Saturday, September 14, 2019

Interview with Crystal Kite Winner Sanne Dufft

Our annual SCBWI Germany & Austria picnic was held at Catherine's house this year. Thank you for hosting, Catherine. The attending members (with family) had a great time. And this year, in addition to good food, friendly chat, and the book exchange, we had something very special, and I got to be a part of it. I had the honor of presenting Sanne with her Crystal Kite Award. 

picture by Linda Hofke © 2019

It was so exciting!!! I am so glad I could share in her special moment. We are all so happy for her.

YAY, SANNE!!! Congratulations!

Of course, I couldn't miss the opportunity to ask Sanne for an interview. She kindly agreed.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in publishing?

Hi Linda, thanks so much for doing this! In many ways, my career has been a typical woman's career: I married a man who turned out to be very focused on his professional career - and we wanted children. So I decided to make family life the centre of my existence for a while. I had a degree in Art Therapy and a training in Special Needs Education, so it felt right at the time to stay at home with my own children instead of working with other children and looking for child care for my own.

When I was forty, Finola, my third child, was ready for kindergarten, and I was more than ready to start working. I wasn't sure anymore if I wanted to work as an art therapist though. In a way, the therapist (the carer, the nurturer -  whatever you want to call it) in me had been  - and still was - fulfilled and, at times, challenged in family life. It was the artist in me who claimed her right. Illustrating children's books had been my childhood dream, and I had always drawn for my children, so I decided to find out how to make it a profession.
Picture © Sanne Dufft, 2019

Tell us a bit about your winning book
and how you got the idea to write it.

It began with an image I had been working on for my portfolio: A little boy asleep, snugged up with a life size lion. (Now don't ask how I got the idea for the image. I don't know. It was just there.)

Soon, a sentence joined the image: 'Manchmal braucht man einen Löwen. Besonders, wenn es dunkel ist.' ('Sometimes, you just need a lion. Especially when it's dark.') In hindsight, it is easy to say: At that point, the whole book was there already. A lion, a brave little boy who is afraid of the dark, and a granny (or, as in the North American edition of the book, a Nana) who knows what the little boy needs...

Nevertheless, it took me three years to finish it, and a lot of help and encouragement from a lot of wonderful people around me. There was a trove of online resources, first and foremost Mira Reisberg's Children's Book Academy. There was the SCBWI Tomie DePaola award in which I was one of the runners up in 2015, which is why I have a handwritten note by Tomie up on my studio wall. There were the SCBWI Europolitan conference 2015, from which I came home - proud and dazzled - as the winner of the portfolio award. There was the Europolitan Conference 2017 which provided me with enough skill, curiosity, inspiration, and, again, encouragement to go on with what I was pursuing. There was the little group of SCBWI illustrators with whom I met every month at my studio to hone our craft. There were you lovely SCBWI folk who were always there to give me feedback.

That's what critique partners are for, right? We all enjoyed seeing it develop from draft to draft and develop into the wonderful story that it is. It is such a beautiful book. Would you be willing to share a few photos from the book?


© Sanne Dufft, 2019 
© Sanne Dufft, 2019 

© Sanne Dufft, 2019
© Sanne Dufft, 2019 

From first draft to final book, how many revisions did you have to go through until you had the lovely book we can now find in book stores? Did you get the idea and how long did it take from idea to published book?

I don't remember how many revisions it went through. Certainly a lot! It was a thouroughly chaotic process, which involved heaps of sketches and notes written into my notebook, which I try to always carry with me, or on scraps of paper when I couldn't find my notebook, and a couple of files on my computer... I'd say it took about two years from first draft to the final version of the text and a PB dummy. Once that was done and the publisher was happy with it, things beame a bit more focussed and structured. I had a deadline then, which helped to get things done.

