The award winning children’s book author Eva-Petropoulou Lianou shares her unique creative world and heart-warming philosophy with our readers. The full interview follows:
The National Herald: How did you start writing children’s books?
Eva Petropoulou-Lianou: I started writing children's books many years ago. The very first time I was around the age of 7-years-old. I loved poetry and short stories.
Every child has a dream, speaking for me I always wanted to be a writer: to create new stories, new heroes, and immerse myself in my adventures. I also liked to travel to new places and meet different people. So, my traveling adventures had France as the starting point and then Corsica, where I came in touch with people of unique personalities and different cultural backgrounds. Thanks to this interaction, I got inspired and had these amazing people not only in my stories but they also keep their presence alive in my heart.
Although I studied journalism and I received my DEUG degree in the French language, as time passed I discovered I needed a sheet of paper and pencil, to keep track of what happened around me. That’s how the heroes and fairytale world came into my life. I followed my dreams and listened to the secrets of my heart; they opened the doors to knowledge. I published my first book in Nantes in France, in 2006 – Geraldine and the Elf of the Lake, while feeling nostalgic and being homesick for Greece.
Presenting books at schools and public libraries was the first step for me along with my fairytales and poems each year. In sixteen years’ time I have published 12 books. They have received awards and their themes ranged from nature, love for the planet, the universe, and respect for humans. I also presented creative writing workshops over the past eight years for children and adults, too.
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
EP: My favorite book is the Peter Pan adventure. The boy who never gets old and his motto is that everything will be well at the end. I admire the heroes who continue their path and stay positive in every situation. Peter Pan learned to share good things in life. I believe that we must give children time and space to discover their imagination and to use their creativity. A child can learn a lot from people reading bedtime stories to them from a young age, thus creating a bond with them that will keep him safe for all the years to come.
TNH: Where do the ideas for your books come from?
EP: “Whatever exists can take the form of a fairytale” – this phrase belongs to the great author of children’s books Hans Christian Andersen. I believe the same, so whatever captures my attention can be transformed into a hero – the moon, a boat, a carpet, a train. The ideas from my books come literally from the whole universe that surrounds me. A cat that came across the street, the rainbow, the sea, a fish that just jumped out of the water. If we keep our hearts open to possibilities then we have a beautiful story to tell, to write, to share. Every person has a different opinion and perspective about life. There is reality but the truth for every writer can be translated into various forms. For instance, an idea about the way of life of a small child in the back yard of a small country house is a good start for creating a book. We just need to observe the people around us with kindness and attention – maybe one of them will be in our next book.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
EP: I need 6 to 8 months to write a book. It is a matter of inspiration first, a tiny idea that grows and becomes bigger and stronger. So, when the time is right to write it on a piece of paper and add the heroes, I just forget everything around me. I like being free in creating my hero’s adventures, offering him a lot of space and time to show his characteristics, to make friends or even enemies, to travel to unknown places. Sometimes I follow my hero, he knows better how to lead the story. At that particular moment I become a reader. Writing a story for children is not so easy. A writer must pay attention to behavioral patterns and make the right decision of what to leave out.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
EP: It is necessary to have the appropriate grammar structure, the right word choice, and simple meanings so everyone feels comfortable reading and enjoying the story. We must have an interesting character with an original story that will lead the readers not only to read the story aloud but also to remember it, and to introduce the books to others, too. The ideal character has a strange name or even a strange superpower. The children like the heroes with superpowers, most of time identifying themselves with them.
TNH: What about the process of editing and working with the illustrator?
EP: Picture books are the most lovable books, especially for young ages. With the illustrator’s contribution, the story becomes real and filled with good vibes of team spirit, open communication, sharing of ideas and thoughts. Although in many books there are no illustrations, leaving space for the children’s imagination to create the picture, I choose to have my books illustrated and have my hero become alive through the illustrator’s work.
I have worked with a lot of talented illustrators the past 16 years, just to name a few: Apostolis Batis, Hristo Mavrev, Vivi Markatou, Anna Gianakidou, Magda Asimakopoulou.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
EP: I am a communicative person, and as a volunteer in several organizations, we have to prepare events for children. There is a strong social network with people that love and respect my work so they always invite me to present my books.
Last year was very important to me because two new books of mine were published. The Book of Myrto is dedicated to a young girl that ended up being a handicapped person after an attack. With her mother and a group of good friends, we organize events, run campaigns to help her, and travel to Russia where we believe she will manage to receive special medical treatment. My second book is an e-book about anger, which was written after studying cases presented by several psychologists and conducting research on how we can educate a child to handle his anger.
