Evi Gitsa is a writer spreading the messages of acceptance, happiness, and respect through unique stories, combining the rhythm and words that delight children's souls. She grew up and still lives in Larissa and is is the mother of three boys.
She graduated from the Pedagogic Department of Elementary Education in the University of Thessaly and now works as a teacher. Evi has attended creative writing, directing, and theater education seminars at the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, as well as the Annual Special Education Program of the Aegean University. Her poetic collection titled The Re-turn was awarded by the International Art Society in the Global Poetry Competition C. P. Cavafy in 2018. She also participates in the theatrical workshop of the Thessalian Theater and writes articles in literary magazines.
The National Herald: How did you start writing children's books?
Evi Gitsa: It had been my dream ever since I was a child. I have always wanted to be a writer. I started writing stories when I was a kid, and then as I was growing up I pursued poetry. As a pupil, I participated in literary competitions. During my studies at University, I wrote articles for the press (youth magazine) and advertisements for the local radio station. After becoming a teacher and a mother I started writing children's stories.
TNH: Which book is the one that most influenced you in starting writing?
EG: My first experience of reading literature was the book The High Mountains (1918), written by the Greek author Zaxarias Papantoniou. The book narrates the journey of initiation of a group of children in the mountains. At first, it was used as a school book in 1918. It is considered an innovative and progressive book since it is written in the Modern Greek Language. When it was no longer taught at schools, it continued to be read as children's literature and was very much loved.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
EG: I would say that it varies. Most of the time four to six months are required to write a book. It can be a very slow process. The first idea grows in you within a few days. Writing a story for children is a difficult task. I always work as a team with my good friend and illustrator, Katerina Katsoura. When the illustrator takes over, the story is broken into pieces and is restructured to fill in the gaps – and leave space for children's imagination as well.
TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
EG: The ideas for my books come from my own everyday life and experiences, my kids' adventures, my students' queries, the school environment, as well as the parents' concerns. I also bring mythical elements in, to `season' my stories with fantasy.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
EG: Young children are interested in their close environment, family, friends, and home and they can relate to such stories. What is more, children like verses and funny words! They prefer fantasy heroes and vivid colors. And, most importantly, anyone who want to write or even read a book to children must enjoy it himself, too! Children's books are meant not only to be read but provide great sources of various activities and games based on the story, thus approaching the book more playfully and creatively! As usually happens with kids, such activities bring laughter and joy!
TNH: Do your heroes lead their way through the story or do you decide about their fate?
EG: The most challenging part of Greek literature is the creation of a hero. In our country, an important element that defines a book and its endurance in time is the main hero. The hero must be structurally solid and exude the proper vitality so that his existence is not trapped within the pages of the book but instead the wind of time carries them into our lives. As a result, my heroes lead my way most of the time. In the current children's world, being full of modern heroes with supernatural powers, fairytales bring our children closer to the real heroes of life, namely ordinary people like us who achieve great things and make their dreams come true.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
EG: I connect with my little readers through my profession. I am often invited to schools and libraries to talk about my books, and I communicate with the readers during presentations in educational and cultural events and through various activities in several organizations, such as Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and the Foundation of Catherine Laskaridis.
TNH: Children's books get the message across regarding social issues. What is your goal in writing your stories?
EG: Children may not realize the urgency of the issues that are hidden behind the lines of fairytales, but while reading them they come in contact with the outside world for the first time. Behind the pictures of children's books existential and social meanings are hidden. Among the topics fairytales deal with are those of life, death, equality, otherness, and bullying. Children may not fully comprehend the adult messages of the books, but that does not mean they do not absorb them. Fairytales help children distinguish good from evil with the former usually prevailing.
TNH: Which are the Greek children's books you wish you had written?
EG: The book that I wish I had written is titled I care (1996) by my beloved writer Galateia Soureli. It is a brilliant novel that sensitizes the younger generation over one of the most important issues of our times, environmental pollution. It emphasizes the individual responsibility each one of us has for Earth's destruction. Every single student in school can understand the dangers, fights, and struggles using the slogan “I Care.” “I care if a pine is cut or burned, I can change the world because I care.”
TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published?
EG: One of my most recent books is a fairytale titled Little Anasemio and Her Friends. It's a story about a witch that is not like the other witches. She likes reading and traveling … a well-known witch that could not cast a single spell. It's a story about love and acceptance of diversity. Through the adventures of Anasemio children learn that happiness begins with the acceptance of ourselves and our roots along with the respect for our family.
My other fairytale is Like Grandmother's Fairytale … It's a story that my grandma used to tell me every night. It is a folk tale that I have altered and have narrated to my children and pupils and I saw that they loved it. The adaptation of folktales for the modern reading public serves the need that these tales should be narrated in more functional ways closer to today's reality, which is what made me publish it.
TNH: What's coming up next for you?
EG: It is a music fairytale which I wrote along with the accomplished guitarist and my partner John Bagios, with the title Notes, Words, and The Musical Clocks. It narrates stories of rhythm and proves that each rhythm has its necessity and role in music.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
EG: My only advice is to read even more and observe children's life and reality. Choose to be a writer – it's a way of life. Be patient and respect the children's souls.