The Writing Life of: Lydia Pettit
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Lydia Pettit. Lydia Pettit will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Dixy’s Dolphins‘, which was released on 29th May 2020 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Lydia Pettit and her three sisters were born in Cape Town South Africa, to an Italian mother and British father. She left Cape town aged twenty, living in County Clare Ireland for the next fourteen years.
She was first drawn to express herself artistically in her early twenties – living amongst the mighty musicians, artists and the warm people of a small rural coastal village. She now lives in London where she became a first time published children’s book author and illustrator of ‘Dixy’s Dolphins.’
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
I always wanted look after babies. I think I was 7 or 8 when my cousin was born… I’d never been around babies before that. He was an intoxicating magical little guy. I’d be counting the hours until his next visit so I could help look after him and make my funny faces that made him laugh. I even wrote my first children’s book about him… it was called ‘Lydia and Fabio go on the train.’ I’m sure my mother still has it somewhere.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
Eric Carle. ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ was my very favourite book and I still love buying it for kids now. The holes in the pages seemed so realistic, as if the caterpillar had actually been there and eaten through them… And then there’s Roald Dahl.
Always with these perfectly downtrodden characters. And there’s something glorious about a villain getting served justice in the end, particularly in ‘Danny the champion of the world’ and ‘George’s marvellous medicine.’ After I read ‘Boy’ I could see where those characters came from, what with him being shipped off to a brutal boarding school ruled by the cruel headmaster. And it’s a great healing, is fiction writing – when you get to write your own fantastical ending.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
Not really. And maybe I’m not fully qualified to call myself a writer yet – I just like writing sometimes… reminds me of how my dad says “I don’t have any friends, I just know people.”
I spent half of my life as an oil painter, clay sculptor, photography dabbler and a nanny. And I dropped out of art college after a year, when I was thirty something – even though they told me I was good at it and on my way to getting a ceramics degree. But then the thought of solely making ceramics for the next three years was too horrifying… realising that just because I’m told I’m good at something, doesn’t mean it’ll make happy forever and ever.
The pressure and meeting third party expectation killed my creativity… And creativity is too spontaneous a thing for me… I love to jump from one artistical whim to another…. I’m a bit like “Sure I’ll give it a go, see how I like it.” Like a kid I guess…
So I started writing a few years back, ‘Dixy’s dolphins’ was my first. And I liked the therapy in it… my storytellings mostly brought on by profoundly emotional real life experiences. They’re my emotional purgings… But I like how weird I feel, getting first time published at age 43!
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I tend to write when words come to me involuntarily. But once I get into it, I’m massively tunnel visioned – like I’m obsessively scratching an annoying itch that won’t go away. I mostly let small stories come to me as I do my photography or I write words in my head when I’m out walking – rhythmic rhyming sentences somehow synchronise to the sound of my steps… and later on, I’ll settle myself into my beautiful bed and type stories out on the tablet.
I reckon my biggest inspiration to write is by getting out and looking for interesting stuff to do. And If I’m not doing anything interesting, I’ve nothing I’m passionate enough to write about.
But I’d be quite bad at writing it if my life depended on it, I’d surely have starved by now…
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
One published children’s book so far, but I’ve written two more. And I’m in the middle writing another – trying out a few new style illustrations at the same time.
I can’t wait for my second children’s story to be out. It was inspired by this gorgeous parrot I met in a pet shop years ago. I started going back once a week to visit – to feed him apple slices and bananas. Even taught him how to say “Apple mmmm!” and “Love you.” And he sometimes growls like a dog, mimicking the dogs that come into the shop. We’ve formed a great bond and he gets over excited when I walk in, probably knows that I’m bringing treats.
But whenever we say goodbye, I’m crushed by the injustice – wondering how it came to be – this enormous bird being born in captivity, condemned to a cage and he’ll never get to spread his wings properly, nor will he get to hang out with other parrots… such injustice, what with parrots being such social creatures.
And this bothered me so much that I wrote a story about a school girl: she meets a parrot in a pet shop, and makes it her mission to set him free in the forest… writing this story was a small scratching at a big itch – because I’m itching to set the world’s animals free… I want them to get their fantastical justice!
And the illustrations for the book are only gorgeous! I met this brilliant Italian illustrator/ set designer in the form of my sister’s cat sitter… it was such a random meeting, at the exact moment I was searching for an illustrator. Kismet indeed!
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Austin Macauley
Pages – 36
Release Date – 29th May 2020
ISBN 13 – 978-1528997621
Format – ebook, paperback
Cautiously she dipped in her feet, “What if they’re only looking for children to eat?”
But now it was clear she’d have to face her fear. If she wanted a swim she’d have to get in.
With butterflies in her belly, her knees turned to jelly. Quick as a flash, she jumped in with a splash!
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
I reckon ‘Dixy’s dolphins’ should be my autobiography (LOL!) It comes from a day in my life and the photos I have from it, swimming with dolphins in Cuba. And even though dolphins have this friendly reputation, I was actually quite scared to get in the water with them, worried that they’d knock me out cold with their tails or something. But I looked into their baby sweet eyes and felt calmed, almost as if they were saying “ Hey man, it’s cool, we’re not gonna hurt you.” Like chilled, island, hippie dolphins…
Which sounds completely mad, I know, but I’ve heard accounts of that sort from other people and their interactions with dolphins. So Dixy is a bit like me, a bit cautious, but she also jumps into something scary and unfamiliar – and she ends up having an awesome time swimming with dolphins. And that’s always a brilliant thing, liberation from fear shackles!
