Children's Fiction

Interview With Lisa Jennings, Gaynor Sbuttoni and Melissa Carter

Lisa Jennings, Gaynor Sbuttoni and Melissa Carter

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Interview with the Author

More than a century of experience in helping children feel happy and calm has been lovingly poured into a series of books which the authors believe can give children the skills they need to lead happy adult lives.
The Magic Happens series is the work of Lisa Jennings, Gaynor Sbuttoni and Melissa Carter, who met each other in their roles in education and child, adult and family therapy.
The books, which tell fantastical stories of a group of friendly dragons, use powerful metaphors to encourage positive change and a sense of calm and happiness in all who read the works.
Set in mythical places such as the Mindful Mountains and Forgiving Forest, the book’s main characters Bean, Bella, Max and Mightie introduce important concepts which will set children on a positive path for life.

Picking up the story Lisa said: “All stories are healing or teaching or guiding. And with this we have taken that principle to the next level.
Lisa was born in America and came to Britain many years ago.  She started working at a family therapy clinic in London and that was where she met Gaynor.
“I’ve been a psychotherapist for nearly 60 years working with adults, couples and families. I have also had a lifetime as a Buddhist meditator working with many monks for about 60 years.  The way we came to this is that we started doing some videos for parents and children to help them deal with difficult feelings in Lockdown, then we looked at each other and thought ‘let’s do a children’s story’ and BOOM! We were there, it just started to flow. We all have a background working psychotherapeutically. We see stories as being extremely important for healing, and feel that stories can help to heal the world.”

Gaynor trained as a psychologist working with children and parents at The Tavistock Clinic in London. She has had a very active practice for many years working with children, families and schools. She has always worked with children and parents, and throughout her 40 year career has built up a wealth of knowledge and techniques which benefit many people. She met Lisa some years later where they worked together and they still work together today.

But the trio of authors, and their idea for the Magic Happens books would not be complete until the pair met Melissa some years later. Melissa had an “outstanding school of the type that you would want every child to go to” says Gaynor. It was through their education connections that they met.
Melissa, who has a background in educational philosophies and teaching through play therapy, said: “I felt very strongly that what was missing in education was the opportunity for children to develop emotionally as well as intellectually; I developed a school which honoured their feelings and allowed them to develop on many levels.”
In speaking about writing Magic Happens, Gaynor said she thinks the collaboration works so well, “Because we feel safe to just chuck our ideas in, the safety to just create is really important and that’s been the case for us because of our friendship. We all feel that it is incredibly important to find a vehicle for our skills and experience to live on after us and to be offered to more people than we can possibly see on a one to one basis.’
‘Stories are a wonderful way to offer our experience and tools that will be useful to others. So actually writing these stories, really thinking about the things we want children to keep hold of, it gives us a way to make that be heard in a larger place than just one little room with one little child.”
“You can never talk too much about trying to find peace and happiness inside. We have our own take on it, our own angle that we are hoping is going to bring it alive for children. We have read some of our stories to children and they have connected with them straight away.”

Lisa added: “It’s really about us working with children, adults and families whose lives have become joyful and they have come to enjoy being themselves in their world much more than they did before. Everything is about people finding themselves and filling their lives with joy and possibilities.  The book series with themes of change, joy and self-development comes from our total commitment to helping people enjoy their life experiences. It’s about helping people find the warmth of their own goodness and helping them to be their own best friend.”

The books on their own can make a difference, not just a teaching tool, and Gaynor, Lisa and Melissa say that they are already seeing the benefits of the books in the settings they have used them in.

“When we have read the books to the children, they get it, and they can feel something happening inside of them.” Said Gaynor.

Melissa added, “The children can connect with the dragons because they are a symbolic metaphor, and metaphor is something that we use all the time to help people learn things in a way that internalises and allows change with a light touch.”

Interview With Denise De Baun

Denise De Baun

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Interview with the Author

The excitement of childhood horoscope tickets handed out at Woolworths gave            Denise De Baun a love of astrology that would last a lifetime.

As a young girl, growing up in Brooklyn, Denise knew she had special insight, and the characters and patterns she found in the Zodiac helped her make sense of that unique purpose.

A high-flying career in marketing, which would see her launch some of the best-known fragrances on the market including Calvin Klein Obsession, was to follow.

