Local author reminisces about international book tour

Della Mitchell smiles for the camera in front of historic landmark Stonehenge

Della Mitchell smiles for the camera in front of historic landmark Stonehenge

As I sat on the plane to London, watching the sun lift on the horizon and the blue ocean expand under me, I never, in all of my romantic literary dreams, imagined that I would actually be traveling to Europe …for a book tour…as an author.

I didn’t write a Nobel prize wining novel and it certainly wasn’t the next American classic. And if we’re being really official, it wasn’t even a novel. The book I wrote was a picture book. A children’s picture book. And, the premise for the story wasn’t even mine – it was my five-year-old daughter’s.

My daughters, both of them, like to tell stories. Their stories are creative and fun and whimsical. I think I enjoy listening to them as much as they enjoy telling them. Fantastical creatures, mermaids, and self-rescuing princesses always seem to be constant characters. For year, I have always thought to myself “I should write this down”, their eyes wild with imagination as their stories unfolded.

Then, one day, in March of 2014, I actually did.

One night, Della began telling me a story while we were working on her homework, sitting at our kitchen table. I grabbed my laptop, started typing, and the story of Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid was born.

It was a cold, snowy, windy night but, somewhere, in Della’s beautiful, sweet mind, she was swimming with mermaids, river otters, and ducks.

It was a calm and sunny day. And, of course, her family, friends, and all kinds of magical creatures were there with her. As Della’s story began to unfold that evening, I was mesmerized. I typed as fast as I could, trying not to miss anything. Della’s story was centralized around the idea of her trying to help someone (in this case, a mermaid). Della is a gentle creature herself, so it came as no surprise when sweet little animals started popping up in the story too. Family, friends, animals, and mermaids – that is what Della’s stories are made of.

After Della was done with her tale, there were a few loose ends (cliffhangers) that needed a bit of clarification. I asked my (sometimes complex) questions in regard to the plot, subplot, etc. and, without hesitation, she had her answers. She knew what happened with each character in the story fully and completely. I continued to type and took down everything she said. I have always loved her stories but, this one was, by far, my favorite to date.

My questioning seemed to prompt even more subplots that, eventually, blossomed into more stories. Our readers will eventually be introduced to these “stories”, published as children’s books, in 2016.

The whole “book process” of Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid was an extremely fun and exciting adventure. Our illustrator, Sian Bowman, was such a joy to work with. Once Sian had the text, she truly brought our story to life. Her illustrations are whimsical, beautiful, and absolutely perfect for the story of the Monongahela Mermaid. Our entire family enjoyed watching Della’s story come to life through the artwork. It was such a magical process.

Sian (pronounced “Shawn”) is from Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom (pronounced: Aber-IST-with), and working with Sian is how I found myself, and my family, at a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, on our way to London. We were invited to a book signing in the city of Aberystwyth, hosted by Waterstones Bookstore (the UK’s equivalent of a Barnes and Noble), to celebrate our book and Sian’s beautiful illustrations.

We arrived in London at midnight (local time) and took a car service to the historic St. Ermin’s Hotel, in the Westminster neighborhood of London. The next day we were escorted on a private tour throughout the entire city. In addition to all of the amazing sites (Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, the Eye of London, the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London) we were able to see the historic and lavish royal event Trouping of the Color. The Trouping takes place in June of each year to celebrate the sovereign’s birthday and is carried out by her personal troops, the Household Division, on Horse Guards Parade, with the Queen herself attending and taking the salute. This was truly a once in a lifetime event to witness.

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Della & Brianne Mitchell pose in front of the famous Tower Bridge

From London we traveled due east stopping at Stonehenge, Lacock, and Bath.

Stonehenge was breathtaking. As we were arriving near the time of the summer solstice, there were many visitors already present to celebrate this magnificent pagan ritual.

