Gattaldo - Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia - Interview (Q&A) - Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books #4

I'm delighted to welcome you to an interview with the debut author and illustrator Gattaldo. The book is based on a true-life story that is both brilliantly written and compassionately illustrated as a picture book. The author has brought the story to life so that children and adults will be inspired by it and completely absorb the storyline. It's a story about a female investigative journalist called Daphne Caruana Galizia who discovers the truth against all odds. The book was published by Otter-Barry Books last year (October 2020). 

We hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as we enjoyed asking the questions. You can BUY the book HERE. You will not be disappointed as this is a great book to both read and discuss with others. 

  • Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia. What is the book actually about? Is it based on a true story?
It’s the life story of a European investigative journalist who took on the mafia. She uncovered wrongdoing and she did it on her own, with little or no help, a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. The book takes us from Daphne’s childhood with her parents who taught her the importance of always doing what’s right, through her teens where she understood the meaning of protest, her early years as a journalist where she flourished in a largely male-dominated field, to her fight for justice and against corruption. It’s about the courage of ones convictions, about the quest for truth.   
  • What inspired you to tell this story and why?
Daphne’s assassination in 2017 left a big hole in the hearts of many Maltese who valued her investigative journalism. To me, Daphne was also a personal friend and I found it extremely difficult to deal with her absence. My 7-year-old niece wanted to know more about Daphne, so I decided to turn my grief into something positive and share Daphne’s life and the importance of journalism with children through a picture book.  
  • What emotions do you want the reader to feel once they have finished reading the book?
The book is a celebration of its protagonist, but it’s also an appreciation of journalism, a message to not be afraid of going against the grain, to fight for your convictions. Daphne Caruana Galizia was often alone in her quest. We’ve spoken at times about this and how it made her feel. It took nerve to continue uncovering wrongdoing after some of the attacks on her person and her family.  

I want my readers to appreciate that there is no free choice without information. Journalism is one of the most important if not the most important component of democracy. I want children to be inspired by Daphne. Journalists like her are our heroes. They are role models we should emulate if we are to build a better world.  
  • How do you try and balance the writing with the images?
This was my first picture book. Pictures and words must work together, complimenting rather than mirroring each other. I started writing while at the same time searching for the character’s appearance. It’s important to work with rough sketches while writing. Only once you’re happy with the way visuals and words work together, should you start to work up the illustration. Even then, you can expect the book to go through various modifications. In film, each scene is drawn in rudimentary sketches on loose cards so their order can be changed. It’s a good practice to use with picture books as well.   
  • Do you think it is important for an illustrator to have their own unique style?
I certainly see advantages marketing-wise with having a unique style that’s unchanging, like a brand, so that readers familiar with your first book feel immediately at home with your second offering. There are however benefits to having a flexible hand, a style that fits each of the stories you animate. My publisher requested that I keep to the same style in my next books and it makes sense because they should feel like part of the same series. I don’t think that means they have to be absolutely identical though. I think each book benefits from having its own identity while still fitting in with the series.  
  • How much research did you do before you started the project? Did you find any surprises along the way?
Although I knew my subject on a personal level, I knew very little about Daphne’s childhood. Her early years weren’t something I could research online or in libraries so the only way was to Interview family and friends. This required great sensitivity. Interviewing people who are grieving can be difficult and awkward. It was a journey that led to a closer relationship with Daphne’s family. I can’t think of having come across any surprises as such, but I do feel I got to know her better. I could see what made Daphne the strong person she was.  
  • What author/illustrator do you wish could be your mentor and why?
My mentor for Fearless was the journalist and children’s author Juliet Rix (Travels With My Granny - Otter Barry Books) who was very generous with her time and advice. We’re currently collaborating on another children’s book. As a wish list, there are a couple of illustrators I would love to have as mentors. My first would be M. Sasek, but of course he died in 1980 so perhaps, French illustrator Thomas Baas would be a more feasible choice.  
  • What is the best way to use social media and illustration to create increased awareness?
Every book is different and its promotion has to be tailor-made. Daphne’s story is real and still current and raw so I couldn’t promote it in the same way you’d do for another book. Amnesty and Reporters Without Borders’ endorsement was a great boost for the book. Regardless of whether Fearless was worthy of Daphne’s story, activists and people who hold Daphne and journalism to heart, were eager to promote the book on social media. But I also had to contend with a small amount of trolling, something I guess most children’s authors wouldn’t face. 

I think most children’s authors realise very soon that publishers have very little time or money to do much for their book so they must work hard at it themselves. I found Twitter introduced me to reviewers, bookshop owners and journalists. Like any conversation it can’t be just about promoting the book though. 

I’m not sure Facebook was much use. As to Instagram, I think I missed a trick by not making use of it. 

When promoting the book online, an author must offer something useful rather than to simply repeat the the book’s USPs. My book’s website was also a vehicle to get children and their educators interested in journalism through informative articles aimed at children. I also wrote and designed a supplement which was taken up and published by a local newspaper. I’d love to develop the latter into a regular feature, but as with everything, I’d need to find the time and the finance for it. 
  • What other projects are you working on at the moment?
When I first presented Fearless to publishers, the proposal was to have a series of similar non-fiction books, so I’m working on the next two. I’m also planning on writing something completely different - a children’s book that is funny and playful. That would give me the opportunity to experiment with a different style of illustration. Now that the Covid-19 restrictions are slowly lifting, Im also preparing for school visits and also looking forward to the publication of Fearless by Candlewick in the US in September. 
  • Do you prefer to write or illustrate?
My background is in fine arts and illustration but I’ve discovered writing can be great fun too. I love the control that comes with doing both. I’ve still got a lot to learn in both idioms, and I’m not confident I’ve yet found my definitive style. I’ve started writing for children rather late in life and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to get my work published.