Interview with Marie Voigt

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Marie Voigt finished college with a degree in Marketing and a degree in Media Technology and Design. She went on to pursue a career in television and graphic design. Later, she discovered her passion for Children’s literature and debuted with Red and the City. Marie also has plans to release The Light in the Night early this year.

Christopher Lee: What inspired you to become a children’s author?

Marie Voigt: Despite my life-long passion for painting, writing and acting, and the fact that all my cuddly toys still talk to me to this day, it took until my late twenties – when I was reading picture books to my friends’ and sister’s children – that I thought making picture books could be the perfect career for me. On top of that, my partner had just brought an adorable dog into my life and I felt a strong desire to capture this cheeky cute character. Also, reading Oliver Jeffers’ How to Catch a Star made me realise that picture books can be made in a way that even take a grown-up’s breath away. This sealed my desire of wanting to become an author illustrator, together with the hope that my work, by reaching the young generation and grown-ups alike, may have a small impact on helping make our world that little bit brighter and happier.

CL: What inspired Red and the City?

MV: One morning, having just woken up and thinking about what I could paint for my illustration portfolio that day, I had this image come to me of a tiny girl dressed in red offset against big buses, trains and lorries on a busy road. As I was doing a coloured sketch of this on my iPad, I thought, ‘Hey, this could be Little Red Riding Hood!’ And then, ‘Hey, this could be Little Red Riding Hood in the City! Hang on, this must have been done lots of times already.’ But a quick Google search later, I was surprised and relieved to see that it hadn’t. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if the wolf was the city, and the city representative of the ‘system’ and the social conditioning and the challenges we grow up into. Also I had recently been made aware of some deeper, more esoteric interpretations of the original “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale, which I wanted to touch on in the book. I think it only took me the rest of that day to sketch out the other spreads, because deep down, Red’s journey through the city is what I’d been going through in my own life up to that point.

CL: We see Red getting lost and “swallowed up” in the city. And it’s by food, by technology, by cosmetics and a whole list of things we’d find in modern life. How do kids risk getting lost in these things?

MV: I think in our world today it is very easy to lose ourselves and potentially never achieve our full potential. I believe as very young children, we all instinctively know how to be creative and express ourselves. However, toys like cars, footballs and action-heroes for boys, barbies, prams and doll houses for girls, as well as the media and established social “rules” cleverly mold us into roles and also train us to become perfect, sheep-like consumers. On top of that, much of our processed foods and drinks today make us hyperactive or lethargic and can cloud our minds. All the expectations and shocking news we get bombarded with instill fear and we end up looking for comfort in all the wrong things. Soon we are too busy applying make-up, watching football and comfort-shopping that we lose sight of what really matters and what would actually make us happier.

To avoid kids getting lost in these things, I see it first and foremost as the responsibility of the parents and teachers as well as society as a whole by e.g. encouraging healthy food consumption, limiting media consumption and instead introducing the child to activity in nature, supporting a child’s interests even if they don’t fit the perceived norm, encouraging creativity, and, maybe most importantly, in all things, setting a better example ourselves.

CL: We see Red’s grandmother admit to being lost when she was younger. Why did you decide to have the grandmother relate to Red’s journey?

MV: Many of us go through the stages of, as children, instinctively knowing what our unique path should be, then potentially losing our true self through social conditioning, temptations and trying to fit around our system and later hopefully finding more of our true self again. Furthermore, saying that she was once swallowed up too, touches on the original fairy tale in which the grandmother was also first eaten by the wolf. Also, on a deeper level, Red’s grandmother is actually intended as a metaphor for the wiser, more enlightened Red herself which is also why she relates to Red’s journey.

CL: You end the story with another story. Why end with an introduction?

MV: On the most obvious level, this introduction may encourage readers to go back to the beginning and read the story again, so they may discover more of the many details and deeper meanings hidden therein. But the main idea behind this is that we really do come full circle with the beginning of the story, where, on a deeper level, we see Red writing and painting a picture of her older, wiser self, then losing sight of it as she gets older, but ultimately fulfilling her vision and thereby having written her own story which we see her/Grandma reading to Red at the end. And most importantly, the reader can replace the dots with their name – or when reading the story to a child, the child’s name – to empower them to write and follow their own story and path, just like Red did.

CL: Even though Red and the City is a children’s book, do you feel adults can still relate to Red’s story?

MV: Absolutely. I didn’t write the story just for children, but for anyone of any age. I definitely also wanted to help inspire adults (and parents in particular) to question the norm and not to succumb to fear so we are free to follow our own path of love rather than the path tempted onto by the wolf. So in turn we can all better live our legend, spread love and help make the world a brighter place.

CL: As a published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

MV: If you feel in your heart that what you are pursuing ‘is right’, then focus on your specific goal 100%, learn and write as much as you can, get feedback from people you trust, keep getting better, start building relationships with agents and publishers, always be professional, and you will eventually get there. It is much more about persevering than your background or perceived “natural talent”.

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