But a second path, Starry I, a zodiac-inspired children’s book project which gives youngsters today that same special feeling, is every bit as important to Denise as the rest of her career and has ignited a use of her creativity in a way which honours her young life and soul.

She said: “I was born psychic. You have to learn over time what that means, but I was an intuitive and healer from birth.

“One of the ways that it expressed itself when I was very young was that I had a fascination with astrology. Horoscopes, the ones that are in the daily newspapers every single day!

“We had a Woolworths in the neighbourhood, and it used to have those scales that you put a penny in and you get weighed.

“We well a skinny 40 pound child doesn’t really need to be weighed, but they would give you little horoscopes with it too. It would make my day if my mother or father would give me a penny and I could go and stand on the scale and get those horoscopes.”

As a young adult Denise wanted to be a teacher and took an admin job to help pay her way through night school at university.

She said: “The job that I took to put myself through night school was actually the start-up division of a beauty company. I went in as an administrative assistant and got a promotion while I was there and that was the beginning of a beauty career that was not my fault!

“Not only a beauty career, but also a start-up career.  Shortly after, I was introduced to the start up fragrance division for the designer Geoffrey Beene. I was hired to be part of a small team who created the fragrance success known as Grey Flannel.

“And then came a start up called Warner Lauren with Ralph Lauren, Gloria Vanderbilt and Paloma Picasso fragrances, and that led to Calvin Klein and Obsession and Eternity.”

She added: “I was good at it and I was keen, and lucky! I got promotions and I changed my major at university to include business, business administration and marketing. Actually, by the time I received my degree, I was already a marketing executive.”

Denise was a hard worker, and her creative ‘can do nature’ and gifts ensured that she was successful in the world of business at an early age.

From Calvin Klein, Denise went to another start-up called Gryphon Development, which is now known as Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.

After that, in 1993, Denise created DeBaun Development, a full service brand incubator for global clients, and started launching her own products. She also works with other clients as an entrepreneur guiding them to business success. Denise is an inventor and has secured two patents with a third patent pending.

The Manhattan resident said: “I have always been creative, whether it was writing or designing or even just concepts. A lot of people don’t understand that some people walk through the streets and see things that other people can’t see, and that’s a creative process.

“I has always connected dots and seen constellations that other people can’t see, and that’s been happening since I was very young.

“I wrote a little bit of poetry when I was young, and I was always a good writer. Even in my businesses, people have always recognised that I am a particularly good communicator both in written and spoken word in terms of giving direction and precision. And, in simplifying complex concepts so they can be understood. That’s a gift.”

She added: “Over time my fascination with astrology, tarot and metaphysics grew into a passion. As it became increasingly important to me, I studied it more and more and became a professional alongside of my other work. As a lifelong seeker, over time my commitment deepened and my studies broadened to include numerous spiritual practices such as meditation, buddhism, hinduism, kabbalah, shamanism, wellness, and various healing practices. Mother always said, if Denise could get paid to be a professional student, it would be her career. She was right. ”

And so as an adult, Denise created Starry I, an immersive children’s book concept, which colourfully honours all those feelings from her own childhood, but delights young people today.

Together with illustrator Silvia Faschi Aiello, Denise brought the ideas in her head to life.

She said: “At the time Silvia worked in my office so it was very much a daily collaboration.

“We have developed a relationship where I can say something and she can see it, or I can draw something on a tissue or a napkin and she can execute it in the style that we know is what I am seeking. And that is wonderful. Silvia merged simple shapes and playful colours to bring this magical world to life.  I am so lucky and happy that she was working with me at the time that I decided to fully execute Starry I.”

She added: “I started Starry I in the mid 1990s. I thought of the concept of the magical star island where the characters who lived there and played there were zodiac signs.

“At that time I even trademarked it, and this is going back to the days when it was very different with trademarks and publishing. I had an entire business plan written around it with licensing and media. It was very early in the world in terms of astrology. Even though ninety to one hundred per cent of people knew their zodiac signs, people were not as engaged with it as they are today.

“It was very early in the market for people to think that this project would have as universal appeal as it does now. As many of my concepts and projects are, it was about twenty years ahead of its time. “

“So when I decided to resurrect it, the first thing we did were the signs, the characters and they were delicious! They were animated and I thought they were gender neutral and that very young children, their parents and grandchildren would love them too.”

