Dive into the flow
How could I have ever imagined that a ticket for the SmåBUS-festival in September last year would set things in motion for me?
The SmåBUS-festival is a small festival celebrating children’s books and children’s literature held in the area where Astrid Lindgren grew up, in the South of Sweden. It was the first time this festival was organized and I went there with an open mind and open heart.
Joke Guns, the founder and host of SmåBUS, welcomed me with open arms. During the three days the festival was held I met such wonderful people. Like-minded people with love for stories, books, illustrations and Astrid Lindgren’s legacy. Among the people I met was Sarah Vegna, a Swedish author and illustrator of children’s books. We clicked right away and when we heard about the possibility to apply for an artist-in-residence place we didn’t hesitate.
As soon as I got home, back in Holland, I set up the application for Sarah and me. One of the conditions was that we apply as a duo, so we did. We had a rough idea for a children’s book. Last December we heard that we had been accepted. How happy and grateful I was and still am to receive such a message. We were asked to come for two weeks in May this year. So in the meantime we kept contact via e-mail and Zoom.
Three weeks ago I was ready to start my adventure in Sweden. It all felt so natural and easy flowing. A sure sign that this adventure would be a success.
After a long trip by train, by airplane, by train again and by car I finally arrived in Björköby. A small village not far from the birthplace of Astrid Lindgren. Johannes, Joke Guns’ husband, picked me up from the station and when I arrived at their place, Joke and Sarah were already waiting for me. It was like seeing old friends again. So great!
Joke showed us the small cottage, the oldest house of the village, in which we would live and work for the next two weeks. A cute little red wooden house near Joke’s place. Immediately it felt like home. This was a good feeling, because for me it works best that I feel at ease when I have to express myself creatively. But there was also the feeling of ‘pinch me, am I really here and why does this feel so natural?’ Maybe not so real yet, I felt I had to settle down. But I just dove into the flow and gave over.
The following days Sarah and I talked a lot about the story and the main themes for our project. This was over coffee, during lunchtime, with a cup of tea, while preparing dinner, taking evening walks. When spending so much time together in a bubble and having to think of nothing but the one project you’re working on, nothing else distracts you. You can talk about it and sketch on your project whenever you want. This is what, I think, is the additional value of a residency. The focus is on the project and working on it together. It can also accelerate the ideas on the project.
Sarah and I felt so much openness and trust towards one another that our co-creation went smoothly. Personal stories, anecdotes, the Swedish countryside, the house and our strong feelings for equality, women’s rights and environmental issues were an inspiration for our story. The story that started to take form once we laid out the grid. Sarah started writing the manuscript and I started working on my sketches for our first book.
Our idea is to make a book series about a boy from the Netherlands and a girl from Sweden who are cousins. They meet at granny’s place in Sweden during the holidays. Grandma has a big secret and a time-machine. Ella and Tim, the girl and the boy in our story, go time-traveling and during their travels they will land in places in time of great meaning. Their time travels start at the beginning of the 20th century when women fought for their right to vote. This way we can write and illustrate a story about an important part of history in a fun and accessible way.
We were asked by people who interviewed us back in Björköby when the book will be finished. I hope we can have it done by Spring 2020. The most important thing for Sarah and me is to keep in touch regularly now that we are not physically together anymore. We must keep the fire burning and keep the story going.
All my thanks to Sarah Vegna, who made my stay in Björköby like a workation with a good friend. Two weeks is a long time, but not long enough when you’re with someone with whom you feel at ease, who inspires you and with whom you can laugh, cry, be still and just be.
Many thanks of course to Joke Guns who had a dream to bring writers and illustrators together on the playground of Astrid Lindgren. Joke, you were so welcoming and heart-warming. Thank you for making me feel part of your family for these two weeks and I loved babysitting your puppy.
Thank you Johannes for your kindness and your care. When we needed something you were there to bring us groceries or drive us to the supermarket (and buy some more wine ;)) or the station.
And thank you Lizzy for driving us to Eksjö and spending time with us. Thanks to Nora for the lovely interview which you worked so hard to prepare.
I feel really lucky and grateful to have been part of this adventure and to have met such wonderful people. Thank you!
Please check out
Sarah Vegna’s website
Joke Guns’ SmåBUS website (the contents of this website is about the festival which was held in 2018, soon it will be updated to the festival in 2020.)
The portraits are taken by Sarah and me.