Why a picture book on leatherback sea turtles? +augmented reality announcement

When I look at my backlist (yes, it’s exciting to be able to refer to my ‘backlist’) I see a diversity of work. There’s children’s fantasy fiction, collaborative children’s non-fiction, anthologies, zines, photography, illustration, and painting.

Since it’s pretty clear I’ve given up on the idea of being consistent, why not chuck a picture book into the mix?

There are several reasons why I write, illustrate, edit, and publish. I love the challenge, and I love trying new things out and seeing where they lead me. It’s rewarding to publish other people’s work, especially people who may not otherwise be published. Most of all I enjoy the process of making, of problem solving: I work towards that moment where the idea in my head aligns with the product in front of me (I have no qualms about calling my finished pieces ‘products’).

I try to choose the medium that the story, or topic, tells me it wants to be. Reading Into the White, by Joanna Grochowicz, inspired me to write narrative non-fiction. I did some research, and had a few potentials to write about. But as I was researching, something else caught my interest – native New Zealand plants. We know so much about our birds, but what about our threatened plants? Or other native animals?

The more I researched, the more I found. I was also keen to do more collage, so I listened to an artist talk by Jeannie Baker as I worked – who better to turn to for inspiration on nature-inspired books? She got me thinking about what I’d really like to share with people. What do I love that I want to celebrate?

I had a turtle for a while, a red eared slider, who we’d rescued from the beach. She had probably been dumped (or escaped) from a previous owner. When I moved out of my parents’ home, I gave her to a friend who bred them. I’d love to have a turtle as a pet again. I simply like them.

Turtles have been used as a subject in children’s books before. My favourties are The Smallest Turtle by Lynley Dodd, I’ll Follow the Moon by Stephanie Lisa Tara, and One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, though there are others. Primarily, they’re about the dangerous race of the turtle hatchlings from the nest to the water.

There are already many creative non-fiction picture books, so I wanted to ensure I was adding something to the landscape. Thus, I ruled out a book about hatchlings getting to the sea. Many creative non-fiction books start at birth and follow the life cycle of the animal they’ve chosen to focus on. So I wasn’t going to do that either.

I visited the DoC website and looked at turtles they featured. It told me the most common sea turtle in New Zealand waters is the Leatherback. I hadn’t heard of it, so I searched it up and found out more. They are fascinating! I had found my topic 🙂

We are still learning about these creatures, as they were primarily studied when they came on land, which was annually at most. One of the ways scientists are learning more is by tagging them, or placing video cameras on their backs, when they surface for air. This became my starting point.

Now that my topic had been firmly chosen, and I was learning more about these intriguing turtles, I decided that there were three things I wanted to achieve with this book:

  1. There are many threats this species is facing.
  2. People are taking action to save them.
  3. Leatherback turtles are fascinating!

I have been thoroughly enjoying making these illustrations. It is my goal to complete one spread each week, so all of them are done by the end of 2017. In particular, gathering natural resources (dry leaves, shells, sand etc.) has been a fun task in creativity and problem solving. This will probably be the first in a series on NZ nature – I’m thinking ‘Wild New Zealand’ for the series name, with the next one being about a native plant.

And now for the announcement! This book will be getting Augmented Reality (AR) treatment (AR is tech that superimposes a computer-generated image over the pages of the book). Mark Southcombe, my brother, is a programmer / game designer and expressed an interest in taking on this project. I met with him earlier this week, and we discussed what each page might be. We’ve included some animation and interactivity, though we’re being flexible with how things might turn out – this is his first go at AR.

The idea with doing AR is to further build on what I want to achieve with this book – it’s to excite people about leatherback turtles, and to really get the reader involved. Leatherbacks are beautiful, ancient, and fascinating creatures – and many people don’t even know they exist! I just hope that we can do them justice.

The leatherback turtle has returned to her migration after a setback – this is my first complete spread!

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