Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.
“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.
“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”
Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.
She fell in love with pictures early.
“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”
“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”
Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’. “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”
From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.
“I can’t believe I have barns!”
Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.
“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.
“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”
Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.
“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.
“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”
As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.
“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)
“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”
Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.
“It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”
Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.
63 thoughts on “At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara”
Another fine profile Cynthia. Andrea’s reasons for writing children’s books sounds appealing. And like you, her craft seems very tied to her home.
Thank you! I think Cynthia and I do feel very much that our homes are places of growth and rejuvenation. I love her in-depth sensitive writing about what it really means to be home.
Me too. Thanks Andrea. Home is sanctuary for many of us, especially with gardens too. 🙂
What a beautiful place for a wedding! Lovely photos. How wonderful to live on your dream property!
It is pretty neat. I was able to get a bee hive last summer, too, and will be busy planting a pollinator garden. It’s nice to have space to putter and experiment with different plantings. Hopefully the bees won’t bother the wedding guests!! That’s for a whole different blog post!
What a fun and inspiring passion to have, Andrea!
C’est une bien belle façon de vivre ! Vivre à proximité de la nature, avoir un rythme tranquille et paisible. Belle journée 🙂
Thank you Cynthia for sharing Andrea with us and wish Andrea all the best with her new book. Appreciating differences is a wonderful subject for a children’s book.
Thank you, Bernadette! I appreciate your good wishes for my book. It’s been a labour of love.
A wonderful post, Cynthia.
Thank you, Derrick!
It is hard work, but it is great to see when someone takes on an old house. I hope her book goes well.
Thank you! It is quite the project to take on an old house, but old houses give so much back in return. They have a charm and quirkiness in their old age that new houses can’t match. Like people?? I’d like to think so! And thank you for the good wishes on my book!
Terrific post! “The Great and the Small” sounds like my kind of book.
Thanks, Laurie! I have always loved the oddball books that have a totally different take on reality, like “Watership Down,” and more recently, “Fifteen Dogs.” I can only hope that my book takes readers into a new world, too. If you want, you can “like” my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/AndreaTorreyBalsaraAuthorIllustrator/ to have the update when the book will be launched. I believe it will be at the end of October, early November. Thanks, again!!
Just “liked” your facebook page. Good luck with your book!
Thank you so much!
Beautiful dream home.
Thank you, Elizabeth!
Thank you for introducing us to Andrea, Cynthia. I thoroughly enjoyed this accounting of her life, home and art.
Congratulations to her daughter on her upcoming marriage. What a beautiful place to celebrate their special day!
It is really quite something to live in a house that can host a wedding. We would have had quite a time jamming everyone into our subdivision yard!! We are in the process of planting flowers that will hopefully be in bloom in time for the wedding. It’s challenging and fun.
“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential.” Love this! Thanks for introducing us to Andrea, Cynthia.
Thank you, Jill. I appreciate it!!
Cynthia, I so enjoyed reading about Andrea, her writing, her lovely old/new home. Perhaps my dream home will come “out of the blue” for me as it did for her. Wishing both of you all the best ♥
Hi Tina! It’s funny how life can change; we always assume that “life-changing events” are going to be awful (at least I do). Sometimes they are miracles that drop into our laps, surprising us with how wonderfully unpredictable life can be. Wishing you the best too.
Nice to connect with you, Andrea. I appreciate your positive thinking! 🙂
I love this post, Cynthia! I am so grateful to you for the introduction to Andrea and her books and illustrations. I must share this post with Elinor – I think it might give her hope. Cluster flies! Ugh! We have an infestation of them in our loft.
Thank you, Clare, for your comments. And I agree–cluster flies!! Blah!!! Just a note: Lee Valley has cluster fly traps that work wonders. We should buy shares in them as we have one in every window; they have made our house livable in the summer.
Thank-you so much, Andrea!
Thank you, Cynthia, for this post. I truly appreciate your support and generosity of spirit.
What a beautiful house, Andrea! Thank you for sharing it.
Andrea, I just ordered and read your book, “Greenbeard the Pirate Pig”. Love it and the illustrations are charming. It is wonderful to see that life is good for someone i knew as a child.
Hi Carol! So nice to hear from you! I appreciate you buying my book, and I’m so glad you like it. Take care.
What a lovely tour through the home and life of an artist. The illustrations are wonderful. I’m so glad Andrea didn’t let that C ruin her love of art for long. ❤
Thank you, that is a very kind thing to say! I love the cover illustration of the book on your avatar.
Thanks. I did that one as I needed a “nice” dragon and those are hard to come by!
What marvelous illustrations! And I envy Andrea her workspace. 🙂
Thank you so much, Cathleen! I do feel very blessed to have a great work space. I recall the days of having my workspace in a cold basement with holes in the walls. Still, it was mine, and I loved it. It became a “sacred space” to me. I love this one, too. May all artists create and have sacred spaces to work!
What a great article, brings back so many great memories of last year’s Doors Open Clarington. The great hospitality at Ebor House and having Cynthia there with her new book. How special it was, thanks Andrea, thanks Cynthia.
Great to hear from you, Leo! Wonderful memories.
Thanks, Leo! It’s a house that has so much to give; Nav and I feel very blessed to be in its very welcoming walls.
A lovely post. Such a beautiful home, the perfect place for a wedding! How I would love barns like those! Andrea is very clever .. thanks for the introduction 😀
Thank you, Julie! I love your email address. I would love a frog pond farm. We are working on putting in a small pond just for that purpose. I love barns, too. My parents, who were amateur oil painters, would always pull to the side of the road when we were driving, and take photos of beautiful old barns. I learned to see barns through their eyes, as things of beauty, utility, and history. We are very excited that our daughter is able to be married on such a beautiful property.
Hey Andrea .. thank you! Lovely to hear from you. I’m most certainly a barn fan ..strangely enough we don’t have one at Frog Pond! Popped on over to your website Andrea .. 😀 Do you blog?
I used to have a blog, but it has been put to the back burner while I get my websites streamlined, and some other things sorted out. I use my Facebook page to post updates, and you are welcome to like my page, athttps://www.facebook.com/AndreaTorreyBalsaraAuthorIllustrator/
Cheers Andrea .. will do. Maybe the blog will return from the back burner 😄
“Home, family, art…” nice place to be.
Thank you, Oscar!
What a fantastic spot. The bit about freezing and boiling struck a chord. Isn’t it wonderful when you install some decent heating! Oh wow I can’t believe how cold our place was pre that.
I know–it was quite a shock to go from new subdivision house with instant heat and cooling, to a house where heat must be earned via a wood-burning boiler. No more free rides. It has given me a greater appreciation for just how hard it is to generate heat. It’s been a good learning experience, for sure. Humbling, too!
I can imagine. Especially in a Canadian winter!
It sounds like your friend has a lovely life and is throughly enjoying it.
Thanks, Karen. I’m trying! 😀
What a lovely post-meeting Andrea and meeting her new old home. I feel the same way about reading and looking through illustrated children’s books. And about writing one. I want to celebrate the innocence and love within children’s hearts. 💚
Thank you. I agree about the beauty of children’s books. Some of them are so beautiful. They can literally change a child’s life, and their view of the world. When I was a child, “Beauty and the Beast,” illustrated by Hillary Knight (I think), took me to another world. It was magical.
Books – good books – ARE made up of magic. xo
Such an inspiring post. Beautiful pictures and property!
Thank you very much!!