Bayside children’s author Cassy Polimeni doesn’t need an excuse to visit Mornington Peninsula, but the region has taken on new significance for her in recent years.
‘Generations of my family have lived on the peninsula so it’s always been a second home, but I’m spending even more time here these days. I’ve met so many wonderful local authors and illustrators and we catch up regularly to compare notes and support each other. I always visit Farrells Bookshop when I’m in Mornington, and this year got to sign copies of my own book there which was pretty special. Antipodes in Sorrento is wonderful too.’
Cassy dreamed of being an author from an early age, although she took a roundabout route to get there.
‘I used to sneak off when my parents had visitors to read up a tree, so the introvert urge was strong! I remember telling people I wanted to be an author from about the age of seven, and I’ve had a lot of bookish jobs, but it wasn’t until I was 40 that my first book was published.’
Cassy worked as a bookseller, then an assistant at Penguin Books before turning her hand to magazines where she worked for over a decade, including a stint as editor of Destinations Australia.
‘It’s a cliche, but maternity leave allowed me to dip back into writing for fun, rather than avoiding it because I’d already spent all day on a computer. For me this time coincided with the pandemic and the magazine I worked for shutting down, so all of a sudden I had all this time on my hands and all these ideas.’
The inspiration for her debut picture book The Garden at the End of the World came from seeing Adam Liaw visit the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, for an episode of Destination Flavour on SBS.
‘It seemed like something out of a fairytale to me – a treasure trove of seeds hidden in a frozen mountain, surrounded by this incredible Arctic landscape that is home to polar bears and the northern lights. All you can see of the vault from the outside is the entrance, which is lit by a sparkly green art installation.
‘The reason it exists – to maintain biodiversity and food security in the face of war and climate change – is heavy, but hopeful too. That combination of science and magic really captured my imagination. My daughter was two at the time and we were reading a lot of picture books, so the story naturally took that form for me. I was lucky enough to win a national pitching competition (Just Write for Kids Pitch It!), which got the story in front of my publisher, UQP.
‘It’s illustrated by the very talented and award-winning Briony Stewart, and she has done an incredible job bringing the Arctic to life. One of my favourite details are the endpapers which she created using cyanotypes (sun prints) of native plants.
‘The most rewarding thing about publishing a book has been connecting with little readers and watching them engage with the book at kinder visits and library storytimes. They make the best observations and ask the best questions!’
You can find The Garden at the End of the World at all good bookstores, as well as Diggers Club stores throughout Australia, including Dromana.
‘I’ll be appearing at the Harvest Festival at Diggers Dromana from March 9-11 if you would like to say hello, do some seed art and maybe get a book signed.’
Cassy has several other projects in development including a junior fiction series for budding eco warriors and a picture book that celebrates science and wonder.
‘The problem is never coming up with ideas; it’s seeing each one through and not being distracted by the next shiny thing. But the fact that I keep coming back to writing no matter how hard it gets makes me think I’ll be doing it for life.’