Who doesn’t love birthdays? Birthdays mean decorations, friends, cakes, and of course, presents. Some of us have received some pretty incredible gifts throughout our lives, but what about… a hippo? In Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, multi-genre author Danielle Van Alst introduces us to seven-year-old Delilah as she experiences the most memorable birthday of her life.
Interviewer: Sophie Lin
Q: How is the process of writing a children’s book different than writing a book of a different genre?
A: I believe good stories from all traditions tend to have certain things in common, including convincing dialogue, strong characters and memorable settings. This goes for children’s stories as well as stories for adults, although there are some important differences. Stories for adults, for example, aren’t usually illustrated. And, depending on the age of the children you are writing for, there are elements of violence and sexuality you’ll want to leave out or handle with great caution. I like to keep children’s books lighthearted, fun, and entertaining all while sending a message.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I grew up as an only child and had difficulty relating to people my own age. Admittingly, being an only child can get lonely at times. I thought how fun it would be to create a character who is an only child in a nontraditional household and gets a “buddy” for a birthday present. That friend just happens to be a hippopotamus from her eccentric grandmother. I wanted Delilah to be able to feel unique and special, when all she ever felt was “different or weird.” I wanted to depict a situation that may not be seen as “typical” in a fun way.
Q: How often do you write poetry?
A: I write poetry every day, even if it’s just something small like a haiku. I have an Instagram account that I use as a poetry diary. It’s a great way to express myself while combining my love of poetry and graphic design. You can check it out @dvanalstwriter.
Q: What is your favourite genre to write and why?
A: That’s a tough question. That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! I actually really enjoy challenging myself and experimenting across genres. I enjoy writing mystery, horror, historical fiction, poetry, kid’s lit, and tragedy. I suppose it would be easier for me to name the genres I tend to avoid and that would be sci-fi, fantasy, and erotica.
Q: How would you describe your experience working with an illustrator?
A: I have worked with three different illustrators on three different book projects and they have all been a little different. For A World of Imagination and Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, I was not in direct contact with the illustrator. Instead, I sent a detailed storyboard to the publisher explaining in-depth exactly what I wanted each illustration to look like. The descriptions had to be exact all the way down to the shoelaces on Delilah’s sneakers and the decorations on the wall in her bedroom. The publisher would then send my storyboard over to the illustrator where they would draw it, send it back to the publisher, then the publisher would send it to me for approval or a redo.
For my upcoming book, Little Winnie Witch Goes to Flight School, I was able to work with a freelance illustrator one-on-one and it was a great experience collaborating on this project. I told her my vision and how I wanted each picture to look and she delivered with flying colors!
Q: What first ignited your passion for writing?
A: I have been writing since the day I could make scribbles on paper with a crayon. When I was really little I wanted to be a newspaper woman and write all the stories that were going on around me because I was so fascinated with other people’s lives. I was always watching and observing the world around me and making up stories about what I saw. I started a little newspaper in elementary school complete with a comics section and was certain that was what I wanted to do. I loved retreating into my imagination and making up stories that I could escape into. I guess I was just enamored with the world of pretend and make believe because it was so much more fun than reality! From there I started exploring different types of writing and got into poetry, short story writing, essays, flash fiction, and novels. I wanted to do it all!
Q: How would you describe your publishing experience?
A: It has been both challenging and rewarding. I have worked with several different publishers and have learned a lot along the way. It’s a long process from idea to the completed book readers hold in their hands and the road is often bumpy and stressful. There is a great deal of rewriting, correcting, technical error repair, formatting, marketing, editing, graphic design, and promoting involved with the release of a single book. The result is something you created that everyone can enjoy!
Q: Was there any particular reason you chose a pet hippo as Delilah’s birthday present?
A: I thought a hippo was a unique and quirky pet. I have a lot of adventures planned for Delilah and Louise as this is book one in a series and a hippo seemed like a perfect fit for all the trouble they are going to get into!
Q: What is your favourite birthday present that you’re received?
A: Honestly, it’s the gift of love and quality time. As a kid, I never had birthday parties or anything like that but, as an adult, a very beloved friend of mine began celebrating my birthday with me. It’s so wonderful to just be together and feel loved and special on my day. There is nothing better than just relaxing and being with people you care about.
Q: What future projects of yours should we be looking out for?
A: I have a ton of projects in the works! I have another children’s book coming out in mid-September. I also have another historical fiction novel surrounding the North Berwick Witch Trials that is very near completion. It’s a story that has taken me years to write due to the extensive amount of research that needed to be done. I’m hoping to see that released sometime next year. Stay tuned!
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I just want to thank all my readers. Without you, none of this would be possible!