Meet the Author: Carmel Bird

Carmel’s top tip for aspiring authors: Take the whole thing very seriously – it’s a vocation or a job – it isn’t a hobby. It’s also a gift and a privilege.

Winner of the Patrick White Literary Award, and three times
short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, Carmel Bird is the
author of eleven novels and eight collections of short fiction.
Carmel grew up in Tasmania, and she has an international
reputation as a storyteller, essayist, editor and teacher.

Why do you write? Having the freedom to write is a great gift. (This next bit will sound pretentious). I feel it is a vocation, something I do that enables me to explore the meaning of life on earth through the medium of words. I always rejoice that I live in a country and at a time when it is possible to pursue a life as a writer.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I suppose I’d have to be dead.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I had to develop confidence and self-belief. Once you have those, you are on your way.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I selected the designer, the wonderful Sandy Cull, and she and Transit Lounge were with me all the way in the design of the text and the cover and the whole package. The result is a sheer delight to me.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The pleasure I derive from shaping words, images, ideas into narrative.

—the worst? Never having enough time to do all the research I want to do, and never having enough time to write all the things I want to write.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? My editor Meredith Rose told me I needed another story to complete one of my collections. I said I didn’t have one. She said: ‘You’re a writer. Write one.’

How important is social media to you as an author? I am not sure how effective it is in promoting fiction, but I enjoy using it (mainly Facebook) and not to use it is possibly risking some form of obscurity.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I have never experienced writer’s block, but I have had it reported to me by students of writing. There is a simple exercise I have given them – and I must say it never fails – they dedicate fifteen minutes to this exercise: ‘Write down the word ‘fear’ and just keep writing freely. Write or type as quickly as you can without thinking.’ What happens is that at the end of the fifteen minutes they seem to have found their way. I know it sounds too easy.

How do you deal with rejection? In all areas of life rejection is a challenge that has to be dealt with. Writing is no different. When a story of mine is rejected I send it somewhere else. I won’t give up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Sharp, serious, and a bit amusing.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Well, today it would be Julian Barnes because I have just read his latest book ‘The Man in the Red Coat’. And I always love his writing. He could tell me anything about anything and I would love to hear it.

BOOK BYTE

Field of Poppies

Carmel Bird

Keen to escape the pressures of city life, Marsali Swift and
her husband William are drawn to Listowel, a glorious historic
mansion in the seemingly tranquil small town of Muckleton.
There is time to read, garden, decorate, play chess and
befriend the locals.
Yet one night Listowel is robbed, and soon after a neighbour is
murdered. The violent history of the couple’s adopted Goldfields
town is revealed, and plans for a new goldmine emerge.
Subtle and sinister details unnerve: the novels that are studied
at book club echo disappearances and colonial transgressions,
a treasured copy of Monet ‘s Field of Poppies recalls loves and
dreams but also times of war.
Atmospheric and beguiling, this is a novel that seduces
the reader with mysteries and beauties but also speaks of
something much larger. The planet is in trouble, but is the
human race up to the challenge? Are Marsali and William
walking blindfold into a hostile world?

The book is available here and from leading booksellers.

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Catherine de Saint Phalle

Catherine’s top writing tip: Be yourself in every way. Absolute honesty with oneself is my only tip. Does a mole lie to himself? Does a dog? Even if a dog tries to pull one over his human companion, like pretending he or she hasn’t eaten for weeks when they’ve just had their breakfast, you can see they’re whole. They do not slip out of themselves; they’re holding their lie like a bone in their mouth. It sounds childish to say ‘be true to yourself’ but it’s the only tip I have. Anyway, I think it’s none of my business to advise anyone. Maybe a prime liar could be a fantastic writer. I’ve just explained what works for me.