I was invited to schools and to libraries to speak about those books.
I connect with the readers through libraries, presentations at schools, educational or cultural events, and various activities. Once a teacher considers my book interesting, then a solidarity network is created, so colleagues at work and whole classes are interested in reading the book. Children always write a thank you note for me or make drawings to express their love and gratitude.
TNH: Which are the Greek children’s books you wish you had written?
EP: There are some that I wish I had written. There is one book written by a famous Greek writer Menelaos Lountemis, A Child Counting the Stars. Also, fairytales for me are books that contain a lot of truths. It is very important to be in harmony with nature and the universe that surrounds us.
TNH: What's your latest book about?
EP: This year is the 170th Anniversary of Lafcadio Hearn’s birth. https://www.hearn-museum-matsue.jp/english.html.
Not long ago I met Mr. Takis Eftsathiou, a well-known art dealer and collector famous for his dedication to making known another great man – the national writer of Japan, Lafcadio Patrick Hearn or Koizumi Yakumo, according to his Japanese name, famous for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.
I was inspired about writing a book on Lafcadio Hearn once I heard Mr. Efstathiou talking with such a passion about him, who was Greek on his mother’s side. Mr. Efstathiou has donated rare editions of Lafcadio Hearn’s books, parts of his own collection, to the American College of Greece and libraries across Greece. He also contributed to the creation of the Lafcadio History Center, on Lefkada Island in Greece.
When I was given the book The Boy Who Drew Cats, I instantly thought Lafcadio’s stories must be read by Greek children. The Japanese lifestyle, the traditions, the unique way of life, the myths of Japan were kept alive thanks to Lafcadio Hearn. After six months of research, I chose five stories that were translated into the Greek language.
I am very proud of my book, called Paramithotaxidevontas with the Lafcadio Hearn Stories. I had the honor to cooperate with Mrs. Ntina Anastasiadou, a very famous painter and sculptor who created the drawings of the book. https://www.facebook.com/ntina.anastasiadou
She has lived in Japan for ten years and got to know in every detail the way of life there, and Lafcadio Hearn’s stories. Mrs. Anastasiadou has contributed to creating an exceptionally interesting book for young children aged eight years of age and for adults, as well.
I feel honored to have had the book published in Cyprus by the Publishing House Vivlioanazitiseis and Mrs. Maria Stylianou –
http://www.e-anazitiseis.com/shop – plus having the preface of the book presented by the Japanese ambassador in Athens, Mr. Yasuhiro Shimizu, and the director of the Hellenic Cultural Center of Moscow, Mrs. Theodora Giannitsi. During the following year, there will be presentations at schools in Greece and Cyprus. The International Association of Authors and Artists, of which I am a member, suggested through their proposal to the Ministry of Education, for the Lafcadio book to be presented in schools, around Greece. I feel really happy and honored that the stories of Lafcadio Patrick Hearn travel around the globe, plus in places like the USA, Ireland, Japan, and Moscow, where his mark is indelible.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
EP: To be an author or not to be? That’s a tricky question. Being an author is not a job, it is a way of life. This is in force for the picture book authors, too, who have the power, in a way, to get into the children’s worlds.
My advice to future writers is to strongly believe in yourself and your talent, creativity, and, imagination. Second, to be pure in mind and heart so as to be able to tell the truth. Picture books are used to pass a lot of messages to young readers. Writing a good story is something that everyone can do, but writing the perfect story means a special talent, so by following your heart, you make it happen.
This world needs more dreamers and readers. An author needs to keep his readers in continual suspense, even to keep secrets in his books, that only the readers will discover while reading the story out loud.
Those who write for children need to be at peace with themselves. An author that wants to educate the young ages must also be a child at heart. An author also must decide about his public, the age group he wishes to write for.
Writers should always remember that we write a picture book to have fun, to educate, to teach, and to share – but also because when we write our thoughts, we can make our dreams come true.
BIOGRAPHY: Eva Petropoulou-Lianou was born in Xylokastro, in Corinth, Greece. She initially loved journalism so in 1994 she worked as a journalist in the French newspaper Le Libre Journal but in 2002 her love for Greece seized her heart and she returned.
She has published both books and ebooks, has participated in numerous Poetry Anthologies, and has received many awards for her poems.
The Ministry of Education of Cyprus has included her books in the school curriculum. Her new book The water Amazon fairy called Myrtia" (2019) is dedicated to a handicapped girl and the translation of Stories of Lafcadio Hearn is titled Fairytravel with stories from the Far East" (2019), illustrated by the famous Sumi-e painter Ntina Anastasiadou.
You can find more about Eva Petropoulou-Lianou at: