Dionisis Leimonis, with his new books – The Hands of the Goddess, where a group of children talk with the Goddess Aphrodite about her missing hands, and The Boy with the Foustanella, about a blind boy who talks with a Greek hero of 1821 Revolution – continues to inspire. He also makes contributions on Bookia.gr and is an editor for Bookia Web TV. He also teaches creative writing, spreading his passion for literature.
Dionysis Leimonis was born in Aitoliko, an island in the lagoon north of the Acheloos delta in central Greece. He started writing from a young age and is a graduate of Philosophical Department of the University Ioannina. He lives in Volos and works in Secondary Education. He is a columnist for newspapers and magazines and a novelist, while also participating on committees as a judge for children's books.
Leimonis also organizes events on literature and philological matters, creative writing seminars for all ages, including for Junior High School and Senior High School Educators. He also has had his own radio show for more than seven years, `Let's talk about Books.'
The National Herald: How did you start writing children's books?
Dionysis Leimonis: I have been writing since my school years, only in the beginning for myself – as a way of expressing myself. As years passed, I wanted to publish my writings but I didn't find the courage until winning First Prize in a panhellenic competition opened the door to me. As far as my writing solely for children and young learners is concerned, this happened after the beloved writer Angeliki Varela read my novel `To Xameno Tairi' – The Lost Match, and she suggested I should write for children. She was right – my books are well received by my little readers and I am happy writing for them
TNH: Which book is the one that most influenced you in starting writing?
DL: Creative writing has the prerequisite of being a reader for many years without having the goal of presenting your writing to the world. You simply get immersed in reading. Reading is the reason why my way of thinking is so strong and it fueled my imagination, thus leading to creativity. I started by reading `Dick Sand - A Captain at Fifteen' by Jules Verne, a name day present from a girl in my primary school class. I read and read Grimm Brothers' fairytales, the ones I discovered in the encyclopedia `Xaris Patsis' that we had at home. I believe all this info was installed in me, and then I searched with greater thirst for new books. Later on, Nikos Kazantzakis' books led me to the path of philosophy and the exploration of the human soul. That way, my writing developed, acquired a special meaning and structure.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
DL: I usually write without pressing myself to finish in a certain period of time, so I don't function by following a specific time frame – I'm simply concerned about expressing myself. I can only say this: I have travelled while writing a book in a month, while in another case it took me four years to finish one. Writing is a journey with compulsory stops so I am used to writing two books at the same time, with different topics, according to my mood and my needs. When I am faced by an issue with the plot, or I need to do research, I go on with the other book, ready to go back to the other one. That way I ensure a balance without the stress of having to finish something because I am obligated to.
TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
DL: Everyday life, history, and the past inspire me most. I like combining history and myths, truth and lies, reality and fantasy – it is like walking on a tightrope, in two different situations, forming an ideal world. Inspiration comes and finds you but we as writers have the ability to hold it still and to start formulating it, processing it, and transforming into a book idea. Inspiration hits you everywhere, your mind, your heart – then we start sailing, pushed by imagination and the logic of the story, truth and dreams.
We get to know new worlds, and since writing fulfills us primarily as creators – catering to our personal needs for self-expression – we also have something to share with our potential readers.
Sometimes inspiration seems to be a personal issue, since something that touches me may not speak to other people's hearts. It is related to our apperceptions, worldview, and intellectual ability.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
DL: Adventure, anticipation, a secret's quest, a truth that softens the rigidities of our life, transforming it into something interesting, exhilarating. The reader needs to feel he is traveling with the heroes, that he has a role in the story, whether as a helper or an antagonist – living the story, imagining it, making it a part of himself. Emotional intelligence and sympathy – meaning the understanding of the hero's situation – and the readers' identification will turn a text into a reading experience. A writer doesn't write only for himself but for the readers, too. We are on a quest, seeking the specific element that will touch the readers with a universal.
TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide about their fate?
DL: A fascinating interaction takes place with my heroes – whether they're fictional or true, they become my heroes. They talk to me, argue with me, and we finally become friends, bringing a taste of reality. What gives me joy is that after their birth and life cycle, they don't perish or die but continue to live somewhere, returning from time to time in other writings of mine. I don't believe they have a life of their own anymore – their fate is predestined by me, but as in real life, their choices define them. I am always happy to answer readers' questions like: How is your hero doing? This means their existence is recognised.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
DL: It's invigorating to come in touch with kids and the feedback. I get leads for future writing and it impacts my current writing procedure. When I launch my books live, I talk with the kids, open to any queries or objections they may have, listening to their wishes or any type of comments. During this past decade of creative writing my goal has been to elicit their wishes, listening to them, being motivated to write from their own perspective – that is the best part of the writing, it is an experience really worth living for them.
TNH: Children's books get messages across regarding social issues. What is your goal in writing your stories?
DL: The main goal has to be the pleasure of reading, the virtual traveling, since literature nowadays is also connected with language cultivation or assignment writing. Literature should be pure joy. If there are predefined goals in literature, we undermine the wonderful game of hide and seek. I prefer a freer but functional game that generates goals for the readers to seek and treasures to find – surprising even the writer – as they scavenge the text, tracking the treasures. No writer can fully explain his goal since writers create with the heart, escaping the frames of logic.
TNH: Which are the Greek children's books you wish you had written?
DL: Kazantzakis' works, Papadiamantis's `Phonissa', and The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I like these books for their word depth and clarity and their authenticity. Writings should reveal a kind of philosophy, having the qualities of the imaginative and the unexpected but also touching the human soul, with the reader suffering along with the protagonist even if we hate him/her.
TNH: What's coming up next for you?
DL: `Aroma Evgenias' from Nama publications comes out next, referring to Saint Evgenios the Aitolikos, a priest and teacher.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
DL: Children need to love books from an early age so they become adult readers. The writers addressing children have to be careful and they will always be judged severely. They have to love children, respect them and their needs and their desires – they must function like them once they start writing.