Meet the Author: Tim Symonds

It’s relatively simple to continue typing words into a computer until you’ve got 50,000 or 60,000 words down but then commences the most important task in authorship, rewriting, honing the paragraphs until you’re completely satisfied.

Tim Symonds

Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and the British Crown Dependency of Guernsey. After several years farming on the slopes of Mt Kenya and working on the Zambezi River in Central Africa, he emigrated to the United States. He studied at Göttingen, in Germany, and the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Society of Authors.

Check out his website at http://tim-symonds.co.uk/

Author Insight

You came to writing later in life. What inspired you to pick up the pen? I did come to getting my novels published well into later life, it’s true, but I hankered after becoming a novelist when I was about 12. An aunt of mine married an impecunious but ambitious would-be author by the name of Elleston Trevor. Everyone really did think he should get a proper job but he persisted. And he made it on a grand scale. In the midpoint of his career he wrote The Flight of the Phoenix which became a Hollywood movie starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch. After an oil company plane crashes in the Sahara, the survivors are buoyed with hope by one of the passengers, an airplane designer who plans for them to build a flyable plane from the wreckage.

Elleston and my aunt Iris aka Jonquil ended up with a house high in the mountains of New Mexico where the movie was filmed.  I thought, ‘I’ll have some of that’.

Did you draw on any skills in your previous employment or was writing a novel a new experience entirely?  A new experience. When I was 21 I found myself in the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica. I rented a bungalow in the Blue Mountains (coffee-growing country) and made my first attempt at writing a novel, a Cold War spy story with a protagonist remarkably like me. I think it could have been good enough to get published but I had no idea how to go about it. In the end it found its way to a drawer in my mother’s house in St Peter Port and when she passed away it was probably thrown out with all the rest of mementos the house-clearing people thought of no value.

How would you describe yourself as a writer? Are you a careful planner, what is known in the industry as a ‘pantser’ who writes the story ‘by the seat of your pants’ and finds out what happens as you go, or a combination of both?

I had not heard the amusing term ‘pantser’ before but I am definitely at that end of the spectrum. I’m certainly not a writer who has to have almost the entire plot secure in mind before I turn on the computer and start. For example, I have just begun to work on a new Holmes-and-Watson novel which – going by my first seven or eight novels and short-story collections – will take me well through this winter and next summer and probably up to my birthday in September. If I have any claim to fame in the future it would be because I do a tremendous amount of research, often as much as a university course in, say, the history of the Balkans or China or Bulgaria, where I have set some of my novels, such as Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter (Serbia), and Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil (Peking).

Please share a little of your writing process. Do you have a daily routine?  I do write for at least an hour or two each day. In winter this is done in a small room in the old oast house in ‘Rudyard Kipling Country’ where my partner Lesley Abdela and I live, in the depths of the Sussex High Weald. Lesley is the first to read the typescript and in doing so she gives me really useful ideas. In summer I take a laptop to one of four favourite hide-outs in the extensive forest surrounding the house where I’ve stashed a couple of canvas folding chairs. Depending on the time of day at least one of them is bathed in the sun’s rays, filtering down through the trees.  The moment I turn my laptop on I’m transported to other lands. As I mentioned earlier, in Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter that was Serbia around 1905; in Sherlock Holmes And The Nine-Dragon Sigil it was a lot lot farther, to Peking’s Forbidden City and the equally forbidding Empress Dowager Cixi of the Manchu Yehe Nara clan. The research as well as the writing is escapism at its very best!

What was your path to publication?  About 12 years ago, impressed by the worldwide renewed interest in Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson (and dear rat-faced Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, and the evil Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty), I decided to try my hand at writing a Holmes-and-Watson adventure which became a typescript I titled Sherlock Holmes And The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle

Now what to do?  I googled ‘Sherlock Holmes publishers’ and up came MX Publishing described as ‘With over 400 books it’s the largest catalogue of new Sherlock Holmes books in the world’. Out of the wild blue yonder I sent the typescript to them.  An email came saying the typescript had been sent to an editor for evaluation. A second email came a week or two later saying MX would publish it. The cover would portray the ancient mill and pond at the real Scotney Castle in Kent.

Since then I’ve published about one novel a year, the latest being Sherlock Holmes And The Strange Death of Brigadier-General Delves.  A trial for murder is held in the Royal Courts of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. This really did delve a bit into my own past – I was brought up in Guernsey with very happy memories of that quite isolated little island off the Normandy coast before I left school and went to Africa and continents beyond.

As far as titles are concerned, I was advised by people who understood how to catch the electronic world’s eye that I should start a novel’s title with ‘Sherlock Holmes And…’, advice I have mostly followed – except for my new book coming out this December which I have titled The Torso At Highgate Cemetery And Other Sherlock Holmes Stories.  In my London days I rented a flat not far from Waterlow Park and Highgate Cemetery, and almost every day my routine was to walk to the park and then go out the far side straight into the wonderful cemetery. With its umpteen graves going back to the 1830s and a large part left almost to nature, overgrown graves and tumbledown Victorian gravestones, it’s a ‘must visit’ for anyone going to North London, including all the Russians and Chinese who go to stand in silent awe at Karl Marx’s grave with its immense bronze head.

How involved have you been in the development of your books?  A lot. Although MX Publishing have about 140 authors in their ‘stable’ they are a registered charity, profits going to help support a school for children with special mental and physical needs located in Arthur Conan Doyle’s old home ‘Undershaw’, and an orphanage in Nairobi for babies literally left on the streets of Kenya’s capital. The authors therefore get a modest amount from sales but are happy to see money going to those good causes. It also means everything the authors themselves can do to publicise their novels is very welcome, in addition to professional online promotion of the books by MX.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Not so much told as being reminded!  It’s relatively simple to continue typing words into a computer until you’ve got 50,000 or 60,000 words down but then commences the most important task in authorship, rewriting, honing the paragraphs until you’re completely satisfied. This may mean rewriting perhaps 10 times, but if you don’t you may find a publisher just sends it back with a soulless but legally-advised ‘thank you but no thanks’ slip attached.   

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Choosing how to divide up your day. And people who’ve read one of your novels being nice. And doing the research. Research may take two or three hours a day, require reading perhaps 15 books on the subject of your novel, and transport you to faraway places into a faraway time, in my case mostly the Edwardian or Victorian era when Holmes and Watson were riding in fast Hansom carriages, Watson’s trusty service revolver in a pocket, almost yelling out ‘Hooray! The game’s afoot!’. 

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Remember, you only live once. Ie. don’t keep on doing what you’re doing if you really don’t like it.  

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Obvious as it may seem, to become a novelist you really do have to write a novel. (Then you really do have to get a publisher to publish it.)

How important is social media to you as an author? I need to learn a great deal more about it and how utilising it could expand coverage of my novels. Two of my novels are included in Amazon UK Top 100 Amazon Best Sellers in Sherlock Holmes Mysteries. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Sherlock-Holmes-Mysteries/zgbs/books/270416). I’ll bet my old walking boots getting known via social media would be extremely favourable to sales.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I have never experienced this tricky state of affairs. I’m a chatter-box and I wonder if that means I have a brain which doesn’t freeze when the PC’s screen comes on, blank and perhaps a bit forbidding!

Reviews are important to attract readers. What has been the response to your book? It’s been wonderful.

How would you describe your writing? Simply conjuring up adventures I’d have liked to have been party to, ones most certainly not likely to win the Booker Prize! 

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? It has to be Ernest Hemingway. He combined writing his stories with making sure he was seeing the world, pity that included all that Big Game hunting, but those were the times.

