Off the Page: Melissa Johns

 

Melissa Johns is an artist and illustrator from Northeast Victoria who creates using recycled papers on canvas and paper. Her passion is children’s artwork and education particularly in regards to environmental awareness. Melissa’s works range from naïve and whimsical to contemporary, all with a vintage feel due to the recycled teabags used in every piece.

Melissa illustrated the recent picture book release,Tabitha and the Raincloud,  written by Devon Sillett. It’s a beautiful story of resilience and optimism for anyone who has ever had a day when nothing seems to go right. I was fascinated by Melissa’s creative process and was interested in finding out more about how she works.

Where do you write/illustrate? My illustrating is done in my creative corner at home, which is a re-purposed dining area. It is a large whimsy area with lots of inspo surrounding me, as well as a lot of clutter due to all of the recycled items I collect to use in my illustrations/artworks.

Melissa, please describe your process.

I create my pieces using Recycled T E A B A G S and other recyclables. I chose these mediums as I wanted to work with sustainable materials that would lend my work a certain whimsical feel. In 2015 I began my journey of creating pieces using the teabag fabric on canvases as part of a collage, along with other recyclables; coffee cups, serviettes, gift bags, coffee filters etc. My process involves painting and drawing on each individual piece of teabag fabric (i.e. every colour represents a different collaged piece of fabric), which I then collage onto a canvas. My process is a lengthy one, with pieces taking anywhere from one to five weeks to complete. Other mediums I use in this process are charcoal, pastels and watercolours, with acrylic base on occasion.

I begin with sketching out the spread layout then tracing patterns onto the different recycled papers and tea bags, then cutting and collaging them onto the canvas or paper. Once everything is in place then I go to town on adding in all the little features and details.

What do you do when you aren’t creating books? I work on other wall art pieces (all using recycled teabags, serviettes and papers) either by commission or to sell in the two art galleries I supply to, one of which I’m also the Director of. I also am a wife and mother to twin 13-year-old boys…so that never gets old!

Tabitha and the Raincloud is about those days when things seem to go wrong from the moment you wake up. When Tabitha wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, she finds a big raincloud next to her taking up most of the space. She tells it to go away, but it won’t budge. Things get worse. At breakfast, the cloud rains all over her scrambled eggs. At school, she tries to draw a giraffe, but the raincloud distracts her and her art teacher compliments her on her dinosaur Aaagh! By lunchtime, Tabitha is so stormy that none of her friends want to sit next to her. Tabitha realises she needs to change her attitude. It’s not the raincloud that’s making her day unpleasant, but how she’s choosing to react to it. So, Tabitha fetches her umbrella, raincoat and boots from her locker and starts dancing in the rain. It’s not long before her friends join her and they’re all having fun together This is a story of resilience, choices, optimism and perseverance. It’s a gentle reminder that we all have raincloudy days but we’ll get through them. And sometimes, we can bring the sunshine out a little bit faster if we remember to dance in the rain.

The book is available here.

Visit Melissa on Facebook here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Janeen Brian

 

Janeen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Get your heart involved in your writing. That is, write honestly with genuine emotional sincerity. Even if it’s a commissioned work, a piece of work you haven’t personally chosen, I still think you can find something in the research or the writing of it you can relate to. Something that sparks your interest, so your writing isn’t wooden.

Photo: Bob Gloyn Photography

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published in both trade and educational publishing. She enjoys writing picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and non-fiction.

Many of her books have been translated and distributed worldwide while more than 200 stories, poems, plays and articles have been published in children’s magazines or anthologies.

Janeen was the recipient of the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature Carclew Fellowship and in 2009 also received a May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. Janeen is an Ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia (The Little Big Book Club.)

She loves reading, creating mosaics, aqua-aerobics, Yoga, walking, gardening, travelling, craft work, singing, watching theatre and films and spending time with her family and friends.

She lives in the seaside city of Glenelg, in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has two daughters and four grandchildren.