Catherine de Saint Phalle was born in London and was immediately taken back to Paris by her parents, where an English woman brought her up until she was eight. Her childhood was spent between Paris and Sussex, England. She started writing at seven. She did a modest year of university. Her way of learning was reading compulsively and writing; academia was not her element. She married and moved to the South of France in Provence where she lived till 1998 and had two subsequent relationships. She has the religion of friendship like her mother Poum. For a living, she’s been a Jack of all trades, translating, gardening, French lessons, cleaning etc. She has had nine books published: five in France with Actes Sud and Buchet-Chastel and two of her radio plays were broadcast by France Culture. She left France in 2003 to live in Australia and that’s the best decision she’s ever made. She’s the proud possessor of an Australian passport since 2008. She is now single, lives with her dog and it quite baffled at how happy she is.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  Throughout my life I’ve seen some of my dearest friends suffer in their effort to discover what they wanted to do in life – talented, inspired people who could not find their voice. I have written since the age of seven. I don’t think I can find a reason for writing. Writing is like breathing. If I don’t, everything becomes constricted and dark.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I think I would probably be learning about essential oils or naturopathy. My grandmother was interested in herbs and the people in the village came to her when they were sick. She died in 1943, so I never met her. But I feel close to her all the same. She knew the first French naturopath Paul Carton – long before natural remedies became the fashion. She also knew about graphology. Maybe I’d be a gardener, and then I could read and write for myself even if no one ever read me.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It was changing countries. Five of my books had been published in France and my two radio plays had been broadcast. When I came to Australia, I couldn’t find a publisher. I stayed more than 10 years like that. I got a few articles out in the Big Issue thanks to Rochelle Siemienovicz and Martin Hugues, but that was all. I wrote all kinds of things, short stories, a play, a novel, nothing came up for air. I felt I was living in my drawer. I think I was just undergoing a process of transformation. Going from the French world to the English was part of it of course. But it was more than that. In Jung’s preface to Richard Wilhem’s translation of the IChing, he says that Wilhem became Chinese in his soul and, when at the end of his life he returned to Germany, he died. I think that pouring oneself in another container can be very hard. I didn’t realise this at the time of course.

I wrote my first proper novel at 17, then several others and was not published in France until I was well into my thirties. The main obstacle was self-belief. I never had much of that. But if you have too much, it can be a problem too. It’s tricky.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? No. In my experience, that’s the publishers’ purview. The font, the paper, etc is all their domain. Of course, if a cover made you physically sick, they would not leave you in pain. I’m lucky, I have an intelligent, considerate publisher, but he’s also very good at what he does and I trust him. As for the editing, he has a marvellous editor called Penelope Goodes and she helped me immensely to stay with the heart of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When I can write. That’s the purest joy. One is no longer in exile.

—the worst? When I can’t. When what is right there stays hidden in the moist earth – or when life is scary and intervenes.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t know. I feel like a mole. For me writing is being in darkness, in the moist earth, digging towards the light, moving forward blindly, softly or sitting there in buried silence and trusting to find my way somehow.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing. It’s a private matter, a personal endeavour. I even hate yoga, because the teacher whispers: You are calm, you are detached, you are this, you are that … I can’t bear it. I hate having a voice in my head. It obscures the other one, the feeble, tiny, half-smothered one I’m trying to hear. I know yoga is brilliant and would probably do me a world of good, but I’d rather strangle myself with my own cardigan than go to a yoga class.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? Never take anything for granted. And listen.

How important is social media to you as an author? Well, emails, messaging, Facebook are great tools. Didn’t EM Forster have “Only connect…” written on his tombstone?

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? It’s the most awful thing. I have encountered it a few times in my life, once for a whole month. It feels as if the air were slowly being taken away from my lungs and I become more and more anxious – a tiger might as well be prowling around the room. I’m grounded when I write. I feel whole and useful, even when I’m writing in my notebook about a lady and her basket on the tram, about a streetlight, about the slope of someone’s shoulders … I feel I am saving them in some invisible, mysterious way. It’s ridiculous I know, but that’s how it is.

How do you deal with rejection? Because writing is such an inner thing, it feels like a jolt from above (again the mole), as if my mole hill had been squashed. It’s a tightening, a call to dig deeper. There’s a pinch of course, like all rejection. But it doesn’t make me lose heart entirely.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oh dear, I’m incapable of describing my own writing. Sorry, it’s like trying to see what you look like from behind. It’s an inner endeavour, it comes from another world, the world of the unconscious where all our roots meet. So I have no idea at all.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I think it would be Helen Garner. I always like to know what she feels about anything, not only writing. In fact, hearing her talk about her toothbrush would be most illuminating.

BOOK BYTE

The Sea & Us

Catherine de Saint Phalle

From the Stella shortlisted author of Poum and Alexandre, this is a heartwarming novel about longing, absence and the people we unexpectedly come to love.
After many years spent living in Seoul, a young man called Harold
drifts back to Australia and rents a room above a fish and chip shop
called The Sea & Us. Who he meets and what he experiences there
propels him to question his own yearnings and failings, and to fight for
meaning and a sense of place that can only be reached by facing what
is lost.
By turns electric, tender, and hopeful, The Sea & Us is a gem of literary
imagination. Catherine de Saint Phalle brilliantly captures disparate
characters and their common human desire for community and
connection. Long after the last page closes, ‘we can hear the bell
tinkle. Someone wants some fish and chips.’

