Kassandra Papuga on the inspiration for her debut picture book, 'Iris'

April 21st, 2021

By Kassandra Papuga

My husband, our daughter and I had just moved to a new suburb three years ago when I first gained inspiration for my story, 'Iris'. We live in Melbourne’s outer north-east fringe, where suburbia starts to meet the bush. The morning traffic from our suburb heading towards the city, we quickly discovered, was woeful. So, we started investigating short cuts in an attempt to minimise our travel time to childcare and to my job as a primary school teacher. 

It was on one of those mornings that we first discovered him, driving along the paddock-lined back roads that we were now travelling three mornings a week. Well, to be fair, it was our then 3-year-old daughter who spotted him first. 

'What’s that, Mumma?' I heard from the back seat.

'What’s what, my love?' I responded, my eyes squinting against the morning sunlight. 

'That brown thing,' she answered. Glancing into the rear-view mirror, I caught her pointing at something in the paddock next to the road. I took my eyes off the road for half a second to look at whatever had caught her attention. 

There he was. A beautiful, chocolate brown alpaca, standing majestically amongst a field of fluffy white sheep. 

I smiled at my daughter’s reflection. 'That’s an alpaca, sweetie. Can you say "alpaca"?' 

'Apaca,' she giggled in response. 'Alpaca,' she tried again.

'Good girl. What do you think his name is?' I enquired.

'Browny,' she answered definitively. 

'Browny. I like that. From now on, we should call him Browny the alpaca!' I decided. 

From that day forward, for the past three years, every time we travel up and down that road (which is now twice a day, as it’s the road we travel to school every day), we roll down our windows, beep the horn and call out, 'Hi Browny!' That poor alpaca! 

If Browny happens to be in the paddock close to the road on our way home, I pull the car over to see him. We feed him grass through the fence, chat to him and sometimes, when he allows us to, pat his soft chocolate-coloured fleece. Up close, his soft brown yes look like muddy puddles and his ears look like black felt bananas. It was during one of these afternoon visits, watching him observing and protecting the flock of white sheep he shares a paddock with, that I first had the idea for my story. 

One day, I’ll knock Browny’s owners’ front door and tell them that their beautiful alpaca was the inspiration for 'Iris'!

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Tags: individuality, author, indie author

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