Author of the Month

Lisa Bournelis empowers children to be their own heroes while shining a light on mental health

Inspired by her child’s experiences with OCD during the pandemic, Lisa Bournelis pens Louie and the Dictator to empower those living with mental illness.

Your story is gold.  Your vulnerability will help others in ways you may not have realized or imagined.

Lisa Bournelis is a mom, taekwondo black belt, healthcare change consultant, and former humanitarian aid worker. She has served all over the world, from Africa to the Balkans to Afghanistan. Inspired by her child’s experiences with OCD during the pandemic, she wanted to uplift children struggling with anxiety during this extraordinary time, by showing that they are the heroes of their own stories, and by sharing the hopeful message that adjustments to the way we think can transform our circumstances.

What inspired you to write Louie and the Dictator?

Like many parents of children with additional needs, the pandemic presented an additional layer of isolation. As access to resources and supports were cut off for the most vulnerable children, and as anxieties were heightened by the continued uncertainty, I wanted to provide a message of hope and inspiration for other anxious and neurodiverse children based on my son’s experiences.  

From this time of darkness, the uplifting middle-grade novella Louie and the Dictator was born. The story is designed to take children on a journey that has them see themselves as heroes of their own story, while incorporating clinical elements within an adventurous narrative.   

I also wanted to be purposeful in giving back and supporting the team that helped my son prior to, and following, the pandemic. I donate a minimum of 20% of my royalties to the paediatric OCD research team at BC Children’s Hospital.  

You found inspiration in your child’s diagnosis during the height of the pandemic. With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, and OCD Awareness Week being October 9–15, how do you feel we can better support our children in a post-pandemic world? 

As parents, our children look to us in times of fear or uncertainty. When presenting the story to my son’s school and parent advisory council, I shared an infographic I created to inspire parents on how they can support their children, while reminding their children that “they are not their thoughts” (see below).

One of the reocurring themes in your book is about how adjustments to the way we think can transform our circumstances. With the pandemic in the not-so-distant past, how do you think society can benefit from this perspective moving forward?

As an adult with a propensity towards anxiety and catastrophizing, I have to regularly take pause and be mindful of my thoughts. Our thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn affect our behaviours. I take comfort in the powerful idea that we actually have control over our thoughts, which can then adjust the trajectory of our day based on those mindful shifts. Recently, I delivered a TEDx talk on this subject, which speaks to my son’s story and the genesis of this book. (Link: https://youtu.be/-phsazjlhkc)

You have received incredible recognition for Louie and the Dictator, including being a finalist in the Purple Dragonfly Awards. What are you most proud of in your publishing journey thus far?

Following a book signing at the Indigo flagship store on Robson Street, a few parents reached out to me after reading the book with their children. The depth of their emotion and gratitude for the book and its hopeful message for their children has made this journey so worthwhile.   

I have had adults and therapists reach out to me via social media and proclaim their wish for this book to be available or on therapists bookshelves. To hear that this work resonates on a personal and professional level is a deep honour.

To also be featured in BC Children’s OCD research team’s newsletter was a profound experience. According to the World Health Organization, between 1/100 and 1/40 people are diagnosed with OCD worldwide, yet so little is done in terms of therapeutic support for those living with the condition. Often parents mistakenly believe this is something their kid “will grow out of.” To know I’ve had a positive impact in raising awareness and supporting both children and adults that experience intrusive thoughts is my greatest reward.

Despite all of the efforts in recent years to destigmatize mental illness and raise awareness for mental health, we still have a ways to go. What advice would you give to an author who is hesitant about putting pen to paper and sharing their story with the world?

Your story is gold. Your vulnerability will help others in ways you may not have realized or imagined. Your courage will be magnified in another coming forward to say, “That’s my experience too. Thank you for sharing.” By magnifying these voices, you become part of the power that shatters stigma, and for this reason alone, I encourage you to put pen to paper.

What was your favourite part about publishing a book? Is there a part of the process that you enjoyed more than you thought you would? 

I loved seeing the book come to life piece by piece. I’m so grateful to the Tellwell team and the project managers involved—in my case, Charlyne. She made the process so simple I could focus on writing and my vision, and she made each step come to life! I also want to give kudos to my illustrator, Sheng Mei, as she powerfully brought my vision to life. Her wonderful cover illustration has captured the imagination of many children and has received a lot of wonderful feedback.

Publishing a book is one thing, but marketing a book is a whole other beast! What marketing tactics have you found to be the most successful for you? 

Marketing has indeed been a steep learning curve. For other authors who might want ideas/inspiration, check out my website www.makeoneshift.com, where you will see examples of press interviews, podcasts, my TEDx, reviews, blogs, and other ideas to draw inspiration from.

I have used a number of free media resources to help spread the message from YouTube readings to podcast interviews to local news articles/interviews, as well as my twitter, @LBournelis, and Instagram, @makeoneshift, to engage with authors, readers, parents, and therapists.  

Having the opportunity to deliver a TEDx and speak to mental health issues via LinkedIn have helped to expand my profile and message. This has helped to expand my platform by linking the book to ongoing pediatric mental health advocacy.

We would love for you to share some of the successes you’ve experienced with your book—don’t be shy!

Folks are most welcome to review some of these on www.makeoneshift.com/press

A few highlights include:

Purple Dragonfly Award Honourable Mention in the category of disability awareness. This international award recognizes excellence in children’s literature and includes both traditionally and self-published work.

Remember Mr. Roger’s Neighorhood?  Having the postman Mr. McFeely review the book on his podcast and describe it as one of the most unique he’s ever read was incredible!  All the feels (excuse the pun!).

Numerous interviews, including an NBC interview on resilience and coping with children’s mental health: Talking resilience and coping with children’s author and mental health advocate | KGET 17

Delivering a TED talk about my message and the genesis of the book (link above).

Fantastic and powerful reviews from Kirkus, Reader’s Favourite, Indie Reader and Online Bookclub that rate it as a “must read.”

What’s next for you?

I’m thinking about writing my first adult novel based on some unique family history set in Greece in the early 20th century. In the meantime, I will continue to promote this book, as I believe in its power to help children and raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

To purchase a copy of Louie and the Dictator, you can do so on Amazon, Indigo, Waterstones, Book Depository, Target, and other online retailers near you.

Louie and the Dictator: Bournelis, Lisa: 9780228857686: Books – Amazon.ca
To connect with me about the book or to speak at your venue, visit: www.makeoneshift.com or @makeoneshift on Instagram or email me at [email protected]

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