Orginally from the UK - where he worked in the film industry for Miramar Film and Ruby Films -Chaz Harris settled in New Zealand in 2006 and has been working in project coordination roles whilst writing and making films, plays and web series content.
Together the two creatives have taken on a new challenge to write and produce Promised Land and are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to get as much support as they can to make the book a reality.
Who came up with the idea for the book?
CH: Adam and I were catching up for a chat about another project and he happened to mention this concept in passing; that he wanted to collaborate with someone and write a children's story about two gay lead characters. I went home that evening and couldn't stop thinking about the possibilities and ideas for it, so I threw my hat in the ring and offered to collaborate.
AR: I wanted to tell the type of story that I never got to see or read myself growing up. I told Chaz my thoughts and early ideas and then we arranged a session to sit down and brainstorm to see if we could come up with a story worth telling. After 4 hours in a room and a lot of post-it notes we had the brief outline of the whole story up on a wall.
AR: Neither of us are novelists, but we have both worked a lot in short-form visual media as filmmakers. We felt that telling the story in a more visual and succinct way would be the best approach. We also always knew the target audience was children as we both wished we had a story like this growing up. These two things naturally meant the children's picture book format made the most sense for us.
Why is a book that features LGBTI characters important for children to be exposed to?
CH: So much of what we see through the media and our parents when we are children forms our opinions and attitudes towards others and, more importantly, our attitudes towards ourselves. There are so few stories available for parents to safely and easily discuss with their kids that the world is full of all kinds of relationships and to encourage the acceptance of that. I've never been that comfortable with being gay, it might even be too late to fix that about myself. However, through a project like this I can at least try and be part of a solution that might ensure others won't have to feel the way I have in future.
AR: We felt a story like this where the sexuality of the characters is not the focus would help contribute to that early acceptance from young people ahead of the time when they may encounter LGBTI classmates or people later on their lives. The book presents a safe environment where a child and their parent(s) can discuss LGBTI people.
What books did you read as a child?
CH: I read a lot young adult books, one of my favourites was Empty World by John Christopher. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and I also remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl, I was particularly fond of The BFG and The Twits. Oh, and my favourite children's book was a 30 page one I vividly remember crying every time I read it - Benje The Squirrel Who Lost His Tail. It was a story about overcoming adversity, even remembering it now makes me want to Oprah 'ugly cry'.
AR: I too read a lot of Roald Dahl (Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach). I also remember at a young age having a large collection of Beatrix Potter books (like The Tale of Peter Rabbit,Tom Kitten, Two Bad Mice etc).
Once the books are printed is the aim to make these available in schools?
AR: We'd love that to happen and to make the book available to all schools if they're interested.
CH: In fact, there's nothing stopping schools or early childhood centres from pre-ordering copies on Kickstarter right now if they want to. Shameless plug!
What do you think of the current state of LGBTI representation in literature?
CH: I'm no literature expert, but I can say that when we were looking for LGBTI fairytale picture-books like ours we only managed to find a couple. Many of the others were quite literal and more focused on sexuality than the story i.e. titles that were a bit like "Thomas Has Two Gay Dads". If 10% of the population is gay (or at least, if that many identify that they are), then it's pretty dire that we're not doing more to encourage acceptance in young people through more readily available stories and positive portrayals of LGBTI characters.
AR: Like with all media I think there have been some amazing strides but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Our hope is that our book can help in some small way towards building a better representation for LGBTI.
Who inspired these characters?
CH: We had a real mix of inspirations and starting points for the different characters that we gave to Christine Luiten our illustrator. For my part, I had quite a specific image in my head of Prince Leo and I stumbled across some pictures of Mariano Di Vaio. He was certainly my idea of a prince and so formed a partial inspiration for Leo's character design; a wonderful smile, the most fantastically expressive face and a bit of a goofball. He might actually be the perfect man!
AR: As Chaz said we did have quite a few references that we could use as starting points to describe and piece together our characters from. That's part of the fun of it! You can mix and match different features from different people to create the image of the character you imagined in your head. It is going to be especially fun illustrating the rest of the book. There will be a lot of room for fun facial expressions!
Are you looking forward to being a part of Out in the Park this year?
AR: I can't wait! Since coming out 5 years ago I have tried to go every year so it will be exciting to be on the other side of a stall. I think we have a really exciting project which hopefully resonates with people. I can't wait to introduce it to everyone and to meet a whole heap of new faces!
CH: Absolutely, I'm really curious to talk to people and hear what they think of the project face-to-face. We've already had such a great reaction, but it will be great to meet people and share some of the artwork in person.