Society Hill librarian combines love of writing, drawing to publish her own book
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, email@example.com
Charlene McDonnough has a love for books. She has also been writing for most of her life. In 2016, those two passions collided and she released her first Gemma the Sweater Loving Giraffe book. McDonnough recently released her second Gemma book and took part in the Author Fair with the Darlington County Library System, which just so happens to be her employer.
“I’ve written stuff all my life; I used to write poetry in high school,” McDonnough said. “I took a creative writing course when I was in college at Francis Marion. The professor I had, he challenged us to continue writing and write a book. After graduation, that summer, I took the whole month of June, because I wasn’t going to start teaching until August, and I wrote a book. I didn’t write another book after that until Gemma.”
Along with writing, McDonnough had always enjoyed taking pencil to paper and creating something from nothing. Especially after someone suggested that drawing would be a good form of therapy.
“I had some personal things that I was going through and someone suggested that I start drawing as therapy,” McDonnough said. “When I started drawing, I drew everything in pencil; I still do. She said ‘That’s just in pencil, its not permanent, why don’t you make it permanent.’ and I said it was just like my life and I want to be able to erase it. She told me to make it permanent. I saw her again and I showed her some pictures I had drawn in black ink. She said, ‘Okay, its permanent but its not colorful. You are a colorful person; that’s not you. Make it bright and colorful.’ So I chose what I thought would be the hardest thing to draw in: gel pens and markers.”
Those drawings became a way for McDonnough to spread some sunshine to those around her.
“I started in 2013, just drawing pictures, and I would give them away,” McDonnough said. “I would ask people what their favorite colors were, pick three. Then, what is your favorite flower, animal, bird, whatever and I would draw a picture for them. Sometimes it was a request and sometimes it was a surprise.”
Those little colorful images would be the precursor to the illustrations in her Gemma books.
“Every time I would draw an animal, people would tell me that I needed to put it in a book, it would be a great illustration,” McDonnough said. “I drew Gemma as one of my therapy animals and I thought, ‘That was easy to draw. I could make a giraffe who wears sweaters as a book.” That was when Gemma was born. I started drawing her in January 2015 and I finished the last drawing in June of that year and she was published the next year.”
The second Gemma book was published in May of this year, after ‘a lot of procrastinating,’ McDonnough said laughing.
The Gemma books have been self-published using Create Space. McDonnough said that this platform has worked well for her, allowing her to do some non-traditional things with her books. For instance, the Gemma the Giraffe World Traveler book is two books in one.
“I had people telling me that my illustrations would be fun to color,” McDonnough said. “So the second book is two books in one. There is the full storybook and then in the back there is a full activity book with coloring pages and crosswords. In a regular publishing house you wouldn’t be able to do that.”
McDonnough has been the Branch Manager for the Society Hill Library since 2012. Before that, she served in Adult Services for the entire library system.
“I like being able to stay in one spot rather than driving to each of the libraries one day every week,” she said. “And everyone is so supportive. I bring in my pictures and show them when I draw something new.”