The book is available here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Robert Vescio

Robert Vescio has worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years as a Production Manager and a Photo Editor, working on a number of photographic magazines. Robert enjoyed sourcing photographic material from world-renowned photographers the ilks of Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Demarchelier and Jean-Baptiste Mondino just to name a few.

Two of his picture books, Finn and Puss and Eric Finds A Way were shortlisted in the 2018 CBCA Bilby Awards.  Many of his short stories have been published in anthologies such as Packed Lunch, Short and Twisted, Charms Vol 1, The Toy Chest and The School Magazine NSW.

Robert has won awards for his children’s writing including First Place in the 2012 Marshall Allan Hill Children’s Writing Competition and Highly Commended in the 2011 Marshall Allan Hill Children’s Writing Competition.

He is a Books in Homes Role Model and enjoys visiting schools. His aim is to enthuse and inspire children to read and write and leave them bursting with imaginative ideas.

Robert is a BIG kid at heart! He is a huge fan of Disney. He lives in Sydney and enjoys spending time with his children, who are an endless source of inspiration.

For more information, visit www.robertvescio.com or https://www.facebook.com/RobertVescioAuthor or instagram: robertvescio_author

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? What I love about writing is that I get to share my stories with children. It’s great to see how I can make a difference in a child’s life. This is the rewarding part about being an author. I like to write stories that help children deal with changes in their lives and to better understand their world and relationships.

Picture books invite engagement – a connection. That’s why I enjoy writing picture books because it supports an adult-child conversation. The pictures help to initiate a discussion with young children and express their feelings. I find it a challenge to tell a story in under five minutes. Children read more books than adults and the world of children’s book publishing is welcoming. When you write children’s stories there are no rules. They can be silly or serious. Anything goes! Also, I get to visit schools and connect kids to books and give them an appreciation of the process involved in creating the books they love. Oh, and children’s book authors get the best fans and fan mail.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Growing up, I loved reading the Winnie the Pooh series and I went on many great adventures. But my absolute, all-time favourite book is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I found new friends, a lamppost, a faun and a forest where it’s snowing all the time. For me opening a book is like opening a cupboard and being transported to another world. You never know who you’ll met or what you’ll find. Stories are fun and powerful. They transport us from one world to another by some sort of magic. I have wonderful tales to share, after all, I’ve lived life and you pick up life lessons along the way. So, you naturally employ those life lessons in your work.

How much inspiration do you draw from your own family life? Do you test your early drafts on family members? It helps to have kids. I observe them and the ideas start flowing. For instance, I wrote my first picture book No Matter Who We’re With following my separation in 2008. Not only was it rough for me on a personal level, with so much upheaval and sadness, but for my children too. So, I decided to write a story that would help not only my children, but also other children going through a similar fate to cope with the many changes experienced when parents separate. I couldn’t find any picture books that dealt with this issue so I thought I’d write a picture book about it myself. I test all my stories on family, especially my kids. They are the hardest critics!

In Voyage you’ve used minimalist text to tell a dramatic story about a family fleeing their war-torn country in search of a new life in a new land. It packs a powerful punch and I found myself saying a mental ‘yes’ as I turned the pages and followed their journey from chaos to comfort and safety. How did this story come about? What led you to pare the text back to basics? Most importantly, what do you hope readers will take away from it? Today, we find ourselves living alongside refugees who have suffered and experienced horrific trauma. They all have different experiences and come from different cultures. It’s important that we understand and build good communities and the only way we can do this is through stories – stories that help us explore and imagine being that someone else.

I wanted to write a story about the refugee crisis that was unique and different. The one word per spread gives the reader the ability to expand on the words and tell a story through what they see i.e. that old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. This will help children to explore their surroundings and open classroom discussions about what is happening in the story. What is it like to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange?

The simple and spare text used in The Voyage, will help to put things into a context that will make sense to them. It’s simple and thought-provoking and shows the different stages of a refugee family fleeing their home in search of another country to start a new life. I hope The Voyage will help children talk about the different reasons people are forced to flee, build awareness and admiration and have a greater understanding of what it means to be a refugee.

Australia’s distance from the rest of the world can sometimes make it feel like we live in our own bubble. It can make it tough to imagine what people are experiencing so far away. The Voyage will help kids to talk about what’s happening and provide a little more clarity.

 How involved were you in the development of this book? The illustrations tell so much of this story. Did you have input into how they were shaped? When writing The Voyage, I didn’t have a specific country in mind that the family were fleeing from. The illustrator, Andrea Edmonds, researched refugees from different parts of the world. This led her to the refugees in the Middle East.

