Monday, February 19, 2018

Interview with Romanian First Time Author Anca Niculae

Anca Niculae, a first time writer from Romania, got in touch with me via my reviewer profile, asking me if I am interested to read and review her book: Emilia's Treasure: How a Mermaid Makes Friends. I've accepted and since then, we kept writing short notes once in a while. I decided to ask her a couple of questions, part of my interview series with authors from all over the world. Here is the interview witnessing her challenges and passion of being a writer.

What was the biggest challenge of starting writing?
I started writing because I saw I can really help kids with my stories. You see, I became a mother for the first time in 2011, blessed with a little girl, and in 2013 with a baby boy.
If you are a parent just like me, especially if you have 2 kids you understand that giving attention to both, at the same time, can be really challenging. So, while I was busy helping my little boy learned to walk, my girl was learning to make friends. I witness so many times while she was getting rejected by other kids, so I felt I had to do something. I’ve tried to help her, but initially, my words seemed too vague for her. Just telling her where she went wrong or what she should do seemed pointless because it only made her even more insecure.  It was her that pointed me to the solution – as she loved to pretend she was a mermaid we started to make up stories about a mermaid called Emilia. It is amazing the power stories and games can have on kids! I was thrilled to see how attentive my daughter was, living the adventures of Emilia, asking questions, and laughing while she was playing the board game we designed. It was her favorite thing to do in our “special time”.
I was delighted to see her wanting to become like the little mermaid, learning to listen with empathy and control her impulses because the story spoke about what she enjoyed the most and the game was giving her real-life examples she could identify with.
I decided to make our story into a book, and give the board game in form of a downloadable pdf, so that other kids could enjoy it too, at a minimum cost for parents. This is where I’ve had my first big challenge, as this was my first picture book. You see, reading and playing with my own kids was one thing, as I always was a playful parent, but turning it all into a picture book, was another. Overcoming my own limiting believes, learning to come out of my comfort zone and show my work to others was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to do. There were many other challenges as well, and after I’ve had a hard time with the first illustrator I found, I was lucky enough to meet an artist, mother of 3 kids, who really loved working at this project. With her help, I was able to send the game to 37 mothers to test it. I was very nervous while I was waiting for the answers, but after a few weeks, feedback started to come in. Mothers of girls and boys from 4 to 10 years old loved the game and told me how much the kids enjoyed it! The happiest moment for me was when a Romanian editor expressed interest in publishing the book and the board game in the traditional form. It was more than a first-time author can ever hope for!
I believe that any parent can help their kid increase their emotional intelligence, teaching them about empathy and kindness, by reading them this story and playing the game.

What do you recommend to anyone considering a writing career?

To anyone interested in starting a writing career I would tell the same thing I tell to myself, and to my kids – to overcome self-doubt, because if you have a message, and you believe in what you do, nothing can really stop you from making your dreams come true. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, either way, you are right”.
There will always be setbacks, there will always be mistakes, but if you keep trying, and believe in your message, you will pull throw.
I am still at the beginning, and I am sure I can do more, I can do better, I can help more people. I think the need to write comes from within, and it never goes away. I do not believe in talent or inspiration. Your talent is your hard work and your inspiration is the message you feel you need to give.
As long as you have your message in mind, then, make lots of mistakes. Every one of them will be a step forward.
I think every new writer needs to think about what he/she wants to give to the audience and how they want to inspire people, to help them and to make them try to reach out for their dreams.  The more people you help, the more you will feel you made a difference in the world. We all have a dream, but most of us are really scared to go for it. But nothing is ever perfect, and very few things worth doing are easy, but the most important thing is to do your best every time, to make lots of mistakes – as they help you learn – and do better next time. In the end, the only thing truly sad is giving up on your dream before even trying to make it real –because this would mean giving up on YOU.

How do you find inspiration?

As I’ve learned long time ago - stories and games are the best tools to get kids to truly listen. This is why I keep a diary of things they love, want to know more about, or what they need more practice with and other things that are funny or just silly to them – because fun relaxes the brain and this way they learn easier. I think my mission as a parent is to be a coach to my kids - not to be with them in every fight they have in life or save them from hard times - but to help them develop the resilience, the will to fight, and the self-believe that they can overcome anything.  And this is what I try to write about – this is my inspiration.
As every other parent, I do my best to raise my kids to be confident, resilient and kind. I want them to try new things, and the games we play, the ideas they have, are an endless source of inspiration.
I think the most important thing I can give them is a set of values that would make them believe in themselves, fight for their dreams, be happy and live a good mark in the world.
What are your favorite writers?

I read books in very different genres, from parenting and self-help books to fiction written by Frank Herbert, Paulo Coelho, Richard Bach, or picture books of Giles Andreae and Ashley Spires.
I have a deep love of kids – they are little universes - and I am fascinated by the way the human mind works and how they translate the world throw creative play.
I believe in gentle playful parenting, in encouraging kids to express their emotions, and I loved books like “Playful Parenting” (by Dr. Lawrence Cohen) and “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting” (by Dr. Laura Markham) but the one that resonated with me the most was the work of famous philologist and researcher Carol Dweck about developing a growth mindset as defined it in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”.
What are your writing plans for 2018?

I have many projects in my mind for this year, but the most important is a series of game-books aimed to help kids learn to set goals, increase self-confidence and develop a growth mindset. I believe that we cannot rely only on school to teach our kids important life skills but us - as parents have the biggest impact in our children’s lives and can coach them to live fulfilled and happy. These books will have real-life stories, lots of fun and games and interesting activities that will speak about expressing and understanding feelings, building grit, but also mindfulness, dealing with setbacks, learning to follow your dream and much more.
I will, of course, continue the series of mermaid books about friendship with even more exciting adventures and funny moments to help kids relax and parents build connection.
They will all be united under the brand “Empower Kids! Books and Games” to help kids develop their emotional intelligence, teach them to be kind, understand the impact they have on the world they live in, raise their resilience and help parents build special connection moments with the little ones.
Photo: The personal archive of Anca Niculae

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