This month’s coffee-break interview is with not one but two brilliant children’s authors. Husband and wife team Emma Ballantine and Mark Strepan.
We find out about their mindfulness book for children ‘What a Day: A Mindful Moment For Bedtime’.
Plus they give us the low-down on their writing process and how they co-created their book.
Usually we ask the author to describe themselves in three words but – in this instance – we thought it might be fun for Emma to give three words that best describe Mark? And vice-versa.
Emma: I would describe Mark as kind, thoughtful and determined.
Mark: My three words for Emma are fiery, resilient and joyful.
Emma, you are an actress, voice-over artist, singer, songwriter – and now a published author. Has your career path taken you by surprise? Or did you always want to write books for children?
My career has definitely taken me by surprise!
Being an actor can be such an unstable profession. So I’ve always tried to have lots of different creative projects on the go; which ebb and flow and fuel each other. I love working on different things and making things.
Becoming a mother really shifted something in me creatively as well.
At first I felt like I really lost touch with who I was and my identity. But when that started to ease, I felt such a drive to use my voice and create. That definitely made me feel braver to go down different paths and try new things.
Writing a mindful book for kids wasn’t in my plans, but I’m so glad we’ve gone down this path and am excited to see where it leads.
Mark, when you were growing up, were you a keen reader? Who was your favourite children’s author?
I wouldn’t say I was a hugely keen reader growing up, although I do remember the excitement of going to the library to get books for the week. I loved listening to audio stories – particularly Roald Dahl – The Twits.
I also loved Harry Potter, growing up, and my mum used to queue to get me the next book as soon as it came out.
But it wasn’t until I went to drama school that I started getting into reading in a big way.
Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind ‘What a Day – A Mindful Moment For Bedtime’?
Our daughter was around 9 months old and we were in the depths of the first lockdown in a top floor flat in London. Our little one was struggling to drift off to sleep and would cling on to us screaming if we tried to leave her room for the night.
We found by accident that by softly recounting every event of the day that led to bedtime really calmed her. We reassured her that we were just outside and she wasn’t alone and we would see her in the morning and something shifted and it really helped.
It became a bit of a bedtime mantra for us. It was so simple really and one night after a few glasses of vino we thought, maybe there’s something in our new mantra, and the idea for What a Day was born.
Why did you choose to focus on bedtime mindfulness specifically?
We were sleep deprived and obsessed with sleep at the time of writing (as so many parents are) so it was the part of our day that we really felt needed an injection of calm.
We saw the impact it had on our daughter; that calm repetition and routine gave her a structure and safety to fall asleep.
We wanted the mindful element to not only be for the child but also for the parents. So many nights we would find ourselves doing a bedtime story and half thinking about what needs to be done in the house
or cooking dinner and not really being present, so we wanted to book to help with this and provide a few moments where parents can also switch off from their busy day.
We included an interactive page where both parent and child can share something that made them smile that day to encourage this present gratitude for the small things.
How does your writing process work, with two of you having input? Do you write independently – or together?
Our collaborative process keeps evolving but it usually involves a joint understanding of an idea and then we both separately write before coming back together and pulling the best bits from each other’s rambles.
Notebook or laptop?
Notebook, then finessing on a laptop!
What was the most challenging aspect of creating the book?
I think the most challenging part came once we’d finished it and trying to figure out the next steps to give it a life.
As first time kid’s book authors we had no idea where to start, in terms of publishing a book. We spent a long time pitching and hustling and not hearing anything back. But as actors we’re quite used to the hustle!
Luckily, after some time, we started getting some interest then it all flowed from there.
Are you currently working on any more books? Either singly or together?
Yes! We very much hope that this book will be the start of a mini mindfulness ‘What a Day’ series.
The one we’re currently working on focuses on navigating big emotions with your little one. Something we are very much in the midst of, with our 4 year old!
Mark, what would your superpower be? Or do you have a human quality that you consider to be a superpower?
I would love to be able to not need to sleep. Think how much I could get done in the day! Or maybe it would be not feeling the effects of no sleep… I think that would make parenting a lot easier.
And, finally, Emma — who would play you in the movie of your life?
Oohh, my dream would be Kristen Bell!
Thanks so much Emma Ballantine and Mark Strepan. We really enjoyed discovering a little more about you.
You can find out more about ‘What a Day: A Mindful Moment For Bedtime’ on the Quarto Books Website.
Or buy a copy of the book on Amazon.