Amelia Donnelly discusses how ‘The Golden Thread’ is a realistic fiction text based on true events in her life such as the passing of her brother. She also talks about going down the self publishing route, re-mortgaging her house, Buddhist practices and what’s happening for her next year.
The Golden Thread is an emotional and beautiful book about grief. How did the idea behind this book begin? How did the concept of the golden thread itself come to be?
The Golden Thread is a realistic fiction text; the events in the story, to some degree, are based on my real life. My older brother James, who the book is dedicated to, was hit by a car and killed in a hit and run incident in 2002. In the book, Rosie and Christopher are the best of friends. That’s based on my relationships with James. I also used our middle names (mine is Rose and James’ is Christopher) as inspiration to name the characters. On the 14th of July, 2002, two policemen came knocking on the door and informed my family that James had been killed. I have suffered from anxiety, grief and depression over the years, and turned to yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophy to help me heal. The Golden Thread is inspired by a Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation; which has been a Buddhist practice for thousands of years. It is based on the knowledge that we are all one, we are all connected and our true nature is love.
I am a full-time primary school teacher. The Golden Thread came to my mind when I tried to explain to one of my students that her grandma was still connected to her in her heart. I had observed the student being quiet, withdrawn and shy in class, and when I asked her what was wrong, she replied “I miss my grandma”. It’s not easy to teach the concept of separation to seven year olds, so when the idea of a golden thread came to me, I told her that there was a thread of pure gold love that was connecting her to grandma. This thread could never be lost, cut or broken, because love connects us all to each other. When I saw her eyes widen and her face light up, I knew it had made an impact. So I decided to take action and turn it into a book to help other kids experiencing challenging emotions and situations.
What was the process like working on this book? How closely did you work with the illustrator?
It was a HUGE process. Two years to be honest. The writing of the script was the easiest part – I wrote that in 15 minutes on Notes on my mobile phone. Because the story is based on my lived experience, the words and the plot flowed. The hardest part was to get it published! I sent it off to nine traditional publishers – all who knocked the book back. It dawned on me that I needed to go down the self-publishing root. I knew it was going to be thousands of dollars, so I decided to set up a Go Fund Me page. I was extremely fortunate to raise $5,500. To receive such support from family, friends and the wider community motivated me to keep going. I re financed my mortgage, rented out my second bedroom to help raise more funds to help with printing the book. I am extremely grateful that Lake Press publishers agreed to help with printing, layout and design of the book. It was an honour to work with such an incredible team to bring the book to life.
I found the illustrator, Deb Hudson, on Instagram. I sat on my couch one afternoon and searched for hashtags “Melbourne” and “illustrator”. I founds seven really cool accounts and sent an email to them asking if they would be interested. All seven of them responded with, “How much money are you charging?” This didn’t resonate with me. Being a book very close to my heart and about promoting wellbeing and mental health to kids, I wanted to find the right person. Deb was the eighth person I emailed. Her response was, “Tell me about the script.” That’s when I knew I had found the right person to work with. Deb had always wanted to illustrate a picture-story book, so it was her first project too. She was a delight to work with!
I understand you are a primary school teacher, how do you think that influenced the writing process of The Golden Thread and how have your students responded to the book?
During the writing process, I worked with editor Alison Reynolds. The greatest challenge was to cut the word count from the original 1000 words to 500 words. I am fortunate that during the time Deb was working on the illustrations, I would read the script to my Grade 2 class and get their feedback. Having been a teacher for nine years has helped me realise how important it is to keep language simple and ideas clear and concise for kids to understand. I love writing, and I love teaching kids how to write too!
So far, the book as sold over a thousand copies, which has blown me away. The stories and emails I have received about how it has helped kids has made every moment of the challenge worthwhile. From a boy smiling at his grandma’s funeral because he knew she was in his heart forever; to a little girl falling asleep on the book because it made her feel safe; to a little boy using the golden thread at kinder to visualise connecting to his mum’s heart (because he experienced anxiety) are all moving stories that have touched my heart.
Do you have any more projects on the go?
Yes! I have two scripts I am working on. I am hoping to take both of them to Kid Lit Vic in March 2020 and make a pitch to some publishers. I can’t afford to do any more self-publishing so I am hoping someone will like either of them. I love spreading joy, meaning and impacting the live of kids; writing allows me to take this field of impact beyond the classroom and to the world.
What is your favourite page from the book?
My favourite page is page 11 and 12. It’s the close up of Rosie’s face, just after she found out Christopher had been in an accident and he wasn’t coming home. Sarah, from Lake Press, came up with the idea to have this as a double page spread. That way, the image is enhanced by the spine going right through the middle of Rosie’s face, which is exactly how I felt when I received the news about James’ death – split in two.
If you were going to be stuck on a dessert island for the rest of your life, and could only take three books with you, what would they be?
- The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo (for opening my spirit)
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy (for opening my mind)
- The Diary of Anne Frank (for opening my heart)
Thanks again to Amelia for sending me out my own special copy of The Golden Thread. I’m so stoked to have such a wonderful important book in my permanent collection! To get your own copy of The Golden Thread, check out Amelia’s website here.