To find out more, visit her website and Facebook page.

www.janeenbrian.com

www.facebook.com/JaneenBrian

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think of words as seeds. Each holds power and beauty and can be arranged in a million different ways to bring about a million different outcomes. I love taking disparate words and making connections. I love using my life’s experiences for something other than memories. For me, writing equates to creativity. And creativity is my soul driver.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I was a primary teacher for many years. And a not-so-good actor in a children’s theatre company for a few years! I loved my teaching years but left in 1990 to write full-time and now, I’m not sure I’d return to that career. Perhaps I’d work part-time in Early Childhood centres. And I’d spend the rest of my time creating saleable mosaics from recycled materials – something I’ve been doing for over twenty years.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Because I’m disciplined and have a reasonably strong work ethic, I love being able to work from home.

What’s the worst aspect of your writing life? When I think I’ve conquered a particular structural humbug, only to see it rear its annoying head again in another piece of work.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To clarify, I never had an ambition to become a writer. I still sometimes find it a surprise that I am one. One writing colleague described it as being an accidental author. However, from age eight, I was set on becoming a teacher. But when, in my thirties, I began to write and later, to become published, I wished I’d been told you had to make TROUBLE in your writing. That CONFLICT was the cannon you fired to action the story.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Ignorance of story. Ignorance of books. I felt this perhaps because my childhood and school life was almost bare of reading material.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I was pretty much a self-taught author. Being a self-starter, I sought out books on how to write, from the library. Much later, there were writing prompts available online, which I ploughed through, and a ‘distant education course’ which I took, sending off work in envelopes. But today, I’d start out by studying the wonderful writing courses that are available both online, in universities and other institutions.

You’ve seen many changes during your writing life. How important is it to be adaptable as an author? What are the key attributes a writer needs for a long-term career in this unpredictable career? I delve deeply and often into my particular ethos of If it’s to be, it’s up to me.  Ultimately, it’s you who has to overcome hurdles and do the work. But sometimes, when even that’s not enough, having like-minded friends and colleagues to buoy you up through those tough times, is invaluable. Also, reaching out into other areas of the arts is helpful and enjoyable.  If you don’t want to sink, you learn to be adaptable in your own way. But, to stay afloat, you need persistence by the truckload. And an understanding that whatever you write can ALWAYS be improved, by revision, learning and practice.

You write picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and no-fiction. Do you have a preference? I love the crispness of picture books and poetry. I love to create words that sound perfect and hopefully, also provoke images in a reader’s or an illustrator’s mind. I so enjoy writing junior fiction and since I’ve now written three novels, I really like the expansion they offer as well. But I guess picture books and poetry nudge to the top of the line-up.

Are there any recurring themes to your writing? Succeeding by tapping into your own strength, intuition and creative problem solving would be one theme. So, in a word, resilience. Concern for the environment, another. Bringing history to life and also injecting humour into my writing whenever I can, would be others.

What was the inspiration behind your newest release, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars? It was the combination of two random images; one being memories of visiting old English orphanages. The other was reading the narrative behind medieval tapestries depicting the capture of a unicorn. The next step was to create a character who lived in an orphanage, who may or may not have been an orphan and to uncover her connection with a unicorn. And in so doing, create a story for mid-grade readers that entailed both mystery and magical realism. Talk about a challenge.

Is there any aspect of the writing craft that you still find challenging? Probably structure, particularly in longer pieces.

 

 

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is good if you stick to those two words. Social, meaning you can visit and enjoy and share or gain information or knowledge from time to time. Media, meaning its very accessible. But beyond that, I’m wary, because it can drag you into passivity – when perhaps you should be writing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever label those sticky times as such, because that tends to set the whole idea in concrete. Yes, I have times when ideas lay low, or the work is sluggish or dull, but now I have a better understanding of dealing with those occasions. Often, I’ll leave the work for a while. Or I might do a brainstorm or mind-map to see if that generates a breakthrough. But it’s usually a stepping away from the work, with or without a certain amount of grace, depending on my mood!

How do you deal with rejection? I still feel sad when it happens. And disappointed. And frustrated. And I’m not the most garrulous person to be around for a little while afterwards.

But it is a case of whether you still believe in the work or not. One case in point, was that my agent couldn’t get any publisher interested in a particular picture book of mine. In the end she returned it to me. I gave it time, rewrote it and sent it to a publisher whom I knew. It was not only published but won a Notable Award at the CBCA Awards.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Image-provoking, heart-felt, language-orientated.

