Maxine Sylvester Interview Published on: 30, Jul 2020

Born in London, where have you spent most of your childhood?

I lived just outside of London and in the same house for 18 years.

Which is your favorite childhood memory?

Holidays at Butlins Holiday camp in Minehead, Somerset, with my family. Sometimes my cousins would come too, and all the kids rode the funfair all day long. I have no idea what the grown-ups did; I was too busy enjoying myself!

Who first introduced you to the world of books?

My earliest memory is Walt Disney’s Giant Book of Fairy Tales. The brightly coloured illustrations mesmerised me; I think that’s where my love of art began. My mum bought it for me as she was the one who loved to buy books and toys (Dad would usually pay for them). Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day by A.A. Milne was also a favourite.

Being an illustrator, how do you learn about new techniques and tools?

Photoshop tutorials! I always thought I would be a traditional illustrator and use pencils and water colour paints, but I am addicted to Photoshop—the possibilities are endless!

What inspired you to write your first children’s book, Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy?

Ronaldo is my favourite plush! I stole the idea from A.A. Milne whose inspiration was the toys in Christopher Robin’s bedroom. Michael Bond did the same. He used to take his bear plush (Paddington) on holiday with him.

How did you begin writing the “Ronaldo the Flying Reindeer” series?

I had a concept of a reindeer cadet going to flying school and wanted to deliver an inspiring message of self-belief to children. I was a shy child and frightened of most of my school teachers. Looking back, I wish I had had tools to help me—a book, maybe, that offered words of reassurance. You never know what is going on in a child’s life, and books can offer words of encouragement.

What challenges did you face while self-publishing your first book?

The biggest hurdle was loading the manuscript up to Kindle. I kept getting a blue line down each page of the book. My partner, Mark, is more computer savvy than I am, and sorted it out, but I remember a lot of emails going back and forth to Amazon.

How did a pizza loving Pilates instructor and self-confessed Disney-geek end up in writing a book?

I wanted a reason to illustrate so created a character, a young reindeer called Ronaldo, and intended to write a short story about him going to flying school. But once I started, I couldn’t stop! It turned in to a chapter book. I never knew I had such an imagination (courtesy of a lifetime of watching Disney movies). I now love writing as much as illustrating and enjoy flitting between the two. My strengths are illustration and imagination, so I use a professional editor to check my work. An excellent one is worth their weight in carrots!

How did you come up with the idea of your book, Ronaldo: The Phantom Carrot Snatcher?

I wanted a strong female character to enter Ronaldo’s world. Ronaldo and Rudi are both male and I wanted a character that little girls could resonate with. I made her a wolf cub (Ernie), which is one of Ronaldo’s biggest fears. But he is brave and embarks on a superhero mission to help Ernie find her family. Only bullies ambush Ronaldo in the woods, and Ernie comes to his rescue. It is an unlikely friendship, but both characters learn from one another… and have hilarious adventures along the way!

How do you overcome a creative block?

I try not to panic and take some time out. Ideas come when they are ready and when they do, they don’t stop. Acupuncture helps me too; it releases blockages in the body. I heard an interview with musician Noel Gallagher, he said he has ‘purple patches’ and I understand what he means. I have periods where ideas flow non-stop and I have boundless energy, other times I can’t think of anything. I don’t think the body can maintain a fast and furious pace, so it forces us to take time to rest.

In what ways do you try to better understand the craft of writing?

I have learned something different from every editor I have used. I also find it beneficial to read the work of other children’s authors. For my last book, Ronaldo: The Vixen Pederson Workshop, I used a programme called ProWritingAid and learned a lot from it. It highlights grammatical errors, overused words, sentence structure, etc. Now when I send my manuscript to an editor, they can get to the ‘meat’ instead of wading through punctuation errors. It would have saved me a fortune over the years as I wouldn’t have needed so many edits!

Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers?

Be patient with yourself and ask for help if you need it. There are so many author platforms with kind-hearted people offering free advice. They have been so helpful to me over the years and I am very grateful for their suggestions.

On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

Eight hours. I go through phases of illustrating or writing. I can’t work on both at the same time; it’s one or the other with me.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

No, I am not quite as famous as J.K. Rowling!

Have you tried making a pizza all by yourself during lock-down (COVID-19)?

Ha! No, I have an allergy to the kitchen! (Pizza is still my favourite food, but nowadays it is gluten-free with vegan cheese.) Lock-down has been super-busy. Mark and I produced three paperback books for sale on Amazon. We discovered 60% of parents prefer buying paperbacks for children, and as Ronaldo’s Flying Adventures series was only available in digital format, we used the time to do something productive. I am delighted with how the books have come out; the covers are vibrant, and it was a fun project for us to work on together.

When did you join AllAuthor and what are your opinions about the website so far?

I joined four years ago. I entered the Cover of the Month competition for the first time this year and won! I gained six months of free book mock-ups which are great for advertising on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. AllAuthor is user-friendly and has been a fabulous tool for marketing my four books.

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