Today I’m delighted to invite author of Together Things Michelle Vasiliu on to this blog.  Together Things is a brilliant book I was recently given the opportunity to read and review, you can check out my review for it here.  I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to have an interview with Michelle Vasiliu and in today’s post we will hear all about the inspiration behind the book, why the subject of mental health is such an important one to the author and also a few fun facts you may not know about her 🙂  And don’t forget to check out the book and the author and buy links below.

Author Interview

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you began writing about mental illness?

My name is Michelle Vasiliu. I am a Children’s and YA Author and a Mental Health Peer Support Worker. I also have bipolar affective disorder.

When my children were young (three and six) I became very sick, so much so, I had to go into hospital for several weeks. Picture books were a big part of my children’s lives and I wanted a book I could read to them about what was happening to me and why. I searched worldwide and only came across a handful of books that dealt with the issue of mental illness. Books about bipolar specifically were even less common. The very few books about mental illness that were available were quite dated and none of them really depicted what I wanted to tell my children. What I wanted was a suitable book in my hands right then and there. There wasn’t one, so years later, when I was well, I decided to write one myself and so My Happy Sad Mummy came about. After several years in the making it was published in 2015.

My Happy Sad Mummy book front image for author interview
My Happy Sad Mummy by Michelle Vasiliu & Lucia Masciullo

My Happy Sad Mummy portrays the emotional response of a young girl living with a mother who has bipolar disorder.  Using easily understandable images and words, we see ‘mummy’ through the eyes of her child. During her mania, mummy laughs and talks all day long, but becomes so preoccupied with her own work in the garden that she forgets about her child who falls asleep with exhaustion trying to keep up with her. During her depression, mummy cries, becomes quiet, wants to sleep, and is unresponsive to her child’s enthusiasms. At times mummy needs to go to hospital, so grandma and grandpa come to help. But through all these difficulties, the bond of affection between mummy and child remains strong and true.

My Happy Sad Mummy has been very well received all over the world. In November 2016, it won the Australian Association of Family Therapy Twenty-ninth Annual Award. Following on from the success of My happy Sad Mummy it was a natural progression to write another picture book about mental illness, which became Together Things.

2. Could you tell us a bit about the book and your inspiration behind writing it?

Together Things cover
Together Things by Michelle Vasiliiu & Gwynneth Jones

My focus this time was on a parent with depression. Given one in five adults will now experience depression at some point in their lives, it made sense to give parents and primary care givers a book they could use to help their children better understand their illness. I also wanted to help children understand that for a time their relationship with their parent may change while their parent isn’t well. This is not meant to be seen as a negative, rather it can be viewed as a necessary reality that can, if managed well, keep the bonds of love alive between parent and child. Together Things is not a book that shies away from children expressing their fears, sadness or anger when coming to terms with their parents sometimes roller coaster ride of what it means to have a mental illness.

Hopefully, Together Things will resonate with young children all over the world who know what it’s like to live with a parent experiencing mental illness, helping them to understand, in an age appropriate and sensitive way, that it’s okay for them to feel mad or sad about their parent’s illness and while their parent is getting better, they may have to do different together things to preserve their relationship, such as reading stories or drawing pictures, instead of the imaginative play their parent cannot currently envision through the haze of mental illness.

In combination with Gwynneth’s wondrous illustrations, young children can understand the text which emphasises the fact that sometimes they must adapt their interactions with the people in their lives when they are experiencing mental illness.

3. What drives you to write about mental illness?

I’m very passionate about educating parents in particular and adults in general, about the importance of talking to children about mental illness.  It is a fact that many parents who have a mental illness struggle to find the right words when talking to their children about their illness. Indeed, it is not uncommon for some parents to shy away from the topic altogether.

I wrote both My happy Sad Mummy and Together Things for the thousands of young children all over the world living with a parent who have a mental illness so that they may make sense of their parent’s illness.  Both books were also written for the parents of these children who may need some kind of frame work to help explain their illness. Simply put, they are tools they can use to begin an on-going dialogue about why they sometimes behave in strange or distressing ways. They are books that enable families the opportunity to engage in conversations about mental illness in a sensitive and age appropriate manner

4. What are your hopes for the future?

It’s my hope and dream that in the not too distant future, picture books dealing with mental illness will be readily available to those who need them, by having them easily sourced, or better still, in the places where parents with a mental illness are likely to be, as in a psychiatrist hospital, or the rooms of a psychiatrist, psychologist, doctor, maternal health care rooms and so forth. That way, the books are accessible and they allow the parent to actually see and read the book to see if it meets their needs before they go out and buy it. The books could also be made available in these places by setting up a loan library. In this way, ALL parents get a chance to use these books without the added expense of having to purchase them, because there will always be parents who cannot afford to buy picture books of this nature.

