York singer Heather Findlay turns her hand and mind to creating illustrated therapeutic storybook Raising Violet to find balance

Victory, from Heather Findlay’s illustrated therapeutic tale Raising Violet

HEATHER Findlay, York singer, songwriter, musician, producer, artist and mother, has written an illustrated therapeutic tale, Raising Violet, The Storybook.

For November’s Folktale Week 2022 global initiative, she had decided to unfurl a story that had been piecing itself together since January, prompted by a series of illustrations. Encouraged by onlooking fans on social media, she heeded the call to turn Raising Violet into a “physical book for all to keep”.

“I set about the job of writing an introduction and an afterword, along with some other fun additions, and began mapping out the book with a designer to create a beautiful, 40-plus page, hardbacked offering,” she says.

In Heather’s story, there once was a time when all Violet knew was how to shrink, but with the help of her friends, Samson and Barney, a curiously unexpected series of encounters with a mysterious new friend finds her learning the art of balance, where raising Violet becomes the theme.

“Having felt called to create something new that might help in some way to ease the suffering that so many of us are, or have been, going through in these times of global change, it is my hope that sharing Violet’s story brings a sense of upliftment, comfort and inspiration that goes some way towards achieving this.

The book cover for Heather Findlay’s Raising Violet

“Someone said to me during Folktale Week, ‘I can see myself in Violet’. My feeling is, there might be a bit of Violet in us all.”

Now, Heather is welcoming pre-orders for the first edition of Raising Violet. “It’s over to you to weave your magic in helping bring Violet to the page!” she urges. “If you’d like to become a Magic Key Holder, you’ll receive – along with the book – a handmade Magic Key bookmark, your name in the credits and a huge thank-you for making this book possible!

“Why a Magic Key? Because it’s the key that unlocks the book – and ‘we all need a bit more magic in our lives!’, according to Snow in the story!”

The Magic Key Holder’s package must be booked by January 7 2023, with £5 off the £25 price if ordered by December 31 2022. To pre-order, head to: https://www.blacksandrecords.com/product-page/raising-violet-the-storybook-an-illustrated-therapeutictale-first-edition. Shipping is expected to start in mid-to-late January.

In addition, seven specially signed and titled art prints are available (as one print, three prints or the full set) with more details on prices at blacksandrecords.com.

“My feeling is, there might be a bit of Violet in us all,” says author and artist Heather Findlay. Picture: Adam Kennedy

Here, CharlesHutchPress asks Heather Findlay about creating Raising Violet, the need for therapeutic tales and striving to live a balanced life

What was the starting point for Raising Violet: an illustration or an idea for a story?

“The first thing that arrived was an illustration. It was last January and I had been poorly for a while with something strange, either chronic fatigue, or long Covid. Slowing me down quite a lot, it left me with lots of time to think and contemplate. I had the idea that it might become part of a series for a book or even an oracle deck.” 

What triggered the need to write this book?

“While considering what I would do next, I knew that I really wanted it to be something that would serve as some kind of antidote to these stressful times we’ve all been through.

“I love watching astrology videos and oracle card readers on YouTube while cooking, or even while falling asleep, and find it really comforting.

Costume, by Heather Findlay

“Some of the artworks on the oracle decks I’ve seen are so beautiful and uplifting, and I think that’s what it inspired me to want to create something of a similar vibration.

“It’s probably a little influenced by The Boy The Mole The Fox And The Horse too, by Charlie Mackesy. I love that book so much and literally bought it for everyone a few Christmases back!” 

How would you summarise your book’s theme?

“Violet lives with depression and anxiety and often finds her inner voice to be one that is unkind. Throughout the story, she learns, or remembers, through various experiences to quieten those harsh voices and, in doing so, gives rise to a much friendlier inner voice. This leads her to notice the beauty all around her and how grateful she is for it.”

What makes a book therapeutic?

“The story has a happy ending and a realistic one. Although Violet has to work hard at feeling happy, she learns the ways in which to achieve it. They are simple ways too, like grounding, gratitude, breathing, letting go, slowing down, being outdoors in nature and generally being open to the unknown and even the possibility of magic… 

Fool, by Heather Findlay

“As the story unfolded over Folktale Week, the feedback it received gave me the impression that it’s effect is therapeutic. “

Is it self-help book?

“Writing it certainly helped me! I do feel there’s a bit of Violet in everyone and if it uplifts the reader in some way, then why not?”

Is it a universal tale?

