Thursday, October 18, 2007

Q & A with Camille Lagarrigue, author of Miss Behave and the Sacred Cats of Ancient Egypt

Camille Lagarrigue’ second book, "Miss Behave and the Sacred Cats of Ancient Egypt" hasn't been launched yet, but I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her by email.

A teacher by day and writer/illustrator/publisher by night, Camille says she has led a life that is remarkably similar to "Miss Behave," the series’ main character.

As the youngest of six, she's aunt to nine nieces and nephews and she is always surrounded by children. She received her Higher Diploma in Education from the Johannesburg College of Education. Camille has also written, choreographed and directed three primary school plays.

She lives in Johannesburg, and in between teaching art and French to children, she takes the adventures of Miss Behave to fans everywhere.

Q & A with Camille

1. What are the three most important elements that motivate you as a writer and illustrator?

* Being able to use my books to entertain, teach, inspire and send messages to many more children than I can reach in a classroom.
* The desire to encourage children to read and instill a love of books, reading, writing and creativity through my books.
* Teaching and interacting with children is a huge source of inspiration and motivation to me.

If I could mention a fourth I would have to say my gorgeous Siamese cats Bart and Blade.

2. What is the key message that you would like to communicate to children through your books?

• Celebrate being different.
• Don’t conform to society’s stereotypes – be an individual.
• Don’t settle for ordinary – strive for EXTRAORDINARY.

3. Describe a typical writing/illustration day when you are working on a book.

If I’m teaching (which I’ve been doing on and off lately), I usually have to work early in the morning or at night. I work from a rough draft, one page at a time, and it usually takes two days to complete the illustrations for one page (one day for the outline, and one day to colour).

It usually takes a while for me to get started and I prefer to work when I’m alone at home – once I get started I get completely immersed and can work for hours. It usually goes smoothly unless Blade decides that the only comfortable place to sit is on the page I’m working on. He also has a habit or stealing my eraser or pencils.

4. Please describe the journey your story takes from writing, editing to illustration. How did this process evolve during the development of your first book?

I do a lot of planning before I start writing the actual story. I usually decide on a particular theme and then for months I will jot down ideas and do very rough sketches. Once I have a storyline in my head I will start writing the text in rough. Then I distribute the text per page and start planning the illustrations per page.

My drawings are very detailed with a lot of the story happening within each picture so I then take out any unnecessary text which is already explained in the pictures. This is the first part of the editing process. I then start drawing in neat and adding the colour.

The text gets typed separately and is added to the pictures during the layout. When the drawings are done a professional editor will go through the text and check the grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc.

With the first book I had had the ideas and created the characters long before and used them in stories which I told my pupils. There wasn’t too much planning involved. I found that I wrote the story with the illustrations in mind and that the illustrations influenced the text.

With the second book it has been the other way around. Not knowing much about the book making process at the time, I hand wrote the text on the original neat manuscript with the intention of printing it that way.

This not only took very long to do but also proved problematic in the later editing stages. Eventually we decided to erase my writing during the layout phase, and replace it with typed text. I have now learned my lesson and write my text separately!

5. How was the creative process for the second book different from the first one? What new elements did you include in your processes?

The first book was an introduction to the characters which I had had in mind for sometime, so as I mentioned above, not too much planning went into it.

The second book is more of an adventure and quest for the characters and is a development from the previous book. I did a lot more planning and preparation with the second book and looked at books about Egypt for inspiration. I wanted the story to be as authentic and factual as possible within its fantasy genre.

The drawings are very detailed with hieroglyphs and intricate patterns so they took longer to do than the first book. With the second book I worked with the end product in mind which made me work very slowly and cautiously – constantly double checking, whereas with the first book I had no idea what the outcome would be so it was a more spontaneous, creative process.

6. [Somehow I think you self-published your books]. What led you to decide to self-publish, rather than going the traditional publishing route?

Yes, I do self-publish, but with guidance from 30° South Publishers (ironically they publish non-fiction and autobiographies – but they’ve been a great help.)

After reaching somewhat of a dead-end with the local publishers (no response, guidance, advice, critiques etc) I decided to investigate the self-publishing route through the It’s All Write website (

That’s how I got in contact with 30° South ( and with their advice and input managed to publish my first book. Now I’m so happy with self-publishing because it has allowed me to be completely involved in all aspects on the creation of the final product and the promotion. It is hard work, but it is rewarding.

7. When are you going to launch "Miss Behave and the Sacred Cats of Ancient Egypt"? Are you going to host a book launch? When and where?

The idea was to launch Miss Behave and the Sacred Cats of Ancient Egypt on the 31st of Octobe....purr-fect for Halloween, but plans are on hold at the moment due to a glitch with the printing (aargh!).

I was hoping to organise something at one of the independent Johannesburg bookstores but that hasn’t worked out so I’m planning to launch it at one of the Johannesburg schools.

With the emphasis on literacy and book making for the fourth term at most GDE schools I thought that it would fit in very nicely with introducing the book and speaking to the children about reading, writing etc.

Once we know that the books are back from the printers I will be able to confirm a date and venue.

8. What promotional activities do you have planned in the 2007/8 year to promote "Miss Behave and the Sacred Cats of Ancient Egypt"?

* I plan to go down to Durban and launch the book at Books and Books again, and hopefully visit some schools there too.
* I will definitely continue visiting Johannesburg schools as this is the highlight of the writing and publishing process.
* Exclusive Books ( have said that they will include me in their Children’s Book Festival in March 2008 – I hope that they don’t let me down.
* We will keep promoting the book via the website.

9. How many schools did you visit in the past year to promote your first book,"Miss Behave and the Secret Agents"?

I visited three schools in Durban (as part of my launch at Books and Books) and in Johannesburg I have had the pleasure of visiting and meeting children from seven different schools. I will hopefully squeeze in one or two more before the end of the school year.

10. How do you manage your time to juggle your roles as a school teacher, writer and still actively promote your books?

I resigned from a head of department post (at a school) in order to be able to write and illustrate Miss Behave and the Secret Agents, and took on a part time teaching position.

Since then I have been alternating between teaching part time and full time. And while balancing the two careers is very difficult and exhausting at times, teaching and having contact with children has become a huge part of writing children’s books.

It keeps me in tune and up to date with what children like, dislike, are interested in etc. Fortunately the school I have been teaching at was very flexible and accommodating when the time came for me to rush off to another school to read and promote Miss Behave.

My fiancée, who designed the Miss Behave website helps me a great deal with the communication between myself and 30° South, the sales rep, fans, media etc so that takes a huge load off my shoulders. Apart from that I usually work late into the night and drink more coffee than humans probably should!

11. Anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you for the interest that you have taken in Miss Behave and for the exposure through your blog. It is really encouraging and inspires me to keep persevering with my writing and illustrating.

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