Furthermore, I hope that Together Things, like My Happy Sad Mummy, will help demystify mental illness and make the discussion of such with young children, a less daunting task for all those involved.

5. Are you currently writing anything new?

I’m currently writing my first middle-grade novel, Me and My Mad Mum which is about thirteen year old Samantha’s fractured relationship with her mother Kate.  Samantha is learning to navigate her way through the ups and downs of living with a parent whose behaviour is sometimes erratic, embarrassing, disturbing and even heart breaking. She is doing this whilst simultaneously going through her own trials as a young teenager – a teenager who desperately wants to ‘fit in’.

Throughout the course of the novel, Samantha is forced to face some ugly truths about the nature of mental illness. Indeed, one of the central themes of Me and my Mad Mum is learning what it means to accept and love someone even though we may sometimes hate their behaviour. For Samantha, this ultimately results in her embracing the true nature of unconditional love.

6. What and why do you write?

I write serious, sometimes sad stories because reading and talking about this can help us feel better.  As a children’s author, helping my readers make sense of their world gives me much pleasure.  I also write funny, sometimes silly stories because smiling and laughing make us feel good.

Author pic Michelle Vasiliu
Author Michelle Vasiliu

10 Fun Facts about the author 🙂

  1. I do not like white chocolate but I love milk chocolate. I love dark chocolate even more than I love milk chocolate.
  2. My friends tell me I think about things too deeply, ask too many questions and I am overly sensitive. I tell them I am a writer so what do they expect.
  3. I belong to a group of women writers. We are called the Lazy River Writers but we are not lazy. We meet once a month to talk about and workshop our writing. We also go on retreats, eat lots of chocolate and just have fun. All of these things are good.
  4. I do not like modern technology much because I cannot turn on the TV without a remote, and the remote has too many buttons for me to work out which one is the ON button. I am lucky my children know how to work the remote or I would not be able to watch TV.
  5. My children are getting older and they will leave home soon. I am looking for an old fashioned TV that does not have a remote. This way I will still be able to watch TV when they are gone.
  6. I would like to learn to play the harp, jump out of a plane (with a parachute), go parasailing, write 20 more children’s books and visit Santa on one of his days off. I plan to do these things before I am 70. As I only have 18 years to achieve these goals I guess I should get a move on.
  7. I do not like comparing myself to other children’s authors because most of them write much faster than me. Sometimes it takes me all day just to get one word on the page. This is not good if you have deadlines to meet.
  8. When people ask me why I like to write I tell them I don’t (because I am so slow). Then they ask me why I write if I don’t like it. I tell them I like challenges.
  9. When people ask me where I get my ideas about what to write I tell them they’re just there when I wake up. Sometimes I wish my ideas would go away and let me have a sleep in.
  10. When people ask me what makes a good writer I tell them I don’t know. When they look surprised, I say there are lots of books to read and courses to go to that might answer their question.

About the Book

Together Things cover
Together Things by Michelle Vasiliiu & Gwynneth Jones

Together Things book blurb: 

Her dad used to be fun, but now he’s sad.  As her father tries to get better, a young girl finds new ways to connect with him.  He might not be able to play with her as he used to, but they can still show their love for each other.  They just need to find different ‘together things’ to do.

Click here to buy from Amazon UK     Click here to buy from publisher website

About the Author

Author pic Michelle Vasiliu
Author Michelle Vasiliu

Michelle Vasiliu has been a teacher and youth-worker among many roles working with children. She is now an award-winning children’s and YA author who writes sensitive, serious, sometimes sad stuff. She likes to help her readers understand and make sense of their world. She also writes fictitious, funny, frivolous stuff — just because she can.

Click here to visit author’s website

 

Thank you Michelle Vasiliu for joining us on the blog today 🙂  Please check out Together Things it’s a great book and my own review for it can be found if you click here, and please check out next week’s post where Michelle Vasiliu gives some tips on how to talk to children about mental illness!


Have you enjoyed this interview?  What do you think of the book together Things or the author’s thoughts on mental health and why she writes her books?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