“They were just adorable, and simple, and to be cherished.”

And, the magical land that followed was pure delight.

Speaking about how she feels when she sees children reading and enjoying the books she said: “They send me videos! Of the children smiling and laughing, and actually Silvia has three young girls, and when we started this project she wasn’t a mother yet, she wasn’t even married yet, and over the course of the years she married and had children and her girls were some of the first to see it.

“They always go over, grab it and want her to read it to them. It’s wonderful.”

From that young girl, putting her penny in the Woolworths machine for the horoscope which helped make sense of how she was feeling, to the woman who never misses an opportunity to go for it, Denise has led a remarkable and successful life.

Speaking about confidence, and where she has found the inner courage and strength for her projects, in a world where so many ideas are shelved, she offered a final thought: “I believe that all creativity comes from source and that there is a force and an energy that we all tap into, the creation energy in the universe.

“Everything comes from the place of pure potential. Even though we think it’s ours, it’s coming to us from creation energy that is probably the same energy that created the universe. It is available to everyone!  We are all children of the stars.

“I think all beings are creative, but some of us can tap into it more easily. Some of us may have more facility to tap into it naturally, or because we have cultivated it more over time. Some recognise it more as creativity or intuition and uses it. Whereas other people might perceive it as just a thought. How one acts upon a creative spark or intuition or doesn’t, is the difference. “

Interview With Allan Andrew Wise

Allan Andrew Wise (A..A Wise)

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Interview with the Author

Allan Andrew Wise (A.A Wise) was born in Uganda and moved to England when he was around ten years old to live with his mother. The author’s family belong to the Baganda tribe, and the Batooro tribe, and in Uganda Allan moved around the country, living predominantly in Masaka City and sometimes in Kampala City.

During his young life both in the UK and Uganda, Allan spent most of his time at boarding schools, which is where he learned to love the English language and writing. He said: “My interest in fantasy literature appeared at a young age and I have been enjoying fantasy novels ever since.

“My love for literature really heightened while in a secondary school in London, where I spent a lot of my free periods, lunchtimes, and breaks in the school libraries reading fantasy novels, sometimes on my own and sometimes with friends. “Additionally, as a child, I spent a lot of time in my local library reading children’s fantasy books, such as Disney stories, Harry Potter and others.

“I read fantasy books into adulthood and still keep up with the pastime. Nothing beats a good fantasy series.” After school, Allan stayed in the UK and graduated with a degree in Business Studies and Marketing from the University of Brighton. But the love of storytelling that started in childhood has prevailed well into adulthood, and Allan set about to have a career as a writer. He said: “I started writing because I very much adore fantasy stories and so wanted to create stories of my own that others could enjoy.

“I love reading children’s and teen fantasy books. I feel I have gained a lot of insight into what a good children’s and young adult fantasy book needs; this coupled with the stories I was told as a child growing up, led me to compile ideas that I later turned into my own books.” And speaking about where he draws inspiration for his fantastical children’s books, Allan is certain that he is powered by the works he read during childhood, and the myths and legends of his home country.

He added: “I take inspiration from books I’ve read, the television, movies, animation, and stories told to me in Uganda when I was young.

“The stories I was taught involved witch doctors, magic, witches, ghosts, spirits, mythical creatures and warring tribes, which were generally told around the family campfire by my grandparents, mother, aunts and uncles and the local witch doctor. These stories stemmed mostly from these tribes and their histories.

“Witchcraft is very common in Uganda, not to mention witch doctors. Witches are even reported on the daily news, with stories such as witches killing children and adults to advance people into positions of power and wealth. I learned all these things from childhood and have even witnessed some of it for myself, and, of course, remembering most of it, have implemented the themes into my works.

“I feel that Inock Tehan, Samuel Blackwood, Agaveh Anomalous and Horace Horatio along with their friends and family, are characters that readers will come to love and feel for. I had story ideas that I felt needed to be put out there; to entertain, to inform and to offer various life-lessons explored throughout the books, and I feel both children and adults will benefit from my creations.”

So far Allan has seen two of his books published, Inock Tehan and the Phantom of the Ruins, and Inock Tehan and the Forbidden Clan.

