Written by JJ Barnes
I am delighted to share my interview with Vie Portland about her children’s book, Where Are We Going? She discusses her motivation and passion for disability representation, her writing process, and shares advice to encourage others in the writing community.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m Vie (as in c’est la vie) Portland and I am founder of a Community Interest Company that teaches self esteem and confidence to children, young people, and women. I also create products to help people feel happier; I do some public speaking; and I am an author. I live in Southampton, Hampshire, UK.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I have ALWAYS wanted to write a book but didn’t believe I was the “type” of person that did. I have started books so many times and not progressed very far, and had ideas that I rarely wrote down.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I belonged to a writing group around 15 years ago, and wrote short stories and the occasional poem (definitely not in my skillset) then got distracted by other things happening in my life. At the beginning of 2020, I met a writing coach and she encouraged me to write a book to establish myself as an expert in my field. I started writing a book for adults, that’s part autobiographical and part self-help, and the first draft is almost finished. However, when I started writing again, I also remembered the children’s story I have had the first two lines in my head for years, and, one afternoon, that just flowed out.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My plan with the book for adults is to get it out by November this year, so that would be about 18 months from encouragement to production.
With the children’s book, the idea had been in my head for a long time but actually didn’t take that long to write. A lovely friend agreed to be the illustrator. I ran a Crowdfunder campaign in October 2020, which gave people the option to donate, to buy the book, and to donate the book to either organisations of their choice or through the organisations I work with. The campaign was a success. From then, the illustrator created the illustrations, the book got formatted, and it came out at the end of March 2021.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Where Are We Going?
I have worked with children and young people most of my life; I have spent many hours stood at bus stops and train stations because public transport is fun for children. Frequently, I would hear children asking, “Where are we going?”, only to be ignored, or told off, or yelled at: “I have already told you where we’re going!”, “Shut up! I’m on the phone!” There is no blame on those people; at primary school, we’re told to be imaginative; at high school, we’re told to grow up and not be silly; so lots of adults lose confidence to be imaginative. In my story, I want readers to see that, in much the same amount of words it takes to say, “I’ve already told you where we’re going!”, you can go on a magical imaginary adventure.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Where Are We Going?
I love children’s books and I have read hundreds of them! Some of them not so good, some okay, some brilliant. I was really concerned that mine would be in the not so good category; to overcome this, I asked a few people, who I trusted would give me an honest opinion, to read it before I decided to go ahead with publishing it.
Another challenge was finding the money to publish it. I decided not to contact publishing houses because I wanted to get the book out as soon as I could; I needed to start bringing in money to help keep my social enterprise going, and I knew that going to publishers could be time consuming and demoralizing. I decided to run a Crowdfunder campaign; I was concerned that people wouldn’t support it, that they wouldn’t believe in me; thankfully, I was wrong! It hit target in two weeks! It was exhausting and all-encompassing but completely worth it!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Less than four percent of children’s books have a main character that has a disability; when they do, the story is nearly always an awareness raising one for the disability; these are incredibly important! I am a disabled person and I know how much awareness matters. However, I feel that they also highlight our differences. I want readers to read my book, see Emily (the protagonist), and see her as she is: a little girl. I want people to see that, before we are anything else, before we are any label, we are human, and that we all have far much more in common than what separates us.
Did you plot Where Are We Going? in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I am definitely a free writer! The children’s book just happened. And, with the book I am writing for adults, I am just writing the thoughts that come to mind (I will wait until I start editing to see if that was a good idea!).
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Where Are We Going? need?
Thankfully, as a children’s book for two to seven year olds, there’s not too many pages, so not too much editing needed.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Do it! We now have so many options available to us to get our work out into the public. And, I feel, why regret not doing something? Do it whilst you can; enjoy the process and see what comes from it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’ve mentioned that I am writing a book for adults. This one will be sharing some of my story, of how I believed I was fat ugly and worthless, to now being happy with who I am and helping others feel the same about themselves.
I also plan to write at least one more Emily story and possibly other children’s stories.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I still look at my book every day and I have to touch my name on the front cover: it’s me!! I wrote a book! I’m an author! I am so proud of my book and I am exceptionally proud of the reviews and the feedback, from children, parents, grandparents and teachers. It was definitely worth the effort!
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
My website is here: https://www.vieness.co.uk
You can buy the book here: https://www.vieness.co.uk/product-page/where-are-we-going