I’ve always been interested in learning how illustrators work and what they do when they aren’t focusing on what’s happening on the page of their latest creative project. Today it’s my pleasure to introduce Gwynneth Jones, who recently celebrated the release of the picture book Together Things, written by Michelle Vasiliu. This beautifully crafted story looks at how a little girl finds different ways to keep the bonds of love alive when her formerly fun-loving father experiences depression. The text is powerful in its simplicity and Gwynneth’s colourful illustrations are fresh and vibrant.

Join me on my virtual visit to her studio in a collective space called The Creator Incubator where she drew Together Things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I receive the manuscript from the publisher, I draw up some roughs to the actual size of the finished book. I have tried to make miniature dummy books, but it just doesn’t work for me. I then send them off electronically to the editor and book designer who places them into a pdf layout for adjustments and then we’re ready to go on with the finished works if they’re happy with the roughs.

I work on the finished drawings in a random order rather than front to back of the book because styles can change. I hang the drawings up as I work on them as I’m trying to get consistency for the characters and colour palette, and to see what works for order of illustrations. This is the first book that I’ve finished my hand done drawings digitally, and I’m really happy with the extra touches.

When I’m not creating books I have a few different jobs to support myself. I work as an Uber driver, as an admin temp worker and I also run an Airbnb.

When I’m not doing any of those (and sometimes it’s all in one day) I can be found out and about or doing nothing!

BOOK BYTE

Together Things by Michelle Vasiliu and Gwynneth Jones

Her dad used to be fun, but now he’s sad. As her father tries to get better, a young girl finds new ways to connect with him. He might not be able to play with her as he used to, but they can still show their love for each other. They just need to find different ‘together things’ to do.

The book is available here and from leading booksellers.

Meet the Author: Bem Le Hunte

Bem’s top tip for aspiring authors: Never lose sight of the whole, in every sense. Find the diversity of your story (the culture and time), but never lose the unity (those principles like love, death, family, spirituality – those powerful themes that are shared in our human consciousness and serve to unite us all).

Bem Le Hunte is the author of four novels – the most recent is Elephants with Headlights (2020). Her previous novels, The Seduction of Silence and There, Where the Pepper Grows, have become number one bestsellers and been published internationally to critical acclaim. She is also the founding Director of the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, a transdisciplinary, future-facing degree that teaches creativity across 25 different disciplines and explores the porous boundaries between fields, disciplines and industries. She has a BA and MA in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University and a Creative Doctorate from the University of Sydney where she wrote an exegesis on creativity and transcendence. She has a research interest in the extraordinary possible, spiritual realism and in creative practice across disciplines. She has worked in the creative industries and the arts across three decades. Throughout this time, writing has always been her elemental passion, and the gift of this calling has allowed her to flourish in many ways and worlds – well beyond the written word.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I believe that if you have a gift you should pass it on – we share consciousness with other humans and non-humans – whether we’re aware of it or not. Stories are a currency with great power to transform our world and the people living in it. Indeed, I once wrote an academic paper titled Stories have the Power to Save Us – and I’m guilty of believing some of my own rhetoric!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Perhaps a midwife – maybe they’re even the same job! It’s hardly surprising that there are so many births in my books, including descriptions of my own births.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The toughest obstacle is always writing something worthy of publication.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I love my cover (thanks to Josh Durham). The two faces in the elephants’ ears… the suggestion of a love story,  contemporary and bold, in an ancient culture where driverless cars exist alongside elephants on the streets of New Delhi…and yes, I had a say in the cover. I was a creative director for years before I became a writer or an academic, and I have a strong feeling for these things (like Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow)!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being swept away by the time-gobbling Duende, into a state of transcendence. I consider this to be a highly productive spiritual state and it’s useful for someone like myself who describes her genre as ‘spiritual realism’. I’ve been so enthralled with this process I even wrote my doctoral exegesis on Creativity and Transcendence.

—the worst? Having an overload of admin tasks that rob me of my moments of being and the rapture of writing.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Writing, like life, is a story. I don’t feel as if I should have done anything differently, because I would have robbed myself of an important chapter in my narrative.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been told it was possible to be a writer – this part I simply had to imagine – write the path myself.

What’s the best advice you were ever given on writing? We’re in an era where people need to wake up, and writing can change people’s lives – writers can be midwives of change. Maxine Green wrote that ‘the opposite of aesthetic is anaesthetic – being numb, passive, blankly indifferent.’ Never underestimate the power you have to help people feel. She also wrote: ‘the arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings, who might change the world.’ If you can become the great impetus for the shifting of consciousness that needs to take place, then you will inspire yourself as well as others!

How important is social media to you as an author? Very important, no doubt. I just wish I was better at it and cared a little more about it. To quote Greta Thunberg, ‘our house is on fire’… so where’s the time to post our latest meal on Insta?

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I force myself past it. I’ve created a ‘Methods Arena’ for students in my degree, the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. There are so many methods you can invent for yourself if you’re an inventive soul and have a problem to solve. Never underestimate the creative capacity of humans. They might impress us yet!

How do you deal with rejection? Much better than I used to. And the wisdom is worth waiting for – the world is moving too fast now for us to get caught up in the projections of others.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Spiritual realism – emotional.