I’d like to know how he came up with some of his works, such as The Old Man and the Sea, often cited as Hemingway’s best novel.  I myself set off for a similar adventurous life, leaving Guernsey at 16, working on a large farm high up on the slopes of Mt Kenya, hiking down through Africa, spending a year in deepest Mexico in the shadow of another great mountain, Popocatapetl, emigrating to California and becoming an undergrad and graduate at UCLA before returning often to every quarter of my favourite continent, Africa. I never met Hemingway though I must have walked over his footsteps when I walked up Mt Kilimanjaro. My writing style doesn’t copy his – he was the master of the short sentence – but through my twenties I usually had one of his novels with me at all times, for example his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Book Byte

Sherlock Holmes and the Strange Death of Brigadier-General Delves

It’s 1898. Kismet brings about a chance reunion at a London club between Dr. Watson and Colonel “Maiwand Mike” Fenlon, former military comrades from their Northwest Frontier days and the desperate Battle of Maiwand. A week later an urgent cable seeking Sherlock Holmes’s help arrives from the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a British Crown Dependency 30 miles off the coast of Normandy. A retired high-ranking British Indian Army officer who commanded the troops at Maiwand has dropped dead. Colonel Fenlon is in a holding cell awaiting trial for his murder.

What role in the Brigadier-General’s death was played by a phial of patent medicine developed in India to treat cholera? Why are Colonel Fenlon’s forefinger and thumbprint on the neck of the phial when he swears he has never seen it before?

Above all, why is Fenlon refusing to enter a plea or even to tell his Defence counsel what took place the evening the Brigadier-General dropped dead?

This tightly crafted tale about Watson shows that war is a tool for the rich and powerful; less about glory than self-interest.

Professor Vincent Golphin

Due for release December 2022. Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Angela Meyer

Read a lot. Read everything. Read deeply (take notes, analyse what you’re reading: how does that author produce that effect? What is the structure of the piece? Why do you care about the characters?) The more you read and think about other people’s writing, the more you learn about writing.

Angela Meyer

Angela is an award-winning writer and editor. Her debut novel, A Superior Spectre (Ventura/Saraband), was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, the MUD Literary Prize, an Australian Book Industry Award, the Readings Prize for New Australian Writing and a Saltire Literary Society Award (Scotland). She is also the author of a novella, Joan Smokes, which won the inaugural Mslexia Novella Award (UK), and a book of flash fiction, Captives. Her work has been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers, including Island, The Big Issue, Best Australian Stories and Kill Your Darlings. She has worked in bookstores, as a book reviewer, in a whisky bar, as a commissioning editor and publisher, a teacher of writing and publishing, and a freelance editor and consultant. She grew up in Northern NSW and lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Find out more about Angela here.

Author Insight

Why do you write? I don’t know how not to write. It’s love and it’s compulsion. It’s a part of who I am and a way that I filter the world and my experiences within it. It’s also a way I connect and communicate with others.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m lucky that being a writer has folded in with other paths: being an editor, a teacher; working with other writers. In some alternate life I may be a scientist; I would love to better understand the world as its components, at the quantum level.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Firstly, not being good enough and not being ready – that was the first couple of manuscripts. With the books that have been published, the main obstacle was that I cross genres. I don’t write in a way that fits into a neat (marketing) box, and that’s natural to me and that’s okay, but it does limit the number of mainstream publishers that will consider your work.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes, I was lucky to have some input. I gave initial ideas and then was guided by the publisher and designer, of course! But I love Josh Durham’s work and am pleased he’s done the cover of both my novels. They’re quite the pair. For Moon Sugar, dark, psychedelic, Marlene Dietrich emerging from lichen – it’s perfect.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The richness that writing brings to life, and the time I actually get to put words down (only a few hours a week at the moment). I also enjoy being part of the Australian writing community and getting to interact with other writers.

—the worst? Not getting enough time (or general head space) to write!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Not much. I’m a ‘no regrets’ kind of person in general. You learn from everything you do and experience, good or bad. And there are no wasted words, when you’re learning to write, when you’re practising.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m sure people did tell me about working in the arts and living in a city and how expensive and difficult it would be at times, but I’ve always been independent and will follow my nose. It might have taken a bit longer to feel somewhat financially secure and I understand I’ll always work (and soon, parent) around my writing, but that’s just the way it is.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To always try to understand things from another person’s point of view. That was a strong lesson in my childhood. It’s life advice but writing also stems from it – from empathy towards and curiosity about others (and about your own psyche and how it’s been shaped by perceiving and interacting with the world and with others).

How important is social media to you as an author? I’ve used social media since I began publishing my writing and it was a huge part of my early success (as a blogger!). Now, I see it as a way to be in touch with peers and colleagues, learn about their publications, and chat about writing, personal stuff, the industry and the world at large. Anyone who uses social media just to advertise is using it badly. There has to be a balance. Sometimes I spend a week off it and no one would notice. Many writers never use it. You have to only use it if it works for you, if you enjoy it and find it fairly natural.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I would have said no until this year! The first trimester of pregnancy, I was capable of just doing my work and sustaining the life inside me. That was about it…! I needed to eat and sleep. I had elaborate fantasies about my next meal. I did have a bit of a personality crisis as it was the first time I remembered not having the desire to write, or even read much. And writing and reading is who I am. Even through a major grief, and through the lockdowns, I did not lose the desire and ability to write. But the second trimester came and I felt completely myself again. Sometimes these big life shifts and accompanying hormones or mental states – you have to take a breath and understand it’s likely not permanent. You have to take care of yourself, be in touch with yourself on a different level, and be present and patient.

How do you deal with rejection? I might feel sad for a couple of days, talk to a few friends and my partner about it, and then I never reopen the email. I try to move on, keep writing, keep submitting. Sometimes I retire a piece if I realise it’s being rejected because it’s not ready after all, or not good enough.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Intimate, visual, emotive.

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? Franz Kafka. Not necessarily to tell me what he knows about writing (we can read that in his diaries and make interpretations from his work) but just to be in his presence for an hour, preferably in his serene phase with Dora Diamant. It would be such a privilege.

Book Byte

Mila can’t shake her grief for the life she thought she’d have. She’s broke, childless, and single. But her developing relationship with Josh, a ‘sugar baby’, opens her eyes to new possibilities. Then Josh goes missing on a trip to Europe – a presumed suicide. Mila, and Josh’s best friend Kyle, are devastated, yet they suspect something is amiss. Together, they feel compelled to trace Josh’s steps across Budapest, Prague and Berlin, seeking clues in his last posts online. Yet is there one mysterious factor Mila hasn’t considered? Is running toward danger the only way for Mila to meet her true capacity? Or will it mean yet more loss?
This genre-defying stunner asks how we might make the most of our power in the face of fear, loss, and the unknown. It celebrates our ability, despite great challenges, to be intimate with others and with the world.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Alan Fyfe

Alan Fyfe is a Jewish writer originally from Mandurah, the unceded country of the Binjareb People, whose verse and prose can be found in Westerly, Overland, Australian Poetry Journal, and Cottonmouth.  He was an inaugural editor of UWA creative writing journal, Trove, and a prose editor for American web journal, Unlikely Stories

  Alan is a winner of the Karl Popper Philosophy Award, was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, was commended in the Tom Collins Poetry Prize, and has been selected as a WA Poets’ Inc Emerging Poet for 2022 / 23.  His first novel, T, received shortlistings for both the T.A.G Hungerford Prize (Australia) and the Chaffinch Press Aware Prize (Ireland).  T is published by Transit Lounge.  Most recently, Alan’s poetry collection, G-d, Sleep, and Chaos, was shortlisted for the Flying Islands unpublished manuscript award. He is currently writing his second novel, The Cross Thieves, a prequel to T in ring composition, as part of a doctorate in creative writing at UWA and is also teaching poetry.

