Meet Brian Abela
Brian, a children’s author, originally from Windsor, Ontario Canada, now resides in Malta with his wife and son Eric. Sit back and read my interview with Brian as he discusses his first children’s book, The Ponds of Wonder, which he has dedicated to his son Eric.
Eric was born with a rare genetic syndrome called Mowat-Wilson Syndrome. All proceeds collected from the sale of his book, go towards improving Eric’s quality of life.
What age group is your book for?
The Ponds of Wonder story targets readers from 8 years of age and older.
Tell us about your book.
The Ponds of Wonder story is based on the adventure of a boy named Tom who lives in a quiet little town. He, along with his best friend Ben, love going on adventures and having fun. One afternoon, Tom receives a strange and mysterious package from his great Uncle John who lives far away and has gone missing. This package would begin a life changing journey for Tom that would set his life on a course of adventure far greater than he has ever known. An adventure that will have him meeting strange and wonderful new friends, mysterious events and dangers that will change the course of his life….forever.
How did you come up with the story?
The idea to this story goes all the way back to my primary school days when I had received a creative writing assignment in grade 7. We were left to our own devices and given the opportunity to spend some time free writing without being given a title or scenario to focus on. I remember coming up with the idea of some magical ponds that would take the main character, Tom, to different realms. At the time I hadn’t figured out what would happen to him each time he’d step through one of them, but I knew there’d be excitement, mystery and fun with each adventure. Given the word limit for the story, I could only write about one adventure Tom experienced after entering one particular realm via these magical ponds. The story was an extremely basic version of the story that it is today, but I was really happy with it, more so than with anything else I had written previously.
I still remember getting back the story after it was corrected and seeing an ‘A’ at the top of the page. It felt great and as a result, it was a story that remained at the back of my mind for all this time.
Tell us about the main character.
Tom is your everyday, run of the mill kind of boy. Respectful of others, tries his best to stay out of trouble and loves to explore and seek out adventures with his best friend Ben. He also has an absolute love for freshly baked gingerbread cookies. They’re his favorite!
Some writers feel characters take on a “life of their own” during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
I think there is some truth to this and to a certain degree Tom did come to life as I developed the story particularly in the latter third of the story when the adventurous moments of his life began to reach a pinnacle, however, I did have a certain vision of him in my mind that I worked hard to keep so that I could get certain messages out to my readers through his actions and dialogue. I suppose it was the teacher in me that also contributed to his character development.
How do you choose names for your characters?
I did not follow a particular formula for the majority of the characters. In most cases, a name came to mind as I was writing. The only exception was the name of the new and strange friend that Tom would meet throughout the story. This unique character would become Tom’s new, trusted guide and a true friend so I used the word ‘friend’ and modified is somewhat adding a few extra letters and presto, this character had a name.
Does any element of your book come from your own personal life?
Not really. The story took on a life of its own throughout the writing process and given the fact that I was, and still am, a fan of sci-fi and fantasy writing, some of those stories helped to enhance and influence my own creativity which I believe, came through in the story.
As stated earlier, the fact that I have been working in the field of education since 1993, some of the life skill lessons and phrases that I utilized with my students, also appeared throughout the story, one particular message pertains to the concept of being organized and keeping an organized desk at school.
How long did it take for you to complete your book and were there are parts where you found you got writer’s block?
The story did not take long to flesh out on paper (almost one year with the editing and illustration process included) and I have to say that I didn’t come down with writer’s block throughout the process. I suppose I could credit this to the fact that, whilst growing up, I did a lot of reading and read anything that I could get my hands on in the realm of fantasy writing. I was also a die-hard comic book collector and played a lot of role playing games with my friends. This was well before tablets, the internet and social media. I firmly believe that all of this provided me with a source of inspiration and ideas to develop my own story.
Did you illustrate your own children’s book?
No. The first edition, which had come out in paperback format, was illustrated by Danny Coliero a wonderful person with a great personality. His black and white illustrations had really helped to flesh out the story. The digital version, which had come out a couple years later was revamped into colour and the new illustrations were handled by Ariane Bezzina, a recent graduate from the school I presently work at. Her sister had been reading the paperback version of the story and one day Ariane came to my office after having created a poster with the 5 main characters. I was blown away by her talent and asked if she would be interested in revamping the illustrations for me, something she agreed to. In fact the updated cover contains the characters as portrayed from the poster Ariane had created. The poster is still up on the wall in my office to this day.
What is your favorite fictional character in a book you’ve read?