Andrea created powerful illustrations to help children visualise the people impacted by war. The illustrations draw the reader into every stage of the voyage. Her illustrations invite the reader to imagine the challenges they would face. The end result, is a simple yet powerful story of a family fleeing their war-torn country and making a dangerous trip across the ocean to a new life in a new land. It helps the reader to connect and sympathise with the family, and better understand the heartache of their experiences.

You have a growing number of titles released and in the pipeline. What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I think the toughest obstacle was finding a publisher who would take the risk of publishing my work. It’s important to persevere and never give up. The door will eventually open. Persistence is key! If you want to be a writer, you must call yourself one. Be brave. Believe it. Become it. I’m fortunate to have 12 picture books published to date with another five to be published over the next two years.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life? For me, appreciating the work of other authors is the best aspect of my writing life. Writing isn’t easy and I appreciate all forms of writing. Writing is a labour of love. By writing what I really care about, I’m putting my heart into my writing. This is what makes it come alive. Words are precious. They provide a way into reality.

My creativity is another aspect I like best. I’m fuelled by many things such as books I’ve read, people I’ve come into contact with, art and my kids, of course.

I never know where my stories will take me. This mystery is what creates the excitement I need to stay inspired. Embracing the freedom to change things along the way helps every choice I make in my writing. By doing so, I open myself to a world where anything is possible.

I’m also inspired by the idea of creating something that is positive and brings happiness to people. It’s inspiring to know that I can make a difference in someone’s life through my stories. If I write creatively on what I know and believe then I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to do.

 —the worst? The worst part is having self-doubt. You must always be true to yourself.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wish I had started sooner. There’s that self-doubt creeping back again. I believe if you can conquer this then it will lead to productive writing. Don’t let self-doubt get in your way. Just do it. Don’t wait!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? How hard it was to get published.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Write what you know. Think of something close to your heart and make it interesting. If something is very close and dear to your heart the words will flow out easily.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read and keep reading more.  Practice writing and keep practising more. The more you write the better you will be at it. It’s okay to make mistakes as this will show you where you went wrong.

Seek out constructive feedback on your work. Send your work out to be assessed. Take suggestions seriously, and learn from them. My writing is far better for it. It’s important to get feedback from people in the industry.

Before submitting a manuscript, make sure your work is polished. After all, publishers are professionals and we must show respect in how we present our work to them.

Competitions and anthologies have been very helpful in shaping my career as a writer. I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now had I not plucked up the courage and submitted my work to these events.

If your work is of a high standard, sooner or later it will get published.

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media helps. It’s a great way to get your books noticed. It’s important to have a presence out there. Remember – out of sight, out of mind!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, I think we all do. I go for a walk. This clears my head. You never know what you’ll find along the way.

How do you deal with rejection? No one likes rejection. Believe me, I’ve received my fair share. But rejection only fuels me even more to improve my work. I keep all my rejection letters in a folder. Why? Because this is a constant reminder of my commitment to my writing. It’s what keeps me going. I shrug it off and keep going. Be determined, and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If your story comes back with a rejection letter, don’t take it personally. GET IT IN THE MAIL TO ANOTHER PUBLISHER.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? From the heart.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? CS Lewis.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.’ – CS Lewis.

BOOK BYTE

The Voyage

Written by Robert Vescio, Illustrated by Andrea Edmonds

Displaced by war and conflict, a refugee family sets out on a voyage into the unknown. Told in only a few words, this is the powerful story of a family fleeing their war-torn country and making a dangerous trip across the ocean to a new life in a new land.

Chaos’ begins the story, as the family escapes.

‘Wild’ is the midway point, as their boat battles through a storm.

‘Land’ is the sight of a green, beautiful land ahead of them.

‘Safe’ is the beginning of their new life in their new home.

The book is available from https://ekbooks.org/product/the-voyage/

 

 

Meet the Author: Stephanie Ward

Stephanie’s top tip for aspiring authors: Believe. If you can’t believe in yourself (because so many of us writers are plagued with self-doubt), believe in your story. Or believe in your characters. They deserve to be heard.

Stephanie Ward is the author of Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde, published by EK Books in September 2019. Her next picture book is due for release in 2020, but it’s all under wraps at the moment so stay tuned for details! After many years in marketing, Stephanie now spends her time writing sweet, silly and sidesplitting stories for children. Too old to blame it on youth, she still hasn’t settled down and spends her spare time traveling. At present, she can be found in London, England with her husband and young son.

To find out more about Stephanie and her writing, visit her website: www.stephaniemward.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I have stories to tell and I want to tell them my way. I love playing with words and letting ideas take me into uncharted territory.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Both Arabella and the Magic Pencil and my forthcoming picture book (top secret for now) are based on things I did in my childhood. The freedom I had then to imagine, create and try new things without any ulterior motive or goal set a wonderful precedent for allowing time for exploration in my writing life.

