Art & Design
Posted by Christine Tsimbis
15. Sep, 2016
Melbourne based author and primary school teacher Amelia Trompf is set to release her new children’s book Who Is Fitzy Fox? in October through Little Steps Publishing. It’s about a furry animal who is on a journey to discover his identity in the world, which draws to both children and adults who are on their own journeys of self-discovery. Milk Bar Magazine had a chat to Amelia all about her journey from teaching to writing, as well as the idea processes behind Who Is Fitzy Fox?
Although Amelia currently teaches adults, she used to be a primary school teacher, and she used to write stories all the time for her students. ‘I just think it’s such a good way of connecting with kids and they love it,’ she says. However, she then moved to Scotland with her husband around 5 to 6 years ago. ‘I wasn’t working, so I was just looking for part-time work and I suddenly had lots of time on my hands. I got creative and did some things I always wanted to do and then it was actually a really good opportunity.’
This creative idea came from these children’s books that are on sale only in Scotland. They’re called Morningside Maisie and are set in Edinburgh. ‘I just thought “Melbourne doesn’t have a book for Melbourne kids”, so I really wanted to write, and because I used to live in Fitzroy, I thought “yep, kids in Fitzroy need a story” so yeah and then it happened really quickly after that.’
Amelia wrote the draft really quickly, since she felt as though it was in her and then it just came out. ‘It’s all about belonging and feeling like you’re special and celebrating being unique.’ She also discusses how her teaching background has influenced her creation of this novel. ‘I think it gave me an understanding of kids and things I’ve wanted to share with kids, and particular students I’ve had over the years who have needed a bit of a boost in self-esteem and have felt a bit lost. I guess I was thinking about them when I was writing it, and yeah definitely having a background in teaching certainly helps.’
One of the most important themes in Who Is Fitzy Fox is the sense of belonging. ‘So I guess on one level, I hope for local kids that they can enjoy having a book set in their home, their area and kind of understand that having a sense of belonging and belonging to your community is really important. But universally, the most important themes I think are understanding that sometimes if you have a problem, you have to put a bit of effort into trying to solve it. There are answers out there and there are people asking for help, which is really important.’
There is also the valuable concept that we all have to remember: we are all special. ‘It’s also understanding that we are all really really special and all unique and there’s only one of us. I think most people go through a time in their life where they’re unsure who they are or where they fit in and kids in particular, in the playground and stuff, there’s always doubts about things,’ Amelia says. For instance, there’s a line at the end of the book, which is directed to Fitzy: ‘I wouldn’t care if you were a fox or a dog, I’d love you exactly the same’, and Amelia expands on that quote by emphasising how important it is for us to know who we are and where we fit in. ‘We also have someone in our life who says ‘you know “I just love you anyway”; that unconditional love, and I know not all kids feel it, but yeah I think it is a really important message.’
As for Amelia, her writing journey has increased her confidence. ‘I was always confident as a teacher, in my ability to teach kids, but in terms of sort of putting myself out there, I was always safe. I always kept myself pretty safe; the idea of networking was just terrifying before, and it’s still a bit scary, but I’ve just become much more confident in just saying “I’m an author and I’ve done this”’, she says.
‘I’m happy within myself that I’ve achieved one of my lifelong dreams and produced this book that’s beautiful, but also the other thing is I just had so much fun working with other people. Working with the illustrator and the publisher was just amazing, that collaboration, yeah I’ve had that with teaching but I’ve never worked on a project and really collaborated.’
If Amelia could describe herself in three words, she would use “passionate”, “hard-working” and “creative”. One random fact about her is that she originally grew up in a farm, and she expands on the significance of it. ‘It’s something that’s very important about me and who I am. I used to work a lot on a farm with my dad like all through uni holidays and stuff and I’m a country person that lives in Melbourne. I love Melbourne and I don’t ever want to leave it, but half of my heart is still in the country and it’s definitely shaped me with the ability to work hard. I mean, I hate to imply that if you grow up in the city you don’t work hard because that’s not what I mean at all, but for me it definitely has given me that ability to keep pushing.’
I asked Amelia whether she’d like to travel anywhere in the world, and she tells me that she’s done so much travelling in the last 20 years that she’d be really happy to stay in Melbourne for a while. However, she absolutely loves Edinburgh because that’s where she wrote her story and happened to meet the illustrator of her book, Jennifer Bruce. ‘I enrolled in one of her courses, she’s an artist and she was running workshops. She was teaching a course on drawing with the right side of the brain and she’s an amazing artist. She helped me develop some illustrations for the book, like initial ones just to help me develop the character in my mind,’ she says enthusiastically. ‘When I had to find a professional illustrator, I thought of her because she already knew the story and I knew she was amazing. So I think the fact that that all happened in Edinburgh; I feel like if I didn’t live there, this whole story might not have existed. So for me it’s such a special place and I made lovely friends and it’s a really happy place. I’d love to go back, when I can bear to put my toddler on an aeroplane.’
As for Amelia’s future goals, she really wants to write the sequel to Who Is Fitzy Fox? She’s already done the draft, but she wants to get it shaped into a good manuscript. ‘That’s hopefully going to happen in the next few months after I’ve done all this marketing and stuff, so that’s probably number one. But I also want to focus on my teaching career; that’s my first passion I guess, and I’m teaching adults English as an additional language so that’s a new area for me, so there’s a lot to learn.’
She discusses how she did her second school visit with the book, and she was reading it to the kids. They did an activity afterwards, which she thought was really fun. ‘They actually reminded me of why I wrote the story, because I hadn’t really had that feedback from kids. I’d love to get back into more primary school teaching as well, as well as continuing to share the book with kids.’
For aspiring writers, Amelia has a few helpful ideas. ‘Well I’d say if you’ve got a story that you want to send off to publishers and have spent so much time polishing your manuscript, and once it gets to a point where you think it’s ready, don’t put off sending it. I put it off for quite a while; I kept on coming up with all these excuses and I didn’t know how to write the cover letter and I ended up getting help. There’s lots of places where you can get help polishing your manuscript and if they give you the confidence to send it, then I say definitely do it.’
Amelia also reassures people not to feel discouraged if their story doesn’t get the recognition that they think it deserves. ‘When you send your book to publishers, you’re waiting for feedback, but I think if you love your story don’t be too disheartened or don’t think your story isn’t worthy. I think as humans we’re naturally storytellers and we’ve all got something to say – it can be a bit intimidating, the whole world of books and people. If you love your story, there’s other ways of getting stories out there rather than traditional publishing.’
Who Is Fitzy Fox?
Available online now and in bookstores from Friday September 23
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