I have two. The first being Belgarion, a character from both The Belgariad and The Malloreon series by David Eddings a series which I must have read at least 3 times whilst growing up. The second is Rand al’ Thor from The Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson. These authors and the characters they created were very inspirational to me.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do hear back from my readers from time to time and the feedback I receive is always very positive. I especially love it when I hear back from parents with feedback about how happy they are that their son or daughter prefers reading my story instead of playing a game on their computer or tablet. It’s very humbling and pleasing at the same time. These kinds of comments fuel my motivation to create more stories and opportunities for children to read. Visitors to my novel’s website can read a few of the many comments I received about the story.
Where can people buy your book?
The story can only be purchased in digital format from a number of online stores but I often encourage people to obtain a copy directly from my website and the reason for this is due to one of the main reasons for writing this book, my son Eric.
Eric was born in 2006 with a very rare genetic syndrome known as Mowat Wilson Syndrome. He was born three months premature and weighed 1.25kg. He was so small and fragile and I remembered his first cry, which was so tiny in sound. Eric spent four-and-half months in intensive care. It was such a turbulent time. I remember heading home from work, grabbing something quick to eat, and heading to the hospital to visit with him and be with my wife who had already arrived at the hospital earlier in the day. Oftentimes, I would head back home well after 8 p.m. and then do it all over again day in, day out.
Throughout the four-and-half months in intensive care, Eric’s status went from positive to negative and then back again. It was like a roller coaster ride that would never end. One day we’d arrive at the hospital and were told that his saturations were not good, another time we were told that his legs had fractured due to rickets of prematurity, yet another time he had to be operated for a diaphragmatic hernia as his large intestine had punctured through and had entered his lung cavity and his chances of survival were sketchy at best. It went on and on. The worst, which happened on two occasions, was when we were asked to contact any family members who wanted to see him one last time as he would most likely not make it through the night. That was also particularly hard on our parents who would rush to the hospital just to be with him and us. Thankfully, the worst did not happen and Eric pulled through. He was a fighter and our wondrous miracle whom we took home to nurture and care for, along with all the medical responsibilities it would entail. We didn’t care, we had him home and that’s all that mattered.
Eric is now ten years of age and is my little monkey. He lives with a severe visual impairment and is working very hard to reach milestones, such as standing independently and walking on his own, that children much younger have already mastered. We are always sourcing new therapy methods and equipment to help support his orientation and mobility needs but those always come with a hefty price tag and so all the proceeds I collect from the sales of The Ponds of Wonder go straight to supporting Eric’s needs.
I like to rationalise the creation of The Ponds of Wonder story as a facility to help the children of other parents to educate them through the messages portrayed in the story and to help develop their creativity and imagination whilst at the same time, parents who purchase a copy of the story, know that they are helping my wife and I to help support Eric’s needs. In my mind, that’s a win-win situation for all of our children. I hope others will feel the same way too.
What do you hope kids learn from your book?
For the kids reading my book, I hope that they’ll learn that reading is a great way to spend quality time that doesn’t always need to be dominated by social media and games on their tablet or computer. I also hope that they will internalize some of the special messages I inserted into the story to get them thinking about important aspects such as respect and tolerance and what can happen when one is consumed by greed.
What other things have you written?
Prior to writing the Ponds of Wonder, I had written a trilogy of Skill Developing workbooks about Maltese history called Voyage Through Time but these are now a part of history themselves.
I have also spent the last couple of years creating reading challenges based on the Ponds of Wonder novel for children all over the world to participate in.
What are you working on next?
I have begun working on the next book in the Ponds of Wonder series and am hoping to dedicate more time to it this coming summer. I also have another challenge for children coming out in the months ahead called The Ponds of Wonder Code Breaker. This will be a free to enter competition for children all over the world via my novel’s website that will involve participants solving puzzles and codes that will require them to use their visual, auditory and research skills to reach a final level and be in for a chance to win a fantastic prize.
Let readers know a bit about the real you. What are your hobbies? What do you do to relax at the end of a busy day? Tell us some of your favorite things?
Well, I’m originally from Windsor Ontario and moved to Malta to pursue a teaching carreer and learn more about my cultural heritage back in 1993. I had met my wife at the same school we both taught at in 1997 and had Eric joining our small family back in 2006.
I am now currently the Head of Junior Sector at San Anton School and have been in this post since 2011. I enjoy educating children, reading, writing and I also have a passion for photography, particularly landscape photography. There is something to be said about being someplace at the crack of dawn and capturing a majestic scene just as the sun begins to rise in the horizon.
I usually end a busy day by putting my feet up on the sofa with a cup of green tea in hand whilst watching a good television series. Nothing out of the ordinary but it just helps me to unwind and helps me to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for another busy day.