Author Insight

Why do you write?

I don’t have an inspirational answer for that. I invested so much time getting good at writing, in knowing about poetics and the structures of story, that I’m not much good at many other things now. Most of my other skills are trivial – fire twirling is one of them, for example. I might have had a more directed answer earlier in my life, but those answers have all been said and have become cliché. No one needs to hear another writer playing out their messiah complex in an interview, or saying what benefits writing has for them personally. There are good things and bad things about it. At this point, it has just become an irrational belief for me, like a religion. I feel impulses to structure thoughts into poems and stories that I can’t explain except as a form of faith in literature itself, with all the attendant ecstasy and terrors that having faith brings.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Trying to find fulfilment with some other thing, probably. Or just doing some other job and looking forward to holidays. No one’s forcing me to write, it’s a choice I take full responsibility for.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

I’m going to talk about my novel, T, here because I’ve published many different things, each with their own gates to pass. It was money, really. I mean, I didn’t self-publish (which would have required me to pay for it), I looked for a good publisher and eventually found a very good one. But I was out of work when I wrote T, it was hard to live and look after my son, never mind the huge task of editing the novel to the millimetre and nursing it through to publication. Living without money is an extreme challenge; and making art while that’s happening is even harder. Other obstacles were about the kind of story I told.

Methamphetamine is a big issue in WA, and it’s not an issue everyone here is particularly keen to talk about. I didn’t want to tell a false redemption story, that’s not exactly what’s going on with my novel, so there was some resistance to the way I told the story, and some resistance from me to compromising the story too much. I’m all for good editing, in fact I love working with editors to make the art better, but there are certain compromises I wasn’t willing to make. T is a fiction novel, but a lot of it is close to my own experiences. There are also real humans, who are not me, that go through this stuff and I had to honour them. There were many more obstacles, probably a novel worth of obstacles – but probably not a very interesting novel.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?

I did have input into the cover. I have to give my publisher a plug here, Transit Lounge were fantastic to work with and I didn’t feel alienated from the process at any stage. I’ve had some friends who had the opposite experience with their own publishers, they were just told what would happen with their books. I got a big PDF full of draft designs for covers, a lot of work went into it, and I got to workshop cover ideas with my little writing family and get their opinions. Two thirds of my friends wanted to date that guy on the cover. He sort of looks like a character from the book and gives the thing a human face, and there’s a wing for the Icarus theme. In editing T, it was the same, I felt like I was co-working the thing with a really clued up and creative team. I was well consulted and never pressured to do anything I was uncomfortable with. It was a great experience.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Feeling like I put something complex and accomplished in the world that wasn’t there before and, if I’m very lucky, that will still be about after I’m gone. Hah, that’s me being religious about it again – a poet’s afterlife.

—the worst?

There’s a lot of anxiety about getting ahead. Like any creative industry, it’s very tough to excel. You’ll spend months and years waiting to hear back about things that might step you up a bit, even change your life. And the answer is never guaranteed to be one you’ll like.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Nothing. I don’t devote much energy to regret. It’s a waste of time. If I have wronged someone, that’s something to regret. That energy can be devoted to fixing things though, rather than the useless activity of wishing the past was different – you know we can’t make it different, yeah? If I’ve done anything good in writing now, it’s a product of what happened before.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?

Again, I’ve been told all the things I needed to land me wherever the hell this is. Some of them were wrong, but wrong things teach a person to think critically.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

I went to a weird lecture John Kinsella gave when I was an undergrad at UWA at some point in the neolithic past. I can’t remember what the unit was and I’m pretty certain he didn’t talk much about the unit. It was, none the less, a fantastic and incredibly honest lecture; and some of it was about the work of publishing your own writing. He said, “Let’s face it, who gets published depends on who goes to which dinner parties with who.” And that put a pretty bourgeois face on it – I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a dinner party.

I think it was only six months later, I found myself in Brenda Walker’s writing class and I repeated Kinsella’s assertion to her, and she said it might be generally right but there seemed to be some artists who that doesn’t apply to, who “look neither left nor right.” The combination of those two ideas was a good thing to keep me going. It can be a depressing situation for an artist in the times when you’re not getting listened to much, and it was a consolation for me to think that I just didn’t have the network for it. But it was also great to think the pure practice and study of the art was a thing that could win through eventually.

Both Kinsella and Walker were right in their ways. Moving from the Peel Region to the city has helped me with a lot of connections and those connections sometimes throw me good chances at things in writing. But then again, when I published my first piece in a major Australian journal, I didn’t know anyone there, they just loved the story and the way it was written – they thought it was important to publish. It was the same with Transit Lounge, who are a Melbourne publisher outside my usual beat, Barry Scott and the team read the manuscript and thought it was worthy. You need some psychic defences in writing, and you (possibly) need some ideals too, the balance of those two pieces of advice were excellent examples of both.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Practise a lot, most things can be improved with practice. Make some friends who also write, not just networks or people who can advance you, but actual friends you like to be around and enjoy talking to about more than writing. Learn as much as you can access from wherever you are. Finish some projects. Finish projects that seem hard to make work and be honest with yourself about whether the final product works or not. Practise mostly though. Stay at the task until your work becomes undeniable.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I love social media, genuinely. I love being able to share thoughts and entertain people, make them laugh. Social media gives me instant access to that. In a sense, it’s the same as any other canvas to create on. I’ve run an activist campaign on social media and the speed and reach of it was incredible. The campaign worked, in the end, and we saved the thing we were trying to save. But there’s a moment in an author’s life where it can become work too. I was mostly restricted to one platform in the past and I was happy with it, I felt a small friend group to communicate with was a pleasure. But then the professionalisation of the platforms entered my life and that’s a different thing entirely. There’s a lot of pressure on a modern author to promote across the platforms, to find big crowds there. It is an opportunity. We shouldn’t see that access as an entirely bad thing, it has certainly helped poetry sales in a major way, which helps a more niche art like poetry to reach its crowd.  But it can change from fun and connection to cynical hard work real quick. There’s a balance between being professional and having fun that I’m still trying to work out.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Not exactly. I always have something I want to do, some project on or some fully worked out story, or prompt for a poem, that just needs to be wrangled into a nice structure of words. I have exhaustion sometimes, or some other project that seems more fun than the thing I’m absolutely supposed to be doing. I sometimes have to fight myself to concentrate on the thing in front of me and not deliberately procrastinate. I can get very involved in binging a show I like, for example. And there’s depression, which can sometimes stunt my productivity for months. During a bout of depression, I will feel like utter shit and think anything I complete is worthless dust.

But the idea of a blockage, as such, seems strange to me. I don’t actually know what that means. Does it mean that the writer has nothing to write about? This might sound horrible, but if you don’t have a good idea what to write about, maybe don’t write. Writing is an activity, not a condition of being. I sort of plan to give up writing one day. And I expect that’ll happen when I can’t think of what to write next.

