I’ve only ‘met’ Zaferios G Caragianades once in the pages of history.
In 2019 Lilia Gouni Sofikiti wrote and illustrated her first book for children, The Nameless Girl, published by Entypois. She was born in April 1988 in the city of Larisa, Greece and graduated from the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Ioannina – after that she moved to Athens.
She has published award-winning poems and gives speeches in seminars for educators on the topic of creativity. Her drawings evoke delight and beauty and her writing now adds another dimension to her labors of love. In 2018 she illustrated the fairy tale A Different, Little Crab She spoke to us about her life and writing.
The National Herald: How did you start writing/illustrating children’s books?
Lilia Gouni Sofikiti: At some point I found myself in a classroom while presenting my book The Nameless Girl and one of the students asked me the same thing. I took a minute to think about it digging in my memory and trying to remember when that first story occurred to me, and I answered with something that I realized at that very moment: My writing career started the day on which I made my very first drawing with my very first colored marker. Our first little words, mixed-up and crazy on a piece of paper and posted on the kitchen wall is our first story. Full of excitement she then said to me: “Then we're all writers because we have all made such a drawing!”
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
LS: The Adventure of the Adventure, written by Helen Madelou is a wonderful story which convinced me at the age of eight, that a book is a living creature. You can experience adventures and travel to magic places with it. The moment I read the last page of the book was so breathtaking that I then realized that I could also be capable of making my own Adventure with magic beings that will climb out of the book at night and make friends with other children.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
LS: 'The Nameless Girl was completed in a month of devotion to daily work. It took me another month of intense work to complete to do the illustrating, which is also my work. However, the story had been living inside me long before I actually put it on paper, like any other story I write. Some other stories which are about to be published took longer to be completed. For example, this past year I've been working on a fairy tale which will hopefully be transformed into a theatrical performance. I wear costumes, dance, and pretend to be my heroes to see my fairy tale come alive.
TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
LS: During my childhood my grand dad and I spent our summer afternoons gazing at the Aegean Sea and talking. One of these afternoons there was a summer storm and he said something I will never forget: ''Look at the lightning, listen to the thunder and smell the rain as if it was the first time. The splendor of the world is all around us.' 'I get inspiration from small, humble things. From the tiniest, little seed that will try its best to become a plant. From the sunbeam coming in from a half open window with the dust dancing within it like stardust. From the bead of water, the smell of autumn rain, and the freshly baked cookies. As I was growing older I realized the grandeur of our feelings which offer us the most priceless treasures. Friendship, gratitude, and love are the inspiration and our lighthouse even when we sail in the roughest seas.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
LS: Let's think of children and grownups sitting around a fire under the starry sky. A storyteller is telling a story …The story is trying to embrace everyone and become alive with them. The children and the ‘older children' need to be able to express themselves with it in order to follow it. The way I see it, a story is successful when people can express themselves through it when they read or listen to it. We are carried away when we feel, when we become curious, when we laugh with our heart. But the most important thing is to feel free, away from preaching and suffocating frames in which no one can explore themselves.
TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide about their fate?
LS: When I have identified the topic of my story, then I'm ready to form and complete my characters. I want them to have their own personality and be so complete that they have their own life and likes and dislikes. Thus, as the story unfolds, the character can give me ideas about how to proceed with the story. I get troubled about a character's reaction which needs to be natural for him and stop a million times until I reach the point I should. I even cried once as I was writing about a small boy's thoughts about his grand dad. I was touched as a reader because I identified with the young hero with the kind heart. The experience of writing is astonishing. I never create my heroes as lifeless dummies because I want them to be consistent towards what they represent. On the contrary, I let myself get to know them better within the timeline of the story. I respect them because I respect what they express.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
LS: Presentations are the most common way to come close to your readers. I make sure that I add such elements that they become an interactive experience where I want the participants of the presentation to be able to express themselves, motivated by the story. We talk and play and move freely around. I choose to sit among the children to see their shiny eyes. During the period of the lockdown I videotaped readings which I shared with children to keep them company. But what touches me most, is when moms send me pictures of their children inspired by my story or when they tell me that my little friends fell asleep with my books in their arms. I feel extremely relieved when I think about the magic moment when the child connected with the book. I have a sense of wholeness.
TNH: Children's books get the message across regarding social issues. Which is your goal in writing your stories?
LS: I write because I feel completed as a person and because I cannot do otherwise. My goal is to create 'Adventures' which jump out of the book and take children by the hand. To talk to them about what life is all about, no matter how bittersweet it may be. Good and evil, just and unjust, are things we can't make disappear by remaining silent. The only way to protect children is to talk with them about everything. Fairy tales do for you what a good friend does. They stand by you, they make you stronger, more experienced, coloring your feelings and imagination. They help you discover who you really are.
TNH: Which are the Greek children’s books you wish you had written?
LS: I never had such a thought. My only wish and effort is for good books to be written and loved by children and adults. I wish to see full libraries in schools and courses of creative writing in all grades of education. I wish every little child could have access to books. I wish writers and publishers could take action and encourage children to read and write.
TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published?
LS: My first attempt in the world of books for children was the illustration of a book written by Pigi Grylli called A Different, Little Crab by Entypois publications. It is a book about a small child’s illness, which approaches this delicate issue with discretion and ends in an optimistic and positive way. After that, there came The Nameless Girl, also published by Entypois of which both the story and the illustration were mine. It is a story in which the central idea is the love for animals. It talks about the magic of real friendship, gratitude and love. Simple, everyday things, which make life a magic journey.
TNH: What's coming up next for you?
LS: During this period my main concern is to organize a course of creative writing for students who are kept in institutions. The value of this course is tremendous as it functions therapeutically and benefits children's souls. Especially for those who have suffered. At the same time, I've been seeking the most suitable publishers to proceed with publishing a very sensitive book which deals with the relationship of mutual trust and love between a super grand dad and an eight-year-old boy who wants to become a traveler. Love and hope live in their hearts while they lead us to feel the same and see the elderly through a different point of view.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
LS: To keep writing, no matter the hardships they will encounter, with devotion and love. We need fairytales which fly like birds into the hugs of children and then encourage them to fly in their own uncharted skies.
I’ve only ‘met’ Zaferios G Caragianades once in the pages of history.
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