© Sanne Dufft, 2019

Tell us a bit about the illustrations. (the style & technique and why you decided on those)

I always work in watercolour, as this is the only technique I begin to feel comfortable with. I love trying out other techniques, but with none of them I'm anywhere near feeling confident enough to using them in the illustrations for a book.

I try to be a bit innovative in each book though, experiencing with some less conventional techniques, whenever the story asks for it. My first picture book, The 'Sand Elephant' (written by Rinna Hermann), is set in a sand pit and in a huge (imaginary) sand castle. Here, I worked with a toothbrush, splashing the paint on the paper to create a grainy, sandy surface.

In 'Paula knows What to Do', my latest picture book, I combined the watercolour images with elements of gouache painting. In it Paula, the protagonist, paints her own (gouache) paintings, which become part of the waterolour scenery of the images in the book.

For 'The Night Lion', I used watercolours in a more traditional way. Here, the story dictated the colour range of the images: There was the indigo of the night sky and the raw sienna of the lion, which set the sene for the whole book. And, of course, the crimson red feather on Magnus' (in the NA version: Morgan's) hat, for contrast.
© Sanne Dufft, 2019 
© Sanne Dufft, 2019 

When we met, you were unpublished and just starting your journey in the world of publishing. You've come so far. Can you tell us about your journey and how many books you now have published?

I think we first met in 2014, didn't we? In 2015, 'Der Sandelefant', my first PB, was published. As of today, I have illustrated (I just had to count) nine. Six PBs, one nonfiction PB, and two chapter books. Two of the picture books I've also written. Then there are four book covers. If you count all books on the market which have my name on them, including translations, there are 23.

I've already talked about all the support and encouragement I've received on the way. What I haven't mentioned is that since 2016, I have been agented by the wonderful Maria Bogade, who has not only found publishers for my work again and again, but has also always been there for me with advice, and, once again, encouragement.

Wow. That is so exciting. I have enjoyed watching your career blossom. Now that you have much experience, is there any advice you can offer to others?

Now, this question made me smile a bit... Experienced? Me? In many ways, I still feel like a beginner... Whenever I want to start bringing an idea to the paper, I wonder: How on earth can I do this? Sometimes I think - I hope - this is an asset: As an artist, this mode of feeling clueless can be helpful for finding a fresh, unconventional view of things. At the same time, I would love to have a wider range of styles and techniques I can draw from. I'm working on this.

Looking back, I must admit my 2015 self was naive in many ways: I had no idea how difficult, exhausting, and demanding this process was going to be. But I didn't expect to find so much love, support, and recognition on this path either.

What has definitely been harder than I thought is the economic side of it. I am lucky my family doesn't depend on my income, otherwise life would have been a lot harder in the past few years. So, my advice is one beginners hear a lot: Don't quit your day job (too soon). And: keep going. It is an exciting path we're on.

What are you currently working on?

'Tinkas Tomaten' ('Tinka's Tomatos'), a picture book I've written myself about a little girl who grows tomatoes on her balcony. In the beginning, they're just little green leaves, but with a bit of care and perseverance and some support, Tinka can observe how they grow, until she can harvest bright red tomatoes - some of which she can give back to her helpers.

That’s a great storyline. I can’t wait to see how it progresses. And I can’t wait to see what else the future has in store for you. I think more good things are coming your way, Sanne.


Sanne Dufft was born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1974. She spent her school career decorating the margins of her exercise books and drawing portraits of her fellow pupils (who liked it) and her teachers (who didn’t always…). She studied Art Therapy in Nürtingen, Germany, and worked with children with a variety of special needs (and special gifts) in Northern Ireland. She has illustrated her first picture book, Der Sandelefant (The Sand Elephant), published by Urachhaus, Germany, in Spring 2015, and has since illustrated several children's books for a number of publishing houses in Europe and North America. She is also the author of Magnus und der Nachtlöwe (The Night Lion), Urachhaus, Germany, Paula Knows What to Do, Pajama Press, Canada 2019, and Tinkas Tomaten (Tinka's Tomatos), Urachhaus, Germany 2020. Sanne lives with her husband and three children in beautiful Tübingen, in the South of Germany.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Our Reflections - 2019 SCBWI Europolitan Conference

It’s been almost two since the SCBWI Europolitan conference. One thing I like about the Europolitan is that each time it is hosted by a different European SCBWI chapter. This year Switzerland hosted and, as usual, offered a variety of workshops, a mix of professional faculty, and time to enjoy being with other writers and illustrators.