If you had a 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 would be Kate DiCamillo because she evokes such richness or emotion in her powerful stories. I’d like to know whether her beautiful, pared-down style of writing evolved through her own intuition, or whether it was partly intuitive and partly learning the craft.

BOOK BYTE

Eloise & the Bucket of Stars

Janeen Brian

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the villages or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens . . .

The book is available from:

https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Eloise-and-the-Bucket-of-Stars-9781760651879

https://www.sequelbooks.com/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars-by-janeen-brian-9781760651879?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYASABEgJEqPD_BwE

https://www.qbd.com.au/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars/janeen-brian/9781760651879/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYAiABEgIhk_D_BwE

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars?utm_campaign=shopping_feed_gb_en&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Leisl Leighton

My guest this week is award-winning author Leisl Leighton, who describes her work as ’emotional, pacey and suspenseful’. Read on to find out what Leisl wishes she’d been told before she became a writer and what she’d do differently if she were starting out now.

Leisl is a tall redhead with an overly large imagination. As a child, she identified strongly with Anne of Green Gables, and like Anne, is a voracious reader and born performer. It came as no surprise when she did a double major in English Literature and Drama for her BA and Dip Ed, then went on to a career as a performer, script writer, script doctor, stage manager and musical director for cabaret and theatre restaurants.

After starting a family, Leisl stopped performing and began writing the stories plaguing her dreams. She is addicted to the Syfy channel, her shelves are full of fantasy, paranormal, Sci-fi and romance books and DVDs, she sometimes sings in a choir, has worked as a swim teacher, loves to ski and horse ride, and was president of Romance Writers of Australia from 2014-2017. She now has a Graduate Diploma in Publishing and Communications (Advanced), continues to write novels and also helps other writers make their manuscripts shine with her manuscript assessing and mentoring services.

Leisl is the author of the paranormal Pack Bound Series, romantic suspense novels, Dangerous Echoes (Book 1 in the Echo Springs Series), Climbing Fear and Blazing Fear (Books 1& 2 in the CoalCliff Stud Series.) Most recently, she has been a finalist in the 2019 RUBY Awards (for Moon Bound) and a finalist in the 2019 ARRA Awards (for Climbing Fear).

You can catch up with Leisl at: www.leislleighton.comFacebook, Goodreads and on Twitter @LeislLeighton

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I have to. I’ve always been a creative person – acting, singing, performing, writing scripts, musical direction etc – but after kids, these were much harder to do in a way that satisfied my creative needs. I turned fully to writing novels and haven’t looked back. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Acting, singing, performing, writing scripts, musical direction and/or teaching.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Realising that just because writing is something you do by yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. It wasn’t until I embraced a writing community and opened myself up to learning from and sharing with them, that I started to learn what I truly needed to do to become published. And they also helped to keep up my spirits and persist – because alongside improving your craft, persistence is a major factor in getting published.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? If you mean, have they all come from me and only me, no. They start off with an idea or a character and then I start to write and see where that takes me, letting the characters speak for themselves. Then I also run ideas and workshop with trusted writing friends and with my agent who help me to solidify the tricky bits and head me in the right direction. Then of course, my editors help to polish and refine my ideas. So, while probably 75% of it is me, the rest is done with help by my community of writing pals and the professional people in my life.

Then there was the Echo Springs series which came from an idea from my editor at the time who got together myself and three other authors to write a continuity. She had the base idea and then myself and the other three authors – Daniel deLorne, Shannon Stein and TJ Hamilton – workshopped the series and our ideas together then went away and wrote our individual story, then with the editor to make sure they all hung together as a cohesive whole. That was a really amazing project to have been a part of and I learned so much.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Losing myself in the world of my characters. It can be exhilarating.

