I can’t wait to share this author-illustrator’s story with you. Get ready for an exotic little trip around the world. (I think she might want to consider writing her memoirs, too.) Please welcome Maxine Sylvester to the Reading Room.
Q. Hi Maxine. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.
A. Firstly, thank you for this opportunity, Shana.
I was born in London but now live in Bali with my partner, Mark. I am an author and illustrator and self-published my first children’s book, Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy last December.
So how did a pizza loving Pilates instructor and self-confessed Disney-geek end up writing a book in South East Asia? Maybe it’s best I rewind back to the 70’s and explain…
Back when The Bay City Rollers were topping the charts, I received my first tin of Caran D’Arche pencils. I loved art and it was my best subject at school. On Saturday afternoons I took private lessons with a lovely teacher called Pearl Lee. At school we practised still life and figure drawing but with Mrs. Lee I discovered oils, pastels and Disney! She had a pile of Disney comics and I would paint the characters onto wooden plaques or do giant paintings. I developed a real love for ‘fun’ art but when the time came to leave school I couldn’t find a college that offered what I wanted. I therefore decided to abandon any thoughts of an artistic career and pursue my other passion – travel!
I worked as a holiday representative in Rhodes, Cyprus, Turkey and the Canary Islands, and then onboard cruise ships. During this time I was often called on to make birthday or leaving cards and I even decorated my cabin with cartoon characters. It soon became clear that although I loved traveling, this work was a chore and not something I enjoyed.
I met Mark onboard and we decided to abandon life on the ocean waves and accept positions at a casino in Palestine. We lived outside Jerusalem in Israel and although it was a fascinating venture I spent all of my spare time drawing. I discovered The College of Cartoon Art, an online school run by four professional cartoonists; they offered the exact course I had always wanted to do. I studied after work and my tutor, acclaimed caricaturist, Steve Chadburn, was a fantastic teacher, harsh with criticism but very encouraging. Unfortunately due to unrest in the Middle East, Mark and I lost our jobs so we packed up and moved to Moscow.
In Russia I started up as a freelance cartoonist and enrolled for a course in children’s book illustration. I illustrated a magazine cover and did some work on a few websites but just as I was getting going, I tore a disc in my back. Illustrating and long periods editing on a computer aggravated my condition, so after years of treatment, I sadly ended my art career and put my pencils away for good. (Or so I thought!)
After a stint living in Armenia, Mark and I invested in a scuba diving business in Bali. At this point my body seemed to go from bad to worse and my muscles were so stiff I could hardly get out of bed in the mornings. Then something changed my life – Pilates, a form of exercise that strengthens the muscles that support the spine. I practised at home to DVD’s and my quality of life improved so much I became an instructor.
Convinced this was my life’s purpose, I started teaching semi-private groups. I enjoyed watching people progress but after two years I began to feel that I still wasn’t reaching my true potential. One day I nervously took out my Caran D’ Arche pencils; I hadn’t drawn in ten years and although I was a bit rusty my ability was still there and I fell in love with art all over again, this time without pain as my body was stronger through Pilates.
I wanted a purpose for my drawing so decided to write a short story. I stole an idea from A.A Milne and picked out my favourite stuffed toy which happened to be a reindeer. I chose the name Ronaldo and thought it would be fun to send him to school, but not just any school – flying school!
Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy was originally intended as a picture book but I enjoyed the writing process so much that it grew into a chapter book. I sourced an editor and prayed she wouldn’t laugh in my face and to my delight she wrote back and said she thoroughly enjoyed my story.
Ronaldo is a joy to work on and every day I bounce out of bed with enthusiasm. It has taken fifty years to reach a point in my life where I can say I love my job but I can happily say that I do and that it was worth the wait!
Q. Tell us something about your greatest success, and/ or your latest success.
A. The day I published Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy was one of the happiest days in my life. There was so much work that went into writing and illustrating it and because of my previous health problems, I never thought it would ever be possible. I was really thrilled when it finally appeared on Amazon.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge?
A. My mind and my body are on different time zones! My head has all these ideas but my body can’t keep up. I already have the third Ronaldo book in my head but I still haven’t finished illustrating the second book. The other thing I find challenging is social networking. I am a very private person and social networking really puts you out there.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. To publish the second Ronaldo book, The Phantom Carrot Snatcher by August this year. It’s longer than the first book so has a lot more illustrations. Mark and I are also working on the Ronaldo the Flying Reindeer website, so if I can get both book and website finished over the next few months, I will be pretty pleased.
Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy
Ronaldo is the top flying cadet at the prestigious Reindeer Flying Academy. He dreams of getting his flying license just like his hero, Vixen.
In the first in the Ronaldo series, our flying hero, his loyal best friend, Rudi, and the other second year cadets face their toughest ever flying test – The Endurance Challenge.
Freezing conditions make the challenge nearly impossible, but Ronaldo remembers his granddad’s inspiring words:
“Imagine, see it, feel it, believe it. You can do anything if you truly believe in yourself.”
Can granddad’s advice spur Ronaldo on so he can win the challenge? Will he lift the silver trophy… or better still, break Vixen’s record and receive the ‘Golden Wings’ medal, an honour only bestowed on a handful of flying reindeer?
Also by Maxine Sylvester
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Thanks for reading!