Please welcome Susan Pope, kangaroo whisperer, author-illustrator and volunteer extraordinaire to our monthly interview series! A trained Natural Science Illustrator who grew up in Australia, Susan is drawn toward natural scenes, where she paints both the small and the large – literally. Her largest work to date? 12 by 25 feet!
Can you tell us a little bit about your volunteer role(s)?
I volunteer in many ways. Actually, I’ve always been a volunteer. I first volunteered when I was 15 for a rehabilitation hospital in South Australia. Many of the residents were mentally or physically disabled, and some had suffered horrific psychological trauma. I would wash, cut and style their hair. The best part was seeing the reactions on their faces when they saw their new do’s. It was very rewarding. Over the years I have volunteered as a Lifeline Crisis Counselor in Australia, as a peer counselor at junior college in California, and as an art docent at a private school in Washington for 5 years. By far the biggest volunteering role I’ve had was when my hubby Nigel and I decided to help out a village in Kenya. We held fundraisers and charity events which raised about $20K. Nigel flew to Kenya, bought a very large water storage tank and oversaw the drilling of the well. It was so exciting to see an entire village receive fresh water. The children’s laughs and smiles at seeing fresh water come out of the ground were priceless. Previously they drank from a stagnant pond which was a two mile walk from the village. The water was contaminated with animal feces and because of this they were constantly sick with diarrhea and other intestinal diseases. Two years later we were back fundraising again for a medical facility in rural Kenya. I was the auction director, and did everything from procurement to entertainment to clean up. Anything that needed to be done I was there. Besides needing fresh water, lack of medical care is a major problem. We raised about $26K to build a medical triage center that would service mostly pregnant women and young children. I could really go on and on about the needs in Kenya, but you get the picture. Now that we are safely back in the arms of Austin, we are volunteering again. I say we because Nigel and I like to volunteer together. We volunteer for Mobile Loaves and Fishes through St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Cedar Park. We are on the “make ready” team, which means we make sandwiches and pack the truck full of food which gets delivered around Austin to those in need. I also donate my fresh farm chicken eggs to the MLF food store which supplies the MLF truck. Oh and lastly I am the Austin SCBWI silent auction coordinator. That means I start seeking donations around December. It’s a lot of leg work and emailing but it’s also a great opportunity to meet new people. I enjoy the community outreach part of volunteering. From now through to the conference in May I’m busy soliciting donations, categorizing them, making up baskets, entering everything into the auction computer system, asking for volunteers to help, setting up items and decorating the tables at the conference, helping the checkout process and cleaning up after it’s all done. My friends tell me I have never learnt to say NO when asked if I can help…
What interested you about volunteering for SCBWI initially, and what have you gotten out of the experience?
I lived in Seattle for 12 years, and was an SCBWI WWA member for 10 of those years. I recently returned to live in Austin (after 22 years away). Since I have always enjoyed volunteering I thought this would be a good way to get to know our Austin SCBWI members. I’ve found so much joy in meeting new people! I love helping our chapter by procuring donations for our silent auction and through chatting with our members about what they would like to donate. Volunteering means that I give my time freely, without asking for something in return, however I feel I am so much richer in my life for having volunteered. For me it is truly about belonging to our society, a feeling of kinship with other artists and writers, rather than being of that “what can you do for me” mindset.
We have a wide range of volunteers, from those just starting out in writing to published authors and everything in between. Where in the writing journey are you?
You would ask me that… I’ve been writing for such a long time, but my life gets in the way of me fulfilling my writing goals. Probably because I volunteer too much (sigh). Currently I am working on a non-fiction dummy and a proposal for the dummy, and a middle grade fantasy chapter book. I flip-flop between the two as it gives me a breather and the mental space to reassess what is, or isn’t, working. Most likely this takes longer than focusing on just one project, but this is what works for me.
What surprises you most about this writing life?
Just how much time I need to write and illustrate, and really how little time I seem to have in my day. I am making a new schedule for myself which includes dedicated writing and art time each day. I find that has worked for me in the past.
Do you have any favorite craft books, courses or resources?
I find the library is my best resource. I also have quite a good collection of books at home that I refer to when I’m stuck: Writing Nonfiction That Sells by Samm Sinclair Baker, Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb and the Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.
What was your favorite childhood book? Have you read it again as an adult?
I had a few favorites, but books were hard to come by when I was a kid. Living in the outback of Australia was hard and our tiny country school didn’t have much of a library. I remember My Side of The Mountain because it spoke to me. I felt connected to the character through his living in the American wilderness, which is basically what I was doing in Australia. I had pet birds, although none of them were Peregrine Falcons. Parakeets don’t compare. I had a pet Kangaroo too. I haven’t read My Side of The Mountain again. I also loved a middle grade book series called The Silver Brumby, and I tried to read the first one again and found it incredibly boring, which really sullied how I felt about the book as the lasting images of the Silver Brumby in my mind are very clear.
Quick Fire Questions
If you are reading a book you don’t like, do you read all the way to the end?
Usually if I don’t like a book, I’ll at least read the first two chapters. If I haven’t connected with the characters by then I won’t read any further.
Movie before book, or book before movie?
Definitely book before movie.
Would you rather be an ant or an anteater?
What kind of question is this? If I have to choose, I’d be an anteater. But why can’t I be whatever I want?
Would you rather be stuck on a rocket ship floating through space, or stuck in a boat in the middle of the ocean?
On a boat in the middle of the ocean would be preferable. I hate the loss of control feeling so floating in space would make me wig out. At least on a boat I’d have a chance to see land, and maybe get to land, and on land you can find things like food and wine. Yes, wine is important!