—the worst? Having to constantly work at making others respect the fact I am a writer and that I’m not just home doing whatever and can drop what I’m doing and come to do whatever they want to do. It is a constant effort to have to make family and friends respect my working day.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Find a writing group to be a part of and join RWA right away (or some other writing organisation to suit my genre). I floundered for years on my own before doing those things and it wasn’t until I did join writing communities that I started to make the improvements and build the networks that led to me getting published. Also, my writing friends are some of the best people in my life.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Getting that first contract is amazing, but it doesn’t mean it’s all roses from there. There’s an increase in the hard work to come and that the ebbs and flows in the publishing industry mean that you can never be ‘secure’ – but that’s normal and has nothing to do with you. You just need to keep getting out there and trying and writing the best you can if you want the next step to be forward and not backwards. That and start building an author profile immediately – SM may be a burden at times but it can also be a joy and it certainly helps you to connect with authors and readers and stay informed and helps with publicity and marketing which are increasingly important for an author to take command over whether traditionally published or self-published.

What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Join RWA, enter contests, get a critique partner, volunteer, go to the conferences, improve your craft and persevere.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? All of the above, but also make sure you get your work critiqued by someone who isn’t just a writing buddy or family member. That’s why going in contests can be so invaluable because you often get really great feedback that can help you improve. You can also find people who do author mentoring and manuscript assessments.

How important is social media to you as an author? Very. See my above comment about building an author profile.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really. There are times when I know what I’m writing isn’t working and I can feel a bit stymied, but that’s when I workshop with my writing friends to help me break through that. Even then, I don’t stop writing. I believe that getting something on the page that I can fix is better than getting nothing down – you can’t fix what’s not there.

How do you deal with rejection? I let myself feel the sting of it but then remind myself that I’m here because I love writing and I concentrate on that and move on. If there is advice in the rejection about my work, I take that onboard, workshop it with writing friends and keep going. I also know that a rejection is not always an indictment on my work – there are so many factors that go into a ‘no’ that have nothing to do with if my novel is good or not. So, remembering that helps me not take it too personally. Also, wailing to my writing friends helps – they’ve all been in the same position and empathise in a way that’s meaningful but then also buck me up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Emotional. Pacey. Suspenseful.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? A sense that family can be made up of anyone who cares for you and you care for and that asking for help can be a person’s greatest strength. And also, that love is something we should all aspire to.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?  I love reading what I write – paranormal and romantic suspense. I also love reading fantasy and historic romance. My favourite authors are Nalini Singh, Sherrilyn Kenyon, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, Raymond E. Feist, Anne McCaffrey, Anne Gracie, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, Julia Quinn (and many, many more!)

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? Probably Nora Roberts. I would like to ask her about balancing family life with writing life. Also, how to balance all the necessary business side of writing with the creative side and still living a life that includes fun time doing things that you love with family and friends.

BOOK BYTE

Blazing Fear

Leisl Leighton

Fire stole his past – now it is threatening to burn everything, and everyone, he loves. All over again…

Flynn Findlay likes everyone to think he’s in control, but the death of his wife during the bushfires six years ago changed everything. Now, even though it feels like a betrayal, Flynn can’t seem to escape his growing feelings for the beautiful new doctor in town. He’s never felt as truly alive as when he is with Prita – even his fear of fire doesn’t seem as bad.

Dr Prita Brennan is ready for a fresh start in Wilson’s Bend with her adoptive son, far from her overprotective family. It would be perfect, except some of the locals don’t like the changes she’s making to the practice. One of them is even making harassing calls. The handsome local horse stud owner, Flynn, is a further complication she doesn’t need right now.

But when harassment escalates to arson, to save the horse stud and their children, Flynn and Prita must work together to figure out who is after her – and why they are trying to burn to the ground everything she touches.

Buy Links for Blazing Fear

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2pGOWyK

Apple Books: https://apple.co/2Nj5rtY

Kobo: http://bit.ly/34FjLTt

Google Play: http://bit.ly/34saJcf

Romance.com.au: http://bit.ly/36y19GC

 

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google Play

Romance.com.au

 

Meet the Creators: Bedtime Daddy

It takes a team to create a picture book and today it’s my pleasure to introduce the author and illustrator of Bedtime, Daddy! This quirky look at the nightly bedtime routine is sure to become a family favourite. First, a little about author Sharon Giltrow and illustrator Katrin Dreiling…

Sharon grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. When not writing, Sharon works with children with Developmental Language Disorder. Sharon was awarded the Paper Bird Fellowship in 2019. Her debut PB Bedtime, Daddy! was released in May 2020 through EK Books.