The next book in the series, entitled Inock Tehan and the Return of the Immortal Witch is due to be published soon.


Speaking about why he chose to write for young people, Allan said: “I believe my books fall into line with other books like them on the market, but also bring certain unique qualities.


“This includes magical creatures from my imagination and from stories told to me by my relatives and family friends when I was young and later in my life.


“Additionally, I feel I have created a unique fantasy world different from those already written about in children’s, young adult as well as adult stories.


“Moreover, I feel I have developed a distinctive spin on magic, magical creatures, and other beings with powers. I feel all these elements are what make a good young adult novel, judging both from feedback of my works and personal reading experience.”


He added: “I have also explored various aspects of human nature that I feel have not been given much attention in young as well as adult fantasy books, and have created humorous scenarios that I believe will be enjoyed by all.


“For example, at the start, Samuel refuses to lie even when it is logically necessary, but his best friend Musa lies constantly, with comical effect.


“As the book progresses Sam learns to lie in order to get out of tricky situations and to keep the peace; I feel this shows personal growth and reflects an experience very common to the human condition.”


And when it comes to his writing methods, Allan says that his processes have been developed over time, and like many writers he now has fine tuned good habits which are really effective in nourishing his creativity.


He said: “When I first started writing books, I did not know exactly what to do. My first novel – or the first draft of my first book took me a few months to complete.

“I simply thought of an idea and characters then sat at my desk and wrote it from start to finish.

“When I read over what I had written, I realised, though the book had some qualities I had come to expect from young adult fantasy novels, the writing style and technique needed a lot of improvement.


“By this point, I had read a good number of fantasy novels similar to what I had created myself.


“So I went to my local library and looked up books on how to write fantasy novels. I found a few books that discussed writing technique, character development, plot development and twists, as well as the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook.


“I read the books on how to write and even the Yearbook, and from what I learned wrote a second draft of my manuscript.


“The books advised that you leave the draft for a few weeks or even months before trying for another draft. I did that and came back to it, doing another draft.


“Then, after some time, when I felt I had worked on the book enough, I looked up relevant literary agents and publishers. I sent out countless submissions, both to agents and book publishers – I got many, many rejections.


“But, now, having gotten an idea of how to create a novel, I wrote more books over the following decade or so, though still getting many rejections from both literary agents and publishers.”


And speaking directly about fine-tuning his system Allan added: “I would think of an idea, protagonist, antagonist and the other relevant characters.


“I would then spend weeks outlining a skeleton of the book, naming chapters and giving some details of what would happen in each chapter.


“Then I would go back to the start of the skeleton/chapters outline and develop each section or scene in that chapter in more detail. I would repeat this process until I felt I had enough details for each chapter to start writing out each chapter in full, starting from chapter one and then so on.


“By the time I finished the final chapter, I would have my first complete draft.


“The following months involved doing more drafts, improving the manuscript where I felt it was necessary, working on vocabulary diversification, developing character nuances and personality expansion/exploration among other things. Some days I would write for a few hours and other days I would write for many hours; e.g. four hours one day and maybe seven hours another day.


“Once I felt I had given the book all I could, I contacted a suitable book editor, and paying them for their services, had them work on the aspects of the manuscript I might have missed, including grammar and plot consistency.

“The next step was to approach a suitable literary agent, who I would pay a fee to find and submit that particular manuscript to the right publishers.


“I found that to succeed at completing a book, you need dedication and determination, a great deal of solitary isolation, a quiet and safe space to work, a lot of free time, the ability to concentrate and focus your mind on the task at hand, and to be a decent cook since you really need the right food to keep you toiling away.”


When he is not writing his books, Allan is a great lover of literature, and is well-versed in children’s and young adult fiction in his spare time too.


His favourite authors include JK Rowling, Angie Sage, Jonathan Stroud, Rick Riordan and Anthony Horowitz.


He said: “I particularly enjoy books that explore different/strange worlds or realms as well as metahumans such as witches, demons and gods.


“I also relish young adult books that are centred around both boys and girls and with a good mix of ethnicity.


“Furthermore, I enjoy fantasy novels that transport me away from my, sometimes, dreary and tedious life, and into a new world full of adventure, magic, love and wonder!”