The Story Behind the Story: Author Q&A
Having worked in the fields of law as well as communications/marketing for over 20 decades, Tuula Pere is now the author of some thirty children's books - published and translated in different languages, from Finnish to Italian to Turkish.
Her stories are rich in values and charm, with thought-provoking and meaningful messages. Here, she sheds some light on her journey as an author, her inspirations, her creative process, and more.
1. You come from a communications/marketing as well as law background, having worked in the corporate world for two decades.
That’s right, I have quite a special background for a children’s author. I’m very grateful for all the previous challenges and opportunities in my life. To the above list, I’d like to add being a wife and mother of three children – and later becoming a Ph.D. in Law – as I think those have had the biggest influence in my writing.
2. Now, you're the author of 30 children's books. Tell us about your journey as a children’s author - how did you get into this field? As a child, I spent a lot of time at the libraries. I just loved the shelves full of books and ended up reading probably through the whole library in my home village – and more. But I was equally interested in telling stories to everybody who was willing to listen. I had an eager audience with family and friends. At school, I just loved literature and writing essays, poems and even little plays.
As I became a law student and later a professional, my life was full of texts and writing of another kind. But then I was happy to give birth to three children and the children’s literature and telling stories was back to my life again!
When my youngest child was born, I had already made a long business career and wanted to change my life. At the same time as writing my doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Law at the University of Helsinki, I started writing children’s books. It was also a way to ensure that I never have to leave the stories I love, even when all my children grow up. Now I can share that warmth and guidance to children everywhere! Isn’t that wonderful!
3. Did you envision yourself ever going into children’s book writing?
As a child, becoming an author was one of my big dreams, but then school, legal studies, and business career took over. But deep inside, this flame of becoming an author, especially for children, never went out. Nowadays, I consider it to be the most valuable thing I can do for the welfare of children, as it can encourage them and change the society for the better.
4. How would you describe your writing style? How has it evolved from your first children's book to your most recent one?
I write in a warm and honest way, never underestimating the child as a reader. I think that my style shows how much I respect life, even in its smallest and weakest moments.
I have confidence that it’s possible to write about very demanding subjects, too. Writing has to be done gently, adjusted to children. As I write, I somehow feel the children around me. It helps in finding the right atmosphere.
My books have a great variety of themes, mood, and characters. My style also varies a little depending on the general framework of the story. But there is always the same heart behind the words!
5. What do you look for in an illustrator to bring your words to life?
I respect the illustrators, as professionals in their field. And I hope that they can also honestly respect my work as a writer. In that way, we can promote the same goal: to offer a good book and reading experience for readers of all ages. I really like, if the illustrator can bring some personal elements and details to my book to enrich it.
6. Is there a specific style of illustration that you look for once/after you write a story?
I’m very open to different kinds of illustration styles, with both manual and digital techniques. Sometimes a more traditional style is appropriate, but some stories need more challenging and unconventional interpretations to make the point.
I have worked with over ten artists with various backgrounds, ages, and countries. I always spend hours and hours checking the portfolios to make sure that there is a good match. The illustrator and the style have to make a strong bond with the story. When I find the right person with similar interests, I try to give my every support, but also a lot of artistic freedom. I think it makes the inspiration blossom.
7. What do you get inspired by? Poems, books (namely other children’s books), movies, artwork, real-life experiences, your travels?
I’ve always enjoyed observing life and listening to people. The memories and experiences of every generation are an important source for a writer.
I feel comfortable with people from very different backgrounds and ages. I love traveling and getting to know different cultures. As a child, I had no money to travel, but I wrote letters to my twenty pen friends all over the world. Stamps were not too expensive!
My home country, Finland, is famous for its beautiful nature, with thousands of lakes and big forests. I’ve had a special bond with trees all my life and spent many lonely hours quietly enjoying the winds and whispers in the woods and by the lakes.
If I don’t have the opportunity to quiet down in nature, I do it with listening to beautiful music or visiting galleries or museums. I like to produce art but also enjoy the results of the others.
