Updated: Jan 30
Diversity, in it's broadest sense, is one of the things I personally love about climbing; and what Ciera has achieved, through her book I Want to Climb like the Animals Do!, is strike a delicate tone of pro-female climbing, delicate enough to never detract or distract from the overall message of the story, which is simply; kids, climbing is awesome and it's there waiting for you, no matter who you are.
Here at my household we are huge fans of Ciera's work, the book, the message, the illustrations, so it's an absolute honour to have had the opportunity to interview Ciera about becoming a children's author and her journey into climbing; as well as asking her to take us on her 'Ultimate Adventure' (which, after knowing Ciera for even just a short while, I'm sure will be pretty intense). Here in part one we will be taking a dive into Ciera's authoring journey, so take a breath (although unless your Wim Hof please exhale as it's a substantial read), and let's jump in.
The whole process of having the idea, to actually holding your book and being able to sell it across the world, but have been an insane experience Ciera, what was it like?
It was difficult, I had to learn how to do everything from scratch. There were a lot of frustrations involved and moments of doubt for sure but the end result has been unreal. I literally did not know anything about creating a children’s book, I don’t have kids of my own, I am not a writer, I am not a business woman or a climbing coach- but I am passionate, dedicated and driven and I had a wonderful support network in my friends and family that continuously encouraged me along the way.
I wanted to use rhyme to ensure the content is engaging to read and that the comparative imagery would allow the content to imprint upon a young audience. It’s one thing writing a few sentences that rhyme, it’s a totally different ball game when they have to rhyme but also make technical sense because every page is about a specific technique. So it was quite limiting in a way but when I wrote something that worked it was such a sense of achievement. I re-wrote the book a lot and I definitely do not envy novelists, that’s for sure.
I was calculated with my choice of words, there is no technical wording in the book, instead I used phrases that will help children remember what to do such as ‘grip like a gibbon’ and ‘focus like a sloth’; meaning the book is perfectly suited for beginner climbers within the directed age group, 4-8 years old and you don’t have to be a climber to understand it- adult or child.
I had a youth development climbing coach and a few other climbing coaches review the text (and imagery), to ensure the elements made sense. Mountaineering Ireland heard about it and were really excited for the book, they loved the first draft- I made a few alterations but to my surprise I seemed to have got it right first time. That in itself was a huge motivation boost.
Then it was time to design the actual illustrations etc. That is when the book actually starts to come to life. Each body position has been specifically selected and drawn to ensure correct posture and technique throughout the pages and the walls of the climbing centre have been constructed with life like climbing routes which you would see in a real climbing centre. I was so conscious that it had to be right, it took hours and hours of effort but I wanted a book that showcased the best of climbing and didn’t in still any bad habits into children. I was making changes to the wording and the images right up to the hours before the book was sent to print. Ask any painter the hardest part of painting and they will tell you its knowing when to stop. But for the book I had a timeline to stick to, it was hard to let go and to think of it as finished, but I have no regrets regarding what the book looks like or the wording.
When I decided to do the Kickstarter Campaign I honestly didn’t think it would take off the way it did, not because I didn’t believe in the book, but because I didn’t think I would have a big enough reach into the public. I just wanted enough funding to help with the cost of self-publishing, my target didn’t really make a dent in that at £300 to be fair but I just wanted the book out there because I really believed in it and if I had to use my savings to get it out there then so be it. Luckily within the first day of the campaign going live I was on over £1000, I couldn’t believe it. The book was listed by Kickstarter as a ‘Project We Love’ and was being really well received by the climbing community.
By the end of the campaign I had presold over 200 copies globally, including America, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, Europe, Japan and the UK and smashed the target, ending on £2,448 covering the cost for the first editions and partial funding for a second run of books.
The morning after the campaign ended I sat down at my laptop and looked at the figures, which I had been watching the whole time, so it wasn’t a surprise as such, but I just started to cry. The emotion was so strong, I couldn’t believe what I had achieved. I finally did it, it only took me 10 years of thinking about it, finding climbing and to be in a global pandemic to give me the time and experiences I needed, but I created a children’s book! And more than that: I created an amazing children's book; its beautiful, bright, inspiring, creative, empowering, it has meaning. But best of all that’s not just me saying those things about it; I have amazon reviews and people directly messaging me that they love the book and are so happy to see it in the market. But it’s not over yet, my goal this year is to sell over 1000 copies and get it to more children all over the world and inspire the next generation of world class climbers- that is going to be the hardest part of this journey so far.
It's amazing to hear just how well your book resonated with people, especially in the fundraising stage and obviously will continue to do so! I think when you see someone with a genuine passion, trying to make a difference, people can't help but get behind an idea; so when did you first discover climbing, how did you get into it?
