Bio (short version.)
Katia Novet Saint-Lot is the author of Amadi’s Snowman, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo (Tilbury House, Publishers). She thrives on diversity, and feels very privileged to have a family hailing from France, Spain, Haiti, and the US, two beautiful daughters, an overworked husband who regularly forgets to call home, and an expatriate life that has taken her to seven countries, and counting. A translator by trade, she tries to carve more time for her writing, and is currently working on several picture books, each set in a different country, and one YA novel set in India.
Something more “all over the place” (kind of like me.)
Procrastination could be my middle name ; the real one sounds even uglier than that ; unapologetic dreamer – “always in a cloud” figured in practically all my school reports throughout the years, and it still holds true (I discovered recently another label for that tendency : ADD) ; inexhaustible traveler forever researching the next destination ; hopelessly uprooted, confused about my mixed-up identity, and wouldn’t have it any other way ; as a teen, I spent hours singing La Traviata at the top of my lungs in my strawberry hot pink bedroom ; allergic to exercise when it’s not dancing to good music (Latin, Flamenco, Zumba) or lots of drums that lift me off the floor (especially Sabar from Senegal) ; cannot watch a sad movie without shedding buckets of tears (my youngest daughter is following in my steps, so there’s a lot of crying going on in that house) ; I will iron, but please, don’t ask me to cook ; love roller-coasters – the faster the better, and my neck and cervical vertebrae do not thank me for it ; never owned a TV in my life – even now, the family TV is my husband’s, and I’m proud to say it has not been connected to any channel or satellite dish in years ; how else would we find time to read, which is the thing I’ve done the most assiduously ever since I could string letters together to form words ; I still remember the very first book I owned ; I read The Three Musketeers at least two dozen times ; I also cry buckets when reading sad books. Etc, etc, etc.
I was born in Paris, France, under a traveling star. My mother is Spanish, my father is French, and I grew up speaking both languages. As a child,I felt ambivalent about this. I never liked drawing attention to myself, but my mother’s poor command of French and her strong accent often elicited unkind comments, or I would have to translate for her (she grew up very poor and never went to school). I felt ashamed, even as I hated myself for feeling that way. Paradoxically, I became angry whenever teachers refused to acknowledge my Spanish origins. It was all very confusing.
I always loved languages and studied Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as German, Russian and Italian. I also wanted to learn English, but all throughout my years as a student, something always prevented that from happening. I’ve now forgotten most of my German and Russian, even though being able to read Cyrillic proved very useful when we moved to Serbia.
I also played the piano.
And I read, read, read – everything I could lay my hands on. There were no books in my home, but when I turned 9, I discovered our local library, in Paris. From then on, I checked 5 books each week. I loved Enyd Blyton, and Alexandre Dumas. I also loved Nancy Drew : in French, Nancy’s name is Alice Roy, and it took me years to figure out that the books I’d loved so much were the Nancy Drew novels.
Eventually, I went to London to learn English, working as an au-pair, and then as a nanny. Two years later, having saved enough money, I traveled to the USA.
I loved the US. To me, it was like being in a movie. Nowadays, we can have pizzas delivered to our doorstep pretty much everywhere, including in countries like India, but at the time, the concept was very American. The first time I ordered pizza on the phone, I couldn’t stop laughing. I thought it was so cool. Getting McDonalds sitting in your car, talking to a machine! Wild. I went to Florida, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and back up to California. I visited the Grand Canyon and slept in a teepee (or rather, I spent a sleepless, very cold night in a teepee). I went to the Desert Valley and ran in the sandy dunes, my steps echoing in the night, the sky above our heads filled with stars. I went to Hollywood, to San Francisco. And I ended my trip in New York. One night, I was walking in Manhattan, looking at all the lights, the skyscrapers, the yellow cabs. I felt the energy around me and thought: One day, I will return to this city and live here for a while. For now, though, money was gone, and I had to return to France. I now spoke English and I got a job as a translator of novels. It was perfect. I got to read. I got to use my English. And I got to write.
Luckily, I did return to New York, four years later. I even met my husband there. He’s from Haiti and works for UNICEF. After the birth of our first daughter, his job took us to Nigeria. Our daughter turned 7 months on the day we landed in Lagos. Our umbrella bed had been stolen at the airport in New York, and she spent her first night in a drawer that we’d turned into a bed. See her below, waking up the following morning. She’d started to crawl and until we were able to get her a new bed, a month later, we’d find her all over the room.
I had traveled a lot, but Nigeria was different for me. We lived in Enugu, which was the capital of the short-lived Biafra Republic, in Igbo land. There wasn’t much to do, there. Only one really bad Chinese restaurant. No movie theaters. Lots of power cuts. The phone and the Internet only worked sporadically, and supplies were scarce. Once, we had no flour for almost two months. Another time, the whole town was without electricity for several weeks. But our Kora loved it. She ran after red-headed lizards just like Amadi in my picture book.
We had magnificent flamboyant and mango trees in our compound, and a cashew nut tree right outside our door. During the mango season, the trees gave so many mangoes we gave bags of them away. And when the cashew nut tree gave its fruits, a very sweet, almost coy smell floated around and in the house. We had to be careful, because the fresh nut is poisonous. Once a week, I went to the market to buy fruits and vegetables, and it’s exactly like I describe it in the book. Lots of noise, lots of people, lots of colors. Lots of garbage, too, unfortunately.
After a little over three years, we moved to Hyderabad, India. In between, I gave birth to our second little girl.
India was… incredible! as advertised in the famous tourism campaign. Nothing can prepare you for the shock of landing in India. Nor can anyone imagine what it is to live there. Often, as I drove around the streets of Hyderabad, I would laugh alone in the car, my heart bubbling with happiness. Colors, sounds, scents, rituals, people, people, people, everywhere, all of the time. It was magic. We lived six years in India, and not a day goes by since we’ve left that I don’t miss it.
After India, we moved to Bangladesh, which shares a border with India. Some things may seem similar, but it is quite different. Our first year there was difficult. There is one saying : “When you arrive in Bangladesh, you cry. And when you leave Bangladesh forever, you cry, too.” Dhaka is a noisy city, one of the most densely populated in the world ; it is chaotic, dirty, exhausting. But as soon as you leave the capital, everything changes. Water everywhere. The countryside is lush and green. People are kind and generous.
After three years (9 years in the subcontinent) time had come to move again. We landed in Serbia.
For the first time in 13 years, I had to face winter, short, dark days that make me want to roll up and hibernate. But Serbia is an interesting country with a long, complex history. It’s easy to drive to Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and even France. And this where we’re at, for now…