How much inspiration do you draw from your own family life? Do you test your early drafts on family members? My seven-year-old son and his friends are an unending source of inspiration. From their raw view of the world to the kooky words they use and their radical emotional swings, it’s hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.

I do force my son and husband to listen to my stories, but it doesn’t always end well. It’s like living with critique partners whose feedback you never use. Awkward.

Arabella’s Magic Pencil is a delightful take on sibling rivalry. It’s full of whimsy and a wonderful use of language. I found myself smiling as I turned each page. How did this story come about and what do you hope readers will take away from it? Thank you for your kind words. I first wrote this story in Year 8 as an assignment for English class. At the time, I was 13 years old and had recently become a big sister, again. The new addition to our family was a little brother who was then almost two years old. I’m sure I was channeling my annoyance at having a toddler messing up all of my important teenage stuff when I decided to write about a girl who could draw anything she wanted and erase things she didn’t.

I hope the story resonates with families who are welcoming a new child. It’s hard for children to identify what they are feeling about a new sibling, especially when emotions can change frequently. I wanted to write a story about all of those feelings.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Figuring out the publishing industry – who is open to submissions, what they want, who to pitch, how to submit, and on and on ad infinitum – is a full-time challenge.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the illustrations? Once the contract was signed, I was out of the picture while the wonderful artist Shaney Hyde worked her magic. I didn’t have input, but I got a couple of sneak peeks along the way and I was truly blown away by the end result. Maybe Shaney has a magic pencil?

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to write stories that are swirling around in my imagination and then share them with children who totally get it is amazing.

—the worst? Not being able to write down coherently what is so clearly the best story idea in my head is immensely frustrating.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t worry about what everyone else is doing or how they did it and simply forge my own writing path.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Being an author is more than just writing in pyjamas, so get ready.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Forget about anyone who doesn’t get what you are trying to do with your story, even if they are a publisher. Move on and find someone who does. (There was actually some profanity when it was told to me, but it certainly stuck with me!)

How important is social media to you as an author? For me, living across three continents, social media is a necessary evil. I don’t love it and I’m not good at it, but I can cheer on fellow authors in Australia, be a mentor to a school in the US and virtually join a chat in the UK from anywhere. That’s pretty amazing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I can’t think of anything to write creatively, I revise something or critique someone else’s story or send out submissions.

How do you deal with rejection? I reject rejection! In my experience, publishers never actually use the word ‘rejection’. I decided early on that I wouldn’t believe that I or my story are ‘rejected’ when a publisher doesn’t take it. I work hard to find publishing houses that are a good fit for my project. But if they don’t agree, I move on.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Sweet, silly and side-splitting

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I have read Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman so many times (I even bought the Spanish edition and I don’t speak Spanish) that I’d love to meet him. I’d ask him to explain to me what it is – the X factor, that thing, the special something – that makes a book really ‘good’? Are You My Mother? breaks a lot of today’s picture book rules, but it has certainly withstood the test of time.

BOOK BYTE

Arabella and the Magic Pencil

Written by Stephanie Ward, Illustrated by Shaney Hyde

Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything until her brother, Avery, arrives. While she loves him, it’s sometimes hard to like him. She spends her days creating marvellous things with her magic pencil, and ignoring him. But when he spoils her tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! Can she get him back? Arabella and the Magic Pencil will appeal to any child with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics.

Arabella and the Magic Pencil is available from ekbooks.org and wherever good books are sold.

 

Meet the Author: Inez Baranay

Inez’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write however you want to write. Make your own rules, find your own voice.

Inez Baranay was born in Naples, Italy, grew up in Sydney, Australia. She has published 12 books of fiction and non-fiction, and has lived in and taught creative writing in countries including India, Indonesia and the United States. Most recently Inez taught at the university in Canakkale, Turkey, on the shore of the Dardanelles. She now lives in Sydney.
To find out more about Inez and her writing, visit www.inezbaranay.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I couldn’t bear not to. I need those periods of immersion in imagination and language, to be making something, to be in that state of other-being. But why why why, it’s a mystery eventually; sometimes to need to write feels like a curse.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t realistically imagine not being a writer. I’d have to be someone very different. A gardener? A painter? An outrageously wealthy heiress?

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Waiting until the right publisher at the right moment turned up – it took a while.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? After the publisher (Transit Lounge) accepted the book they assigned an editor (Kate Goldsworthy) who was great for tidying up the manuscript and helping me solve remaining issues.

The publisher consulted me about the cover; several covers were suggested, then this one, and I immediately said Yes. The image gives me a good feeling.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Writing itself. The solitude, the complete freedom. You make your own rules, invent your own way of working.

