Anna Kouppanou has won numerous awards for her books and is the Cyprus IBBY, Hans Christian Andersen Nominee for 2022. She is an educator, a philosopher of education, (Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education − UCL Institute of Education, University College London), a poet, and an author of children and young adult fiction.
Anna, who spoke with The National Herald, has immersed herself in children’s books and realistic fiction, dealing with important psychological and social issues and capturing contemporary depictions of childhood and adolescence.
The National Herald: How did you start writing children’s books?
Anna Kouppanou: I started ‘writing’ before being able to write. I just uttered some rhyming lines – with one too many repetitions, and my mum put them down on paper. Then, throughout my childhood and teen years, I was expressing myself through poetry. Finally, during the last years of my BA in Education Studies, I started putting together some educational material, later realizing that I was writing a book. The book was then submitted to the Cyprus IBBY contest and won the first prize. The feeling was amazing, and I was thrown onto the path of writing for life.
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
AK: If I can spot such an influence, then this would come from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I think that my favorite heroine, Josephine ‘Jo’ March, who in my eyes seemed a lot like me – passionate and creative, with a quick temper and great resolve about becoming a writer – first planted the seed and a belief that writing is one of the most worthwhile endeavors in the world. The feeling of reading a wonderful book, telling you that writing is possible – indeed, bringing to life a fictional writer, who in a way coincided with the actual writer of the book – is incomparable.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
K: It depends on the book. Sometimes the book just pours out of me. At others, I need to be patient and hold on to a certain image or follow a hunch. I then start writing the story while waiting for the main characters to reveal themselves. As soon as I have a clearer picture, I can move on. For me, characters are quite important, and the better I get to know them, the easier it is to press on with the story.
TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
AK: Anything can trigger the process of writing – anything that is challenging in some way – perhaps it is something about which I want to know more, or perhaps it is a feeling into which I want to delve. I see the process of writing as exploration, so I am always looking for something new, a place I have not visited, a character I have not met, an experience not yet lived.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
AK: A picture book is a distinct kind of book − an artifact made of words and pictures. When I write the words, I pay special attention to them so that they convey the story both with their meaning and their sounds. Words can do things, stage language games, and cause feelings to form when they are read aloud. So, I am mindful of that.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
AK: I often meet young readers in schools, festivals, or libraries. Now, the meetings take place online, but the feeling of excitement and the possibilities of forming connections are still there. A beautiful thing happens when you talk to children about something you are passionate about. Children respond to that, and they are invited to talk about the things that they love. They even feel compelled to experiment with writing, and that’s how the magic happens. When the whole class quietens so that a child can read their work, a feeling of empowerment comes over the child, and a sentiment of respect spreads through the classroom. Sharing your work in a trusting community is integral to the creative process and should also be important for education in general.
TNH: Children's books get the message across regarding social issues. Which is your goal in writing your stories?
AK: Many of my books tackle social issues. The Incredible Discovery of Sebastian Montefiore addresses the matters of inequality, representation, and voice – and the role of media in all this. It is a political allegory unfolding through a story about dogs. In the book, dogs have acquired voices and they also have minds. Therefore, they want to claim their rights and speak their mind. Every time they attempt to reveal their great secret, however, the revelation comes out as a fictional TV product.
Some of my other books, such as, The Disappearance of K. Papadakou and what happened that summer, sketches the portrait of a family falling apart and that of a young boy attempting to hold on to something – and all this disguised through the mystery genre.
TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published?
AK: My picture book, Phoebus and the Whale has just been published. It is a book about the workings of fear and anxiety. A little boy, Phoebus, is the protagonist of the story and is overwhelmed by fear – that is, a fear without a face. When the boy manages to give this fear a form and turn it into a tangible object, both he and his fear are set free.
TNH: What's coming up next for you?
AK: Currently, I am working on the second volume of my Club of the Lost Kids series, a book that brings together fantasy and magic, fairytale, and quantum physics. At the center of the book is a group of young children – quite different from each other, who manage to become friends and also nearly shatter the world – causing a rift in the spacetime continuum. Lizi Green, one of these kids, is also a great mystery in herself – having the ability to read the thoughts accumulated in dust and objects.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
AK: To start writing and keep on doing it as long as they want to. You need not permission to start doing what you love. I would also tell them to devote themselves to writing, to treat it like falling in love – and thus get carried away by it, to experience writing as being in love – and thus really work on it, believe in its transformative power, and persist.
You can reach Anna at: https://www.facebook.com/anna.kouppanou/ email: [email protected].