After an incredibly inspirational interview with Amanda Bernardo, author of “Little Voice”, I felt it only natural to be extra inspired by the talented illustrator of the book, Samantha Clusiau-Lawlor. Through the process of interviewing Samantha, I discovered she was only 22 years old. I was so impressed that at this young age, this young woman had such maturity, talent, and an incredible work ethic. So get ready to feel inspired! – Dayna xo
Name: Samantha Clusiau-Lawlor
Job Title: I currently work full time as a graphic designer for the House of Commons here in Ottawa.
As I begin this journey of blogging and interviewing amazing women for this feature, I am quickly reminded of just how many inspiring women I am honored to be acquainted with through my time as an entrepreneur. I discovered Amanda on a women’s business networking page on Facebook and was immediately impressed by her. This young woman decided she was going to make a difference in children’s lives with words to leave them feeling empowered and ready to take on the world. With great determination and dedication to her idea… Amanda hustled hard to make it happen! So honored to present this week’s “Inspirational Woman”… Amanda Bernardo! – Dayna xo
Name: Amanda Bernardo
Job Title: By day, I work as a Policy Advisor in the Policy, Legislation and Cabinet Affairs Branch at Parks Canada. By night … I am the proud author behind the children’s book and ever growing movement that is Little Voice.
Education Background: I completed my undergrad in English Literature and History at Carleton University in Ottawa and then later
pursued a paralegal diploma during night school to advance my career in law. I was licensed under the Law Society of Upper Canada
in 2012 and later pursued my passion in law, particularly in policy and research, within the public sector.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and when you knew you wanted to become a writer?
My whole life I’ve dreamed of being extraordinary … I remember telling people that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be someone that could inspire people, someone who would help remind people that anything is possible. I didn’t always know how I would do that but I did know from a very young age that writing would help me get there.
I’ve always been in love with books; the power behind them is so unique that it always left me personally inspired. I loved how a book could make me feel something, learn something, remember something, etc. The list is truly endless. Reading opens up a world of opportunities; a chance to discover something new about yourself, to relate to someone, to cry, to laugh, to be reminded that you are not alone. I wanted to re-create that ever since I was seven years old.
I tried; ever since I was seven, to write down the right collection of words that would inspire someone else the way the stories I had read had inspired me. My first mini-novel I wrote was when I was seven, it had no ending and the structure was all wrong but it was a start. Seventeen years later, I was at a crossroad in my life where I finally found the right words to begin my journey as an author. I didn’t know it at the time, but what started as a poem on a scrap piece of paper eventually turned into my first children’s book and a chance to inspire others with a poem I had originally written to inspire myself.
2. Where did the inspiration come from for “Little Voice” and how did you go about turning your idea into a reality?
Little Voice began as a poem on a scrap piece of paper. I never had imagined that almost a year later this same poem would find itself in the hands of almost 1000 people.
After graduating from university I was still struggling to find myself. I was struggling to balance my creative side with my pursuit for a career and I slowly began doubting whether I would ever be the writer I wanted to become.
My whole life I have struggled to express myself; it was always easiest to write down how I was feeling rather than say it out loud. This time in my life was no different; I began writing a poem to inspire myself to not give up on my dream. However, like much of writing, I wrote it down and hid it away. I was always shy to share my writing with others; I felt exposed if I did. My writing was, and always will be, a very large part of me, a part I felt I needed to guard like a child guarding their journal with a lock and key.
It wasn’t until I started as a volunteer reader with the Ottawa Network for Education that I began reading more and more children’s literature and in turn thinking about publishing my first children’s book. It had been a really long time since I last read a Robert Munsch book, but the more I was exposed to this genre of literature, the more the gears within my head started turning.
During these volunteer sessions, the children and I would talk about life and different things they were going through. It was then that the idea struck me. These kids, despite being much younger than I was at the time, were struggling just as I was to find themselves. They were looking for inspiration and their own little reminder to be
confident, ambitious and proud of who they are!
I remember running home that day so inspired to make a difference. I pulled out that scrap piece of paper from my notebook and instantly began tweaking it so that it would be a universal message that could not only inspire kids at age six, but graduates, adults and everything in between!
3. How do you balance your day job with your passion for writing?
There was a period of time where my life was simply work. I made a lot of sacrifices in order to pursue my dream of publishing my first book and that is something a lot of hopeful entrepreneurs need to be prepared for – the sacrifice.
