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Interview: Gina Bartlett talks about Lulu La Ru Steps Up as a Step-Mum

Following a successful career spanning the legal, publishing and financial services industries, Gina embraced the opportunity to unleash her quirky sense of fun with these creative, perceptive and humorous stories on everyday family life.

When not penning the latest adventures of her beloved character, Lulu La Ru, Gina loves nothing more than being active (hiking, biking and skiing), satisfying her addiction to yoghurt and dark chocolate (no, not together!) and obsessing over the spreadsheets and lists she endlessly creates in an attempt to keep her life and creative projects in perfect harmony (albeit with varying degrees of success). Gina talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Lulu La Ru Steps Up As A Step-Mum.

Lulu La Ru Steps Up As A Step-Mum is a compilation of eight fun, quirky stories centered around a family that features a step-mum.  Lulu La Ru is a slightly spoilt, single, child-free, professional woman who falls for a man who happens to have two young daughters.  She’s a fun, sassy character with a sharp wit and a heart of gold, who approaches every situation with a sense of humour and a “can do” attitude.

Coming from a business background and an organized, peaceful and somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, Lulu La Ru is under the false belief that what worked for her in her previous life, will work for her in her new role - often with hilarious results – as she fast learns that it’s a whole new world!  The book is written from Lulu La Ru’s perspective and follows the challenges she faces and the lessons she learns as she navigates her new role as a step-mum. Having grown up with a love of Dr Seuss and Pam Ayres and drawing inspiration from a Grandfather with a zany sense of humour and a penchant for limericks, Lulu La Ru is written in fun, light-hearted, rhyming style. 

What inspired you to write this book? 

Just like any woman who becomes a mother, becoming a step-mum changed me profoundly.  I experienced first-hand my step-daughters’ bewilderment and confusion at how step-mums in the movies or children’s literature were always the mean, wicked party when their reality was the opposite of that.  I wanted to put forward another narrative.  Whilst other books written about blended families or step-mums in particular, focus on that fact, I wanted instead to show that families featuring a step-mum are just like any other family.  I wanted to normalize this family model, particularly given that this is now the reality for many children. 


What research was involved?

This book began as a passion project for my own family and it has very much been driven and influenced by my own experiences in becoming a step-mum.  The characters and situations depicted in the book have been taken directly from my own life – albeit with some exaggeration!  Like Lulu La Ru, I too was once a childless, successful, professional woman living a somewhat hedonistic and self-obsessed life - all of which now seems like a different world!  My step-daughters were involved in the project from its inception and the design of their characters and many of the stories depicted in the book, have come from them. 


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The story ideas for Lulu La Ru Steps Up As a Step-Mum are inspired from every day family life.  Often in the normal course of a day, I would find myself struck by just how much my life had changed since taking on a mothering role and the huge comparisons as to what life was like before and what it is like now.  I would make a note of these observations on my phone and put them aside.  When it came time to form those ideas into a story, the rhyme came easily as I slip into this way of writing quite naturally.  For me, it’s about finding a rhythm and ensuring that the words not only rhyme when they need to, but also make sense and paint a picture for the reader.


How did you work with the illustrator?

The illustrations were for me, the most challenging part of the process.  I had a clear picture in my mind as to how I wanted the characters to look and the clothes and expressions I wanted them to wear in any given illustration.  Unfortunately, however, I cannot draw! I researched many on-line illustrators and reviewed carefully their illustrative style and previous work before settling on an illustrator based in Germany.  Luckily, with his excellent English and communication skills, we were able to work well together and to create the characters.   I would then provide a brief of each illustration explaining the storyline and what each character was doing, experiencing and wearing.  I would include with this, various pictures and illustrations from a variety of sources (including photos of family members in different poses with various expressions!) to communicate the looks or stance I was looking for.  I would also pull outfit ideas from the internet to communicate what I would like the characters to be wearing.  The clothing in fact was the biggest challenge of all with characters often showing a distinctly European taste in clothes! 


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include

We Are Family by Sister Sledge would definitely have to be in the mix. The song is positive, uplifting, fun and vibrant – which is just how I want my book to be seen and how blended families can be.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead character?

What a dream that would be!  My pick to play Lulu La Ru would be the one and only, Blake Lively.  Yes, she is gorgeous, but more than that she is quirky, funny and self-depreciating.  Blake, like Lulu La Ru, doesn’t take life or herself too seriously, she is smart, sassy and has a mischevious glint in her eye, yet at the same time there is a softness and warmth there – she is the girl next door with a heart of gold.


What did you enjoy most about writing Lulu La Ru?

I loved the bonding and collaboration with my step-daughters who were not only a major inspiration for the book but also very involved in the story lines and the process.  Seeing the characters come to life and the book take shape was hugely satisfying, as was the joy of receiving my first printed copy.  However, both these rewards pale in comparison to the pride and happiness I felt when I saw how excited and thrilled my step-daughters were to receive their copy, how proud they were to take it to school for the library and the fact they now keep it on their bedside tables to read at night.  There are no words.


What do you hope families will take away from reading your book?

I hope readers come to realise that step-mums are not the enemy. That they are not all wicked or a threat and that many are contributing hugely to their families and helping to raise happy, well-balanced, thriving children.  I hope the family model that includes a step-mum will come to be seen as just another normal family dynamic and that the book gives children living in that family dynamic something they can resonate with and relate to.  I hope it makes readers in mothering roles laugh as they identify experiences they too have experienced and recognize situations they too may have found themselves in. 


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I am notoriously bad at reflecting on and celebrating successes during my journey. I usually move straight into the next project.  However, there was probably a small fist pump and a glass of bubbly somewhere in the mix – and if that movie ever comes about, I will walk the red carpet and celebrate on a far bigger scale!


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Given that I decided to learn wind-surfing this year and have been busy writing books, rather than reading them, my favourite book is one that I read some months ago in the Summer holidays, Paris – The Memoir by Paris Hilton.  I must admit, it was a reluctant choice and my expectations were low, however I was well rewarded for giving it a chance.  It was a well-written memoir and I learned that it is unwise to judge a book by its cover.  There is so much more to Paris Hilton than initially meets the eye.  She is not all rainbows and unicorns, rather she is an astute business woman, smart and resilient with a difficult history.  I love it when people (and books) surprise me.

What’s next on the Agenda for you?

I am busy at the moment, commissioning the illustrations for Volume 2.  Packed with more fun stories of Lulu La Ru’s adventures, I am excited at the prospect of bringing this to fruition and available to readers in the future. 






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