Meet the Makers: Belinda Landsberry

10 April 2024

Belinda Landsberry is a Sydney-based writer and illustrator whose picture book ANZAC Ted has just been re-released as a special 10th anniversary edition. With ANZAC Day just around the corner, I caught up with Belinda to ask a few questions about the book, her process for creating it and changes she's seen in the book world over the past 10 years.

What inspired the story of Anzac Ted?

This is quite an embarrassing story, though I’m glad to say, it has a happy ending.

My husband, David, insisted on bringing his teddy bear, “Ted”, (pictured) with him when we were married. At the time, I was young, 21, and horrified! Old, worn and badly torn, Ted wasn’t pretty. But David insisted. “He was given to me by my dad,” he told me. “Ted’s special.”

I didn’t think so. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t see a beloved toy. I saw an ugly old bear. So I hid Ted in cupboards. To my surprise, he kept popping back up when I least expected it! What was this bear? Magic? Finally, I confronted David. “What’s the story with Ted?” I asked him. “I keep hiding him and he keeps reappearing! He’s embarrassing! And why does he look like he’s been through the wars?”

“Maybe he has,” David explained. “Dad found him in a gutter, and as Dad was in World War 2, it’s possible Ted HAS been through the wars.” I never hid him again. In fact he has a very special place on my toy shelf. And the idea for Anzac Ted was born.

That was 2013. At that point, I’d been writing and illustrating picture books for 32 years but I hadn’t had anything published. Some books take years to write. They fight against you. But Anzac Ted fought with me, so I wrote it in one day. In fact, it felt like it wrote itself. I like to think that’s because the Anzacs wanted it written.

Years later, a lovely lady contacted me and told me she tends the grave of an Australian solder who had taken his teddy bear to war in WW1. He’d returned, years later, to raise a family and live to a ripe old age. “So Anzac Ted is a true story!” she excitedly told me. I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

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Do you write the story first or do the illustrations guide the storytelling?

The creation process for my books is always different. Sometimes an idea is sparked by something I see. For example, I wrote and illustrated a picture book called Aunt Adelaide’s Underpants (unpublished) which was created because I saw an enormous pair of underpants on my mother-in-law’s clothesline. With my picture book, Once, I was Loved, (published by EK Books 2019) I saw a box of old toys in a charity store, and wondered how they came to be there and who had once loved them? Generally, I write the story first. As I write, I see “pictures” in my head, so before I illustrate the book, I create a story board of thumbnail sketches which helps me plan the number and size of illustrations required.

What do you hope children will take away from Anzac Ted?

So many things. I think the first, is knowledge and understanding. It’s through knowledge and understanding that we are able to see a different perspective; walk in another’s shoes, so to speak.

Kindness. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other, and one we all deserve.

Compassion. Combined with patience, compassion is so far reaching.

Gratitude and Respect. By learning about our incredible servicemen and women, we can pay them the gratitude and respect they deserve.

Courage, to know that life is full of challenges and that to try, is so important.

Curiosity, to learn more about who we are, how we got here and where we’re going. A love of books, because books open doors, minds and worlds.

And hope, because Anzac Ted is about the indomitable human spirit, and the hope it inspires in us all.

Anzac Ted is 10 years old now. Has anything changed significantly in terms of book buyers or book selling?

Absolutely! But I think what’s delighted, astonished and surprised me most, is how many people have come to know and love Anzac Ted over the past 10 years. Reprinted now 14 times, Anzac Ted is available in hardcover, paperback, Large Print, Braille and ebook. Children, parents, grandparents, great grandparents and teachers, as well as husbands and wives of serving soldiers, and even the soldiers themselves, tell me how moved they are by Anzac Ted. I think the Anzacs would be proud. What I love about this 10th anniversary edition, is that it comes with some stunning new features. There’s a beautiful new “classic” hardcover which makes the book a timeless keepsake. There’s a new section about our friends the Turks and a much-awaited “How to Draw Anzac Ted and Colouring-in” feature. Huge thanks to EK Books for this brilliant new edition. I’m still pinching myself! Honestly!

What are you working on now?

Can I send a shout out for my second picture book? Also with EK Books, Once, I was Loved, is a beautiful story about a toy rabbit who finds himself in a Charity Box. It’s a real heart-string tugger, set against the backdrop of some iconic moments of the 20th century. But while writing and illustrating picture books will always be my first love, I’ve recently leapt genres and written a Young Adult (YA) Fantasy. It’s been a huge leap (of faith), to go from writing a 358 word picture book to a 100,000 word novel, but it’s been one rollicking, fast-paced adventure and I’ve loved every moment! It’s taken longer than I’d anticipated because I found it hard to get my characters to stop talking, but I’ve had a word with them, and they’ve promised to behave. I’m now on the final edit, so I’ll be looking for a home for “12” very soon.