Thursday, March 16, 2017

Awesome People Doing Awesome Things ~ Meet Illustrator/Author Murray Stenton

I have a treat for you all today. As you know, there is nothing I love more than folks who use the special talents they have to reach out to others and raise awareness for people, issues or situations that we either don't think about or that we've never heard of. Author/illustrator Murray Stenton did just that.

He has a beautiful family, who were the inspiration for his children's picture book, 'My Brother'. He will explain the meaning behind this touching book, but it definitely opened my eyes. Yes, I write, and have written, a lot about SPD and raising children on the Spectrum so that people out there can truly understand the ups and downs of having a family like ours and how we cope. If anything I share can help another, it's all worth it. And that is what Murray is hoping to do, raising awareness and understanding for children with CP (Cerebral Palsy), with his wonderful book.

Murray was a delight to chat with and I am honored to have gotten to review and blurb his book. I hope that you enjoy this experience as much as I have, and can take a little piece away with you.


Chynna: Welcome to the blog, Murray! Why don’t we start with you giving us a bit about your background.

Murray: Well, I am a father of three and married to my wonderful wife Jill. We live in Bedford, a small suburban area on the outskirts of Halifax. Our first child Ethan suffered a stroke at birth causing Cerebral Palsy and a number of other health issues. We have two other children, Carter and Brea. Life has been challenging, but never boring. I am a Art Director and Jewelry Photographer by day and an illustrator and storyteller by night. My passion is illustration. I have been drawing cartoons and comic strips since I was a young boy. My dream was to become a cartoonist like Charles Schulz or Jim Davis. I spent many years collecting and reading the Garfield books. When I started illustrating for children’s books I rediscovered the work of Dr. Seuss. He is also a great inspiration for my children’s book work. I love writing and illustrating stories and hope to work on many more in the future.

Chynna: Oh my gosh, I loved Garfield! I think I had all of the books. And my kids have all been raised on Dr. Seuss. And I'm jealous you live in Halifax. It's a beautiful place. Is authoring your ‘job’ or is there something else you practice as well.

Murray: Authoring and illustration has contributed some to my income but not enough to support my family. I have been a graphic designer since 2002. Over the last couple of years I have been in the jewelry business. I decided to learn Jewelry photography as well to add to my skill set. In December of 2016 I accepted a position as Art Director with a local jewelry company, JewelPop. For the last four or five years I have been doing illustration contracts in my spare time. One day back in 2013, I thought I would look around on-line to see if I could find any illustration jobs. That is when I stumbled onto an ad posting by Jewel Kats. Illustrating her book “Miss Popular Steals the Show” was my first illustration contract. That contract gave me enough courage to pursue others.

Chynna: That's very interesting. I'd never heard of Jewelry photography before. We just did a focus on Jewel Kats. She was a truly amazing and talented woman. Who, and what, are your greatest inspirations?

Murray: Some of my greatest inspirations would be Jim Davis, Charles Schulz and Theodor “Seuss” Geisel. Jewel Kats would have to be one of my greatest inspirations. What I loved so much about her was that after living her life as many of us do, practically, she decided she would just do what she loved to do. Even if it might be difficult. I never really thought I could be a published author or illustrator. In the years before the web I had attempted to get published a number of times. Eventually I just gave up. That is until I met Jewel.

Chynna: It is so wonderful how life works out that way. It really just takes that one person whom you admire, and who believes in you, to inspire you to keep going. That's fantastic. As I mentioned, I had the pleasure of reviewing and blurbing your book, ‘My Brother’. Can you please tell us about the inspiration for this book? Was it difficult to write?

Murray: After illustrating for others I thought I would like to tell my own story.  The inspiration for that came from my children. My oldest son, Ethan, has had many health concerns that, as parents, we have to accept. We forget about those other little people who have to deal with it as well. My middle son, Carter, is the direct inspiration for my book. This little guy deals with so much having a special needs brother and a baby sister. Only after Carter started having trouble at school did I realize what challenges he has on a daily basis living in our crazy house.

