Today’s blog post comes from Deborah Malcolm, author/illustrator of Meh, a wordless picture book about depression. Deborah gives us an inside look into her experience presenting at Edinburgh Book Festival about challenging stigmas.
I believe it was close to the end of last year that I received the news that I had been invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. As a somewhat unknown novice author/illustrator, being invited to present at such a well renowned festival was both a great honor and fantastic opportunity for me. In a sense, it was as if the journey of Meh had come full circle. It was at this very festival that I was initially inspired to create a picture book (by my favorite author Neil Gaiman) and now it was my turn to potentially inspire others.
I felt fairly confident of how I imagined the event would be structured as I had experience of telling the story of Meh to the public before. The most important points I wanted to cover were why I created the book, why I felt it was important to talk about mental health from a young age and also why I believed picture books were a useful tool to encourage this kind of discussion. In previous presentations I had used PowerPoint to share images of initial sketches and concept development, and felt using this technique again would be beneficial in getting my ideas across to the audience. In June I received the official festival programme in the post, and suddenly reality kicked in. I had a very important event to prepare myself for, and I desperately wanted it to be a success.
Thankfully I was not alone in this journey. I always had the support of ThunderStone Books whenever I needed advice or reassurance, and the appointed chairperson for my event, Cat Anderson, quickly got in touch to go over the finer details. However it was during this time that I had discovered a potential problem. I hadn’t specified in my event information form that I would need a projector, screen and computer so that I could show a PowerPoint presentation. This resulted in my event being scheduled in a room where it wasn’t possible to use these pieces of equipment. Of course at the time I became very anxious, but over time I realized this wasn’t as big an issue as I felt it was. I had presented without the aid of computers and projectors before. I just had to revise my preparations a little to compensate. Cat and I decided that an informal discussion between us on stage (whilst covering the key points I mentioned) along with some audience participation would be the best solution.
Finally the day of my event arrived, and I was eager to have it be over and done with. Although excited and delighted for having this opportunity, I had been so stressed about the event that I was exhausted before I had even done anything. This stress seemed to dissipate somewhat as soon as I entered the Author’s Yurt (a place for authors to relax and prepare). Cat and I sat and made final preparations whilst finding out a little more about each other.
As we waited I was introduced to the glorious author/illustrator Jonny Duddle (the man behind J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter book cover illustrations). He wished me luck and congratulated me on my work before taking off for his own event. Cat then introduced me to author/illustrator Chris Riddell (who’s work I know from his illustrations for some of Neil Gaiman’s books, such as Fortunately, The Milk and The Sleeper and The Spindle). I was thrilled to hear that he remembered Meh from when I showed it to him at a signing the year before. He mentioned that I appeared incredibly calm, and also congratulated me on my achievements. Unfortunately our chat was brief as he was quickly whisked away for press shots, but I was very grateful for his kind words. Soon it was my turn to be escorted from the Author’s Yurt to the Writer’s Retreat where an audience waited for my event to begin.
The Writer’s Retreat was a long red room that had glass doors to allow natural light in. This was perfect as the weather was lovely outside, but it also gave me other areas to occasionally glance to when I felt looking at the audience a little overwhelming. There were moments of distraction when children outside tried to open the doors to get in, but it wasn’t anything to stay concerned about. Cat guided the conversation with questions influenced by things I said and we ended the event with everyone blowing up balloons with their “negative thoughts” and releasing them into the air (and also creating an amusing noise).
The event was received well, and people in the audience had many questions and ideas to discuss. We then moved to the children’s book store where I signed a bundle of copies of Meh and had more time to have one on one discussions with some of the audience members. (I would also like to mention I was signing next to Axel Scheffler who has illustrated many of Julia Donaldson’s books, such as The Gruffalo, which was very exciting!). As soon as the book signing was over, so was my time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. After a quick break back at the Author’s Yurt I reluctantly made my leave and travelled back home feeling relieved, exhausted, proud, a little sad, but most of all thankful for the experience.
I would like to thank the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the fantastic opportunity, to Cat Anderson who really helped me feel at ease and provided a lot of support throughout the event, to everyone who attended and purchased a book, to my friends and family who also showed a lot of love and support, and of course to ThunderStone Books who have been a fantastic publisher and without them this opportunity would not have been possible.
Interested in reading Deborah’s book? Buy a beautiful special, limited edition copy of Meh today!