If I’m exhausted, that’s not blockage, it’s the same as wearing yourself out doing anything else. The answer is to rest for a while or to force myself to do it if I have a deadline. Forcing myself is something I seem to be able to do quite a bit, I have a good work ethic and I know the basics of turning out a competent piece, so I sit in front of the laptop and write during a time where it may not be a pleasure to write. I experience not wanting to work hard sometimes because it’s fun to lie around eating cake or whatever, but less than in other jobs I’ve done.

How do you deal with rejection?

Humour, bitching, psychic defences (as previously mentioned). Being truthful with myself that either the pool is huge and hard to stand out in, or that I didn’t make the best work I could have. I used to get complimentary rejection letters sometimes, with a little positive feedback in them. I liked those, it was good for the psychic defence to think I did something great but there wasn’t enough space or bigger writers were on offer, encouragement from people you don’t know can be a surprisingly good motivator in the early stages. Mostly the way to deal with rejection is just keep going or give up. That’s the bare bones of it. A writer can do either, whichever way the writer decides to absorb rejection into their ego. It’s good to have some friends who are on the same path as you. It makes the experience lighter when you feel like it’s shared and, believe me, it is shared.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Cooked yet poetic.

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?

That’s a hard question. So many people who have written things I admire turn out to be irredeemable scumbags; and I think a lot of things said about the “writing life” are either personal to the writer or useless tropes.

I guess I’m going to have to say Emily Dickinson. I got a line of hers tattooed on my arm to celebrate my first book contract. I don’t think Emily could give me much certain advice judging from the way she used words, but to just hear anything she had to say would likely be mind-blowing. You can see in her letters, even her mundane communications were often abstract masterworks. She could talk to me about baking if she wanted to. Seems like she shared the same passion for baking that I do.

Book Byte

Chilling to read, cut with powerful energy and strong feeling.

T or Timothy lives on the economic margins, both using and selling methamphetamine in Mandurah. When a friend, Gulp, tragically dies and T grows close to Lori-Bird his life promises to become more centred. But he moves between loving and leaving her.

This is a lyrical and arresting portrait of characters who crave love but struggle with addiction and the tenuous yet intimate community connections it gives them. The spirit of the Peel landscape informs both T’s identity and the lives of the people he encounters and offers a way out.

Intimate with suffering and beauty, T is also at times transcendent. A contemporary novel with the urgency of what Davies’ Candy, Kerouac’s On the Road, and Garner’s Monkey Grip were to their own times. 

Shortlisted for the TAG Hungerford Manuscript Award 2018

Shortlisted for the International Chaffinch Press Manuscript Award (Ireland).

‘Confronting and discomfiting, with small moments of redemption –T is very much a story for our times.’ Kate Noske and Richard Rossiter (Hungerford Award Judges).

‘There is nothing else currently being written that is quite as exciting. Its blend of realism, grittiness, pared back lyricism and magical realism is unique and hasn’t been seen since the work of a powerful novelist of regional life like Tom Flood. T works the margins, both in terms of place and subject of the culture around meth use, in utterly compelling ways. This story needs to be told.’  Lucy Dougan, Premier’s Award winner and Westerly editor.

By the book here.

Meet the Author: Shae Millward

Shae’s top tip: Join a writing group. In-person or online, or even better – both! The kidlit community has to be one of the friendliest, most helpful and inspiring group of gangsters I know! Find your scribe tribe! #ScribeTribe.

Shae Millward is the author of The Rabbit’s Magician, Koalas Like To and A Boy and a Dog. She aims to inspire through a love of books, the joy of reading and writing, and the art of storytelling. Shae enjoys writing picture books, short stories, poetry, song lyrics, funny or inspirational quotes, and more. She is based in sunny, sandy, seaside, subtropical Hervey Bay, Queensland. Shae’s creative writing skills once helped her win a trip to Disneyland!

SHAE’S WEBSITE:  https://shaemillward.com/

Author Insight

Why do you write and what is about writing for children that keeps you producing stories for young readers? I love books and enjoy reading – and I have many wonderful authors to thank for that. Writing, which I also enjoy, has enabled me to become a part of the industry myself – and that is more thrilling than the thrilliest thriller novel (without any crime or spooky bits, just the excitement)!

Writing for children is funtastical!* My affection for books and stories developed from a young age, so to cycle that back and play some part in helping to inspire an early love of books in others is extremely rewarding – more thrilly-thrills!*

(*Please excuse my scientific terminology.)

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author? It changes the way you read. One moment you’re fully immersed in a novel’s storyline and the next you’re analysing style, syntax, dialogue, descriptive language, voice, tone; stopping in your tracks to admire a beaut metaphor or tipping your hat to a pesky typo – a true survivor – because you know darn well how many rounds of editing and proof-reading the text would have gone through.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? Anywhere. Everywhere. And sometimes they find me!

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? As an only child I was the lucky recipient of many treasured one-on-one story-time sessions. Also, as an only child, my imagination got a fantastic work-out from working out ways to entertain myself.

Learning to read and write came easily and I spent a lot of time reading books and writing my own stories. The tiny town I grew up in didn’t have a bookstore, but the library was ONLY ONE SHORT BLOCK AWAY FROM MY HOUSE! Convenient for frequent visits and lugging books back and forth.

I’m on the Autism spectrum, though it wasn’t diagnosed in childhood. My school reports showed top marks with comments about being too quiet. But, you know, the quiet ones are quite busy – listening, observing, contemplating, people watching, information gathering, etc. All are useful skills for writers.

Share a little about your path to publication. Trigger warning for aspiring authors: I was lucky enough to receive a contract for the first manuscript I submitted. Yup! Decided to give this writing thing a go, submitted to the slush pile, heard back from interested publisher, signed contract.

However, I was not in any writing groups (in-person or online), did not even know what writing groups were out there or all the benefits of them, had vague ideas of what I could or should be doing in regards to promotion and did not have any social media presence as a writer.  I have learnt so much since then!

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book The Rabbit’s Magician? Are they what you envisioned for this story? Paul [Ford Street publisher] put Andy and I in contact from the start, he was happy for us to communicate back-and-forth freely, with him copied in on our emails. So we were able to bounce a lot of ideas around and make good progress. Even though I was in the loop throughout the process, just as The Amazing Albertino surprised and delighted the audience in the story, the amazing Andy surprised and delighted me with each picture. In the opening scenes, the depiction of that darling little rabbit staring up at the moon while his ears droop down captures the sense of waiting and longing. There are some beautiful silhouette moments with the moon as a backdrop that speak of Alby and Ziggy’s close relationship. The spread of Ziggy with the stars, rainbow and flowers has a peaceful ambience in perfect alignment with the words.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? *gasp* Ssshhh, don’t say that name! Don’t give that notion any power!

If I feel like I’m stuck on something, I switch to another part of the work or a different project altogether. It doesn’t even have to be writing-related – you could clean out a drawer, anything to feel productive and shift that mindset. Going for a walk or some form of movement also helps to get the energy flowing.

Writers are problems solvers. We’re always working out what to cut and what to keep, how to say something in a different way or how to make that sentence better. We solve problems – it’s what we do!

Is there an area of writing that you still find challenging? Writing a shopping list. Something is often missed. And I arrive home with items that weren’t even on the list, usually of the chocolate variety.

Writing cheques. I’d like to write cheques with a lot of zeros, but that ability has eluded me thus far.

And, obviously, writing serious answers to questions.

What are you working on at the moment? Well, I always have a bunch of ideas for picture book stories floating around, and my long-term work-in-progress is a middle-grade novel which I pick up between projects. I’m also creating a range of t-shirt designs. It’s a bit top secret at the moment, however, I can divulge that some designs are autism-championing and others are especially for writerly folk!

