Canberra author Samantha Tidy and illustrator Susannah Crispe have collaborated on a new children's picture book called Cloudspotting that is as beautiful as it is whimsical and meaningful.
The story is of a little girl who spends time with her father crabbing, spotting clouds and drinking milky tea with biscuits in a relaxed world without schedules, screens or stress. It is a beautiful antidote to the reality of many modern childhoods.
The book was inspired by Samantha's own childhood in Western Australia, where she would also snatch time with her father, getting up early to go crabbing with him while her older brothers stayed in bed.
"I wanted to capture that story because for me that's representative of the relationship I had with my dad. We spent a lot of time on the ocean. If we weren't on a boat, we were swimming at the beach at six o'clock in the morning," she said.
"For me, it was partly about capturing that fragility of childhood memories, their ephemeral nature, how quickly they can pass. And to do that, I used clouds because that's exactly what happens - you watch a cloud and it will be something else 30 seconds later. And these two concepts just married so beautifully in this journey on a boat by a father and a daughter."
Cloudspotting, published by Australian publisher Windy Hollow Books, is brought to life with stunning watercolours by Susannah Crispe, who is also from Canberra. It is the fifth book for each woman. Samantha is also well-known for her now-classic Our Bush Capital.
"I'm absolutely enamoured with Susie's style," Samantha said. "When I open this book, I want to crawl inside it. There's this quietness inside the boat. You can hear the water lapping against the boat. You can hear the seagulls. It's just this calm space within the book."
Susannah was chuffed to hear that feedback.
"I'm glad you say that about the quietness because upon my first reading of the book, the thing that stood out to me most was just the quiet relationship between the father and daughter," she said.
"They really don't speak much in the story, and I really wanted to get that across in the illustration, that strong, quiet bond."
While originally from landlocked Bowral, Susannah heard plenty of stories about her father's family spending time on the water, fishing and holidaying in their home country New Zealand.
"My New Zealand family has this lovely tradition of being on the water all the time, so when I heard the story [of Cloudspotting], I was imagining all the stories I'd heard growing up. It was really a joyful experience working out how to put it all on to paper."
Susannah also wanted everything to feel authentic in the book - right down to the crab net.
"The publisher is the one who chose Susie for the illustrations, and what was great about that is we're both based in Canberra and we're both very collaborative workers," Samantha said.
"We were able to sit down and Susie could ask me questions about what things looked like."
And while the book celebrates a father-daughter relationship, it also reminds us there is a world beyond screens.
"I think for me, as I approach the big 5-0 this year, my childhood was a different era. There were no screens. If you were lucky, you got to choose between channels 2, 7 and 9 at night-time and you all fought over whether, you know, Dad got the news or we got Price is Right," Samantha said.
"This is about a time before childhood got eroded by the current level of technology that our kids are exposed to and as a mother of two kids, I struggle to reduce their exposure to technology.
"In a way, I've written this for my kids, to say, 'It wasn't like it was for you now and I'd love to be able to give you this experience' but I'm struggling to do that.
"Hopefully, other parents can find stories like this that remind them about what's important, which is relationships and time with nature, always."
Cloudspotting will be launched at 11.30am on Saturday, March 18 on a boat - the MV Southern Cross, moored at the Canberra Southern Cross Yacht Club in Yarralumla. Tickets are available here.
There will also be a storytime session with Cloudspotting at Harry Hartog Tuggeranong at 10am on Saturday, April 1.
And both Samantha and Susannah will be appearing at the St Anthony's Primary School fete in Wanniassa on Saturday, May 6 from 10am to 3pm.
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