I have not actually been climbing that long, a few years ago my sister Keely who lives in London started climbing. She would tell me about her climbing escapades and kept encouraging me to try it, she was convinced that I would love it because I had previously been an aerialist (Silks/Trapeze). When she came home to visit about 3 or 4 years ago she found an indoor bouldering centre close to where I live and booked us in. I had no idea what I was doing, soon my toes ached from the tight shoes, the skin on my fingers was torn and raw, my forearms pumped, but my heart, it was elated… I loved it!
Even better was it didn’t seem to aggravate my shoulder injury which is why I stopped training in aerial silks -I started that when I was about 22 when living in Australia. I adored Aerials but I fell from pretty high once and cracked a rib and for some reason my shoulder was never the same after that really although I kept it up for a few years after that. I had only stopped about a year and then I found climbing.
I think unless you have a coach, you don’t usually start climbing with any technical knowledge but I was already fairly strong, so my brute strength is what got me to the top of the routes in the beginning. But I wanted to learn technique, I wanted to know how to improve and not just pull myself up the wall. I joined a climbing club local to me and Mountaineering Ireland and got some help from the instructors there. When I had direction that’s when I really started to enjoy it more. I am not the type of person that can just watch a video of someone else climbing and take that in, I need to feel it for myself and have constructive criticism and demonstration provided after the fact so I know what to do next time. Don't shout beta at me when I'm on the wall, it doesn't usually go down well!
That's really cool actually, as climbing grows in popularity I think it's such a brilliant opportunity to now foster that love that we're all discovering for climbing in the next generations. One thing I do want to ask though, is after looking at your Instagram account which is full of keep-fit, yoga, and climbing; how did you segway into becoming a children's author, seems quite a leap?
I actually have two Instagram's. My normal account is @cierafreeburn on that account you will see a lot of family type photos, activities, drawings and paintings etc. The other one is @c.c.climbs (which used to be c.c.fit) I initially created that Instagram account as a way to keep myself accountable for my fitness. But the more time went on, the more I became obsessed with my fitness account and providing this evidence that I was working out, as if my workouts didn’t count if I didn’t record them. I was comparing myself to others etc and it wasn’t good for my mental health. If you look down my feed you will see I actually took a break from social media in June 2020. Taking that break is what allowed me the mental clarity to write my book.
I have always been interested in fitness and even considered becoming a personal trainer sporadically over the years. Before I found fitness I had art; I went to University to study Fine and Applied arts this is where I developed this notion in my head that I wanted to create a children’s book. My paintings were based on my dreams- full of interesting creatures, wonderful colours and strange narratives. But straight after university I left Northern Ireland and moved to Australia with my now husband. We had made the decision when I started my third year in uni after going travelling around Europe together in the summer. We lived in Melbourne for about 2 years and did a lot of travelling before and after. Initially we were offered sponsorship and wanted to stay in Australia, but family circumstances meant we felt like we had to return home. During this time the only art I did was in my sketch books, I drew the landscapes, wildlife and cities. I had a 2 hour commute to and from work every day where I used to draw people on the train. (Yes a 4 hours a day commuting! Now my job is half a mile from my house, its bliss!) When I came home to Northern Ireland I got what some people like to call a ‘real job’, 40 hours a week, it was strange, we had been living in this wonderful on/off travel adventure bubble for about 3 years and we seen so much of the world in that one period, by this stage and I convinced myself that the opportunity of being an artist was lost because I had left the country after university and had no arsty contacts. When you get a 'real job' as well its hard to break away from that to follow your passion, because passion does not always pay the bills.
When we returned I was actually approached by someone to illustrate a children’s book – naturally I agreed straight away. The pictures were all painted onto canvas- it was the only way I knew how to work back then. The images were great, if I do say so, but at the time the author was unable to get the book published and self-publishing was not a thing 9/10 years ago. We didn’t have the money to fund it ourselves and both our dreams felt dashed. I still have the original paintings now, maybe someday we will make that book. I dabbled in painting after this, did a few commissions and paintings for myself, while working. I continued to write stories, but nothing seemed right. I felt like the book I was going to write had to have real meaning, something that was inspiring and had a message of some sort- I didn’t want to just write another story. Then my work life balance took over again, 5 years later in Jan 2020 I started work as a business project manager, my ambition was to give myself a better work life balance, still 40 hours a week, but for me the role meant that mentally I could break away from work when the clock hit 17:00 and I was excited by this. Then COVID -19 hit and I started working from home. We were in lock down and had nothing to do in the evenings and weekends, the company I work for is classed as essential business so I was still working full time but I felt like I had more time than ever outside of work. We ended up spending our time in the first lockdown building a climbing wall in our back garden just so we could continue to climb but also to give ourselves something to do!