Twitter – https://twitter.com/sharon_giltrow

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sharongiltrow1/?hl=en

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/sharongiltrowwriter/

Katrin is a German-born language teacher but moved to Australia with her husband and three children and became an illustrator.

Katrin creates quirky illustrations that feature different media. Her first picture book The World’s Worst Pirate by Michelle Worthington has been awarded Notable Book 2018 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia and she also delivered illustrations for a highly successful video animation production on YouTube.

Katrin was awarded the Harper Collins Illustrators Showcase Award 2019 at the biannual SCBWI conference in Sydney. She is represented by Essie White at Storm Literary Agency.

Katrin also teaches art to children twice a week and conducts illustration workshops for both adults and children. She also loves to spend time with her family, writing quirky stories and walking her Golden Retriever Loki.

https://www.katrindreiling.com/

https://www.instagram.com/katrinartworks/

Congratulations to you both on the release of this fun story about bedtime. Sharon, I’m guessing the story was inspired by your own parenting experiences. Tell us a little about your writing process and how the story came to be published.

My story Bedtime, Daddy! is based on my real-life parenting experiences and my inspiration for writing came from my family. All the excuses that little bear uses are excuses my children have used to postpone bedtime over the past 13 years.

My writing process starts with me brainstorming the idea, researching the idea, mapping out the narrative ARC then writing the first draft. After I am happy with the first draft, I send it off to my critique group. Once everyone has critiqued the story, I take everyone’s suggestions, go through them page by page and comment by comment and then incorporate the ones that ring true. Then I let the story sit for a couple of months, then re-visit, revise it again, work out page turns and when I am happy submit it to publishers.

For Bedtime, Daddy! I wrote the first draft in June 2017. After numerous revisions I submitted the story to EK Books in June 2018. I received an email from two weeks later and signed the publishing deal two months later. EK Books asked Katrin Dreiling to illustrate the book.

Katrin, what was your response on first reading Sharon’s manuscript? Did the story immediately conjure images for you? Please share a little about your process in illustrating the book. How collaborative was it?

Thank you for having me, Teena! When I first read Sharon’s manuscript I had so much fun and straight away the feeling this would be a great project. I am a mum of three teenagers who never enjoyed and never will enjoy going to bed and still find every excuse in the book to avoid it so the theme definitely hit home. Hence I put a lot of my children’s face expressions and body language when they were little into the illustrating process.

Sharon, has the book been illustrated the way you envisioned it would be when you wrote it?

That is a very interesting question. When I wrote my book, I pictured the characters as people. A daddy and a child, although I hadn’t pictured the child as a boy or a girl. EK Books asked Katrin to illustrate people as well as bears for the characters and they shared Katrin’s illustrations with me. I was still picturing the characters as people, however the very wise Anouska Jones, EK Books editor, suggested that we go with the bear characters as they would have more worldwide appeal. I trusted Anouska as she had a lot more publishing experience than me. So, the characters are bears and they are perfect and I love them dearly.

Do you have a favourite part of Bedtime Daddy?

S. This is a very hard question as I have many favourite parts, but if I had to choose just one it would be the part where Daddy bear is wearing his favourite dinosaur pyjamas on his head.

K. I think I like the part where Little Bear puts Daddy to bed the first time and gives him a kiss best because to me it symbolises little children’s sweet determination and innocence when they copy grown up behavior and try to be responsible parents. It’s a beautiful age.

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

S. That children and parents will enjoy the book as they laugh together over the antics of cheeky daddy bear going to bed.

K. For parents it will be nice to be reaffirmed that this bedtime pattern is universal and maybe something to embrace rather than dreaded? Kids grow up so quickly but that’s easy to forget when you are busy and tired. For kids it will be pure fun to see Daddy being put in a child’s position – what can be better? 😊

Where do you find your creative inspiration?

S. My creative inspiration comes from real life and reading picture books.

K. I work a lot with children when I give art classes or spend time with my own kids and I am always amazed at their own unique creativity. Other than that I love to look at other illustrators’ work and find inspiration.

