Welcome to our Artist Spotlight section! Today, we talk with Anna Kontoleon and Manos Kontoleon, a daughter-father duo from Greece and authors of the forthcoming book Comings and Goings. Anna and Manos share their inspirations for the story, how the collaborative writing process took hold, fun travel experiences, and favorite memories during family trips.
Star Bright Books (SBB): What inspired you to collaborate with your father?
Anna Kontoleon (Anna): On one of my visits as a writer to a primary school in Chania of Crete, where I live, a young student asked me if I had ever written a book with my father. This question surprised me, realizing that I had never considered this possibility, though I grew up with his stories and I was certainly inspired by him to become a writer myself. So, I answered “no” to the young student, but I kept the idea in a corner of my mind. However, I did not want to collaborate with my father in a book, just because it would be a good idea to do it. I needed a good project that would justify our “co-existence” in the same book.
When I later had the idea of Comings and Goings I knew immediately that it was the right opportunity to do it.
SBB: How did it feel to write a book with your daughter?
Manos Kontoleon (Manos): The truth is that I had never considered the possibility of writing a book with my daughter. Maybe I should have, however, since Anna always used to be the first reader of my manuscripts and her subtle commentaries were often substantial in defining the last version of my stories. Therefore, when she proposed to me to collaborate in writing together a story inspired by the experiences of our own lives, I was delighted. Having confidence in her vision, I not only accepted her proposal, but I also let her [take] the initiative to develop the storyline and guide me through the whole process.
SBB: How was the collaborative writing process for Comings and Goings?
Anna and Manos: The funny thing is that this book was made in “social distance” far before the social distancing period imposed by the pandemic virus. We all worked remotely: Manos from Athens, Anna from Crete, Fotini Tikkou—who did the illustrations—from Denmark where she lived at the time. We never met [in person] during the writing process and the editing of the book. Thanks to technology this has become possible.
As for our collaboration in the writing process, it may not be obvious, but each one of us worked on different parts. Anna had the parts of Alex in a country of Northen Europe, Manos the parts of the relatives in a country of Southern Europe, who are waiting for him and preparing for his longed-for visit. Each of us worked freely and added our own point of view and temperament to the story, without much interference from the other, although of course we had some creative discussions at the editing process.
SBB: What inspired you to choose the theme for Comings and Goings?
Manos: I very often share my personal experiences with the characters of my books. This happened in this story as well. I consented to write the parts of the different members of Alex’s family in his home country, since, you see, Anna kept for her the easy part of the narration of just one main character, the protagonist young Alex and she “charged” me with the parts of seven different persons! (laughing) So, I had to “direct” the preparations of all these people for the visit of their beloved young grandchild, nephew, and cousin. It was expected that I would draw on my own experiences as the grandfather of Anna’s son to talk about my worries and feelings, but I had to get in my other characters’ skin in order to be able to speak for their own feelings and worries as well.
SBB: Do you identify with any of the book’s characters?
Anna: The easy answer would be that I identify with the mother of Alex, which I do of course, but not more than the obvious fact that I am a mother too.
I would say that I may identify more with Alex. You know, my personal belief is that the young child we once have been keeps living inside us our whole lives and sometimes takes control of our behavior or our thoughts. And when this child is whispering in our ears, we choose to write children stories.
As a child, I traveled a lot on my own without my parents. I think what resurfaces finally in that story is my anticipation of these trips I did on my own, along with the stress before each one of them. Every new step for a child, every change or transition, even a desired one, comes along with intense stress and agony. Because this is how we move forward in life.
SBB: Were there any particular memories that resurfaced while writing Comings and Goings?
Anna and Manos: The story is of course inspired by our personal experiences: the fact that we live far away from each other—well maybe not so far away as we live in the same country, but we still need to travel by airplane or ship to meet since Crete is an island. [Also,] the fact that Anna’s son is always looking forward to visiting his grandparents for the summer holidays, especially at this time when traveling has been for so long forbidden, the preparations before each trip, the waiting and the anticipation of each reunion, the surprise and the joy such a reunion brings. All these personal memories resurface in our history.
SBB: How do you feel the illustrations represent the anxiety and thrill of traveling?
Anna and Manos: We think that the double motif the illustrations use in each [spread] to show what happens at the exact same time in the two different countries, the expressions of doubt, anticipation and anxiety of the characters, the focus on several details and objects that have to do with traveling, and a sense of movement that exists in every page, together with the secret hints to help the child identify where the action takes place (airplane taking off and landing and the compass) and put in order the chaos that precedes each trip, represent very well the anxiety and thrill of traveling.
SBB: What are some of the best family trips you’ve taken together?
Anna and Manos: In the distant past we did some marvelous trips as a family to many different Greek islands. It was a careless and wealthy period in our country’s history and we keep some very nice memories from that time. In recent years, we traveled mostly to meet each other, which is always wonderful, but doesn’t include the joy of discovering a new town or country.
We definitely reserve a special place in our hearts to the travel we did last year in London. Exactly one month before the pandemic wave forced a worldwide lockdown, we feel we had a last marvelous chance to explore the English capital as we used to know it.
We don’t know when and if we’ll be able to travel abroad again together, in what conditions and [under] what specific restrictions. Traveling tends to be complicated these days. But maybe one day we’ll travel together to the US. We won’t give up on dreaming.
SBB: Besides writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Anna and Manos: Anna enjoys writing songs on her guitar and singing, spending quality time with her son, walking and exploring new paths, and would wish to have the time to read more.
Manos enjoys reading books (he actually has a tremendous library at home with bookselves almost everywhere), and he is writing book presentations of his own impressions as an eager reader in several book magazines, sites, and portals. And he is really active writing for his two blogs.
SBB: Do you have plans for any future collaborations?
Anna and Manos: We’re actually considering a sequel of Comings and Goings where we’ll have the chance to show how Alex spends his fabulous holidays with his relatives, while dealing with his homesickness. And at the same time how his parents, who are left behind in the North, deal with his absence, feeling a mixture of carelessness and emptiness at the same time. The story should end with a surprise reunion.