Interview with Children’s Author Dawn Doig: “Find Something That Inspires You”
Dawn Doig is a Canadian children’s author, audiologist and teacher living and working in Cameroon. Her books teach children to celebrate differences, accept others, and enjoy life. Her books can be found on Amazon and other stores (one is even published in Mongolian).
BookBildr: You’re an audiologist and a teacher. So, what exactly does an audiologist do and how did you make the transition to teaching?
Dawn Doig: An audiologist is a healthcare professional who has extensive (master’s degree or clinical doctorate now) training in the assessment of hearing and diagnosis of hearing loss and related disorders. Audiologists work very closely with Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Specialists (Otolaryngologists) to determine site of lesion of hearing loss, including the assessment of balance disorders. They are trained to fit hearing aids on individuals of all ages, including infants and young children. The training also includes how to switch on and program cochlear implants. In addition to ENT specialists, audiologists work closely with speech-language pathologists, geneticists, neonatologists, and oncologists. Some work in schools to support school-aged children with hearing loss while others are involved in hearing conservation programs like Workers’ Compensation Board.
My hubby is an educator and he followed me around the world (northern Canada, Kuwait, England, Saudi Arabia) for 23 years. When we were leaving Saudi Arabia after my eight-year stint there as the head of the audiology unit at a large rehabilitation hospital, I decided to make the switch. We were interested in staying overseas and jobs for expat audiologists are few and far between. I am actually extremely blessed with the international opportunities I had. So, my turn to be the ‘trailing spouse’ seemed to be the right choice. I have a bachelor of science degree in linguistics and a master of science degree in human communication disorders so a switch to teaching English as an additional language was an easy transition. I had my chance to shine as an audiologist and now it is my hubby’s turn to shine as an educator.
BookBildr: You live and work in Cameroon – an exotic country for most of us. What’s it like?
Dawn: Interesting. Challenging. Living in a country is never ever the same as being a tourist. You get to experience firsthand the realities of daily living alongside the locals. I didn’t expect there to be so many cars in Cameroon as they are very expensive. So many banged up, bashed up, cracked, and falling apart cars with drivers who don’t know how to drive or who willingly decide to break every rule of the road. That causes me immense anxiety every day on our commute to and from work.
The bureaucratic red tape is sometimes overwhelming. I have been waiting for a residency card since last June but the country ran out of the plastic cards so they keep stamping my paper. There is a fear of losing said paper as the system to get it replaced is complicated so I keep it in a sealed bag and carry a photocopy with me.
Cameroon is very rich in culture. Different ‘tribes’ have their different traditions from clothing, to arts and crafts, to food, to burial rituals. Fascinating. We live in such a vibrant world. The people we have met are all so lovely and kind. I still have to giggle every time I see a ‘shoe salesman’ with a shoe perched atop his head, winding his way down the road with eight more pairs dangling from his arms.
I get disheartened by all the garbage. So many countries we have visited are riddled with garbage and I can’t understand it. Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, I would think garbage would be unsightly and you would want to do everything you could to keep your beautiful country clean.
About an hour’s drive from Yaoundé is a primate sanctuary that rescues and protects lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. I love that people are working to protect these beautiful creatures. They have also started a pangolin sanctuary and hopefully will be able to prevent the extinction of yet another endangered species.
BookBildr: Do you enjoy teaching in Cameroon?
Dawn: Yes! Our school is small so it really is a community. Even though I don’t work with all of the students as an ELL teacher, they all know who I am. As there isn’t a lot to do outside the school, the school becomes like a second home to many of the students.
Wearing my other hat, I am hoping that eventually I can convince a humanitarian group to come to Cameroon and provide much needed hearing healthcare services.
BookBildr: What are the challenges of teaching English as a foreign language?
Dawn: The only real challenge I have faced so far is working with students who have another underlying disability that has yet to be diagnosed. Even once suspected, parents are often in denial and it can take a long time, too long sometimes, to have the student assessed. I have studied German, French, Mongolian, Arabic, and sign language and also understand many of the differences between English and some other languages (Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Hebrew) which really helps. When I can highlight some of the differences to my students, it makes the explicit teaching of English easier in many ways. The students can make connections to their experience.
BookBildr: How did you start writing for children?
Dawn: I have enjoyed writing stories since I was very young and actually won a local newspaper’s Christmas story contest several years in a row. I wrote my first (and only so far) novel when I was 13 years old.
When my children were young, I wrote them each a story that was illustrated with moveable parts. They loved having ‘their’ books read to them. One of them, ‘What a Bath’, I self-published and then it was republished by Pen It! Publications.
My writing really started to take off when we moved overseas to Kuwait. It was there that I wrote ‘And So, Ahmed Hears’ along with three other books that I am gradually looking into getting published. ‘And So, Ahmed Hears’ was first published as a humanitarian project by Widex Canada and was available to families in Canada for free. When it was republished by Pen It! Publications, it became available to the general public.
BookBildr: That’s fascinating! Do you use your books in the classroom?
Dawn: I haven’t personally, but my colleagues do. The Grade 7 teacher at my former school used ‘And So, Ahmed Hears’ during his unit on poetry. They have been used for Unit of Inquiry topics on celebrating differences, specifically ‘Petra Pencil Pines for Pizza’ and ‘And So, Ahmed Hears’. I was asked by the school librarian to read ‘Kydee’ to the PreK 3 and 4 kiddos. That was a lot of fun with all the giggles! The Grade 1 class this year wrote wonderful reviews for ‘Petra Pencil Pines for Pizza’ – love hearing what the children think!
BookBildr: In your opinion, what’s the most difficult part of being a children’s author?
Dawn: Marketing. Without question. I have nine books published now and trying to get them into the hands of children around the globe has been very challenging. I thought by going through a publisher rather than self-publishing that this would be a much smoother process. I have spent countless hours trying to market through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, my website, etc. and my books are listed on oodles of websites that sell books. It is extremely difficult for a new author to be discovered and come out of the shadows. Every comment I have had on my books has been positive and yet I still struggle to have them truly discovered. Even the 5-star reviews don’t seem to make a huge difference. But I will continue to write. My tenth book should be coming out any time now with number 11 soon after. I am illustrating number 12 right now and a 13th has been entered in a contest.
BookBildr: Which do you prefer – traditional publishing or self-publishing? Why?
Dawn: I have minimal experience with self-publishing, but my experience with that was dismal. The cost for a hard copy of a book through both publishing platforms is outrageous so I am not surprised they did not sell.
BookBildr: What’s your advice to people who want to write a children’s picture book but don’t know how to start?
Dawn: Find something that inspires you. The ideas for my books often come to me in dreams and then I get up and write them. Jot down ideas. Play with them.
BookBildr: What do you think of BookBildr?
Dawn: I think it’s a great idea for kids. I have had several students express to me an interest in writing and having books published once they found out I am “a real live author”.