Author, artist, and lover of life, Betty Sargeant, creates an adventure to help readers figure out just how far up you can go in her interactive book app, How Far is UP, now available in Demibooks Storytime. Betty loves to create new worlds with words and pictures and has been since she was six years old. Now a big kid, Betty has illustrations exhibited around the world and has illustrated a number of other digital books such as Wayne Boris Carlo and Red.
With the excitement of adding her book to Storytime, we asked Betty to answer some questions to learn more about her and her book.
Tell us a little about yourself. Your love for storytelling. How did you became a professional author and designer?
“I have always loved telling stories. When I was very young I used to write and draw all the time. One of my favorite early stories is from when I was about seven. It is a story about a roller-skating mouse. It is filled with spelling mistakes, but I just love it.
I started school when I was four. And from a very young age I learnt about the structure of stories and I read a lot.
Later when I went to university and I studied design (amongst other things). I end up with two degrees from two different universities – a teaching degree and an Arts degree with Honors. Over this time I studied creative writing and visual art in a University department that specializes in children’s literature. I learned so much about storytelling over this time.
The year after I finally graduated, a New York digital publisher saw my work online and picked up a picture book that I made during my Honors studies. I went on to write and illustrate two books for them. You can see these books here. This gave me the opportunity to work with highly experienced children’s book editors. I have learned so many valuable lessons from editors, and I cannot stress enough, the vital role that they play in producing any literary work.
Believe it or not, I am still at university. Currently I’m finishing my PhD. In my doctoral studies I have specialized in the design of children’s book applications. Being able to pause and complete a deep analysis of the key elements that make up book apps has been a wonderful experience. Storytelling within the app ‘world’ is different to storytelling in the print ‘world’. Apps can fuse ideas central to picture book, film and game design. It is a whole new ball game, full of great opportunities and big pitfalls.
The opportunities that app design offers involve being able to express a story through interaction design, text, image and audio. This enables us to connect to audiences in new ways. Some people learn well through aural means, some are kinetic learners and some are visually based. Apps allow us to design stories that provide for a wide range of audience skills and personal preferences. Of course there are many more advantages as well.
My approach to app design involves: creating a balance between interactivity and narrative flow; being aware of the ways in which text, visuals and audio can work cooperatively to tell a story; being aware of the audience, this may include both children and adults; and being aware of what supplementary materials to include, this involves ethical decisions relating to children accessing online material. I have written about these kinds of ideas in more detail here.
I love learning. Over the years to come I plan to find out more and more about the ways in which we can tell stories. Different mediums offer different opportunities, and apps are proving to be a big game changer in regard to telling children’s stories.”
What was your inspiration for How Far is UP?
“A few years ago, when my son was two, he had the habit of asking really complex questions just before he fell asleep. One night he asked, ‘How far is up?’ I thought for a while, then realized that I really did not know the answer. I told him that I would have to think about it and get back to him.
It took some time for me to respond. After reading many scientific articles and spending a lot of time on the NASA website I realized that this was not the simple question that it may appear to be. Around this time I knew I had a book idea.
There is an old authors’ mantra that says, ‘Write about what you know’. This idea may work for some, but I tend to write about what I would like to know. In some ways I feel as if I am the audience and the author all at once. Sometimes I am discovering new ideas and at the same time presenting these ideas to others.
I like to combine fact and fiction in my writing, so the idea of ‘up’ was exciting for me. It seemed like a great chance to create a quirky bunch of characters that bumbled their way through a discovery of distance and space.
Reality is often stranger than fiction. As a consequence, things that are real, or things that really happened, are a big inspiration for me.”
Tell us a little about using Demibooks Composer for your project.
“It was such a delight working on the Demibooks platform. It gave me the freedom to fulfill my vision for this project. I have written, illustrated and animated this app. I can read some computer code and correct some aspects of code but I am by no means a computer engineer or a computer coder. So this platform was perfect for me.
Demibooks is a platform with such scope. I have not even touched the sides of what is possible within this software so I can see myself working with it for some time.
Alongside of this is the personal approach that the Demibooks team adopts. If I were unsure of how to tackle a design idea, I would jump online. There is a big online Demibooks community, and the members helped me to learn about the software. The Demibooks team are also great at getting involved in answering design questions.”
What’s Next for you and the business?
“I have ten new story concepts that I am looking to develop over the next few years. I suspect that many or most of these will become apps. But firstly I am concentrating on finishing my PhD, I will have this done by the end of 2014. I must say that getting a PhD is harder than I first thought. At times it has made me feel like this:
So I do look forward to a fresh 2015, when I can get back into my studio. The first thing I will do is pick up my pencils and paints and starting to bring a new story to life. Hopefully my world will once again look a little bit like this:
I also tend to travel a lot. I have spoken about book app design at numerous international conferences and industry events. I love this aspect of my job. Travel inspires new story ideas.”
Any words of wisdom for people who want to be storytellers?
“Editors and like gold. They are a vital part of any form of storytelling. Even if you know how to edit, use an external editor for your own work. Use an editor who has specialist knowledge in your area – in this context use one who has picture book experience.
Study, learn and never stop … but with a history like mine you may expect me to say this!
Join or form a writing group so that others critique your work before you send it to publishers. You will need to do many drafts before a story is complete. (That is often the hardest part).
If you want to make children’s books join the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They have chapters and conferences all over the world. This is a great resource and a lovely community.
And finally, never stop finding the strange in the everyday. ”
Here at Demibooks, we are big fans of Betty Sargeant. We look forward to her upcoming books and the adventures they will take us on.