Then in summer 2020, we went on a trip in our van to the west coast of Ireland, (totally self-contained might I add and in between lockdowns!) At the start of the trip I broke my phone and spent the rest of the time offline. It was the most liberating week I have had in a long time and really gave me some perspective about what I was doing to my mental health regarding my fitness channel. I had already been dabbling with the idea of creating a book about climbing, I talked about it a lot with my husband while we were away (and for about a year prior!) he was extremely encouraging, so when I came back from that trip I decided to take a break from social media and use that time to start writing my book.
I thought if I could last a month off Instagram it would be a good break for me... 5 months later I hadn’t returned and instead had created I Want to Climb like the Animals Do! and launched a Kickstarter campaign for it!
But the only way I had to get the word out about the book was social media. So there I was right back on Facebook and Instagram, but this time I decided to use it more positively. I changed my name to @c.c.climbs and decided I wasn’t going to post anymore videos of me doing exercise, the odd photo or post was ok to let my workout friends know I am alive and well, but I wasn’t going to obsess over it. Instead I wanted to use it to promote the book, promote climbing and in general just try to encourage others and be more positive.
I didn’t stop working out when I went offline. I actually probably work out more now than I did before, I think fitness is incredibly important in general for your mental health and wellbeing, especially during times like a global pandemic when there is so much anxiety and negativity about. But also for me is important for my climbing, I really noticed the difference in my ability after the first lockdown, when I came back to the climbing centre I was actually better than before the lockdown because I had been working out so much my general strength and fatigue had improved. I actually went up a grade not down! I think it’s important to encourage kids to do activities that will naturally increase their fitness levels so they are strong and healthy but I am also mindful that there are ways to go about that so you don’t impact them negatively and give them a complex about their body or their abilities. Everyone learns differently, everyone’s bodies are different, we are all diverse and its important that kids know that.
It's good to hear that you've found that balance with social media, I was just talking with Remy the other day about how mentally fatigued you can get by 'putting yourself out there' on social media. A brilliant example of how the freedom from it allowed you the brain-space to get creative; which in itself is such an important story to tell. The book however, is aimed at children, who as we know learn so much through stories; what message are you hoping the children enjoying your book will pick up?
I wanted to create a book that would inspire children to venture into climbing as it is a fantastic sport for learning cognitive thinking, courage and endurance but it is also exciting and fun; completing a climb can give you a huge rush of endorphins and a great sense of achievement. I want this book to empower children to try this sport and give them the knowledge they need to start their climbing journey. I hope children are inspired by the animals and learn from them and about them too.
I have a huge passion to encourage children, particularly females, to try the sport. I designed the book with two leading female characters because I believe we need to continue to encourage diversity in climbing and I wanted children to see this as normal from the beginning of their climbing journeys. I hope the book encourages parents to let their kids try adventurous activities like this because climbing has so much to give and by supporting your child in learning to climb you can help them become brave and strong, curious and daring, independent and also a team player & potentially give them a love of the outdoors. There is no better feeling that when a child shares your passion.
And very importantly I wanted kids to learn to warm up and prevent injury. Injury is something that has held me back quite a bit in the past (and actually right now I have a rotator cuff injury - not from climbing but lifting weights that were too heavy for me) You only get one body, you need to look after it. So many adults do not warm up before climbing, as if its embarrassing to swing your arms about and lunge back and forth to get the blood pumping- walking in cold and jumping straight on the wall is when you pop fingers and pull muscles. I felt like it was really important to make sure that was the first thing they children were taught when reading my book, so that warming up just comes naturally to them and the instil good habits from the beginning of their climbing journeys.
That is such a good point about warming up, we recently spoke about exactly that on out podcast just a few weeks ago in-fact. I'm terrible for it, but you're so right, and a great way to just embed it in the minds at such a young age that actually, warming up is part of climbing. Thank you so much for really taking the time out to delve into your authoring journey so far, what's on the horizon?
I have big goals for I Want to Climb like the Animals Do! but firstly I would like to get awareness for it raised. I don’t think a lot of people know it exists! It’s hard when I have such a small social media platform but I am currently branching out from that and get it out to the world. I would love for the backers to write reviews and publicise them on the likes of Amazon or other book review websites or repost about the book on their social media to help promote the book. I also have a number of books that I would like to donate to local schools, and climbing centres.
Currently I sell the book via Amazon but I would love to get it to other online retailers and shops so its not exclusive to Amazon. I also am hoping to bring out a Kindle version in the next few months. I also intend on writing a second book this year, in series following on from I Want to Climb like the Animals Do! I was already thinking about the second book before I had the first one printed! I really love getting feedback on the book because it will help me when it comes to creating the second book!
To connect with Ciera you can catch her on |
Instagram: @c.c.climbs / @cierafreeburn
Book is for sale on Amazon for £9.95 + p&p: Click Here