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? As well as being a whole lotta fun, there’s something quite magical about working with – or rather, playing with – imagination and creative energies.

—the worst? When I’m working on a rhyming book and my thoughts start coming in rhyme. I’ll be walking up & down the supermarket aisles with a stream of consciousness that goes something like:

I must remember toilet rolls,

Baked beans and spaghetti.

I also need some bread and cheese

I’d better not forgetti!

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is very important for book promotion, finding out about opportunities, connecting with other writers and people in the publishing world… and watching funny cat videos… and funny dog videos… and funny bird videos… ok, all the funny animal videos!

Living in a regional area makes social media even more valuable to me in terms of feeling connected to ALL OF THE COOL STUFF going on in the kidlit community.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Thoughtful. Fun. Evolving.

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? Dan Brown. I’ve heard he takes frequent research trips yeah, just casually popping into Paris, hanging out in Rome. I’d ask him all about this. If he tells me that it’s very important to visit the locations you intend to write about, then I think I’ll write a novel with a main character who spends a lot of time sipping drinks on a Hawaiian beach. I’ll just need to book a “research trip” first, haha!

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? M. Night Shyamalan, along with three other people. That would spook him. No, wait, that would spook me! So, I’ll change my answer to an escalator repairman we can laugh at the irony!

Book Byte

Ziggy’s beloved magician has performed an amazing disappearing trick. But just where is The Amazing Albertino?

Ziggy waits.

And waits some more.

Has something gone wrong with the trick?

The Rabbit’s Magician is a gentle story of love, loss and comfort. It is a children’s picture book but offers comfort to anyone of any age who has lost a loved one – person or animal. 

BOOK AVAILABLE AT: https://fordstreetpublishing.com/book/the-rabbits-magician/

FOLLOW SHAE’S ONLINE BOOK TOUR…

Meet the Author: Adriane Howell

Adriane’s top tip for aspiring authors: Consider whom you allow to read your work-in-progress; not all opinions are created equal.

Adriane Howell is a Melbourne-based arts worker and writer who has lived in Paris and Johannesburg. In 2013 she graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing. She is co-founder of the literary journal Gargouille. Hydra is her debut novel.

AUTHOR WEBSITE: https://www.adrianehowell.com

AUTHOR INSTAGRAM: @felinefelttip

Author Insight

Why do you write? It’s a compulsion.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Another form of storytelling, film perhaps.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Battles with the Self.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? All stages of the process were transparent and collaborative. When working on the cover, Barry and I went back and forth dissecting images and moods. Some mock-ups were too masculine, others too sexual. There was also the matter of acquiring rights. I’m delighted with the final product.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When I’m lost in the words and, failing that, when I close my notebook for the evening.

—the worst? The sense of having exposed myself.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have found my therapist earlier.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I need to experience things for myself, make my own mistakes, so it’s unlikely I would have heeded any form of warning.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? D.B.C. Pierre writes of the novel’s structure as an exercise in breathing: dialogue and conflict are short sharp inhalations, dream sequences and philosophising are more meditative breaths. It’s about finding a balance between the two. You don’t want your reader hyperventilating nor falling asleep.

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a distraction, sometimes much needed but mostly not.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? It’s rare that I give into ‘writer’s block’. I’ve found some of my best writing has occurred hours into writing mindless, nonsensical bullshit. Writing is rarely visited by the muse, it’s mostly about the hours invested. There are, however, tricks to make my writing flow: walks, coffee, not over eating, keeping warm (I’m like a cat gravitating towards any slither of sun), reading and art exhibitions.

How do you deal with rejection? Get back to work. There’s a reason for rejection but you’ll go mad trying to find it.

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? Vladimir Nabokov and my question would remain between us.

Book Byte

Anja is a young, ambitious antiquarian, passionate for the clean and balanced lines of mid-century furniture. She is intent on classifying objects based on emotional response and when her career goes awry, Anja finds herself adrift. Like a close friend, she confesses her intimacies and rage to us with candour, tenderness, and humour.

Cast out from the world of antiques, she stumbles upon a beachside cottage that the neighbouring naval base is offering for a 100-year lease. The property is derelict, isolated, and surrounded by scrub. Despite of, or because of, its wildness and solitude, Anja uses the last of the inheritance from her mother to lease the property. Yet a presence – human, ghost, other – seemingly inhabits the grounds. 

Hydra is a novel of dark suspense and mental disquiet, struck through with black humour. Adriane Howell beguilingly explores notions of moral culpability, revenge, memory, and narrative – all through the female lens of freedom and constraint. She holds us captive to the last page.

SALE SITE: https://www.readings.com.au/products/35320891/hydra

Meet Illustrator Amy Calautti

Amy has loved to draw from a young age and often made up games based around drawing to entertain her younger brother and cousins. Her artistic talent was noticed and she was accepted into fashion and textile design in high school and TAFE . When she became a mother, she fell in love with picture book illustration, and realised what her true potential could be. Amy and has developed  a few distinct styles and is always playing with new techniques to expand her repertoire.

Website: www.http://amygorgeousness2.wixsite.com/amyillustrates

Instagram: @amygorgeousness

Facebook: www.facebook.com/amyillustrates

Illustrator insight

What does art mean to you? Art is a beautiful way of communicating ideas and feelings.

What’s the best aspect of your artistic life? My studio is at home, and I love being at home for my children. Also,  I love doing something that I enjoy and it slots so seamlessly into my life.

—the worst? Maybe that it takes so long? I want to do all the projects I possibly can.

How do you approach an Illustration project? Walk us through your creative process. I read the manuscript and then I storyboard the illustrations in a thumbnail size. I sometimes go through several ideas before I show my editor and author. After the storyboard is finished I fix any changes that need to be made. Once the storyboard is approved I move onto final artwork which could be digital or traditional watercolour depending on what style the client and I want to go with. Both styles take about the same amount of time because I’m fast at painting watercolour but I then have to digitise it anyway. So the whole process is about four months, for watercolour and digital art. Digital art still takes me a while although I am getting the hang of it.

Picture books are a creative collaboration between author and illustrator. How closely did you work with Wenda on One Book was all it took? Wenda was an absolute dream to work with. She was very encouraging and I had a great experience. Our main points of discussion were when I handed in my first storyboard. Wenda, Anouska (our editor) and I bounced around some ideas for a couple of illustrations and I think it’s nice to get some input at that point of the illustration process.

One thing I’ve noticed about the picture books you’ve illustrated in the past few years is the variation in style from one book to another. What’s the background story on how the style is chosen? I originally started in a watercolour style, the I got a laptop tablet to digitise my artwork and I started to play around with hand sketching and digitally colouring illustrations. My watercolour style is usually good for cute, sentimental and heartfelt stories. My digital and ink styles are good for exciting humorous and energetic stories.

I usually let the client choose the style I work in. When I got my first contract with EK (Turning cartwheels) Anouska (editor)and Amy Adeney (author)  liked my digital style, and I  continued using the same style  so my editor  knows what style to expect. But I can consistently illustrate in a few styles, you just have to tell me which one you want. Also I’m thinking of creating a new style which I’m hoping to start experimenting with soon.

Did you draw on your own childhood experiences of libraries in creating the illustrations for the book? No, I am dyslexic so reading wasn’t my safe haven as a child. My love of reading came much later; riding a train every day to work was when I began devouring books.

How much time do you spend on creating each illustration? An illustration can take so-o-o long, anywhere from three hours to five days for final art.

