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Literature

Artemis Planaki: Embracing Realism and Imagination to Reveal Cretan History in Children’s Books

June 27, 2021

Artemis Planaki, born on the island of Crete, lives in Chania and is a philologist at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (2004). She has completed two years of study in the Department of Psychology at University of Rethymnon, and is a lecturer of ancient Greek language and literature. Artemis is married with two children, seven and ten years of age, and her interests include theatre, music, and story dramatization for children’s movies. Her unconditional love for writing has led her to creating fairy tales and stories for children.

TNH: How did you start creating your children’s books?

Artemis Planaki: Both my parents being philologists gave me the chance to start reading books from an early age, and my relationship with literature evolved through the years. Mythology, middle school stories, history, poetry, and literature kept me company. Once my children were born, I started reading stories to them. I now take notes, of course! My first self-published book, Glykos and Monahouda, is part of my storytelling series.

TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?

AP: Being around books helped me a lot in general, but Kobi Yamada’s book What Do you with an idea? had a determining effect on me. When I read it, I realized I had a goal – an idea to develop – and this was the starting point for me.

TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?

AP: Writing a book doesn’t take too much time for me. I keep notes as I get ideas and impulses, then keep rereading the story, adding new elements to it. I rarely delete ideas. Once my written piece is ‘stabilized’, as I say, I look for participants in the book process, the illustrator, the graphic designer, and the editor. Waiting is worthwhile, considering the result.

TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?

 AP: I pay attention to everything that surrounds me. My children, my students, landscapes, various incidents, a book, a conversation with a dear friend – all these mingle in my mind and lead to an unexpected literary creation. Keen observation is one of my characteristics, but my Cretan roots are an endless source of inspiration, due to the wealth of Cretan tradition, myths, and legends that I love and bring to mind often.

TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?

AP: What plays a primordial role in storytelling is evoking feelings in both kids and adults. Kids discover new emotional aspects of life and adults recall in their minds and hearts forgotten or neglected memories. Illustrations play their supportive role of course, and stimulate the imagination the most. What really counts for me is the plot, which is the number one prerequisite for having the best result.

TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide their fate? 

AP: I use both approaches. When I have made the main decisions about my story’s heroes, I name them and I lead them, but they show me the way to evolving the story. It’s a mutual and interactive kind of communication – the characters and I exert a certain influence on each other. Once this interactive communication is established, animals, objects, or humans, emerge and develop as whole personalities; they become independent beings. They aren’t my marionettes – they are protagonists, creations that transcend the limits of my imagination.

TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?

AP: Glykos and Monahouda is my first book and because of COVID 19 there were book presentations only in Chania, on the island of Crete island last summer, following the safety measures. I did had live and online storytelling presentations, however. The cultural association of the village of Mournies organised for me a very touching presentation with many children, and I was lucky to have their encouraging participation. We discussed the story, read it aloud, and I explained certain parts of it to them. In addition to radio shows, I appeared on TV show, responding to viewer’s questions. I am impatient to return to our usual rhythms, however, and to offering more book presentations to kids.

TNH: Children's books get the message across regarding social issues. Which is your goal in writing your stories? 

AP: My first book, and five which have not been published yet, incorporate strong social messages. Friendship, antagonism, mutual assistance, honesty, and qualitative interpersonal relationships dominate in all of them! I use the kind of writing and wording that touch my little readers’ hearts with the help, in Glykos and Monahouda, of Lila Kalogeri’s illustrations. My aim is to sensitize, to communicate, and to put the message across in a magic way through the story to all readers, no matter what their age is. I also aim at enriching the childrens’ vocabulary, being a philologist myself.

TNH: Which are the Greek children’s books you wish you had written?

AP: I love G. Vizyino’s and A. Papadiamantis books, because their works combine realism and imagination in a wonderful way. But if I had to choose among all the books I like, I would definitely choose Theoxaris Detorakis book History of Crete, since for me it’s an indispensable companion in understanding the complicated history of Crete. This particular book answers my questions about every historic moment and is the reason for writing a book I am planning.

TNH: Tell us a bit about the people who helped bring to life Glykos and Monahouda.

AP: That was published in May 2020, having the amazing Lila Kalogeri as an illustrator, Nikos Thomadakis as the graphic designer, and Stavros Planakis along with Elerni-Artemis Planaki as editors. The story is a continuation of the well-known story The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. Glykos escapes from the pack that pressures him to devour the innocent little goats. He leaves and reveals his secret that he is a vegetarian. Then he meets the sweet lonely bear, who calls him Glyko, meaning ‘sweet wolf,’ and they become inseparable, true friends. This is an ending our readers don’t expect to happen. That reinforces the moral to the story that appears on the book’s back cover: “Things aren’t always as what they seem…” That is a great truth. The story’s central theme has to do with the life’s unexpected course, while also engendering the feeling of optimism.

TNH: What's coming up next for you?

AP: I am writing a historical children’s book regarding an incident of the Cretan history that will be published by the National Research Foundation “Eleftherios K. Venizelos.” A child’s innocence offers another perspective on a historical incident, and presents it with humor, using his feelings and imagination to make the subject matter attractive to the reader and  inspiring respect for Cretan history. I hope to publish another story of mine, Aretoula in the Land of Kri-Kri, that received accolades in the 9th Literature Competition organized by the UNESCO club in Athens, Greece.

TNH Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?

AP: My wish for everyone is to leave a legacy for the generations to come while they have joy in whatever they do. Every writer’s goal has to be in that direction. They need to have patience and be persistent, and these two qualities are rare. They shouldn’t let unexpected issues and occurrences get them down, especially those who choose the self-publishing route, where the burden lies solely on them. Dreams are a personal choice that are realized collectively. I hope we meet again along the path of the lives of my stories. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Facebook: Άρτεμις Πλανάκη (in Greek)

e-mail: artaki83@hotmail.com , artemis.planaki@gmail.com

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