Book People: Jasmine Seymour
Cooee mittigar. Tread softly on our lands.
Know that this dreaming was here. Is still here.
Will be forever.
Jasmine Seymour is fast becoming known in the world of children’s literature and deservedly so. Her books, ‘Baby Business’ and ‘Cooee Mittigar’ are lyrical and gentle, but with an underlying strength and an appeal to respect and remember Darug Nura (Country), traditions and language. Her first two books have utterly caught my attention and I have gifted them widely, so I cannot wait to see where she goes from here. I couldn’t agree with her more (see interview below) re the work of Bob Graham and Alison Lester, that their work contains a sense of joy and humanity…I would add that I think her own books have that same sense of humanity, joy and celebration.
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TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT JASMINE SEYMOUR
1. Tell us about your latest book
‘Cooee Mittigar’ (come here friend) is a book about Darug Country. The Darug people are the Indigenous people of the Sydney basin area. The Darug people are still strong and have a continuous link to culture that spans more than 60 000 years.
The book opens with Mulgo (black swan) welcoming the reader to Country. She invites you to walk with her along one of the Darug Songlines. The reader follows Mulgo along the Songline path; learning how to take notice of Country’s beauty, seasons, animals, plants, weather and skies.
Songlines are Creation stories that define the land upon which Aboriginal people live on. Songlines describe the law that we live under and the ceremonies and obligations that are used to respect and care for Country and significant sites. Songlines connect people to Country. ‘Cooee Mittigar’ is a celebration of Darug Culture, a culture that has remained strong despite the oppression of Colonisation.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
Many of the most common Indigenous words that Australians use come from the Darug language. Words like Cooee (come here) Warada (waratah) wumbat (wombat) are identified as iconic Australian words, but they always were and always will be Darug words first.
Leanne (‘Cooee Mittigar’s’ illustrator) and I really wanted to see some Darug language books, there were none so we decided to create one.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I am a primary school teacher. A typical day has me arriving at work, getting prepared for Literacy and Math lessons and collecting and finding any resources that I might need for the day. I teach lower primary so I get to read many picture books to my students.
At the end of the day I come home to my family. I have two boys aged 11 and 9. After dinner and a little bit of work, and if I have time I might settle down for some reading or writing and art making. I like to write to pictures. I prefer to have pictures first.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
My work space is the dinner table. It is currently covered in paint stains and mono print making tool indentations. The dinner table has the best light and view in the house.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I dreamt about writing for many years. Not that I really wanted to be a writer even, I just loved books. I did not really even have a topic that I wanted to write about. I just loved reading and listening to stories. After a while I began to think that something that I enjoyed so much might be something that I might be good at. I did not think too much about writing in the end I just did it.
I would encourage everyone who loves stories to have a go. Read everything! I read out of my favourite genres (Science Fiction and Fantasy) all the time.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I love Bob Graham and Alison Lester’s picture books. I love the simple stories of family and I just adore their illustrations. More than anything I love that their books are told in the voice of younger children. The humour and humanity that can be found within these simple children’s picture books take my breath away and fill me with joy. Imagine what they are doing for the kids that read them.
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
There are so many things I would love to be. At the moment I would like to be part of creating a festival. A festival of art and music and culture. I would love to work on something like that.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I love blueberries at the moment and always love cheese and crackers. I like to listen to podcasts from the Sydney writers’ festival a lot at the moment, but my music to relax to at the moment is a mix of Mark Ronson, Alabama Shakes, Laylah Hathaway and Emma Donovan.
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
There is a little of me in my books. My grandmother is definitely in my ‘Baby Business’ book. ‘Cooee’s’ voice is the voice of my friend, colleague and Darug djurumin Leanne ‘Mulgo’ Watson. The subject matter is about the people I belong to the Darug. So there is quite a lot of me in my books.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
So many. . . but down to one. . . kindness. Don’t be scared to help people, animals, Country, help when it is needed.