Lacock is a village and civil parish in the rural county of Wiltshire, England. The village is owned almost in its entirety by the National Trust and attracts many visitors by virtue of its unspoiled appearance. The village has been used as a film and television set, notably for the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice and has also made several appearances in the Harry Potter films. Most recently it was used for the Downton Abbey series.

According to UNESCO’s website, Bath was founded by the Romans as a thermal spa, and became an important centre of the wool industry in the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, under George III, it developed into an elegant town with neoclassical Palladian buildings, which blend harmoniously with the Roman baths. To me, Bath was incredibly amazing. The waters, the architecture, the “modernness” blending seamlessly with the ancient culture forms a beautifully constructed living work of art.

From Bath we traveled 4 hours northwest to arrive in the Welsh village Cnwch Coch (outside of Aberystwyth). It was 10:00 p.m., local time, but it still wasn’t dark yet. We stayed in the tiniest of gingerbread cottages with standard Welsh provisions stocking the kitchen. The sheep, grazing directly under our window, were on their best behavior and kept during the night.

The next morning we went into the city of Aberystwyth, located along Cardigan Bay, to prepare for the book signing with our illustrator, Sian. Sian is a popular and well- known artist in the city, which made for a very warm welcome among local residents.

The book signing was held at Waterstones Bookstore and it was glorious. Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid was proudly displayed in the store’s window. Sian’s artwork adorned the walls. And, before we knew it, people started pouring in.

The event was well attended by Sian’s family, friends, and neighbors. There were several other writers and artists who came out to support our project. Passersby from city dropped in and locals, from nearby villages, stopped in to spice up their Saturday afternoons. Members of the press also attended the event. We were honored with the publication of an entire one-page feature dedicated to the book and our travels in the Welsh newspaper, The Cambrian. My daughter, Della, read the book to a captive and friendly audience and we signed copies for our guests. The manager of the store, Inge, was an extremely generous hostess and we were so grateful to have the chance to work with her.

The trip was, truly, a dream come true.

From Aberys (short for “Aberystwyth”, as I am now an adopted local) we headed north, across the Welsh border, spending time in Crewe and Manchester, England, before readying ourselves for our departure.

Mermaid fun in Bath at the Roman ruins. Pictured: Della & Brianne Mitchell

Mermaid fun in Bath at the Roman ruins. Pictured: Della & Brianne Mitchell

While on the plane to the States, I finally had a chance to really digest the events that had just transpired. I was traveling home from Europe, as an author, with my family, the people whom I love most in the world, and we had just completed an international book tour. I had to shake my head a little to clear it and reassess my thoughts. I had spent the past week celebrating a project that I never dreamed I would have been able to accomplish.

I’ve always been a literary romantic. But, never once, in all of my wondering thoughts and idealistic plots, would I have placed myself as an international traveling author – the lead, if you, will in my own story. She was always an unattainable figure, someone brave and witty, but never “me”. I always had dreams but, that’s the thing about dreams, they aren’t real until you make them real. You have the power to write your own story.

I’ve always liked to consider myself a “writer” but never an author. “Creative” but never an artist. But! When you believe in yourself and focus your fine-tuned, positive intentions on realizing your dreams – wondrous things will happen!

Admittedly, I needed a little help to believe in my own dreams. But, that’s the most beautiful part of the story. My daughters- my then 5 and 3 year little girls – provided me with the motivation and the ability to believe so fiercely in them, which in turn, had me (unintentionally) believing myself, our project actually became a real “thing”. Our book was written, then illustrated, then published, and here I sit on a plane, returning home from a book tour in Europe.

What’s the best part of all you ask? The book has been a labor of love and it was a project my children and I created together. From start to finish the girls and I worked, in tandem to see this book project to completion. It was hard and it took a long time and I’m still learning all about the insanely difficult process that is the “book publishing and distribution world” but it has been wonderful. It’s been a true dream realized. And, I have loved every crazy, exhausting, wonderful, beautiful moment.

I wouldn’t have written this story any other way.
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Story by Brianne Bayer Mitchell for Pennsylvania Bridges