“I think it is, yes. Young children can relate to Violet as much as elderly ones! Sadly, too many are suffering these days and my hope is that either those who know a Violet might gain better understanding of how life might feel for her, or for all Violets out there, that they might feel less alone through reading this, or even feel inspired to open to new ways of feeling better.” 

Tree, by Heather Findlay

How much have present times – Covid, lockdowns, people’s struggles with so many things – influenced the book?

“A lot! I feel the times we’ve all shared over the past couple of years have certainly brought home a greater need to acknowledge and to remedy mental health issues. Especially among our young.

“We’re constantly bombarded with sensory offerings via technology and media. Arguably, a book is more input, albeit more organic. But it takes time to turn and feel pages and a book also carries the hope that we might all find time to slow down and read with our families from time to time.” 

How would you describe Violet’s character, apart from ‘shrinking’?!

“She’s a fighter, but she’s tired of fighting now. She’s sweet and lovable and easily finds gratitude in her heart for all life brings her. She is bright, curious and open minded. She is sensitive and loves animals and the outdoors. Her favourite things are Sun, Snow, Samson and Barney! 

Stars, by Heather Findlay

Who are her friends Samson and Barney?

“Samson is the best! Samson is loyal and faithful, through and through. He’s constantly there for Violet. He adores her. Like all Springer Spaniels, he’s pretty bonkers too! Teddy bear Barney is quiet. Constant. Takes it all in. Always there. Always smiling. Always ready for the next hug!” 

What can you say of the “mysterious new friend”?

“Well, she’s certainly mysterious…! And kind of familiar…”

What gave you the idea for a Magic Key bookmark for pre-orders?

“I was shopping online and saw these beautiful antique-looking keys. I love creating something special for fans who pre-order my offerings and the idea just came in a flash.” 

A Magic Key bookmark for Heather Findlay’s Raising Violet

What and when is Folktale Week?

“Folktale Week is a global initiative that encourages artists to illustrate a folktale from around the world over the span of one week in November each year. There are seven prompts given early on in the month, one per day, and your story is told using them.

“A different handful of artists host the event each November, as artists from around the world share their work on Instagram throughout the challenge. I’ve not participated in it before but decided – as telling your own tale is also an option, and spookily the prompts seemed to fit – to rise to the challenge by bringing Violet’s story into being through it.

“As I’d been holding back a bit on Violet, it felt like a nudge from the universe to get the story out there. And it worked!” 

What do the pictures bring to the story? For example, captioning one picture ‘Victory’ is a powerful message, isn’t it?

“I hope the pictures bring with them the essence of the story itself. Even the sad ones are beautiful in some way. Perhaps even more powerful. Victory was actually the first image I created for Raising Violet and curiously, it became the last image in the book too. Violet is very small and cute in this illustration and in the book it’s where she looks back on her younger self and sees herself healed. A definite victory!”

Rebel, by Heather Findlay

How would you describe your pictorial style and what materials/media do you use? 

“It’s sketchy, but detailed. Colourful and expressive. I use Derwent watercolour pencils, but without the water! I love the softness of their touch on the paper. Quite blendable. They have a really strong pigment too, so their colours are nice and punchy.

“I used black art paper for Raising Violet, with titanium white as the main pencil colour and black representing the dark and white, the light. The two together represent balance.”

How do you achieve “balance” in life as a prog-rock/folk musician, artist and mother of two sons?

“It takes constant practice for me! Life easily gets chaotic if I don’t keep it simple. 

“Plenty of sleep, daily yoga and energy medicine practices without fail and enough time out from work. I’ve underdone sleep and overdone work for too many years of my life and often paid the price of burnout. And it’s really not nice.” 

Heather Findlay performing at Big Ian Donaghy’s charity fund-raising concert, A Night To Remember, at York Barbican in September 2022. Picture: Dave Kessell

Away from the book, what are your music plans for next year, both for Heather Findlay, solo artist, and with Odin Dragonfly?

“It would be lovely to play some live shows with Odin Dragonfly to celebrate the Sirens album. The last year proved a bit of a challenge on that front, but let’s see what 2023 brings.  

“Solo wise, I’ve a been preparing demos over the past 18 months or so, ready to be turned into new songs, so I’m excited about delving into those in the coming year. 

“There are a few songs coming out soon that I’ve worked on with other artists too. The first one will be a new single, Two Rock, from York’s own Martin Ledger on January 6. (You can read more about it at http://www.martinledger.com/).”

Heather Findlay and fellow Odin Dragonfly musician Angela Gordon