Do you have a preferred medium? Water colour, pencil, and my laptop for digital illustration.

Is there any area of art that you still find challenging? It sounds weird but storyboarding is the trickiest, but I really like working out interesting compositions.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator? Nothing, I got pretty lucky and I got three of my first book contracts within a few weeks of each other and went into panic mode to get all the work done. Haha

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator? I’m still quite new at Illustrating so I don’t have a huge wealth of knowledge, but it would be to stay positive and to show your work online.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? What’s the worst someone can say, no? Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you.

What’s your top tip for aspiring illustrators? I would make sure to put together a low res pdf portfolio showing your best work that tells a story and is aimed towards the children’s book market. Once it’s done, submit your portfolio to publishers you think may like your work.

What is your creative dream? I’m living my creative dream but there’s always room for improvement. Maybe to illustrate another fabulous book that becomes a sensation and I am just so busy with work for years to come.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours, who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Probably my husband as he is an electrician and has worked on lifts before. He would be able to fix it and we would be out of there in no time. If I can’t pick him, maybe Taika Waititi would be a good laugh.

Book Byte

Violet has searched her room high and low, but just can’t find a book she hasn’t read before. She wishes her town had a library; a magical place full of adventure where she would never run out of stories to discover. But alas, on this particular rainy day, the only unfamiliar book she can find is the one propping up the kitchen table. Dad won’t miss it, right?…
With a CLATTER and a CRASH, Violet’s actions set in motion an unstoppable chain of events that soon has the whole town in chaos! Young readers will delight at the playful, colourful illustrations, while learning an important lesson about how actions lead to consequences. The story also introduces children to the wonder of libraries, while highlighting their vital role in fostering literacy.
One Book Was All it Took is the perfect tongue-in-cheek adventure story to share with budding bookworms. From the hilarity of the chaos that Violet causes, to the heart-warming reminder of the important role libraries have played in many of our lives, readers of all ages will find joy in this vibrant book. It is also an excellent introduction to the concept of how our actions can affect others, an important lesson for all young ones – especially Violet!

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Robinanne Lavelle

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up! Find your passion and then keep investigating where it could be placed to be of the most use to others.

Robinanne Lavelle

Robinanne Lavelle lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. She completed a Bachelor of Economics, a Master’s degree in Business and another in Education Management. She has been a teacher, a lecturer and author of five textbooks in the social sciences. As well as academic pursuits, spirituality and emotional intelligence have been at the forefront of her life’s journey. After studying yoga and meditation with monks, she ran courses and has written a book on mindfulness and meditation. Robinanne has been writing professionally since 1990 and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon! Her latest release, The Road Awaits, a book of poems and stories, explores the life changing events that shaped her childhood and the adult she is today.

Visit her website here.

Author Insight

What inspires you to write? I just want to express myself and to help others. Writing seems a natural way to do this

What role does your career as an educator play in your writing? I believe most educators are people who want to help others by sharing knowledge. You can do this in the classroom/lecture theatre, and you can reach many more people through books. For example, when I co-wrote the Layman’s Guide to Law in WA the textbook reached 75% of those studying law in upper school throughout the state. I could help many more students than I could in one classroom.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Interesting, educational, and organised.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? My grandmother wrote a book, then my mother wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. I felt they were both very articulate, expressive, passionate women.

Share a little about your path to publication. I studied law in upper high school in Melbourne. When the subject was introduced to WA, I was one of the first teachers to teach it. Victoria and WA law is not all the same and having only a Victoria textbook available was fraught with problems. I started writing a journal with five other teachers to help new teachers with the subject and this led to two of us ending up writing the textbook and workbook for both students and teachers in Years 11 and 12.

How involved are you in your cover and interior book designs? I had a vision of The Road Awaits having a nostalgic VW combi van on the cover. I searched for a professional photograph that would capture a combi in Australia. I collected many photos. I played around with the photos and eventually it was a photo that was taken in South Australia and captured the idea that the book is about travel in Australia, a road trip. I played around with the name of the book for months too, until it just felt ‘right’. Then I handed it over to the publishers for their professional take on how it should look. As for the layout and design inside, I have a Masters in Educational Management and my dissertation was on format of textbooks, plus through the books I have written, I have gained a lot of experience in what works for the reader. Thus, I set this book out with the photo relating to the poem, then the poem and finally a little story that elaborates on the poem or situation. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? The Road Awaits is a book about facing and overcoming hardships and treasuring the little gems you find on your path to a better future. I hope people will enjoy the journey, find inspiration in the stories, and stir them up to travel Australia.

Walk us through your writing process. Do you spend time planning or start writing and see where it will lead you? I have an idea what I want to do and usually formulate the layout first. So, it might be topics or chapter headings and then I start to fill in!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’ve never had writer’s block but then I don’t write fiction. I think fictional writers might be more inclined to have this issue. I have a subject I’m writing about, and I just write.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? I find proof-reading very challenging. Having ADHD, I don’t tend to focus well on every word and tend to read what I think I have written – not necessarily what is on the page! I always need a great editor and have found such in Olympia Publishers in London.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? I get to work from home. I’m not super keen on mornings and so waking up slowly, having a coffee, and taking it to my desk and working for an hour in my pjs (before showering etc.) I think is such luxury.

—the worst? Sometimes I think I would like to retire. I like the idea that I could do anything I like in retirement because once I start on a book there is a process and schedule to adhere to.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not an avid social media person. I much prefer to meet someone in the flesh for coffee or something. It is important though for an author to have a profile and face on social media. As an author you need to reach out to people and have yourself available online.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Make your difficulties your strengths. I have ADHD but this can mean I can do things and see things differently to other people and I cherish this as a gift now.

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? No doubt at all – it would be the Australian playwright, David Williamson. I believe he is our modern-day Shakespeare!

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Eckhart Tolle – his understanding of the human mind and spirit is amazing!

Book Byte

The Road Awaits

Joan Elkington & Robinanne Lavelle

This invigorating collection of poems highlights the beauty of the natural world which is often forgotten about in the new digital age. Robinanne Lavelle reminisces about the first road trip she took as a child which drove her strong admiration for nature. From the beaches of Bondi to the grapes of Barossa, and shipwrecks of the rugged west coast, Lavelle explores the small divinities which make Australia so magnificent whilst passing on apples of wisdom fed to her by her parents. With sharp turns and bumps, this road trip will cause a range of drastically different emotions but is sure to leave any reader changed and awakened. Whether a passionate environmentalist or an indifferent traveller, the road awaits…

Purchase online through:

Amazon

Dymocks

Meet the Illustrator: Hilary Jean Tapper

Keep drawing. Draw for the love of drawing. No matter what happens, do it for the love.

Hilary Jean Tapper

Hilary Jean Tapper is a picture book illustrator, Courage Doll creator, filmmaker, Creative Arts Therapist and researcher, based in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is perpetually in pursuance of, and enchanted by, the magic of the arts. She’s also obsessed with existential philosophy, vegan food, small things and rainbows. Hilary’s work seeks to inspire the courage to create, and to remember our connection within, with those around us, and the greater world we are a part of.

Illustrator Insight

What does art mean to you? Phew, what a question! Art has been, and continues to be, a central part of my life. My grandfather was a New Zealand artist, and from as early as I can remember, I identified with him – I wanted to be an artist too! I love so many different forms of the arts: drama, film, dance, painting, drawing, music, and have been involved in these since I was a few years old. I struggled with depression in my teenage years, and it was the arts, particularly filmmaking, which got me through. When I was 26 I enrolled in a Masters programme in Creative Arts Therapy, and since then, my understanding of and love for the arts and creativity has only expanded and increased, especially in regard to its therapeutic capacities.