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
This rhyming story isn’t terribly long – I think it took me a week or two, in-between making paintings…
Although writing, illustrating, self publishing and working full time to pay for it, took about three years… I know it sounds like I wrote ‘War and peace’ or something – but much delay was from leaving it for ages, not completely believing I’d be able to make a book on my own – felt a bit big and impossible, not fully knowing what I was doing… loads of mistakes to rectify. But I like that I turned my ‘impossible’ into possible. Even if this book might not look like much to the seasoned professional – it was my Everest to climb.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
I just love alliteration.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Dixy’s is like me: a child that never wanted to be in school, only dreaming of somewhere better.. And Dixy only day dreams of going swimming when she should be focusing on the present.
I think too, she’s an animal whisperer like myself. My childhood household filled with stray cats and dogs that’d wander by the house. I’d be able coax the most feral tomcats in off the street and they’d turn into pussy cats. Luckily my family was like minded about animals.
My dad randomly rescued an old sheepdog from a farm one time – the farm owner was going to shoot it because he kept killing all of his chickens. And another time, dad brought home the tiniest newborn kitten he’d found in a storm drain near work – he stuck it in a box, drove it home in his bike and sidecar. That’s probably why my next two children’s books will have the lead characters with an amazing ability to talk to animals.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Well this is one of my favourite long winded stories: I submitted Dixy to two publishers I’d found online: got one rejection letter and one no reply. So I decided to self publish, which was a great and painful education going into the book biz. And in the middle of me editing and getting the book printed, I had to move out of my studio flat – my landlord was selling the building. Skip forward a year and a half and I get an email from this publisher asking if I’m still interested in publishing with them – as their offer was about to expire. Turns out, they sent a contract to my old apartment and it was never forwarded to me. So I went for it.
But I’m glad for both experiences: self publishing and going with a publisher. And once the production team started work on the book it was plain sailing: they did their thing, and then email files back to me for approval, I’d sign off on them and so on and so forth.
But I know now that waiting to be published is a waiting game. Publishers are constantly inundated with manuscripts and can’t reply to everyone. Although I prefer going with a publisher. I’d rather be creating – marketing, technical stuffs and getting books into bookshops are what publishers are good at.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I’m a blank page at the mo… Although I could probably write my memoirs. I’d like to go up to people and say, “I’m writing my memoirs dahling.” It’d make me feel like Za Za Gabor or something. And I could wear fluffy pink slippers in my satin leopard print bed – and then I’d get someone in to peel me grapes.
Ah no, I jest. I do a lot of photography, birds mainly. And I like writing small stories about what that’s like: bird behaviour and their habitual rituals, at the same time trying to teach myself photography.
Last year I’d take my camera almost everywhere, photographing almost everything. Something always came up to write about as I looked through the lens, feeling quietened and cut off from everything else except for what was in my focus. And writing about all of it, I started to appreciate little things I’d never noticed before: feeling bonds between baby birds and their parents, especially at feeding time. And taking photos of the kids and all of their wildness, quoting the funny things they say sometimes…
I’d like to write more about my family history too: my dad’s account of being a kid in Second World War Britain. Food rations and that. And his bachelor days in the RAF. And my mother’s immigration to South Africa on a ship with her family – escaping impoverishment in Genoa Italy, when she was thirteen. Must’ve been unbelievably difficult, starting high school without a word of English.
My start far easier than theirs, when I draw comparisons between our stories: Reminiscing of my waitressing days, taking two years after high school graduation, to save enough for a plane ticket from Cape Town to Heathrow. Starting out with £500, zero direction in life – flying off to the unknown. And living it up in my twenties on the west coast of Ireland – my first job there as a cleaner. And then changing myself for ever more by teaching myself oil painting.And I’ll bring myself right up to present London – where I’ll blow £3.90 on a Frappe latte, and flip flop between my first world guilt and then feeling fabulously frivolous – throwing money away at an extortionate coffee, mainly consisting of ice – which costs nothing if you think about it… dawning upon me that I’ve carved this life for myself far less lean than my childhood in Cape Town and rural Ireland – where work was so scarce in winter, I’d jump at any grotty, less than minimum wage job.
I don’t think my parents have had their epiphany yet – still frugal and on the second world war food rations I reckon… And I’m fairly fond of writing about these cool small things, makes life feel like a big deal…So yeah, maybe I’ve got a memoir in me somewhere.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
Definitely teleportation. I’m terrible on long haul flights.
2) Do you have any pets?
I’ve not got pets, ’cause I live in an apartment without a garden. I think pets need an outdoors. My sister has this cat though, her name’s Catmandoo. She’s fat and lazy and come to think of it, she barely goes outside. I adore her though. She’s my part time pet.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
‘Awesome alliteration always adds abundant amusement’
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
A seagull walk on part. I’d be the wise acre in the background chiming in with the odd humorous quip, like the lobster in ‘The little mermaid.’
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Cuba, anywhere in Cuba.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
“I can’t understand why I’m wearing a baseball cap, seeing as I’m a duck. I must be quackers!” (sorry)
I would like to say a big thank you to Lydia Pettit for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.