I funded my first publication all on my own, spent countless hours researching how to get it done, ensuring the copyright and legal angles were covered, preparing the design with the support of my illustrator, developing marketing materials, planning events, reaching out to third parties, establishing partnerships, etc. It was a lot to accomplish in one year, but determination kept me going.
Balancing my day job now with Little Voice has gotten a bit easier. I have a very supportive partner in the business, my illustrator Samantha, who helps with all of the design and illustrations we use to market our story. I set time aside throughout the day, usually first thing when I wake up, on my lunch and before bed, to update all of our social media accounts. This has been so important to building our audience and movement, as we like to call it! Then, once a week I manage all of our accounting, prepare orders for delivery and set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to pursue new leads and partnerships. Samantha and I also try to meet 2-3 times a month to discuss next steps to always be ahead of the game.
My agenda is my best friend, without it I would probably be lost. When you have a side business it’s important to schedule yourself time just as you would in your day job. I schedule meetings, and blocks of time that I know I need to manage the business. Trying to balance things on the go is not something I recommend for any one balancing two jobs, you have to give yourself the time you need or otherwise you will certainly burn out, and you don’t want that!
4. What advice do you have for women who dream about writing their own book, but are overwhelmed by the process?
I have been asked this question a lot, and my answer has always been the same: Take action!
“Nothing worth having comes easy”
– this is one of my favourite quotes and it really says a lot! You will be overwhelmed, this is normal, but you need to remind yourself to keep going. Taking action is the best way to do that! Every little baby step counts; it takes you one step closer to accomplishing your dream, even if it is just a baby step!
There are a lot of avenues in this day and age to publish a story, but the most important thing is finding the path that is right for you and our book. I self-published my story all my own after researching countless self-publishing companies. I wanted full autonomy over the entire process so I researched everything from registering my ISBN, to working with an illustrator, preparing the design and finding a printing company. Each of these were baby steps in the grand scheme of things but they brought me one step closer to holding my story in hand!
Creating small steps of what you need to do won’t let the bigger task of being published seem as daunting!
5. What can we expect next from you? Is there another book in the works?
We are currently in the process of publishing the translation of Little Voice, La petit voix that will be out this fall! You can pre-order your copy on our online shop!
As for the future, I hope to write and publish my first novel, which I am slowly working on but this may take a couple years! :p
I also hope to continue to make an impact in Alzheimers research through our fundraising efforts.
6. Anything you would like to add?
When I first decided to publish Little Voice, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back. I instantly decided to donate a portion of each book
sale to the Alzheimer Society of Canada in honour of my grandmother, Teresina Bernardo, who is currently battling with this disease.
The Little Voice movement is more than just a story; it is a platform that hopes to inspire all those who read it while raising awareness about a cause that is dear to my heart. To date, Little Voice has donated over $1000 dollars to Alzheimers research and initiatives!
Name: Katie Robert
Etsy Shop: www.etsy.com/shop/LadieKatie
People seemed surprised when I say I am a lawyer and an artist—like they are toothpaste and orange juice (not meant to go together). For me though, it’s more like cookies and milk—neither would be as good without the other. My first two years of law school, I felt like I had to suppress my artsy side in order to survive the “you eat what you kill” mentality of the law school culture. The summer going into my third year of law school, I was burnt out. While my peers were doing legal internships to put on their resumes, I knew I needed to appease my creative juices if I was going to make it through the rest of law school (not to mention the bar). So that summer I had my first art show. Going into the next year I made sure to schedule time every week to paint, just like it was a class. I was happier and more confident—even in my law school classes. It was like having a secret power amongst my classmates.
Art has been my therapy and I now know to be happy and (semi) sane, I need to make time for it.
In addition to being a lawyer and an artist, you’re also a strong voice for disability rights. Can you tell us a little bit about the Association of Law Students for Disability Rights and your personal connection to wanting to do more for students with disabilities?
As I said above, art is not only a passion of mine—It is also my therapy. However, I was not able to harness its healing powers until I was diagnosed with ADHD the summer after I graduated from college. Understanding why things took me longer and why I had struggled with tasks that seemed so easy for others was a powerful moment for me. Once I discovered the “why” I was able to make changes to my schedule, my health and my life to dissipate some of the challenges stemming from my ADHD and harness the blessings, such as my art.