What’s the best aspect of your artistic life? The best aspect of my artistic life is that there’s never an ‘end’, every new creation offers something new – new possibilities, new ideas, new styles. There’s no summit to the mountain of art, only the next image, the next dance, the next creation. There’s no limit to our imaginations and possibilities.

—the worst? The worst aspect of my artistic life is the flip side of the best aspect of my artistic life – never feeling satisfied!

How do you approach an illustration project? Walk us through your creative process. The beginning of a picture book is my favourite step in the creative process. I love receiving the manuscript, reading it through for the first time, and diving into ideas and characters, imagining what I could do with it. I’ll then take my pencil and copy paper, and freely sketch out some of these ideas. I love watching the characters evolve from the pencil lines! Once these characters are approved by the publisher and author, then I move to storyboarding, then black and white roughs, then colour roughs. Each of these rounds involves feedback from the publisher. Once everything has been fine-tuned we move to the final art.

How much time do you spend on creating each illustration? I have no idea! There’s no time in creative time! One image might blossom in an hour. Another might be ten!

Do you have a preferred medium? My favourite medium to work in is watercolour paint, with pencil and permanent ink outlines. I am currently experimenting with bringing a little more loose colour pencil and gouache paint into the mix.

Is there any area of art that you still find challenging? Oh, the whole thing! I am always challenged by my inability to give form to what I can imagine, but I also know that this is the very task, and wonder if it may always feel like this. This is the role of the imagination – to envision what is always yet to come. I am also constantly challenged by creating the final art, I find it quite paralysing to create what feels like it needs to be “perfect”. It is terribly uninspiring, and I freeze up and can’t paint at all. I have to try to by-pass this by listening to fun music, dancing, and getting paint on the page without thinking too much about it!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator? I am still starting out as an illustrator, but with every book I learn something new, even just within the three books I’ve finished, I can see how much I have grown and changed. It was a huge learning curve doing my first book – so many new lessons – how to draw the same character across 32 images from different angles, how to create enough paint to be the same hue across 32 images, how to sit and illustrate for 40+ hours in a week! (My hand was so stiff and couldn’t move after my first book!) These were things I had no idea about, and probably wouldn’t have unless I illustrated a book. Now I feel a tiny bit looser and more informed in how to pace myself and prepare myself for each book, so this helps. If I were starting out for the first time now, I would just tell myself “Trust the process”.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator? I actually went to a children’s literature conference called the Wild Imaginings Hui in Dunedin before I received my first picture book contract. At the conference I was able to hear from and speak to some of New Zealand’s best and experienced children’s book illustrators, and their advice gave me so much perspective as well as inspiration. Meeting illustrators and hearing about their experiences prior to this journey starting was a real blessing.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve been blessed with so much good advice! But probably the best advice I’ve ever been given, which got me through the panic I experienced painting my first picture book, comes from Deborah Green, saying “Stay close in with the art”. To me this meant keeping close in to my body, my senses, my feelings, and to the art materials. It’s so easy for me to loose touch with both and get swept up in my head and thoughts, fears and inner critic. But staying close in with my body and the art materials, allows me to stay with the process of artmaking, to keep breathing through the difficult space, to be open to the unexpected, to let the art lead and just enjoy the mystery of the creative process.

Other good illustration advice came from New Zealand illustrator Jenny Cooper who I had the great fortune of hearing speak live at my local library. She gave so many tips that day, I wrote down almost everything she said. But one of the best parts was hearing her say that our final art will never be as good as the roughs. There’s an aliveness and beauty when it doesn’t “have to be” perfect, and I lose it when I do the final art, I get all rigid and tight. I felt permission in this moment to just accept and trust the creative process, and accept there won’t be perfection at any stage.

What’s your top tip for aspiring illustrators? I keep coming across so many drawings, sketches and paintings I’ve done over the last ten years. Looking back on them, I can see how much I have grown through experimentation. All that I can say, other than the extraordinary blessings I’ve had in my life and the endless support of my husband and my family, is keep drawing. Keep drawing. Draw for the love of drawing. No matter what happens, do it for the love.

What is your creative dream? My creative dream is to see more and more opportunities for people to engage with the arts and creativity. I felt so fortunate to have the arts in my life when I was really struggling with depression as a teenager. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t had that. I hope to help bring the arts, creative arts therapy, and the multitude of ways we can be creative in our lives, more and more into schools, communities, and young people’s lives.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Haha, how is getting stuck in a stalled lift light relief? Well, I would probably be quite anxious if this happened, and so I would definitely want my husband with me because he is a super relaxed person, plus he’s a beautiful singer. So maybe he would sing some songs to help pass the time!

Book Byte

Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.

Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!

Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?

Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Lauren Hackney

My special guest this week is a debut children’s author whose first title is a sweet treat of a chapter book created in a delicious collaboration with her two sons. It’s my pleasure to bring you this conversation with Lauren Hackney as part of her online book tour for The Lolly Shop.

Lauren Hackney lives in Manly; a seaside suburb of Brisbane, with her husband, two creative boys, chickens, fish, cockatiels and their recently adopted dog. Together, they love exploring, travelling, trying new things, laughing and being amongst nature. Another pastime of theirs is storytelling. Whether it be a bedtime story, a campfire story or a road trip story – they love discovering where the stories lead.

For many years, Lauren worked in aviation, but she now takes stories on high-flying adventures through the power of magic and imagination. Her first book is The Lolly Shop – a delicious collaboration with her two sons.

Website: LBE Hackney.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheLollyShop

Instagram: www.instagram.com/lbe.hackney/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What – or who – inspired your Lolly Shop stories? My children and I created this story at bedtime. This story was told for many years. However, life circumstances inspired us to publish it.

Do you draw on your own childhood memories and experiences when writing for children? Yes. The simplicity of the 1980s and early 1990s, where there was only one television in the home and no other technology, set the scene for many nights of family interaction with board games and playing cards.  I like to draw on these memories and combine them with the stories I’ve crafted with my children to help create a simple world for “the lolly shop”. I like remembering the simple pleasures of family togetherness when screens weren’t an option.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Our creative process starts when my children are with me and we create stories around campfires, bedtime or road trips. Trying to then recall the stories around our dinner table and illustrate scenes to create a manuscript is the next step. From there I take the steps to draft and redraft the story until we are all happy with it as a family.

Do you have any quirky writing practices? As a family we write the story, not necessarily in order. How we are all feeling at the end of the day generally dictates which part we write/illustrate. Sometimes we start in the middle, the end or back at the beginning…

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? Sometimes I feel that fitting in with other authors is somewhat challenging because I haven’t studied writing formally as much as some. I feel my children and I are more like story tellers rather than writers and that’s why I really enjoy the other aspects that come with being a children’s author, like sharing the story with children and seeing their reaction, going to local bookstores to read to groups at meet and greets. I am learning, however, and I am working on other writing projects my children and I have created.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Have a good laugh with my kids! We work on the books every day, whether it be a small illustration, or a paragraph written, so when we feel there’s no more fuel in the tank – we play a board game, kick a ball in the back yard or take our dog for a walk. Sometimes for us just taking a breather and getting some fresh air helps.

Share a little about your path to publication. Our manuscript was complete; however, we were rejected by every publisher we submitted to. A retired publisher, Wendy Scott, heard about our story and loved it. She generously gave us her time and helped publish our book. To this day we work with Wendy, who is such a pleasure to work with.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? The power of imagination. I hope that children get lost in the story and dream of magic. No matter what happened in their day, we hope the power of imagination can save the day. It certainly did for us!

