Our interview series Five Minutes With… sees us speaking to those in the writing and publishing industry – authors, journalists, editors, biographers, translators – to discover what compelled them to pick up the pen and work with words, and the hurdles they’ve overcome along the way. This week we spoke with children’s book author Maria Ines Almeida.
Maria, where has your work appeared?
With children, I have always been very attentive to their questions, answers, dialogues – it fascinates me how creative they are. Children are always dreaming, and that’s lovely. I originally never thought of writing for children. As a teenager, I always wanted to be a journalist but when my son, José, was born nine years ago, everything changed. I found myself writing children’s books. Sometimes the most fascinating things in life are those we do not plan.
Sometimes there are projects that I really want to do, sometimes people come to me with proposals of books they would like to see written. The choice of themes is also very interesting. Sometimes ideas are spontaneous or, sometimes they come from reality, or they are my son’s ideas. But most of the time it is José who gives me ideas.
When and why did you start writing?
I started writing biographies for children and the first was on Amália Rodrigues (a famous fado singer). Now, when you like to write, I think we end up adapting to everything. Eventually it happened to me in a very natural way – I discovered the pleasure of writing for children. I started with biographies and they were related in some way to journalism. One of the reasons I always wanted to be a journalist were the stories that other people had to tell. The curiosity that a journalist must have is something I try to bring out in my son; curiosity about the world, about people.
Some of the biographies I wrote were about Almeida Garrett, Almada Negreiros, Amelia King Colaco and Michael Jackson. The most recent biographies are on Malala and Nelson Mandela. I also wrote a book called Do you know where your parents met? I intended it to be a vehicle for dialogue between parents and children, because sometimes it’s a little taboo when parents tell the story of how it all started, and then children think everything started in the same way, ie they met in school (haha!). It was really cute to do this book because I found that not only did children often not know how their parents met, but also adults. In the past, people did not talk about it.
Last year, in a symbolic way, I tried to talk about the refugee crisis in the book Diary of a Migrant. It is the story of a bird that also leaves the family because of the war and is on a boat, but does not know where he is going.
In my books I always leave a message of hope – it is one of the criteria that I have when I write for children. A message of hope and a message that the heroes are not only in the cartoons – it is people of flesh and bone that are heroes. I want children to look at others in a more special and beautiful way, and to realize that they too can change things and be inspired by the life of others. I hope through my books I can stimulate children’s imaginations, and their dreams in a poetic way of seeing the world.
What hurdles have you overcome, and what have been your biggest wins?
There are always some bumps in the road and it is not always easy to overcome them, but fortunately there have been several memorable moments. In the past nine years every time a book was born (and I have written more than 30) there was a defining moment. Having a book published in China, Colombia and Mexico is a major milestone. All the visits to the Portuguese communities (US, Canada, Australia, Timor) under the encouraging reading of the Camões Institute.
All the visits to schools are important moments because young people share many things and ask many questions. This makes me realize what they like and what motivates them. I think it’s very important to realize that as adults we do not like to read everything, and children are the same way. It is important that parents give children books on the subjects that they like, but also set an example, like reading themselves.
What’s your advice for aspiring children’s book writers?
Do what you want to do and never give up writing.
What do you envisage for the future of children’s books?
It is difficult to make comments on this evolving world but I do hope that children’s books continue to have their place in bookstores, fairs and festivals. I hope the premise to read continues to be in a book form.
What was your most rewarding experience at UWRF?
I loved the concept of the Festival and the themes, but especially the people I met in my panel and others. There is a magical feeling surrounding the Festival that makes me want to return. I cannot imagine this Festival in another place other than Bali. Congratulations to Janet and to all those who help make it possible.