There is an incredibly touching picture book that is making its way across the pond from Italy next week. Today I talk with the writer of that book.
Giorgio Volpe was born in, Germany, but grew up in the Calabria region of Italy. He has lived in Barcelona, Paris, and now Rome, which has been his home for more than a decade. He has a degree in literature and philosophy from the University of Rome where his thesis focused on children’s theater experiences in Italy and France. In 2014 he founded the theater company Giù di Sù per Giù which has produced several plays that he has written, including Martina 3 Nocciolino (2014), Standby – l’attesa (2018), Anfotero (2018) and Cercasi befana (2020). To his credits as an actor and playwright, he adds children’s book author. He has written a several titles. Before We Sleep is his first book to be published in English. Giorgio Volpe also loves art, traveling, eating cakes, the cold of winter and reading a lot. You can learn follow him on Facebook.
BEFORE WE SLEEP is a story of Little Red (a fox) and Hazel (a dormouse) who are best friends. Little Red knows her friend is preparing to hibernate and dreads the coming season. She asks Hazel to stay awake, but Hazel cannot do so, no matter how hard she tries. The ending surprised me, as I’m sure it will surprise other readers. It’s a simple sweet story, but it packs a powerful punch. This is not a book you will want to miss.
Me: You have been an actor, a playwright, and a founder of a theater company (Giù di Su per Giù). What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Giorgio: My interest in illustrated books and children’s theater was born from my passion for cartoons. As a child I wanted to be an animator… but that’s not what happened! The theatrical activity that I carry out with my company is very linked to how I write. Not coincidentally some of my shows have become books, such as Martina & Nocciolino (2019, Apollo Edizioni) and Cercasi Befana (2021, Armando Curcio / Risfoglia Ed.). Writing illustrated books, for me, is a bit like imagining the staging of a play.
Me: Your story of a fox who doesn’t want her dormouse friend to fall asleep for winter and leave her alone is touching. What gave you the idea for this story?
Giorgio: I wrote the first draft of Before we Sleep in the gym, on my bike, while listening to I Say a Little Pray for You (a song that reminds me of a love that is no longer there). In a mixed state of melancholy and resignation, I imagined my separation as a kind of cartoon.
Me: Wow! I’ve never heard of anyone writing a first draft on a bike before. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Giorgio: How the emotional ties between people can be indissoluble, even though you decide to end a relationship. It’s paradoxical… but living a love and being denied from one day to the next without any possibility of reply to try to save it, leaves a deep mark.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Giorgio: My writing process is very instinctive. I write my feelings or ideas. Sometimes I write a list and then I elaborate everything. Almost always when I start writing there are many new ideas and “ways” that come to mind, and I end up forgetting the notes and lists.
Me: The illustrations by Paolo Proietti are wonderful. I loved the textures and the dormouse’s tail! Were there any illustration surprises for you? Did you have any favorite illustrations?
Giorgio: I was so lucky to have Paolo Proietti as an illustrator. His work elevates my texts. We actually met for work. Our first book was E se il cielo non piovesse? (2019, Il Ciliegio Ed.) and from there began a journey and an incredible friendship.
The surprise was when he showed me the original illustration of Little Red Fox and Hazel dozing. This is the last scene in the book, but it was the first illustration he made. I remember gently passing my fingers over the paper. I actually felt the hair of the fox between my fingers.
One of my favorite illustrations is Hazel’s house. Paolo gave me the original illustration of that which I jealously guard.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Giorgio: Just that you should write without too many superstructures. And follow your instincts, your own needs. To be free.
Me: I love that. What other projects are you planning for the future? Any other books or plays about to be released?
Giorgio: These days I just finished writing a play for the theater Cercasi Babbo Natale (Finding Santa Claus), and in the next few days I will start two new stories for illustrated books. I am also working on the realization of C’è chi dice… (Some Say…) a text to talk to children about the HIV virus. It will be released in September in Italy One, two, three a new adventure with Little Red Fox and Hazel, in October Cercasi Befana and next winter Pas Orange illustrated by Paolo for D’Eux Ed. in Canada. Between 2021 and 2023 there will be some other illustrated books and then we will see. I hope I will write a lot more theater and literature.
Wow! Good luck with all of those projects and thank you for stopping by my blog Giorgio.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this picture book, I highly recommend it. It’s charming, surprising, and relatable. Young readers will love this book, but I can guarantee that adult readers will as well.