From acting to children’s fiction

From acting to children’s fiction

The-cover-of-'Jeff-and-GeorEMILY CHILD and JULIA ANASTASOPOULOS are two names regular theatregoers in Cape Town will be quite familiar with. The two actresses have been seen on our local stages numerous times over the years, usually to some acclaim. The duo also boasts appearances in commercials, TV shows and movies among them. The two recently traded acting for a decidedly more behind the scenes artistic pursuit: that of children’s authors.
Their first book, ‘Jeff and George and the Totem Pole’, has hit the shelves of various retailers and PETER TROMP had a chat with the creative duo on the auspicious occasion.

Can you describe the whole process of getting the book published, from coming up with the idea, finishing a first draft and being accepted by the publisher?
Emily Child: For me, it started off by having a story to tell, writing it down and finding the right person to make the images in my head alive on paper. I sent the story to Julia and asked if she was interested in illustrating it. She was very excited.
Julia Anastasopoulos: I created a few sample illustrations, which we put together in a proposal and then submitted to Penguin. They really loved our idea and after quite a few meetings, emails and a few more sample illustrations the two characters seemed to win their hearts and our proposal was accepted.
EC: The whole process takes quite a few months as they have many proposals to read. They do read every one of them. We were lucky to be one of the books they liked.

Describe the basic plot, and why you think the story will appeal to modern kids.
EC: ‘Jeff and George’ is about two best friends – a little boy and a tiny Springbok. They live together in a flat in Cape Town and share a passion for rugby. On a rainy day they get tired of hanging around the house and come up with an invention that will prepare them for the scary weather. When all of a sudden…well, I can’t give away everything. These characters are real in their own unique way. Jeff loves to organise things. George dreams of “pronking” (prancing) on fresh green grass. They both make fantastical things out of potatoes. I think any child or adult who knows what it’s like to have a best friend will love this story.
JA: The illustrations also provide a lot of detail to rediscover with each read, which is something I always used to love as a child. I think parents will also appreciate the quirky characters, and the home-grown feel of the book.

What were your main inspirations behind the story (Emily) and the visuals (Julia)?
EC: The story was inspired by my husband Geoff, who is a rugby fanatic, and a little Springbok toy that I bought for him during the Rugby World Cup. The toy stood out to me in the shop because it had the sweetest face. I called him George. As I handed it to Geoff I knew that this was a friendship that would last forever.
JA: Emily gave me excellent illustration briefs for each page. She had a very clear idea of what she wanted. We spoke about colours, feel and character right in the beginning and I just took it from there. I wanted to create line drawings with quite a muted colour palette, with lots of detail and lots of activity happening in each page. This is directly inspired by the kinds of books I loved growing up.

What’s the specific age group the book is targeted at?
EC: It’s targeted at three to seven year olds, and their parents of course.

You are both known primarily for your work in the local theatre industry. Was there any trepidation in making the jump into a completely different medium?
EC: I can’t say there was any more than doing a new play. New projects are always new adventures – a bit scary, but very exciting. It’s all about the team that you are working with. The minute Julia and started working on this project I knew that this was a team that would do wonderful things together.
JA: I have been combining an acting career with an illustration career for quite a few years now. I find it to be a great way to bring in different streams of revenue and to keep myself busy and inspired throughout the year. It is difficult to be just one thing these days. I love being creatively stimulated through different mediums. They complement each other quite well, in fact. Both have quite a lot to do with imaginary worlds and characters.

What’s the feedback been like so far?
JA: Great. People seem to really love the characters, and the fact that the story is set in Cape Town. We got a lot of very good feedback at our launch last weekend in Constantia.

* ‘Jeff and George’ is available at Exclusive Books, as well as the Book Lounge, Exclusives online, Kalahari, Loot and
Catch Child and Anastasopoulos at The Book Lounge, situated on 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town, on Saturday, August 16, at 11am for a reading of ‘Jeff and George’, and get your copy signed.