HENNELL, Valerie




Author Tags: Publishing

Editor and curator Valerie Hennell has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from UBC where she launched a career spanning 50 years and ten countries as a writer, producer, artist manager and publisher. Recordings she’s co-written and produced have garnered four Juno nominations, Parents` Choice, NAPPA Gold and Canadian Folk Music Awards. "Valley" lives on Protection Island in Nanaimo with her husband and long-time collaborator, musician Rick Scott.

In 2015, Valerie Hennell published and edited her daughter Kari Burk's family memoir about raising her daughter Mielle who was born with Down syndrome, Snapshot of a Soul Place (2015). [See Kari Burk entry]. After Snapshot of a Soul Place in the Land of Special Needs won a 2016 Family Choice Award during the 21st year of competition to recognize the best in children's and parenting "family friendly" products, it won a 2016 National Parenting Product (NAPPA) Award.

At the request of BC BookWorld, Valerie Hennell provided the following summary as to why Snapshot of a Soul Place was independently published:

"We undertook ’Snapshot of a Soul Place’ independently because it was the only way it could happen. Sometimes an idea simply has a life of its own. The vast range and quantity of Kari’s art and her out-of- the-box attitude and writings, plus her lack of time and financial resources as a single mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, dictated that we just plunge in and let the book show us what it wanted to be.

"We wanted to do the project together and publishers usually have their own stable of editors and illustrators. We wanted to present the story in a unique high quality context that showcases her art. We worked long distance, she gardened by day while I jostled hundreds of pages of writings, paintings, drawings and photos. We spoke by phone most every night for a couple of years.

"My husband Rick was the wall I threw the mud at when uncertain. I’d say, what about this? And he’d say, I’ve heard that before, leave it out, so helped steer us clear of clichés. He fed me tea and sustenance while I covered every surface in our house with scraps of paper.

"The process was almost five years, the last two years pretty much fulltime for me as first, second and third drafts and paste-ups emerged. I’m an analogue baby so I physically cut and pasted together mock-ups and photocopied them at Staples before handing the design over to Ronan. My 28 year old grandson Max, Mielle’s brother, helped with image scanning.

"We did an Indiegogo campaign to raise $2500 to pay the graphic designer, Ronan Lannuzel, who lives here on Protection Island. He came on board at our first chance meeting when I discovered he had a young friend with Down syndrome and was sympathetic to our theme. Our sensibilities meshed and working together was a joy, even squeezed in between his other commitments. Sometimes he’d work all day for the Food Bank then kayak home, design for other clients all evening and then meet me for an hour first thing the next morning. I’d have long lists of revisions and we’d chug through them.

"The book’s format was landscape until I discovered you can’t make an e-book that’s landscape even though screens are landscape. Go figure. The week we were grappling with this issue several square books of Snapshot’s exact dimension crossed my path: one about bush pilots (my dad was a bush pilot), one Rick brought home on imaginary instruments, and one Kari reminded me I’d given her two decades ago -- a square Paul Klee book in which I’d written, ‘Kari, someday there will be a book like this about you’-- of which I have no memory.

"We chose Friesens because they are simply the best, dedicated to excellence and so patient with my ignorance. The laminated cover was inspired by the Emily Carr book “Sisters”. Before I was born, Alice Carr was my father’s family nanny in Victoria – my grandfather designed the little stone bridge in Beacon Hill Park that Alice built as a tribute to Emily in 1954.

"We liked the friendly way “Sisters” felt in the hand, we wanted hard cover so the book would stay open in the laps of the alter-abled. And we wanted it to be beautiful because where does one see positive images of special needs in a coffee table context? I kept reminding her, making a book is 1,763 tiny decisions and that’s before you go to print.

"I’ve helped design many award winning CD packages. ‘The Great Gazzoon’ was a finalist for an Audio Publisher’s Association APA package design award in New York, so doing an actual book seems like a natural progression.

"We did consider Caitlin Press as a publisher and she was very welcoming and encouraging but by the time we found them we were so far down the self-publish road that we didn’t want to pause to go through their process. We felt like we had to ride the momentum we’d created or the whole thing would just collapse. It would be terrific if a publisher picked it up now, we’ve done some of the PR legwork, we’d love to have support and distribution.

"The book has a target audience, and if we get into libraries, schools and community organizations we’ll likely recoup our financial investment. My hope is it will open an income stream from art and illustration for Kari going into elderhood. She’s a 53 year old landscape gardener and can’t push the wheelbarrow forever."

[BCBW 2015]