The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Dimity Powell
I want my words to matter; for my picture books to remain
in children’s hearts like well-loved tunes
and my stories to resonate integrity. ~ Dimity Powell
Dimity Powell, an award winning author, lives in Queensland, Australia. She “writes for children because she believes being a kid is one of the coolest things you can be…next to riding dragons and lying under palm trees. She believes in magic and that ice cream tastes divine in any flavour, except maybe rainbow sherbet. She hopes the dozens of stories she’s conjured up over the years will be read by children who love to curl up with books as much as she does.”
She’s the author of picture books Pippa (2019), At The End of Holyrood Lane (2018) – the 2019 Crystal Kite Award Winner, Australia New Zealand region, The Fix-It Man (2017), and a chapter book - PS: Who Stole Santa’s Mail? (2012), as well numerous digital books and anthology stories.
Her newest picture book, Oswald Messweather, releases March 28th.
For some basic information on Dimity, check out our earlier interview (here).
Dimity, thank you so much for stopping back by to chat about your newest picture book.
What was your inspiration for Oswald Messweather?
My picture book ideas are often prompted by a comment, suggestion or real life incident. Oswald literally sprang out of nowhere whilst I was on an eight hour international flight. I was pondering the veritable alphabet of acronyms associated with cognitive disorders that seem to fill our classrooms and realised the condition OCD did not feature predominantly in mainstream picture book stories. I wondered why.
Sometimes I hear a character before I know their precise story. Ozzie (as he became known to me) was such a character. Whilst musing over his full name, Oswald Constantine Dorian Messweather, I realised I had to find a way to describe this little guy’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD. By the time I’d disembarked, I had the full first draft.
All I can say is - Wow! It is so cool when something like this happens. Do feel that there is a common theme in your picture books?
Perhaps, although it is one hundred per cent unintentional! My stories are often labelled as issue-based stories. That’s both a blessing and a curse. The driving force behind each story I write though is how loud the story is crying out to be written at the time. It is comforting knowing that people who enjoy my stories find a commonality between them, an emotional familiarity that personally resonates with them. That’s one of my main aims as an author; to move and connect readers with characters that they genuinely empathise with. My picture book themes happen to allow for this.
I know I've connected and empathized with your characters. You've definitely touched many hearts. How many revisions did Oswald Messweather take? How long did it take to go from the idea for Oswald Messweather to contract and publication?
That flight took place mid-2017. I worked on the story for another six months or so (I’m such a slow burner!) then started subbing early 2018. Wombat Books offered me a contract April of that year. I distinctly remember this because it occurred during the 2018 Commonwealth Games which, happened to be taking place here on the Gold Coast. Everyone was completely transfixed by the Games but I was quietly winning my own race and dancing my own victory dance. I worked on edits with the wonderful Emily Lighezzolo throughout 2018 / 2019 with the intention of launching this book in 2020. Well, we all know how that turned out.
So cool to be able to tie the Commonwealth Games with getting the contract! When you got to see the illustrations for Oswald Messweather, did anything surprise you? Did any of the text have to change as the illustrations were completed? What is your favorite spread?
My knowledge of illustrator, Siobhan McVey was rudimentary at best. I’d been following her Instagram account and loved what I saw there. Her style varies from comely woodland creatures to more abstract human portrayals which I thought might suit Ozzie’s character well. They did. Dramatic, clean, but somehow also graceful, they capture Ozzie’s discomfort and mental torment as he attempts to navigate his topsy-turvy environment.
Unlike some of my other picture book collaborations, I did not have the pleasure of working intimately with Siobhan as she progressed from roughs to final layouts but fortunately she intuitively grasped the intent of my narrative and portrayed it as I’d hoped. Very little of the final text was altered.
Text © Dimity Powell, 2021. Image © Siobhan McVey, 2021.
I love any of the spreads featuring Oswald’s crayons. They are the catalyst of his comfort but also a tool of his compulsive behaviour. They are a rainbow of colour, critical to his well-being and his eventual salvation, almost a character unto themselves, linking the entire story thus I love looking at them. I also feel really connected with page nine; a wordless spread of blue swirling sea with Ozzie adrift in his precarious raft of worry and anxiety. I’m positive we’ve all experienced similar moments of anguish and turbulence.
I love your description of the crayon's role in the story. Unfortunately, I think 2020 exacerbated that for many people. Hopefully, we'll get out from under its shadow soon. Is there something you want your readers to know about Oswald Messweather?
If readers, either young or old, are able to recognise themselves in Oswald Messweather and thus realise they are not alone when feeling awkward, fearful, anxious, or overwrought, then I think that is a giant step forward. So many of us suffer from reoccurring thoughts of obsessive doubts and fears, yet we often suffer in unnecessary silence. I hope this book brings OCD out of the shadows and encourages more open conversations with suffers; about why they act as they do and what we can do to help. Oswald Messweather is not a solution to the problem, rather just a glimpse at one small boy’s way forward from his abyss of compulsive behaviour. Words alone cannot provide all the answers but in stories like these, I hope they have the ability to instill hope, understanding, and positive action.
Maybe not a solution, but a definite beacon of warm light. How are, or have you been, staying creative during these times? Have you found anything that helps you “prime the well”?
2020 was perversely a year of high action and visibility for me. From the onset, I tried to maintain a positive spin on things and relished rising to the challenges of converting workshops and presentations to a more virtual online format. The learning curves were steep but fun. As a result, my YouTube channel became a focal point providing reviews, how-to clips and behind the scenes reveals for everyone to enjoy. This led to a national TV program appearance on, reading@homeTV as part of our government’s educational incentive to enhance ‘learning at home’ for children during lockdown.
I also initiated the creation of a new Instagram platform for Kids’ Book Review, which I’m proud to say, has made impressive inroads in just under a year and given our followers another visually inviting way to enjoy book reviews.
I think the key to survival is adaptation and a willingness to step away from your comfort zone. If that was the only kind of travel experience I was going to have, then I was all up for it! So I agreed to a number of online appearances and teaching opportunities which proved my salvation both from a productive and monetary point of view. As with life, it’s good to say ‘Yes!’ sometimes. We are so fortunate here in Australia to be virtually ‘back on track’ presentation wise, which means we can now engage in live book launches, festival appearances and in-school visits again; an author’s grist. However, I am still super comfortable delivering workshops online. My only regret is that this redirection of creativity meant my writing time was virtually non-existent. I was not able to complete new drafts or submit anything last year, which is the fly in my ointment right now.
Oh sorry to rub a sore wound. But you did some amazing things this past year! Congrats. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m thrilled to say I am currently in that dreamy place of a picture book’s production where the illustrator’s ideas are slowly forming into visual magic. My next picture book is due out in March 2022. This is one of my favourite times of collaboration as I watch my words come to life through illustration.
I’m also hoping to scrape that fly out of the ointment this year and complete another junior novel that’s been calling my name. Wish me luck!
I wish you LOTS of luck and look forward to seeing a cover & news about this new picture book. Thank you Dimity for visiting and sharing about yourself and your books.
Be sure to come back on Friday for a SNEAK PEEK Perfect Picture Book Post #PPBF on Oswald Messweather.
To learn more about Dimity Powell, or contact her: