"Elephants Have Wings” says Susanne Gervay. So we paid her a flying visit.

Recently we had a chat with writer and children’s author Susanne Gervay about her new picture book curiously titled Elephants Have Wings. It turns out that it’s not an exposé of little-known mammal anatomy, but a rather more spiritual journey…


Hi there Susan. Perhaps before we start, we need to acknowledge the winged elephant in the room. Can you tell us about your book?

It’s the beautiful story of two children embarking on the great journey of discovery, nestled in the wings of a mystical white elephant. They fly across the world, and there’s so much beauty in our world. But there’s war and conflict too. It’s about seeing the humanity in all of us.

So why an elephant? After all, if you’re putting wings on an elephant, it could have been any animal.

The elephant represents courage, hope, endurance, wisdom. I love elephants. Buddha was re-incarnated into a white elephant; a white elephant appeared in the sky. Garuda the mythological bird created from the cosmic egg hatched the eight elephants supporting the universe. Ganesh, venerated Hindu Elephant God, is Lord of Obstacles and Beginnings. In Hindu scripture, the Divine Elephant conjures up the clouds of winged elephants bringing monsoon rains.

Wow, so it really has much larger spiritual connections.

It’s especially beautiful for an adult and child to share the discoveries together and invite discussion about peace.

So, that brings us to another important question. What inspired the story of this book?

I get overwhelmed by a world in conflict over faith, ethnicity, culture, power. As the child of refugees, the impact of conflict and the search for peace is close to me. I see young people get even more overwhelmed. I wanted to create a gentle story in a safe and beautiful space for kids to find their answers.

On my visits to India and Asia I became filled with the diversity of cultures and faiths – Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Sufism with so many variations. I re-discovered the parable of the blind men and the elephant and elephants are everywhere, in carvings on temples, and beautiful real elephants in festivals and working as well.

My Indian-Asian experiences and commitment to peace became Elephants Have Wings.

You’re right about elephants being everywhere over there (even the cars have trunks). And it truly sounds like the perfect animal to use in your book. Was there a particular message you wanted to pass on with this book?

At its heart, Elephants Have Wings is a peace book.

Nice. And how long, from idea through research to finished product, did this book take you?

It was a three-year journey to create Elephants Have Wings. There was my Indian and Asian experience, research into the complexity of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism. That would take a lifetime to grapple with these faiths. I didn’t have a lifetime, so I took parts – linked to elephants of course.

I worked on the text and ideas, refining them continually. Anna Pignataro, the illustrator, joined in during the last year. Her creativity and intellectual understanding of Elephants Have Wings melded with my words. It was an amazing journey.

That is amazing, and the illustrations are beautiful. So, this book is quite different to say, your popular I am Jack series of novels. How do you juggle multiple writing projects? Do you have techniques to “switch gears” so that you can focus on specific projects?

I struggle, that’s the answer!

Care to elaborate?

When I am in a creative mindset, I don’t like being taken to another creative place. Although the picture book is different to writing novels and I can juggle two creative projects then. I wrote the fourth and final I Am Jack book – Being Jack – while I did Elephants Have Wings.

Fair enough. So what's next for you? What are you working on now?

My kids are hotel ‘brats’ – they grew up in The Hughenden Boutique Hotel. My next project is a children’s series called The Tales of Harry at The Hughenden Boutique Hotel.

Harry is short for Harriet, and it’s about three kids and their real life living in The Hughenden and so many adventures.

Sounds great. So finally, what's your advice for others who would love to be a full-time writer like yourself one day?

Writing as a profession is complicated. You have to develop craft and create excellence in your work. You also need to be part of many associations, going to events, participating, networking to gain invaluable information, finding opportunities.

The professional life includes promotion especially social media, talks, book events. For income, there needs to be a strategy of income generation that can include school events, festivals once you have author recognition, giving workshops, writing articles, lecturing, coaching and the myriad of related and unrelated activities.

Some very practical advice – thanks! But now, if you’ll excuse us, our elephant is preparing for takeoff.

You can find out more about Susanne Gervay, including where to purchase her book, at her website.

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