What is the best thing a reader has said about your books? Can these magic lollies be real?! We loved that this child was so invested in the story that they wanted to play ‘Lolly Shop’ in the lunch break at school. They pretended they could float in the sky, pretended they were invisible and pretended they could run fast. That was the best reaction from a reader so far!

What are you working on at the moment? Book 3 of The Lolly Shop and another bedtime story my youngest and I came up with when his dad fell ill last year.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Re-living this fun bedtime story with younger children. Unfortunately, my kids are growing so The Lolly Shop series will come to an end, but we are also starting to tell other stories.

—the worst? Feeling like I’m not as accomplished as all the amazing authors I have met on this fantastic journey.

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author? I’m still pretty ‘green’ at this so I’m willing to learn. I love all the advice given – so many helpful people out there. I guess ‘just do it’ and ‘find the time’ would be the best advice.

How important is networking to you as an author? I love meeting other creatives, whether it be authors or illustrators, because they have the best back stories. I have heard so many inspirational stories that have driven me to keep going.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? That your future is already happening. Someone out there is living the life you want. It’s your job to find that person and ask how they got there. Hence, I’ve met as many authors as I can to see how they got to where they are.

My husband, who is such an inspirational man, also told me when we first met 21 years ago; ‘Be around those who you want to be like and who drive you to do better. Relationships can be your biggest influence.’ That has always been close to my heart. I’ve done this most of our life together and I’ve ended up with a group of empowering cheerleaders who are constantly lifting me up. And I do the same for them. 

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Don’t ever feel like you’re not good enough. Everyone has a strong suit – you just need to find yours, iron it and make sure it fits!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Magic, working together and family.

Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Spending time with my family, hiking, kayaking, playing soccer, cooking, playing my instruments and most of all – reading!

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Stephen King. He was the first novelist I discovered when I was a teenager and his imagination is incredible!

BOOK BYTE

Two brothers own a lolly shop. What they think is sugar gets delivered to the store – only for it to be added to their lollies, and the result… lollies with magical powers! It wasn’t sugar that came that day – it was magical powder! With all kinds of mischief caused around town, the boys work together to find a solution where both adults and children can learn to live with magic.

But who is responsible for the magic powder?

Buy the book at: Amazon or email Lauren at her website.

Check out the rest of Lauren’s online book tour

Meet the Author: Kristen Schroeder

Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

Kristen Schroeder

Kristen Schroeder writes for children from her home in Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and children. She and her family are dual American Australian citizens and consider Melbourne their second home. Some of Kristen’s best childhood memories involve discovering a new favorite book or author at her local library. Books introduced her to other countries and worlds. Kristen loves to travel. She began writing for children in 2014 in between running a business and raising her kids. Her latest release, Freddy the Not-Teddy, is a heart-warming picture book about friendship, inclusion and staying true to yourself.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What is about writing picture books that draws you to work in that genre?  I love the picture book art form. The interplay between words and pictures is unique and making it work is a bit like putting a puzzle together.  Picture books are not at all easy to write, like some people wrongly assume! There is also something magical about writing stories for children because they are like little sponges soaking up information and knowledge.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? For my first two published picture books, my inspiration came from my own children. In the case of FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, my son had a stuffy named Freddy and just like the main character Jonah, Freddy was my son’s favourite. We weren’t sure if he was a funny looking chicken, duck or bird. One night before bedtime, I called him “Freddy the not-Teddy” and it sparked the idea for this story. I have also participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge, which I highly recommend for picture book writers. The idea is to generate at least thirty ideas over thirty days during the month of January.  It’s free and the daily blog content is amazing! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Many times, I start with a title (for example both FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY and my debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO started with titles).  After letting things roll around my brain for a while, I open up a new Word document and start typing. I definitely don’t plot out any of my stories in advance. Sometimes the story comes easily and sometimes it does not. My creative process is fluid in that regard. Once I have a draft that I think is semi-decent, I share it with my critique partners.  This is such a valuable part of the process for most writers, and I am no exception. Eventually, I send my new story to my agent and her assistant agent for their feedback. They usually have some revision suggestions, which I really appreciate. Our joint goal is to polish each manuscript so it’s submission-ready and can be sent out to editors.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? My mother was an English teacher who loved to read and passed along that love to me. I dedicated FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY to her, in fact. As a child, I pored over our collection of picture books and loved noticing all the little details in the illustrations. Our local library was one of my favourite places to visit!

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book Freddy the Not-Teddy? From the early stages of writing this manuscript, I knew one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process would be seeing how the illustrator imagined Freddy. I was invited to give feedback on Hilary’s initial sketches of Freddy, but he is 100% her brainchild. I am thrilled with how he looks! In fact, I’m having a custom stuffed animal made in his likeness.

Are they what you envisioned for this story? I didn’t envision what Freddy would look like because I knew that would be the illustrator’s job.  As a picture book author, it’s important to trust your publisher and illustrator. And as stated above, I am really pleased with the finished product. Hilary is such a talented illustrator and was a perfect choice for this book.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I don’t usually approach writing my stories with a pre-conceived notion of messaging. I know some authors do, however I usually think of a concept, or even a title, and then see where the story takes me. My ultimate goal is to entertain and engage the reader, so hopefully they want to read the story again (and again!) and pore over all of the details like I did as a child.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are times when I definitely get stuck whilst writing a particular story. It can happen during the early drafting stage for an idea that I like, but don’t know how to approach yet. Or sometimes, I get feedback from my critique partners or my agent telling me part of the story isn’t working for them. Even if I agree with their feedback, I may not know how to make the revisions right away. Setting the story aside, instead of forcing it, helps me.  Ideally, my subconscious works away on it as I go about other activities and sometimes a solution becomes clear. I also ask for help from critique partners.

What are you working on at the moment? I recently completed a revision on a picture book about a child who wants a giant as a best friend. I also completed a new picture book about a Zamboni machine, which is an ice resurfacer used at ice rinks. This one is influenced by the long Minnesota winters in my home state.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Utilising the creative part of my brain makes me a happier person in general. I enjoy having a project percolating at all times.

—the worst? Being a results-oriented person, it is hard for me to create just for the sake of creating. I always hope each manuscript will get published, but that’s not realistic.

How important is social media to you as an author? I started using Twitter when I first started writing for children, and I really enjoy interacting with the writing community on that platform. It’s also a great place to engage with agents and editors, as well as participating in Twitter pitch events.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was lucky enough to attend a Picture Book Boot Camp retreat at the Highlights Foundation in late 2019 run by prolific children’s author Jane Yolen and her author daughter Heidi Stemple.  Jane’s mantra is, “Butt in chair, heart on the page.” The only way to write is to sit down and do it. Considering she’s published over 400 children’s books, I’d say it’s working for her!

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, heartfelt, quirky.

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? Beverly Cleary. She passed away last year at the age of 104. I devoured her books as a child and would have liked to meet her just because. I don’t think I’d even ask about her writing except I’d like to know where she got the idea for the mouse on the motorcycle!

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Oprah. Firstly, I would feel confident that I would not be stuck in that lift forever because Oprah’s people would move heaven and earth to get her out safely. Secondly, after sharing a few semi-perilous hours together, we would be bonded by the experience and besties for life, obviously.

Book Byte

Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.

Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!

Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?

Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!

Buy the book here. (Teacher notes are available).