We chat to mother and author Eliza McCann about her latest creative venture – a travel journal series for kids. My Awesome Adventure aims to inspire kids to put down their iPads on holidays and learn about the world around them.
What was your inspiration behind creating the My Awesome Adventure, travel journal series?
I lived with my family in Bali for five fabulous years and loved the island from the moment we arrived. I was fascinated by the culture and language and set about learning as much as I could.
The more I learned the more I loved Bali. I realised that armed with just a little bit of information you can get so much more out of a place.
I was sitting in our favourite café in Bali and I saw all these kids on their iPads and I thought,‘Hey! What if there was a book that kept kids entertained while they were on holidays as well as informed?’ And so … My Awesome Bali Adventure came into being!
What will kids find in the My Awesome Adventure series? What do you hope kids can take away from them?
I love the idea that the books will open their eyes to the world around them, and that it will make them look a bit longer at something that may have passed them by or they’ll learn a fact about a city. Hopefully, they foster a love of writing or drawing and documenting their experience.
In the books, kids can learn to count in Bahasa or discover the meanings of the beautiful offerings on the street in Bali, or find out how Sydney got its name. Kids can spot native birds or journal about their most magical experiences.
We want these books to become a keepsake.
How did the collaboration with your illustrator Tinne Cornelissen come about?
I was ready and raring to go the minute the idea came about, so I started searching the internet for illustrators to bring the idea to life (because if there’s one thing I can’t do…it’s draw!)
There are quite literally thousands of illustrators online. I was about to give up as it felt far too overwhelming trawling the net. But then I saw this absolutely gorgeous illustrated map of Paris. It totally matched my aesthetic and how I imagined the Bali book to look. I clicked further and found out the map was illustrated by a young Belgian designer called Tinne, who was living one street away from my old apartment in Darlinghurst, Sydney! So my stalking paid off and Tinne agreed to collaborate.
Tinne went back to Belgium and we worked via email and Skype and didn’t meet each other until she came to Bali two years later. Happily, Tinne now lives in Australia, 20 minutes from me. Working on the My Awesome Adventure Sydney book was much easier as we could meet and have coffee while working.
We were chatting in the office about how we stumble on good ideas, but never have the time to see them to fruition, especially as many of us are busy raising kids. So we would love to know what your process was from beginning to end of turning an idea into reality?
I don’t think that the project could have come from fruition had I not been living in Bali. There’s something about being away from home and out of your comfort zone that gives you the freedom to think bigger.
My husband Phillip happens to be an author and has written almost 30 books. So because of that connection to the publishing world, I had an idea (albeit rather vague) of what was involved in getting a book from start to finish. I don’t want to get all Academy Award’s acceptance speech but I seriously couldn’t have done it without his support!
Once we had our illustrator on board, it was a matter of me working out what I wanted to included in the book page by page. I knew, for instance, that I wanted a map of Indonesia so that kids (and their parents) could see that Bali was a small island that’s part of the wonderfully large country of
Indonesia. I also wanted a section on food, on offerings, on language and sections to prompt kids to write about their own experiences.
It took many, many months to get the book looking just right and then it was time to print. I won’t go into much detail about our first attempt at printing, let me just say it was rather frustrating. But we did eventually find an amazing printer who happily fielded my hundreds of questions about the printing process. They worked with me on finding the right paper and binding and walked me through all the technical terms associated with creating a book.
Shipping was another area I knew nothing about but quickly learnt about that too. Oh! I’d never built a website either – So add that to the list of things to learn. I sat with a wonderful guy called Kadek in his smoke-filled office in Bali day after day and we created the website where we could sell the book online – to the world.
The scariest thing about self-publishing is how to distribute your book (no one wants a garage full of journals gathering dust!). We had the website but luckily in Bali I had a great network of friends who have beautiful shops. They were incredibly supportive of the project from the get-go.
That’s how the little idea in a café became a reality. A bit of luck, a steep learning curve, incredible support and a lot of passion and perseverance.
How did you balance time with raising your kids and working on your dream project?
I’ve always thought that raising kids is one of the best jobs in the world. It’s why we moved out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains when my second daughter was born. It’s a cheaper way to live and being out of a big city gives you more time to be with the kids.
Bali was another place where I could prioritise my children. And where I had to do less housework. If you take away housework from your day, you’d be amazed at how much more work you can achieve! Every day I would drop the kids at school and then work on the book until pick-up time. I’d come home to a clean house and because of that I could spend quality time with the kids.
I’d like to say that I did more work when they went to bed, but I mostly caught up on TV series.
It can be quite jarring to see children on holidays with their heads in technology. What are your tips for inspiring kids to get outdoors, exploring and away from digital media?
I think journaling is a great way to get kids off their screens. Once they start it’s quite addictive. Even if it’s just writing or drawing a little bit each day.
If you give kids the chance to plan their holiday activities, they become active participants in their holiday. If they choose to go, for instance, to a temple or even a day at the beach, get them to find it on the map, do a bit of research about where they’re going.
I find this one hard to do myself, but role modelling is a really good way to get kids away from digital media. Put the phones and computers away and get out a book or play a good old fashioned board game. It can be refreshingly fun.
Do you inspire any positive daily habits in your own children?
I’d love to say I get my kids to meditate daily but it’s never going to happen so the one thing I insist on is that we take as many meal times together as possible. My husband is a really great cook so he’ll whip up something delicious for dinner, I hide the phones and we all chat about our respective days.
What are some of your favourite holiday destinations to take kids too?
Our family favourite is Nusa Lembongan, which is a small island off Bali. It’s a 30 minute boat ride from Sanur. We just had a holiday in Sumbawa. It was an epic journey to get there but such an amazing place. The kids love Bangkok, as do I. It’s such an exciting city. They keep asking to go back.
Do you have any other books in this series in the pipeline?
Yes! I’m currently working on a kids’ sports journal with a friend. I have two fantastically active girls and I’m a big fan of involving kids in sport. Like the travel journals, I hope these books will be empowering for kids and a great way for them to document their experiences.
I’m also super keen to work on another book for My Awesome Adventure series. New Zealand and Japan are the two wonderful countries that are high on my list.
Eliza McCann is a writer and publisher who currently lives is Melbourne with her husband Phillip (who is also a writer) and two daughters, Ruby, 10, and Ella, 8. Eliza was born in Sydney and has previously lived in London, the Blue Mountains and Bali. She is lucky to be able to combine her two great loves; writing and travel into a children’s book series My Awesome Adventure. You can find out more about Eliza and her kids travel journal series via her website, Instagram and Facebook.
Interview: Jenna Templeton