LIGHT IN THE DARK
STORM METAPHORS ARE THE KEY TO A GOLD COAST AUTHOR’S QUEST TO DELIVER WHAT MANY THINK WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE — A PICTURE BOOK FOR YOUNG CHILDREN ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Dimity Powell says she does not go out of her way to find monumentally difficult topics, but her latest published book, At The End Of Holyrood
Lane, is not the first instance of her taking on a taboo subject.
“I honestly don’t wake up and think let’s write a picture book with hard content,” she says. “Such books are often difficult to execute well in a way that has global appeal, and are hard to convince others to publish let alone read. And yet, there’s a very real need for them.”
A year ago Dimity and Melbourne artist Nicky Johnston similarly stunned the publishing industry and readers when they launched an absorbing picture book — again for little lids — about grief, beautifully illustrated and giving a simple account of a mother’s death and how the father and his little daughter had to deal with it.
The inspiration for The Fix-It Man had come from an unlikely moment when Dimity’s own daughter — as a toddler — accidentally knocked over a china bowl and, surveying the thousand pieces scattered across the tiled floor, optimistically declared to her mum: “Don’t worry, daddy can fix it.’’
Years later, with that moment still in mind, she began piecing together her story on grief. This time inspiration for At The End Of
Holyrood Lane, a book dealing with the dark and confronting topic of domestic violence, has come from conversations Dimity had with Deidre Hanna, founder and CEO of Paradise Kids, a Gold Coast organisation that has invested more than 20 years into the physical, emotional, social and spiritual support of children with trauma.
“It was Deirdre Hanna’s declaration that more picture books on DV were needed that set the wheels in motion for me,’’ Dimity says.
“Up until then, I never envisaged I would write about such a topic.’’
As she pondered the seemingly impossible task, a character emerged in her imagination — Flick, a child who would be appealing, playful yet vulnerable.
“Nicky captured her personality beautifully,’’ Dimity says of the awardwinning illustrator.
“This story touches on just one aspect of domestic violence. It was not easy to research. I found myself pulling away from the brutality of what I was reading many times. Depressingly, nearly everyone you come across has experienced some level of emotional or physical abuse, either personally as a victim or at some secondary level. I was able to draw on situations like this to inject genuine emotion into Flick’s story.’’
The Gold Coast knows only too well the horror of domestic violence and continues to reel from the savagery of several brutal murders. But there are myriad cases that remain hidden away behind closed doors, with frightened partners and — tragically — children walking on egg shells or hiding away, trying to second-guess the moods of a tyrant.
“Picture books have the unique ability to deliver reputedly taboo topics in safe, nonjudgmental ways,” Dimity says.
“Death, divorce, gender issues, domestic violence, these are not considered normal picture book topics and yet you will not find any more normal experiences than these in real life. Even very young children have the capacity to recognise themselves or their own situations in picture book stories.
“It’s what makes them so appealing and relatable. But a picture book story not only provides mirrors for children, it offers windows through which they may glimpse into the lives of others similar to them.’’
So along with entertaining and enthralling, picture books encourage empathy and increase understanding and tolerance at an age when many social mindsets form, she says.
“This is a powerful attribute to exploit — and one I find impossible to ignore from a creative point of view.
“Even though I enjoy picture book stories that are mostly froth and bubble, the ones that earn permanent places on my bookshelves are those that have that extra sense of wonder, emotion and intent.
“Interestingly, when Nicky and I first mentioned to the reading public that our next book together tackled domestic violence, the unanimous response was: ‘Good. Finally!’ We both found that interesting and telling.’’
For her hero Flick, the telling point in the story comes when the little girl is exhausted by the fury of incessant storms and refuses to run anymore.
“Flick is no longer fleeing from the pursuing storm across the pages from left to right. She alters direction in an ultimate act of defiance,’’ Dimity says.
The book launches tomorrow at Brisbane Square Library.
“PICTURE BOOKS HAVE THE UNIQUE ABILITY TO DELIVER REPUTEDLY TABOO TOPICS IN SAFE, NONJUDGMENTAL WAYS.”
At The End of Holyrood Lane Author: Dimity Powell Illustrator: Nicky Johnston Publisher: EK Books