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’d love to spend an hour with Gabriel García Márquez. I’d like him to tell me more about his Nobel Prize speech – about how ‘General Antonio López de Santa Anna, three times dictator of Mexico, held a magnificent funeral for the right leg he had lost in the so-called Pastry War’. And because I wrote parts of Elephants with Headlights in a utopian community in South India, I’d like to discuss utopias with him – inspired as I am by his speech, which ends with these words: ‘A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.’

BOOK BYTE

In the tradition of Bem Le Hunte’s acclaimed novels, The Seduction of Silence and There, Where the Pepper Grows, this book is a spiritual and emotional journey like no other—a richly realised and hugely entertaining story that straddles cultures, continents and generations.

An encounter with Elephants with Headlights is a collision between east and west, modernity and tradition—between driverless cars and ancient lore—and a world that needs revolutionary reappraisal. In this world, Savitri, named after a Goddess, refuses outright to marry anyone. Her brother, Neel is intent on marrying an Australian girl called Mae, much to the displeasure of their mother, Tota, and father, Siddarth. But do they have the power to command love or destiny? Only the family astrologer, Arunji, knows, yet his truth is tempered by obligations to the family that transformed his life.

Characters who we come to love and care for, teeter on the brink of a radically altered future, leaving questions in their wake. What is the generative legacy of tradition? Can spiritual values survive amidst personal challenges, the tragedy of a death foretold, and the momentous changes of our times? A warm and engaging novel touched with love, wisdom and soulfulness, Elephants with Headlights is a breathtaking story for the threshold era we all navigate.

You can buy the book here:

https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/elephants-with-headlights/

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Subhash Jaireth

Subhash’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t be afraid to experiment; to experiment not for the sake for experimenting but for finding new ways of storytelling. It is always easy to follow the formula which works for you; be ready to break the formula.

Subhash Jaireth was born in Punjab, India. Between 1969 and 1978 he spent nine years in Russia studying geology and Russian literature. In 1986 he migrated to Australia. He has published poetry in Hindi, English and Russian. His published works include Yashodhara: Six Seasons Without You (Wild Peony, 2003), Unfinished Poems for Your Violin (Penguin Australia, 1996), Golee Lagne Se Pahle (Before the Bullet Hit Me) (Vani Prakashan, 1994), To Silence: Three Autobiographies (Puncher & Wattmann, 2011), After Love (Transit Lounge, 2012), Moments (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014) and Incantations (Recent Work Press, 2016). A Catalan translation of the novel After Love was published in October 2018 in Valencia. He has also published English translations of Russian, Japanese and Persian poetry, and has translated poems of Indigenous Australian poets into Hindi.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write for aesthetic pleasure: the pleasure for my readers and for me. But most of all I write to learn about the world unknown to me. Writing provides me a chance to explore, examine and understand.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I am a geologist. For over forty years I have researched and taught geology. I am pretty sure instead of novels, short stories and poetry I would have written imaginatively about the planet Earth, its evolution and well-being.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? To convince mainstream publishers to take on books that don’t easily fit in the straitjacket of known genres. Perhaps that is why I value small presses like Transit Lounge, Puncher & Wattmann, and Recent Work Press who are ready to take risks.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the covers? I trust my publishers and editors and we often reach consensus that works for the book.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Reading, translating and conversing with people.

—the worst? Inability to find empathetic readers who can read early drafts and talk about it. Dialogues like these are immensely useful. To write in complete isolation is impossible.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? To travel more and to learn more languages.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Not to lose focus; not to procrastinate; not to get lost in endless research for the book.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Read, read, and read.

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s important for creating a community of writers and readers. A book becomes a book only when it is read. Social media can help open new doors.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really. The main obstacle is to find time to work on new ideas and projects. Perhaps that is why I prefer to work on more than one project at the same time.

How do you deal with rejection? Rejections bring disappointment and frustration. Solace comes from talking to people who know my work; their feedback helps me to remain focused on my project.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Poetic, meditative and multi-voiced.

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? Russian writer and poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. I am inspired by her tenacity and courage to keep on writing poems and plays overcoming adversities, personal and historical. I would also love to meet German writer and poet WG Sebald. I love his books, his narrative voice, poetic and melancholic. Like a Persian carpet weaver, he can weave threads of memories and landscape together: intricate and vibrant.

BOOK BYTE

‘It starts to rain as I step out of my hotel ….’ So begins
Subhash Jaireth’s striking collection of essays on
the writers, and their writing, that have enriched his
own life. The works of Franz Kafka, Marina Tsvetaeva,
Mikhail Bulgakov, Paul Celan, Hiromi Ito, Dutch
philosopher Baruch Spinoza and others ignite in him
the urge to travel (both physically and in spirit), almost
like a pilgrim, to the places where such writers were
born or died or wrote. In each essay a new emotional
plane is reached revealing enticing connections. As
a novelist, poet, essayist and translator born into a
multilingual environment, Jaireth truly understands
the power of words across languages and their integral
connections to life of the body and the spirit. Drawing
on years of research, translation and travel Spinoza’s
Overcoat – and its illuminations of loss, mortality and
the reverie of writing – will linger with readers.

The book is available here.

 

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.