Photo by Melanie Rook Welfing ©2019
One thing I liked about this year’s conference in Zurich is that, for the first time, lodging was available right at the conference site (a youth hostel). I was in a room for four and my roommates were awesome. (Tara, Laurel, and Jamie…I hope I didn’t snore too loud.)

As you can see from this photo, I think everyone
at the conference had a blast. There's just something
comforting about being together with like-minded people...
even when just cramming into an elevator.

Tours and activities were set up for travellers arriving the day before the conference. Instead of the attending the Creative Café or the Scrawl Crawl at the Zoo, I chose the walking tour of Zurich. I am glad I did.

Look at all the amazing things I saw. 
Photos by Linda Hofke ©2019

To top it off, our guide took us up to Lindenhof where one can see the city from above.

©2019, Linda Hofke

Later that evening, one of the highlights of my trip was the Verlag (publisher) tour.  The renowned picture book publisher NordSüd (North South Books) was generous enough to open their offices to conference attendees for a behind-the-scenes event. 
©2019, Linda Hofke

What a pleasure it was to speak with the staff and learn more about the publishing industry. It was quite informative and everyone at NordSüd was so kind. They treated us like royalty. They even provided wine and a big spread of delicious snacks.   

I especially enjoying reading some of their most current picture books and perusing their vast selection of published books.

Thank you, NordSüd! 
©2019, Linda Hofke

Then the conference began. The keynotes and panel discussions included a great line up of professionals:

Kathi Appelt (author of over 40 books)
Maria Middleton (Arts Director for Imprints at Candlewick Press and Walker Books US)
Alice Sutherland-Hawes (Rights and Children’s Agent at Madeleine Milburn Ltd)
Andrew Rushton (Associate Publisher – NordSüd Publisher)
Chitra Soundar (author of over 30 books)
Molly O’Neill (literary agent with Root Literary)
Naomi Colthurt (Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House Children’s, UK).

But that’s not all the faculty. On top of that, the amazing author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba offered a hands-on, two-part workshop “How to Get your Picture Book onto the Page, Jay Whistler taught us about humor in children’s book, and the incredible Marcus Pfister shared his creative process. Yes…I said MARCUS PFISTER, author of The Rainbow Fish and over 40 other titles! I am particularly found of his newest book, Wer hat die Walnuss geklaut?    

THANK YOU, SCBWI Switzerland chapter for providing fabulous faculty this year!!

With great faculty and diverse theme for workshops, EVERYONE, no matter where in their writing journey, could learn something. My biggest takeaways from the conference:

Thanks to Kathi Appelt, I know how to make the best of those short writing times. Waiting for your child to finish ballet class? Pull out pen and paper and write. Stuck in the doctor’s waiting room for 10 minutes? Grab your cell phone and write. Take advantage of every window of opportunity to write. When you put all those things together, they will add up quickly and you’ll be on your way to completing your work in progress. No more “not-enough-time-in-the-day-to-write” excuses. Just do it.

©2019, Linda Hofke

As a picture book writer, I sometimes find characterization challenging. With a roughly 500-word text, it’s important to capture the main character’s personality right off the bat. Kathi offered great tips as we explored the core issues of characters by considering motivation, voice, structure, and the stakes of the story. It was Kathi’s hand-on writing activities that made the difference. Thank you, Kathi!

The lovely Chitra Soundar inspired me. I love the poetic wording of her books. I will definitely study her stories and possibly use them as mentor texts. She really understands what makes a great picture book and she is simply charming and has such a positive attitude.