—the worst? The realities of financial poverty, the times it’s going badly and my whole life seems based on stupid delusion.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Learn a trade by which to earn a living. When I started out there was an expectation that earning a living was possible from literary, independent writing.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing anyone could have told me would have made any difference, I suspect.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A strangely difficult question: good advice in general seems to confirm what you already feel is true, so the best advice came from myself, to trust the instinct. (No general advice suits all situations.)

How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all, except sometimes as a place to lurk and see what’s going on in the world and how people talk about it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t like that expression. Every creative endeavour has different phases, you can’t expect it always to be like it is when it feels like it’s flowing. Sometimes the writing doesn’t go well. Almost to the point of despair sometimes. Just keep going, try a different way, go for a walk, have a nap if you need to.

How do you deal with rejection? Pick myself up, dust myself off. Persist. Maybe feel horrible for a while then make up any interpretation of the rejection that makes me keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Experimental. Imaginative. Precise.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Hm, that would have to be the subject of the biography I am currently writing, Sasha Soldatow, who died in 2006; he was my first editor, and wrote brilliantly, but not enough, who had talent to burn but, by all accounts, was destroyed by alcohol and pills, or by whatever made him turn to them rather than to writing.

BOOK BYTE

Turn Left at Venus

Inez Baranay

 

 

They were two little girls on a very big boat.
In the 1930s, Ada and Leyla meet as children on a boat bringing migrants from Old Europe to the New World. They talk of seeing kangaroos yet end up living miles apart from each other in suburban Sydney. Their separations are often lengthy but their friendship endures across continents and
decades and is a thread in this haunting story of writing, relationships and ageing.
Ada (A.L. Ligeti) becomes an author, searching for a Utopian world, exploring aspects of patriarchy and gender in her groundbreaking feminist science fiction novel called Turn Left at Venus. That novel and its sequels are celebrated and much discussed by generations of fans. Memory and imagination fold seamlessly into one another as Ada keeps moving on,
from relationships and places, living in hotels and rental spaces
in Kings Cross, San Francisco, Ubud and elsewhere.
Baranay’s emotionally resonant portrait of the solitary and artistic
life, lived adventurously across space and time, triumphantly
celebrates the singularity of being, of age, of imagination, and
of the ‘getting ready’ for the ending that life demands.

The book is available from https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/tun-left-venus/

 

Meet the Creators: Vikki Conley and Penelope Pratley

One of the loveliest aspects of my writing life is connecting with other children’s book creators and sharing the excitement of a new story finding its way to young readers. This week I’m chatting with Vikki Conley and Penelope Pratley about their creative life and their beautiful picture book, Ella and Mrs Gooseberry.

Congratulations to you both on the release of this warm-hearted story about Ella’s quest to find out what love looks like and how to help her next door neighbour find it again. It brought a smile to my day and I’m sure it will become a favourite with families.

Penelope, what was your response on first reading Vikki’s manuscript?  My first response to a manuscript is always to draw a few quick sketches as I read the story and see how the characters present themselves.

Did the story immediately conjure images for you? Immediately I knew that the images where the characters explain ‘What love looks like’ would use the colours of the rainbow in the background which would lead to a rainbow of colour as Mrs Gooseberry danced in her kitchen. I also really wanted to include the ‘floating’ elements to represent the magic feeling that is love.

Please share a little about your process in illustrating the book. How collaborative was it?  As an illustrator I complete a storyboard that is then sent to the publisher. The art director and editor then provide feedback on placement and any early changes that may need to occur. Then I complete a set of ‘good copy’ drawings that are sent back to the publisher and shared with the author. From there the publisher provides me with any further changes before I commence the final illustrations using pencil and watercolour paint.

Vikki, has the book been illustrated the way you envisioned it would be when you wrote it?  When I write, I visualise scenes, not necessarily exact color or style. However, I always hoped that the story would be in soft watercolor with gentle characters and warm colors. Penelope has done just this with her beautiful illustrations. So I think the answer is yes!

Do you have a favourite part of Ella and Mrs Gooseberry?

V. I love the floating images that represent each character’s wonder and response to the question, “What does love look like?” I was thrilled when I saw Penelope had conceived this concept for the story. It added visual excitement and supported the story in such a original way.

P. It’s so hard to choose just one part! I’m particularly fond of the ‘love looks like’ pages – especially the ‘grandma’ page as it’s based on my beautiful mother-in-law. I also love the small story of the soccer ball getting stuck in Mrs Gooseberry’s front yard that we later see Mrs Gooseberry kicking happily.

What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading this book?

