How fondly we recall the brave heroes and thrilling adventures of our childhood books. SAP employees Athina-Sofia Kasimatis and Martina Lutz let us revisit that magical place once more.
Burzel, Pixie, Tiger, Lolie, and Anders are the names of five friends featured in “The Gateway to Another Place,” a children’s book by SAP employee Athina-Sofia Kasimatis. The friends – two hedgehogs, two mice, and a frog – are on their first-ever adventure together.
The inspiration for her book and the idea of using animals as its protagonists came from her daughter, explains Athina. “I often told my daughters bedtime stories that I made up as I went along,” she says. “My elder daughter would sometimes ask me to repeat the story from the evening before because she’d enjoyed it so much. The only snag was that I couldn’t remember how it went. I’d simply thought it up on the spur of the moment.” So she began penning the stories she told her daughters until, bit by bit, the idea for her first book was born.
Athina had long harbored a dream of writing and publishing her own books. But realizing the dream turned out to be a long-running story in itself. Athina joined SAP back in 1994 and is responsible for provisioning training systems for Global Training Systems Delivery. As a working mother of two, she barely found time to write. But, whenever she did, it proved a pleasant antidote to her frequently hectic working day.
“Writing allows me to give free rein to my child-like, imaginative side,” she explains, describing her hobby as a creative process that opens her mind to being more creative in her job, too. “It allows me to broaden my horizons at SAP and to think out of the box. In short, it frees my mind.”
Reading is Magic
Athina began writing for pleasure back in elementary school. She started off by composing poems and expressing her thoughts on paper. Then she moved on to penning short stories and articles for her school magazine. Later, as a student of political science, she dreamed of one day seeing her own publication on sale in a book store.
“For me, reading and the written word are incredibly important,” she says. “The things we read and the way we read them can really change us as people. Reading has magical effects. What we read can be dangerous; it can give us great strength, lift us up, or knock us down,” she adds, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.
Her absolute favorite reading medium is the printed form. Although she recognizes the practical benefits of e-books, she much prefers the sensation of feeling and holding a book in her hands.
“To me, a book is something personal. Every book I’ve ever read has triggered some sort of response in me. Fear, excitement, enjoyment – and even thoughts that would not otherwise have occurred to me. If I pick up a particular book again, I can remember how it made me feel.”
The Quest for a Publisher
But publishing her own book was far from simple. “Applying to the mainstream publishers was nothing but a waiting game. They never replied. Then an acquaintance of mine pointed out that there were plenty of internet publishers I could try.” But it was still not easy to find the right one. Athina finally settled on a small publishing outfit that didn’t just publish books because their authors wanted it to, but that was also not too strict. This seemed like a very good way to start. After all, Athina’s initial aims were to be able to hold a copy of her own book in her hands and to get children enthusiastic about reading. “The idea that I can encourage children to read, make them happy, put a smile on their faces, and create characters they love is both fascinating and gratifying.”
And she fully intends to carry on writing books in the future. She’s already working on a sequel to her first children’s book and on ideas for some new stories, too. Her dream project, she says, is a fantasy novel in which a girl and a boy awake one morning to find that they are completely alone in the world.
Passion for Painting
Martina Lutz has been a painter for as long as she can remember. Her favorite media are watercolors and oils, but she’s always open to inspiration – as a recent visit to an art gallery in Denmark shows. “Quite by chance, on the last day of my vacation, I met the exhibiting artist, who works with the spatula technique. I tried it out myself the moment I got home,” says Martina. Often, she explains, it’s precisely these chance stimuli and inspirations that spark creativity. It was the same with Martina’s cat, Frida, whose escapades she frequently recreated on paper and canvas.
A former rescue cat, Frida is a loner with what Martina calls “sociopathic traits,” though she does seem to yearn for playmates. “I imagined Frida setting out full of curiosity to search for new friends and painted the scenes as I imagined them. After a while, it occurred to me that I could turn all the separate images I’d created into a story.” The result was a lovingly illustrated children’s book, “Frida Knows What She Wants,” published in 2015.
She began by showing her book to friends’ and colleagues’ children – and met with an enthusiastic response all-round. “I was astonished to find that each person seemed to have a different favorite picture.” What everyone agreed on, however, was their admiration for Martina’s courage in tackling a project like this and going public with it. Heartened by this positive feedback, she decided to stage a public exhibition of her work. And it was with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity, and a generous helping of nervous energy that she exhibited her work to a wider public for the first time.
“You just have to set the ball rolling”
Her courage was rewarded: The vernissage, she says, was both “very motivating and exhilarating”. More exhibitions followed, including one at SAP in 2015. The best part of that, says Martina, was the enormous amount of feedback she received from colleagues she’d never even met before. New contacts gave rise to new ideas and projects – and Martina was able to sell a large number of her pictures, the proceeds from which she donated to two charitable organizations, “nph deutschland e.V./UNSERE KLEINEN BRÜDER UND SCHWESTERN” and “terre des hommes.”
What has emerged most clearly from her experiences, says Martina, is that “it’s actually quite simple to make changes in the world. You just have to be brave and set the ball rolling.”
At SAP, Martina channels her creative talents into her role as a technical editor in the area of user assistance and at the interface with user interface design, where visualization plays an increasingly vital role. The experience of discovering that you really can make a difference is something she can apply to both her social and working environments. “Leaving my comfort zone as an artist motivates me to embrace new possibilities in my job and to grow professionally.”
Illustrations by Martina Lutz; photographs via Norbert Steinhauser