The first children’s book I illustrated was launched in the week before ANZAC Day, a national day for remembering those who served + fought in wars, at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. The Shrine was built after World War 1, to commemorate the lives of those lost in World War 1, + to provide the grieving community with a place to honour + preserve the memories of those who died overseas + were buried a long way from home. The venue was perfect for the launch of the book, which centres on the French village Villers Bretonneux, whose residents continue to keep a century-old promise to never forget the Australians who saved them in a WW1 battle, which was won on the day now known as ANZAC Day.
Given the size of the venue, participation was limited to those invited by the author Derek Guille (previously a high-profile ABC radio presenter), the publisher One Day Hill, + a few close family + friends invited by me. Details of the public launch will be available shortly. Despite the ‘closed’ nature of the event, the audience quickly filled all seats + began standing around the perimeter as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Melbourne – Villers Bretonneux Brass Ensemble’, central characters in the book, played in the launch.
I was excited to see the characters I’d illustrated, in the flesh, for the first time. It was a strange experience after reading manuscripts, + researching instruments + battles online, to hear them play + watch them interact right in front of me. And, of course, they played superbly.
The book was formally launched by the Honorary Consul-General of France in Melbourne, Mrs Myriam Boisbouvier-Wylie, followed by speeches from Derek Guille + myself. This was the first time I had publicly spoken as Kaff-eine. Given that many in the audience were unfamiliar with me, I introduced myself, explained how I came to illustrate the book + the lifestyle changes that followed, + thanked both author + publisher for offering me such a life-changing opportunity. I was thrilled + humbled to receive applause half way through my speech + at its conclusion; it was wonderful to feel such support for my decision to leave the office + pursue artwork, + for my artwork itself.
To conclude the launch, the Brass Ensemble played a beautiful, lilting song called The Glass Soldier, which was also featured in the book. Listening to trumpet-player Geoff play the haunting introduction to this song, which was written about his Grandfather, on his Grandfather’s own cornet, gave me goosebumps (as I suspect it did many others). It was a genuinely intimate performance, one which I felt privileged to witness.
Derek + I then signed copies of lovely audience members’ books. A couple of Strathewen Primary School children approached me to sign their book. Nearly a century ago, Victorian schoolchildren raised funds to rebuild the Villers Bretonneux school, which was destroyed in the war. Schoolchildren from this rebuilt school recently returned the favour, raising funds to help rebuild the Strathewen Primary School which was decimated by wildfire in 2009. These events formed one of the most poignant moments in the story for me, which was highly symbolic of the continuing, heartfelt international friendship between the two nations, so I was stoked that children from Strathewen could be at the launch.
It was a fantastic night shared with a group of incredible people, many of whom had personal connections to the events + characters in the book. It is amazing that such a little-known story impacts on so many Australians, + I feel honoured to be able to help to bring the story to a broader audience.
The book, distributed by Scholastic Australia, is available in many bookstores + online:
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Promise-Derek-Guille/9780987313966
Feature photo-gallery of illustrations, in the Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/photogallery/entertainment/books/the-promise-the-town-that-never-forgets-20130417-2hzeg.html
Feature photo-gallery of illustrations, in The Age: http://www.theage.com.au/photogallery/entertainment/books/the-promise-the-town-that-never-forgets-20130417-2hzeg.html
Feature photo-gallery of illustrations in the Canberra Times: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/entertainment/books/the-promise-the-town-that-never-forgets-20130417-2hzeg.html
Feature photo-gallery of illustrations in WA Today: http://www.watoday.com.au/photogallery/entertainment/books/the-promise-the-town-that-never-forgets-20130417-2hzeg.html
Buzz Words magazine book review: http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2013/04/the-promise-town-that-never-forgets.html