2 Minutes with…Raising Voices Fellow: Aileen Swansen

Introducing our next Raising Voices Fellow – Aileen Swansen. We spent 2 minutes with Aileen to chat about her thoughts and hopes for the Fellowship and what inspires her, with her list of influences including such fabulous characters as SpongeBob and Elf! We cannot wait to hear more from Aileen!

What do you think are the best things about children and young adult publishing at the moment? And the worse… 

Wow, I do not feel qualified to answer that question at all! I feel like children’s picture books and YA have changed a lot since I was the target market. I’ve noticed a little that picture books are becoming a lot more character driven and less on the moral of the story path. Some amazing storytellers have come up in the last few years; I think artists like Oliver Jeffers now tend to not ask ‘what do kids want to hear/read’ and they’re driven by work that’s authentic to them.

There seems to be a lot more information about publishing out there now, even from my college days when I started thinking about it first. Forums, Youtube/Tiktok videos and the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook are amazing resources.

As for the not so great aspects; I think picture books still need recognition for the value they hold in a child’s mind. A lot of the time, it seems like a picture book needs to be sold to the parent as much if not more than the child. I think there can be an attitude in early development of making sure your child can hit the appropriate milestones as quickly as possible. That is so important but there needs to be some space for imagination and creative milestones as well.


2) What would you hope to achieve or learn from the Raising Voices Fellowship? 

I’ve already learned so much! Everyone has been very generous with their time. My mentor, Peter Donnelly has been amazing and has really helped me refocus where I should start with the fellowship. I originally thought “well, I have to write a book of course” but that might not be what ends up happening. It could be something shorter or something along the lines of editorial work.  I’m still hoping I can get to a book, as a long term goal but I’ve realised I need to crawl a little before sprinting to the finish line!

I still don’t really know but I’m trying to be as open as possible to what happens. I’m determined to listen to everything and soak it all up while I have this amazing opportunity.

I also wanted to be in a space of like-minded people who are on a similar creative journey. Everyone in the fellowship is so highly skilled and impressive.


3) What would like to see more of in Children’s publishing? 

It’s already starting to happen but more diverse characters, 100{7c3cfb0b38d4a9479a76da29fc6e6f4810c7847306909f801472af32310299f7}. We need LGBTQ+ stories, absolutely more representation of different races, more disabled characters and I want to see working class backgrounds. I think one of the reasons we’re short on these books is because it can be hard to break into publishing as it is. But if you need to do a 40+ hour work week or you have a disability, a lot of potential writers/illustrators might not have the resources to finish their book. If they do, it’s another hurdle to get published. It takes time and resources to get into publishing. I think that’s why something like the Basic Income for Artists is so important. There are a lot of great authors out there with vital stories to tell, but they need financial stability and a supportive environment to grow as an artist. That’s one of the reasons The Raising Voices Fellowship has been so good! It’s a great program and hopefully it can continue and expand over the years.


4) Who or what inspires your own work?

I read what Conor said about feeling like a shorter list would be what doesn’t inspire his work and I feel the same!

Right now, I feel like I can be inspired by nearly anything in my life. Interactions with people, my walk to work especially has been a nice well to draw from.

In my childhood, I’ve realised it’s characters I can see a little of myself in, particularly in the times I felt different but couldn’t put my finger on it. We also had Louise O Neill speak to us and she mentioned that her influences tend to be from other art forms. That was very validating to hear! So my answers might be some very high brow examples like Spongebob, Elf, Ernie from Sesame Street, Sailor Moon. They seem in hindsight to be coded as neurodivergent in some way and their characters all hold a sense of unfailing optimism, something I needed to see at that time. My influences still lean that way; I gravitate towards those characters. Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed to admit what influences my work and I have to remind myself that art should be accessible and this is what I had access to growing up.

In college Oliver Jeffers, Chris Haughton, John Klassen were very big influences. I ended up seeing some of them speak at Offset in 2012 and I still think about the buzz after hearing them talk about their work.


5) Recommend one piece of essential Children’s/YA literature.

I don’t know if I could recommend just one essential piece, I’m sorry! I wasn’t a huge book worm as a child, that came later when I could buy books for myself but the few bodies of work that I read in that time have stuck with me into adulthood. Any book I read in that time had some sort of influence; whether it was helping make sense of the world around me or escaping into a new world. I think reading and art consumption generally is vital for that time in your life especially. Being a child can be a little scary, you don’t really knowing who you are yet. Kids need as many relatable characters and art as they can get in that time. But to somewhat answer the question; I really loved Aoife Dooley’s book Frankie’s World this year for that exact reason!


Over the next six months, children’s artists Conor Bredin, Nene Lonergan, Carol McGill, Kate Moore, Aileen Swansen and Jennifer Wallace will be connected to a welcoming community of practice and supported in developing their careers. As part of the Raising Voices programme, the fellows will benefit from a host of creative and practical supports throughout the year. The fellowships are run by a group of literature organisations including Children’s Books Ireland, Illustrators Ireland, Publishing Ireland, the Dublin Book Festival and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig.


What is the Raising Voices fellowship?

Raising Voices aims to develop and support aspiring artists who make work for children and young adults and whose voices have been underrepresented in literature. The fellowship aims  to break down barriers to publication, progression and inclusion and to increase diversity and representation in the Irish literature sector for those whose voices have been underrepresented due to background or identity.

The creative and practical supports all six fellows will benefit from include:

  • Mentorship with an experienced writer or illustrator
  • A detailed critique from an editor/art director suited to the fellow’s practice
  • A week-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig
  • Access to a bespoke speaker series, bursary information clinic with the Arts Council, and various events and courses.
  • Tools, information and guidance needed to finalise a manuscript or dummy, prepare work for submission, research the market, and apply for bursaries.

Aileen Swansen

Aileen Swansen is an illustrator from Kerry, living in Cork. Aileen enjoys colourful and native styles of illustration and is inspired by themes of curiosity and humour. Aileen applied for the Raising Voices fellowship for the opportunity to connect with other creatives like herself, she says that freelance work can be isolating and nearly impossible to thrive in without a community of peers and mentors. Aileen also wishes to learn more about children’s publishing in Ireland. Her intention from the fellowship,  is to work on her own book and create a portfolio to find a literary agent.