8. What’s the book-writing process like, from ideation to production? Which part of the process is your favourite part, and why?
I often get the idea for the book in a flash that makes me full of energy. I know the story has to be written – and fast. It is like a package given to me. I dive into it, and I see the whole world inside the story. I love that part of the work.
Later on, it’s time for to the more practical side. Fine tuning of the text, checking, finding the illustrator, working with the translators and editors. That part is also interesting of course, as I love to work with different professionals and combine their skills into a common project.
Sometimes, if the subject is very delicate, I can consult some specialists who are working with education or therapy for children or families, to make sure that the approach is right.
9. Which of your own works is your personal favourite? And which children’s book other than your own do you love most?
It’s really difficult to choose one book as they are all my babies, born from my heart. In “Traveling Companion” there is a lot of my own philosophy of life: you don’t have to be perfect to survive difficulties, as you can combine your forces with the others – who don’t have to be perfect either! Together we are strong.
I’ve always loved Grimms' Fairy Tales, even if some of them are scary. One of my favorites is “Mother Holle”. It tells about two sisters with distinct values in life, at the service of a scary lady. The motives and the results are very different.
10. I absolutely loved The Fox’s City. It's a lovely, kid-friendly portrayal of politics and power, told in beautifully written prose and gorgeous illustrations.
Thank you! This is nice to hear, as it’s also one of my own favorites! I’m also very happy with the illustration of Andrea Alemanno, an Italian artist. He did a wonderful job and captured the nuances of this special story in a clever way.
11. How did you come up with the idea for this story? And how long did the whole process take - from drafting to printing?
The Fox’s City is one of my stories which has a strong connection to the society, even politics. It was inspired by newspapers and media as a whole. Week after week and year after year, we can witness this fighting for more power in various forms. The skills and motives of those using it aren’t always the best possible, unfortunately.
I think it’s important to educate children also to become good citizens. To make them understand the various phenomena in the society and to know whom they can trust.
From the idea of the book, it took about two years to get it printed. During that time a lot had also happened in real life, and I was following similar developments around in the society and comparing them to my story.
12. Your works have been translated to so many different languages. Why do you think this is important?
First of all, we need the Finnish, Swedish and English translations for the domestic market. The rest of the language versions published so far, are mainly to make the discussions with the international publishers easier. I hope they get to know my books and want to buy the rights for their countries and languages.
We have also made some more rare translations, not published yet. They also include very special languages for very special purposes. I think, that a strong native language is a good basis for all education – even in other languages. It’s also a great pity that some languages are not published as children’s books or are at the risk of totally disappearing.
13. And how do you make sure the translated stories retain the meaning & charm of the originals and don't get lost in translation?
For these international purposes, we put a great effort into making the English version especially, as good as possible. For me, it’s really important that I can feel it as my own.
Actually, we have a team of four working for the English version. There are two professional English translators in Finland, who are cooperating with me. The translation is then edited by an experienced US English editor, in close contact with me as well, to make sure that nothing is lost in translation and the whole atmosphere remains original. The result can very well be used as the basis for further translations if an international publisher would prefer that.
14. In line with that, how do you make sure you write a story that is both universal and relatable to children all over the world?
I think that hearts are universal. There is so much in common between people – especially children - all over the world that we can understand each other almost without words – if we want to. Many of my stories are built on that trust.
Of course, our cultures, environment, beliefs differ from each other, but that is not an obstacle to reading the same books. Especially if they have been written in a respectful and loving way. Even the differences can be good in creating discussion and building bridges between people.
15. Is there anything you would change about your journey as a children’s book author?
If I had started writing children’s books younger, I probably had even more books. But I trust that by gathering these life experiences, I have a lot more meaningful things to tell. And besides, I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a child! I even see that child in the other grown-up people, too!
16. And what would your advice be to budding writers, artists, and illustrators - especially those who would like to specialise in children’s books?
Just simple advice: be honest with yourself and the children. Love and genuine motives are a strong force.
See books by Tuula Pere on WickWick!