My only regret--I had Marcus Pfister’s new squirrel book along to get signed and didn’t want to bother him during our short break. And then…I didn’t see him again. DRAT! But that disappointment was long forgotten when the portfolio showcase winner was announced. One of our SCBWI Germany & Austria members, Devon, was the winner. I love when good things happen to our chapter members. YAY, DEVON! 

The SCBWI Germany & Austria chapter had a large number of attendees at the conference. Here is our group photo (minus a few members who, unfortunately, missed our photo moment.)
Photo by Catherine Friess ©2019

I asked others what their three best takeaways were and here are their responses:  
I asked others what their three best takeaways were from the conference
and here are their responses.

Lily: Write for 5 minutes every day.
Even when you feel your day is crazy, you can always find 5 minutes, right?
And who knows, maybe these 5 minutes will grow longer.  

Make a heart map for your character. That’s a great tool to get to know your character and build a ear picture of who they are. For those who weren’t in that particular breakout session, here is the heart map I made for my current MC. Here it is!

Zürich is a city like no other: quiet, green, clean.

Katja: The Europolitan Conference in Zurich was the first writing conference I attended - and I am still blown away. The atmosphere, the sessions, and the chats with fellow writers have been a real pleasure. This community has so many lovely people and I had so much fun! My takeaways:

Business-related: Foreign rights. This is so much bigger and more complex than I expected. I was absolutely blown away by Alice's session, the different paths she explained and the general workings of the foreign rights market.

Skill and craft related: First drafts that get taken on by agents and editors alike often through a massive change. I can't even begin to explain how much pressure this information took from my shoulders. I was always comparing my work to published books - and that's neither fair nor necessary. 

Personal progress and work schedule: Chitra's keynote has been a real eye-opener. Small steps, one at a time, setting myself achievable (if possible quantifiable) goals, holding myself accountable to those goals. And persistence. If I keep it up long enough, doors will open and I will eventually succeed. 

Revision and craft related: One can't praise and value critique partners highly enough. I've learned so much from this one initial critique café on Monday morning and have now a new group of writers to support and who support me. 

Nicole:  Though I had been writing since I was 13, I had only joined the SCBWI in January 2019. So, this was my first SCBWI-conference. It took some long bus rides, but it was completely worth it! For the first time, I met other authors and illustrators for more than a few moments. And it inspired me to keep writing and get perspective on where writing can go. I loved the guided city tour through downtown Zurich, especially the Frauenmünster church (with Chagall-windows) and the random sculptures on the buildings. I loved visiting the Nord-Süd publishing house. 
Photo by Nicole Heymann ©2019

Photo by Nicole Heymann ©2019

I loved the workshops and main sessions. And I loved to see that there are other writers and illustrators out there.

My top 3 takeaways: the 5-min writing exercise with Kathi Appelt, the portfolio showcase, and the random conversations with other authors.

Catherine: As a non-illustrator I have never taken part in an illustrator workshop. Elizabeth O’Dulemba’s two part ‘How to Get Your Picture Book onto the Page’ workshop was inspiring. There is a lot more to illustrating a picture book than I realised. If you are a picture book writer and haven’t been to an illustration workshop, I would highly recommend it. It helps you look at your story from a completely different angle.

Making dummy books is an essential part of picture book writing. Even if you can’t draw, planning what goes on each page and where the page turns will be is useful to help you determine the pace of the action and your plot arc. I made several changes to one of my WIPs after making a dummy.

Kathi Appelt has inspired me to find just five minutes each day to write. It’s easier than I thought, I’ve done it while cooking, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or a bus. Sometimes five minutes has inspired a longer writing session. But I’ve now made that commitment.


What an amazing conference. We are already looking forward to (and planning) the next SCBWI Europolitan in 2021 which will take place in GERMANY or AUSTRIA!!!