Today on Artist Strong is the start of a two week interview series. We are fortunate to have both the author and illustrator of the children’s book Cuddles and Leil for Creative Spirit interviews! Today we welcome author and creative Zeina Kouzi.
Brief Bio from Zeina Kouzi: My name is Zeina Kouzi, I am half Lebanese, half Scottish. I am currently living in Amman, Jordan with my husband, baby girl and two cats. I am a primary years teacher and have been teaching for 15 years. I have lived in Lebanon, Ireland, Syria, Dubai and Jordan. My favorite author is Marianne Keyes. For children’s books, I like Lauren Child. I enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends.
Carrie: Zeina we are pleased to have you on Artist Strong. Welcome! You’ve recently written a children’s book entitled Cuddles and Leil. How did the idea come about? What is the story about?
My mom used to read a lot of English books to me as a child. I developed a fascination for books. As a teacher working with children I use a lot of books and stories while teaching. The exposure to children’s literature as an adult made me think strongly about making a book. I also started comparing Arabic Literature to English Literature and realized that we have amazing Arabic authors targeting an adult audience, but not really targeting children. I am proud of both my cultures and decided that one day, I would write a fun Arabic story for young children, so they too can read, enjoy and take pride in their language and culture.
I didn’t know what to write about until we adopted our cats from the animal shelter. They have such entertaining personalities, that I immediately knew I would be writing about them. All I needed to do was to watch them and voila! The idea became alive.
Carrie: What was the process of writing a children’s book like?
The book making process had many steps.The actual writing of the story came naturally from the day to day activities of the cats. They are quite inspiring, I have ideas for 2 more sequel stories about Cuddles and Leil.
Carrie: For the book, you collaborated with illustrator Nadine Feghaly. How did you two work together?
I worked with a wonderful illustrator called Nadine Feghaly who is living and studying in Spain. I didn’t know her personally and had to share my story with her and pay her to start illustrating…Will it work out? Will she understand my idea and vision? All our work and communication was done through Skype and emails. I sent her drawings and photographs of the cats, house, myself and my husband. Thursdays became very important for me. That would be the day on which Nadine would email me a page of the book; to be honest, it almost felt like Christmas! I would make my comments and take her recommendations into account and make modifications to the illustrations. Nadine also helped with the font. She showed me different choices for the font, since it had to work well with the illustrations.
Carrie: What was the best part of working collaboratively?
Nadine is very creative and open minded. She was very easy to communicate with and she was able to see my ideas and make them come alive in the illustrations. She was also very punctual and professional. I would definitely recommend her as an illustrator and would definitely work with her again on my other books.
Carrie: What advice do you have for people interested in writing a children’s book?
Writing this book was probably one of the best projects I have ever worked on. Having said that, you will be faced with challenges that can be frustrating such as self publishing vs. publishing houses, choosing the best print house that will also see your vision and then promoting your own book if you self publish. I read my book to my students while working on the book and when it was complete. The feedback from the children and their encouragement and pride in my book kept me going and made the challenges bearable; everything was worth while. My advice is take a chance because you might end up having the best experience of your life.
Carrie: Besides books, you make all kinds of artful goodies. Can you describe some of your work to Artist Strong readers?
My mother and I have a label called Jaze. We design hand made bags, tops, knitted toys… Our focus has recently been on bags which we are currently selling in Amman, Jordan.
Carrie: What other projects do you have in the works?
I am hoping to write two more sequels to the book Cuddles and Leil in Arabic.
Carrie: Have you ever felt vulnerable being creative? How do you navigate those emotions while making your art?
I really enjoy being creative but maybe feel vulnerable when there is an audience or if I am marketing the product. Will it be appreciated as much as I think it should? I usually refer to close friends and family for their opinion.
Carrie: How do you get inspired to be creative?
I think that my creativity broke loose when I became a teacher. It made me look at things from a different perspective, mostly from the eyes of little children. Noticing the simple things, the details around us…
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Other artists. This could be in terms of clothes designers, art galleries and art shops. Places like that are so inspiring. I describe the feeling of walking into a place like that as a fuzzy warm feeling of ‘I am home!’
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is being yourself. Creating something that makes you happy when you first think of it, then work on it and when you complete it. Being creative is being able to see things and create/show things with new eyes or in a new light.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How can you find inspiration in our home and your everyday? Have your pets given you creative inspiration? Share in the comments below.
Additional contact information:
Stores that carry the book for sale:
Mezanine Cafe, Hamra, Beirut, Lebanon
Antoine Book Stores, Beirut, Lebanon
Al Burj Library, Beirut, Lebanon
Hakawati Book Store, Amman, Jordan
Books @ cafe, Amman, Jordan
Mlabbas, Amman, Jordan