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Checking in with Ewa Jozefkowicz
Our guest this week is Ewa Jozefkowicz. She’s the author of many fantastic children books, with each book following a different mystery as it unravels. She’s also a mum to 4 year old twin girls and alongside being an author works in content marketing and copyrighting.
Ewa has new book coming out on July 7th called The Dragon in the Bookshop, inspired by the legend of the Dragon of Wawel Castle, a story her dad used to read to her as a child. It’s partly an exploration of bereavement after Ewa lost her father as a teenager and is the first time she’s written about that through a character in her books.
What does well-being mean to you?
It’s important to take into account both physical and mental well-being but to me it means feeling content. It’s about being in a state of equilibrium and for me in particular it’s when you have enough time for everything, so don’t feel any guilt or stress from not being able to do everything you want to do.
What’s one habit or routine that improves your life?
I find it’s essential to schedule in time to do the things you enjoy, things that aren’t chores. I know people often have tight calendars, where meetings are booked to the minute, but I think it’s important to actively schedule in that time for yourself, to do what you enjoy.
What one thing makes you the happiest?
It’s so difficult to narrow it down to one! One of my favourite times of day is reading to my kids. You may have guessed given the nature of what I do that I’m a voracious reader and books are a great place for escapism if you’re feeling stressed or need a bit of quiet time at the end of the day. It’s a really important moment in our household, choosing the book we’re going to read. We’ve got books on rotation from the local library, though having twins means there’s always a bit of an argument on who gets to choose each night!
What helps you to feel healthy?
I know that health is holistic, including both mental and physical, and for me running works for both of those. I really enjoy going for a run, especially when it’s nice weather and I’m lucky enough to have a nice park to head for near me. It’s near Ally Pally though so is tough work with the hills but worth it for the views at the top!
How did you get into what you do now?
It wasn’t an easy journey to go on and has been one filled with a lot of rejection initially. I always knew I wanted to be an author and had stories brewing in my head while growing up, with one in particular that became The Mystery of the Colour Thief. I decided while I was at university that I was going to put pen to paper and get it in its full form, ready to submit. I sent the first three chapters off but took quite a while to get accepted by a publisher. I did receive a lot of great feedback though from publishers and learned a lot about the craft of writing during the process, before eventually getting an agent and publisher.
What project are you most excited about right now?
I’m most excited about the launch of my new book, The Dragon in the Bookshop, particularly because this is a story that’s really close to my heart. It was quite cathartic to write as I realised that as a teenager when my dad first died, I never had a chance to really digest it all. I had very supportive friends and teachers who checked in on me but I never really sat down and explored what it meant to me and all the feelings associated with it. Bizarrely enough, even though it’s been many years since it happened it’s been a really helpful experience to write it now with the perspective of time.
I’ve also decided to support a charity called Grief Encounter with the proceeds from the books sales. They work with children in schools who have lost someone close to them. Sadly they weren’t around when I was at school as I could have really done with a service like that but I’ve heard great things about the work they do from teachers and school leaders.
What are you proudest of in your career?
The proudest moment probably links to my first book, The Mystery of the Colour Thief, which was put forward for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. For any author to even be considered for is amazing. I was really pleased just to be nominated, then later found out I’d actually been shortlisted as one of 6 books in that age bracket! This meant I was seeing my book in the window of loads of Waterstones all over the country which was an amazing feeling.
What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
In terms of writing, one of the best pieces of advice, which feels really obvious now, is to plunge your reader straight into the story. I used to love to set up a whole story and ensure the reader understood what every character looked like, where they came from, what they had for dinner etc! In my head that created a real three dimensional view for the reader but actually that was the wrong way to go about it. I’ve learned that the story comes first and the characters come second. It feels really obvious now but you plunge your readers straight into the story or the mystery and everything else can then be woven in as part of that narrative.
For advice on life, this one sounds a bit cheesy but there’s a Baz Luhrmann song called ‘Everyone’s Free To Wear Sunscreen.’ There’s one line in it which always stuck with me that one of my teachers used to re-iterate. The line is ‘the race is long but in the end it’s only with yourself.’ It’s about not comparing yourself to others as everyone has their own talents and about the fact that you’re only in competition with yourself, which is very helpful advice to be able to pass on when you’ve got twins!
What’s your relationship with reading?
My dad was a bookseller so he was the one who really ignited the spark and started my love of books. From as early as I can remember I was always reading either with him or on my own. Reading is so powerful for so many reasons. There’s a quote that sums it up well, which I’ll paraphrase as I can’t remember word for word, but it’s about the fact that if you don’t read you only live one life, your own, but if you do read you have the opportunity to live so many different lives and visit so many different places. I think books are such amazing portals to so many magical and strange worlds, so my relationship to them is about exactly that, that you can travel to so many places.
What role does reading play in your mental health and well-being?
Reading’s a brilliant way to unwind, relax and to step aside from what you’ve been feeling that day. Whatever stresses you’ve had or whatever’s gone wrong you can put to one side for the time being and enter a completely new frame of mind. I then often find that when I come back to my own life I have a different perspective on things. Often if I’m upset or angry about something I’ll read a chapter, then when I think back on what made me feel angry or upset, I’ll find that I’ve got a different perspective on it. It doesn’t always change how I feel but can help put things in perspective.
What role do you see books playing in children’s mental health and well-being?
This is a really big question and a very important one. My publisher recently contacted me about Empathy Day on the 9th June which got me thinking a lot about the role books play in empathy and in understanding others. First of all they open you up to a whole world of different characters you may not encounter in your day to day life as a child. Most children’s lives are relatively closed, as they tend to go to the same school for years and therefore interact with the same people each day but books open up their world to people from different countries and different circumstances, which can really build that sense of empathy.
Another thing I think is really important is that books make you realise you’re not alone. On the subject of grief, as a child I read a lot of books by Astrid Lindgren who writes in a really moving and accessible way about grief, which made me realise I wasn’t alone. Grief is just one example but books open up this idea to children that there are people like them, even if they’re not in their immediate circle of friends. That was the case for me. I didn’t know anybody my age who had lost a parent but I know those people existed and there were characters in books who were like me.
Can you recommend a Twitter account we should check out?
EmpathyLabUK are brilliant. I love all of the content they put out and recommendations they give.
And how about any books?
One of my recent favourite authors is Katya Balen. She’s written some brilliant books which are beautifully written and full of emotion and wonderful metaphors. They’re a real joy to read. One of her books that I’m reading at the moment is October October which is about a girl who lives in the woods with her Dad, off-grid. Something happens that makes her have to move back to the city and it goes through all of the emotion that change involves. She’s an author I’d really recommend.
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The Check-In is put together by the team at Mindfuel. Mindfuel produce fun, engaging well-being programmes for KS1 & KS2, providing teachers with everything they need to confidently teach well-being skills for positive mental health.