V. That they will be encouraged to wonder. That they will explore the idea of love with their family. That they will consider how others feel. That they will feel warm inside like an apple pie!

P. I hope readers will appreciate the importance of community and will value that love comes in many different forms and that a child’s solution to a problem comes from the heart.

Where do you find your creative inspiration?

V. In so many places. In particular, I expose myself to a lot of art and wilderness. I read widely. As a treat, I try to get to galleries and performances. A podcast, audio book or music is often playing in my car, or while I cook dinner. I walk among trees and along rivers several times a week. I then try to notice the small things in life – sounds, body language, light, movement, colors. Diverse experiences are also good for my creative juices – travel, food, climbing mountains, trying new things regularly.

P. Well Vikki’s beautiful story obviously, my family and friends and ‘Olive’ who was an elderly blind lady I used to read to after meeting her on the bus home after school. I would spend my Sunday afternoons walking to her house and reading her The Secret Garden and many classic tales.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s books creator?

V. Enormously. I grew up on a farm nestled in between the mountains, rainforest, the ocean and a national park. Animals, the natural world and adventure left a lasting imprint on my mind and soul. I have memories of doing backflips down sand dunes and spotting kangaroos hopping along the beach on remote islands, body painting myself with white clay found in river streams, making daisy chains for the orphan lambs that we reared by bottle, and eating icecream with mulberries picked straight from the tree. I still feel, smell and smile about all of these memories. They inspire my writing every day.

P. I was very ill as a child and still suffer from a range of chronic autoimmune conditions. So books and art have always kept me company. When I returned to school in grade two after a long stint in hospital our class was reading Possum Magic. The accompanying activity was to recreate one of Julie Vivas’ stunning watercolour illustrations. That moment was completely magic for me. I was not a great reader until early high school but would spend hours listening to stories on cassette tape and poring over picture books. My Nan in particular encouraged my love of art, always providing a steady stream of paper and materials to keep me company while I was unable to attend school. Art and creativity have always had a consistent presence in my life.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

V. Finding space in my life to just keep writing.

P. Believing that I could. Because it doesn’t matter how many people tell you can do something until you believe it yourself.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life?

V. Working with other creators who bring their own imagination and flair to a project. That sweet spot where story meets illustration is like honey on crumpets!

P. Oh my goodness – there are SO many! I suppose the best one is I get to do what I love every day and I am still available to be a mum to my two beautiful children.

—the worst?

V. Having to keep so many multiple projects and jobs on the go in order to be able to afford crumpets.

P. Time! I never seem to have enough of it and I spend vast amounts of time alone. Sometimes it would be great to have someone to bounce ideas off as I’m creating.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now in this industry? What do you wish you’d known?

V. I would have reworked my early manuscripts for longer before I started submitting. Perhaps done my Australian Writers’ Centre Picture Book course sooner – it helped me take a giant leap.

P. I think the only thing I would do differently is to have started sooner.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

V. Just keep writing.

P. Do all things with excellence.

What’s your top tip for aspiring children’s books creators?

V. Just keep writing. But also seek opportunities to improve eg a mentor, a course, a writer’s group.

P. Put your work out there and put time in to hone your craft with daily repeated practice.

How important is social media to you?

V. I used to be slightly afraid, almost opposed to social media. However, I now embrace it. It’s helped me connect with many creators and professionals in the industry. It’s also allowed others to share my journey and support me along the way.

P. Not overly important as far as self promotion but super important for the beautiful friendships and for the advice of fellow illustrators and writers who are so generous with their time and knowledge.

Is there a favourite childhood book that has influenced you creatively?

V. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton because it is pure bliss and wonder. And also The Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth for its fun and cheekiness. How can you ever forget that line…? “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread man.”

P. Ha! I can’t possibly only share one. Possum Magic – Mem Fox, Let’s Play – Marie Hall Ets, Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams, The Little Matchstick Girl – Hans Christian Anderson, and The Little Green Road To Fairyland- Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.

Vikki Conley. Photo: Rachel Winton Photography

Vikki Conley is one of the most prolific emerging children’s authors, with seven picture books being released within the next two years. She is a writer, book reviewer and intrepid adventurer. She has worked as a professional writer and marketer, with diverse communities in Africa, Asia and Australia, for over 20 years.

Vikki has been short-listed, long-listed and placed in competitions including Jackie Hosking’s Poetry For Kids (2019), the CYA Competition (2018 & 2019) and the Charlotte Waring Barton Award (2017). Vikki has a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and has completed two children’s picture book courses (Writers Victoria and the Australian Writers’ Centre).