Going to law school further propelled me into the area of disability law in an unexpected way. The classes were all lectures with no visual aids and for a girl with ADHD and auditory processing issues, it was like trying to park an SUV into a spot reserved for motorcycles. You can jam all the info you want in, but, unless someone makes room for you, you aren’t going to fit in the spot. Besides being unaware of how to accommodate different types of learners (for ex non-auditory learners), having a disability in law school was like having the plague. Students were afraid to identify as someone with a disability as though that was something to be ashamed of.
I see it like this: I am not defined by my disabilities but I can define what it means to have a disability. There is so much misunderstanding about what it means to have a disability or what it “looks like” to have one. Not all disabilities are ones that you can see!
Encountering confusion regarding the accessibility of law school classes (and culture) to students with disabilities, I immediately became involved with the Student Bar Association (student government in law school). By the end of my 1L year I wrote an article for the school newspaper about my law school experience called Disabilities are not Contagious. That year I also began the Association of Law Students for Disability Rights (ALSDR). Our first year as a group, the ALSDR received the SBA award for best new student group. During my second year of law school, serving as both the Vice President of the Student Bar Association and President of the ALSDR, I organized the first (and the following year, the second) Annual Disability Awareness Week at USF. My 2L year I assembled and distributed two sets of manuals on behalf of the ALSDR—A Manual for Professors Teaching Law Students with Disabilities and A Manual for Law Students with Disabilities.
One of the most rewarding experiences of my life however, happened recently when I was sworn in 2 months ago. One of the deans approached me before the ceremony. She said that after I graduated, a lot of the policies regarding students with disabilities had changed and that I was responsible for that. It was my legacy.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced so far in the process of pursuing your dreams?
Money. I hate to say it but it is true. I thought that if I put my work on etsy and would just fly off the shelves. It doesn’t quite work that way and I am still figuring out how to surf the sales wave of selling my art online. There are a lot of unpredicted costs when you’re first starting up—for example figuring out packaging, shipping, displays, etc—and it can be frustrating when you put your blood, sweat and tears into preparing for a pop-up event and aren’t as successful monetarily as you had hoped. When I get an email or testimonial though from someone that I’ve done a custom piece for about how happy they are with it or how I captured them perfectly, it makes it all worth it.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Growing up my mom always told me that I have to be an independent woman. I think she initially meant it in a financial sense—that she didn’t want me to ever be financially dependent on someone else. It has come to mean more than that to me though. Yes, I have a legal career (as well as being an artist) so I can financially support myself (well, after I pay off all of my law school debt!), but I also am an independent person. I love spending time with myself—whether it be painting, making jewelry, going on a run, etc. Don’t get me wrong—I am very social and love meeting new people—but I am not dependent on anyone for my happiness. Just like all the art in my apartment, I make it myself. I also have found that my rescue dog, Molly, leading through example, is full of useful advice. She reminds me to stop and smell the roses when I’m stressed. To chase the birds and my dreams (even though she’s never caught a bird, that doesn’t hold her back from storming full speed ahead). To wag my tail and not be afraid to show the people I care about that they are special to me. She also reminds me to not take life too seriously. She is the biggest goof.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Famous. Just kidding. Actually, not really kidding.
For women out there who have varied interests and talents and are struggling with what path to pursue as a career, what advice would you give them?
Don’t try to be like everybody else. What makes you special is that you aren’t. What works for everyone might not work for you and that’s okay. It is in our differences that we can find what makes us special, our secret powers. Find yours and use it for good.
That being said, it’s okay to reach out to other artists and asks questions! When I first started selling prints, I contacted Boston fashion illustrator, Jamel Saliba, of Melsy’s Illustrations, to ask where to start. I was so appreciative of her taking the time to get back to me and push me in the right direction!
I love that Erica Cook quote “I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.”
Women inspiring and helping other women succeed is what it’s all about, which is why I am so honored and appreciative to be your inspirational woman.
Is there anything we missed that you would like to share?
I am very excited about an upcoming project that has expanded my passion for human disability issues to include animals with disabilities. I am working on something special with Drool of Happiness, a dog blog about sisters obsessed with their unique disabled dogs in pursuit of a cruelty free lifestyle http://droolofhappiness.com/ So stay tuned for more doggie details!