by a Canadian illustrator, Rich Lauzon. Rich and I met at a Geek Market in Ottawa, Ontario a few years ago. He was drawing an image of a young boy and a dragon, which gave me the inspiration to start writing the story. I used it as the first image in Chapter 1 of the book. I’m sure the kids, even adults, will love his illustrations as much as I do.
Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first book or getting it published that you would change?
Joanne: I don’t think I would change anything. A small local publisher, my husband and friends gave me just the right amount of encouragement to get me to actually print the first book.
Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Joanne: I would say, write down your ideas when you get them. Don’t try to edit your own work. A good editor is your friend. Write the best story you can and ask friends, colleagues, people that don’t know you well to be your test readers. They can help find the holes in the story and give you ideas. Of course, you don’t have to take all the suggestions. But I do think that considering them makes for a better story in the end.
Read your story out loud (a few times). Doing this really helps pinpoint the spots that don’t flow, or are boring, etc. Don’t be afraid to re-write, scrap an idea, a whole paragraph, and even a few pages. Save them in another file in case you can use them for the sequel or another book.
Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Joanne: My wish is that my readers will feel good after reading the story and looking at the images. I also hope that it may spark their creative juices and hopefully inspire them to create their own stories and images.
Thank you for making Topsy Books part of your reading collection. I always look forward to receiving reader questions and feedback on the books. Readers can also connect with me on Facebook: Topsy Books and Twitter: @JoTopsyBooks. Check out the website www.topsybooks.com to find out more about the books, learn new words, try some word games or download coloring images.
Thank you so much!!