To find out more about Vikki, visit https://www.vikkiconley.com/

Penelope Pratley

Penelope Pratley is an emerging illustrator, writer and educator living in NSW, Australia. The first picture book she illustrated was published in 2018. With an aim to grow hearts she uses watercolour, ink, pencil and mixed media. Penelope always had a BIG dream to write and illustrate quality books and inspire children to read. When she’s not working in her garden studio or munching chocolate freckles, you’ll find her at the back of the local bookshop in the children’s section. Penelope has illustrated two picture books published in 2019 and is excited to be illustrating more for publication in 2020. To find out more about Penelope, visit https://www.penelopesnest.com/

About Ella and Mrs Gooseberry

Grumpy old Mrs Gooseberry from next door has lost her love. ‘I didn’t know you could lose love,’ says Ella. So she begins her quest to find out what love looks like and how she can help Mrs Gooseberry to rediscover it. Her mother says love is like home-cooked pie. Her teacher says it’s like lanterns in the night. Perhaps love might look like a little kitten. Ella and Mrs Gooseberry is a heart-warming picture book about a child’s understanding of love, selfless giving and how it makes you feel.

It is available from www.ekbooks.org and wherever good books are sold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: John Kinsella

John’s top tip for writers: Never give in.

John Kinsella is the author of more than 30 books. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry. His most recent works include the poetry volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Open Door (UWAP, 2018). Story collections include Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). Recent novels are Lucida Intervalla (UWAP, 2018) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because it’s how I best communicate and because I feel writing can offer alternative directions for thinking and behaving.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Unimaginable. But I would still be trying to stop forests being destroyed and working towards justice and rights issues. If I didn’t write, I’d still be a reader. Reading is more important to me than writing. Reading and trying to stop the damage in whichever non-violent way I can.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Early on, probably my own disruptive and turbulent behaviours.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the covers? I am always involved in the making of my books. Cover designs are usually the choice of the publisher, but I get some input and in the end it’s always a collaborative effort, even if it’s a matter of choosing which version from the array the designer has come up with. In this case, one of my brother’s artworks was used. Many of my covers have been designed around his unusual and indelible art.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That it’s an ongoing process — that my work in one way or another, even across genres, is interconnected, to my mind at least!

—the worst? I like proofs because I don’t like errors — or if there are ‘errors’, I want them to be intentional and to know what they’re about… but my eyes get strained by the time the third pass proofs are signed off on! So proofs are a conundrum!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Start sober. I’ve been sober for almost a quarter of a century now since giving stuff up, but I wish I’d been sober from the beginning of my writing life.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Oh, nothing really — one finds one’s own way, whatever that is.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Never give in.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never give in.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all — I think it’s a delusion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I switch from genre to genre to avoid it. If I can’t write, I walk or (continue to) work to save the environment (which I also do when I can write). There’s always too much to do — no time to worry about those kinds of blockages!

How do you deal with rejection? It’s part of a writing life. I accept it and move on and try again. If I believe in a piece of work, I believe in it no matter what. I like critical input, but I also know myself as a writer, I think. Either way, I don’t give up on something, I keep working at it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Strange, specific, activist.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? A technical poetry discussion with John Milton would be interesting, though we’d run into problems with his tacit and less than tacit approval of violent acts of correction. Novelist? Probably Carson McCullers… an hour with her would be intense. Her writing life was complex… I am not sure what I’d want to be told about it other than what she’d hope to have written if she’d had a longer life. Maybe she wouldn’t have known.

BOOK BYTE

Hollow Earth

John Kinsella

Fascinated by caves and digging holes since childhood,
Manfred discovers a path through to another realm via a
Neolithic copper mine at Mount Gabriel in Schull, Ireland.
The world of Hollow Earth, while no Utopia, is a sophisticated
civilisation. Its genderless inhabitants are respectful of
their environment, religious and cultural differences are
accommodated without engendering hate or suspicion, and
grain not missile silos are built. Yet Ari and Zest accompany
Manfred back to the surface world. ‘Come with me and see
my world.’
So begins an extraordinary adventure in which the three
wander the Earth like Virgil’s Aeneas, Ari and Zest seeking
re-entry to their own world. The Hollow Earthers are shocked
at the cruelty and lies of the surface world, the dieback
spreading through the forests. Yet they are seduced by the
world’s temptations.
Kinsella’s parable draws on a rich tradition of Hollow Earth
literature and science fiction including Bradshaw’s The
Goddess of Atvatabar (1892). With strange beauty, its alluring
trajectory vividly captures our 21st century world in crisis.
Like Manfred we are often blindly complicit in the earth’s
downfall. ‘Happiness is under our feet.’ sings the narrator in
this passionate, layered and compelling new novel.

The book is available here.