Chynna: I can so relate, Murray. It was the same thing in our house. My second oldest was right in between two siblings with high special needs, then had a baby sister to deal with. It could be crazy, for sure, but there was always a light and calmness too.What was the whole road to publishing process like?

Murray: The publishing process has been great. Victor from Loving Healing Press has guided me through the entire process with ease. I am not sure if it’s like that for every author. We are just getting into the promotional aspect of the publishing process now. Doing readings and signings will be a little out of my comfort zone but I will be fine.

Chynna: Yes, I can relate to the readings/signings/interviews, but after a few under your belt, the nerves slowly dissipate. And you are in awesome hands. Victor is an amazing, knowledgeable publisher who truly cares about his authors and their success. Who was the illustrator for the book, and what was it like working with someone who gives life to your words?

Murray: I was able to write and illustrate the book. I even did the layout and print-ready file. Offering to do the layout just made sense since I am a graphic designer. I enjoyed illustrating the book. People who know our family get a big kick out of the illustrations. They like to pick out things in the book that are actually in our house. It was also fun to create cartoon versions of my kids. It’s a long process when you can only do it in your spare time. As you know there is not much spare time with three kids. Thankfully I have a very supportive wife.

Chynna: Yes, I adored the illustrations. They truly represented the words. Do you have a set routine for your writing, or do you just write when the bug bites?

Murray: Since this was my first book I haven’t really had time to develop a particular writing style. I hope to do many more so I am sure a routine will eventually emerge. For this book I really just sat down with a pen and paper and worked at it until I was happy with how it sounded. I knew the style I wanted to do. I just needed to find the words that would tell the story and also sound good together.

Chynna: I have written about my daughter and son’s struggles with SPD. It is wonderful to raise awareness and give a name to what others don’t understand. And you gave a tool for young ones going through the same issues as the younger brother. You must be very proud. Have you done any other work stemming from your message in the book?

Murray: The only other work I have done that would be in the same realm would is the illustration work on, “Miss Popular”. That story by Jewel introduces a young girl who wants to be like the cool girl in school. The twist is that the cool girl is a little girl in a wheelchair. I love how she portrays special needs children in her books. They should not be looked at as Different. They are just part of the class like everyone else. I wish our books would just be considered another choice for kids. I wish my book would be listed next to books like, “The Very Itchy Bear”. I just wish these kids and these stories were not considered so different. Not sure if that all makes sense.

Chynna: I totally understand where you are coming from. I felt the same way. When I wrote, "I'm Not Weird, I Have SPD", I wrote it for my daughter so she'd have a tool to 'show' people what she couldn't verbalize at that time. I have come to realize that through knowledge, like with your book, we are giving others the understanding they need to not see our kids as different, but learning acceptance that these children contribute in their own way to our world. That is very special. I usually slip this last question in for each person I have the pleasure of interviewing. Do you have any Pearls of Wisdom you’d like to share?

Murray: The only pearls of wisdom I would have is follow your dreams. Even if they seem impossible. I think we all need to be responsible in our career directions when taking care of a family, but don’t ever count out your dreams. It’s never too late to pursue them. Even if you can enjoy a small portion of that dream it’s worth it.

Chynna: Those are very powerful pearls. Thank you so much for joining us here today, Murray. I wish you much success with your beautiful book. Please feel free to come back again and share your other projects. You are always welcome.

Bio for Murray Stenton: From an early age Murray was artistic. His favorite pastime was and still is doodling cute and fun little characters. As Murray entered the working world he utilized his natural creative talent in his graphic design profession. Illustrating being his true love, Murray started looking for freelance illustration work. Murray had no idea that answering a Kijiji ad would help his long time ambitions come to life. A well-known children's book author and disability advocate, Jewel Kats gave him a shot at illustrating her first children's chapter book. That experience gave Murray the courage to pursue other contracts. Murray had an instant connection to Jewel through the world of physical disability. Murray's oldest son Ethan suffered a stroke at birth causing CP and other life altering conditions. With his new found courage and through the help of Victor R. Volkman of Loving Healing Press Murray brings his wonderful story to children everywhere. Murray's hope is that siblings of children with disabilities will know they too are not alone.

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