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

S. My love of books as a child influenced my love of writing.

K. Growing up in Germany, you spend a lot of time indoors especially during the colder months. I listened to many audio plays during that time and would just draw and paint whatever and however I wanted. There were no rules and I felt free in mind and on paper.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

S. Finding a publisher that loved Bedtime, Daddy! and believed in the story as much as I did.

K. Probably realising that I need to be more patient and that these things rarely happen overnight.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life?

S. Creating something out of an idea. Taking an idea and making it into a story. Turning a blank page into a story. Sharing that story with other writers and readers.

K. I work from home in a lovely, small studio guarded by my massive dog and I can schedule my day exactly like I want it. I also love to be able to express myself creatively and hopefully touch children’s lives with my work.

 —the worst?

S. Wondering if publishers are going to publish it and then if readers are going to enjoy it.

K. An increasingly high chocolate consumption…

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

S. Try and picture how the story is going to look and read as a book.

K. I’d definitely be more patient. I think…I hope…

 What’s the best advice you were ever given?

S. Just write! Get that first draft down on paper. Also read lots of books.

K. A good friend of mine who also happens to be a very successful illustrator once told me to keep busy and not to think about the getting published aspect too much. It will happen – that is ultimately true because you are honing your craft this way minus the worrying.

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

S. Make time to write. Even if it is just for 15 minutes at a time. Use what time you have and write.

K. Keep busy 😊

How important is social media to you?

S. Social media is very important to me. It has allowed me to reach out to readers and other writers from all around the world.

K. It is very important and resulted in several contracts for me. It can be a bit distracting or just plain “too much” sometimes and that’s usually when I take a break or keep a bit more quiet. I try to keep it always running in the background, though.

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

S. Are You My Mother? By PD Eastman I read and re-read it as a child over and over again.

K. Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking with the fabulous ink illustrations by Rolf Rettich in the 1987 edition.

BOOK BYTE

Bedtime, Daddy!

Written by Sharon Giltrow

Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling

Putting Daddy to bed can be hard work. Especially when he starts crying! This story will show you how to wrestle your daddy into his pyjamas and read just one more bedtime story. ‘I’m thirrrrrrrrssssssty,’ says Daddy. ‘I need to poop … I’m hungry … But I’ll miss you,’ he says, while he looks at you with cutie eyes. You’ll have to battle the bedtime excuses and use go-away monster spray until Daddy finally goes to sleep. Bedtime can be a mission for many, but with these gorgeous illustrations of a little bear and his dad, this is the perfect role-reversal bedtime story to help put any fussy child to bed in a fun and positive way. Full of heart and humour, Bedtime, Daddy! is for anyone who wants to try and put a grown-up to bed.

Buy the book here.

 

Meet the Author: Julie Murphy

Julie’s top tip for aspiring authors: The big three: reading, writing and persistence.

Julie Murphy is an Australian-based author who strives to promote the value of animals and the environment to children. She has written almost 20 children’s books for Trade and Education markets. She also writes articles, short stories and poetry. Find out more on her web site www.juliemurphybooks  and catch up on Twitter https://twitter.com/juliekidsbooks?lang=en

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because writing is fun! Getting that spark of an idea, researching it to find out if it’s interesting enough to sustain a whole book, brainstorming to find a “hook” that will direct me to the best style to use and, finally, writing it (with many revisions along the way)…what’s not to love?

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I am already doing something else as well as being a writer. I spend part of my time as a Program Leader who runs education programs with kinder and school groups at an urban farm. That’s a fun job, and I think it’s important too as many kids wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to spend time with farm animals or a farm.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It is hard to choose because there are some very tough obstacles! One that immediately springs to mind is being picked from the slush pile because it’s a snail-paced process and there’s a degree of luck in being discovered by the right person at the right time. Another major obstacle is myself. When that inner critic gets a bit too noisy, I have to tell it to pipe down.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? It varies. My earliest books were work-for-hire, which essentially means I wrote on specific topics and to specific guidelines provided by the publisher (or packager). That work offered no extra involvement. Now, when I write nonfiction picture books that stem from my own ideas and research, I often get to provide feedback to the illustrator with respect to scientific accuracy, and the publisher often asks my preference as to the cover design (from three possibilities, for example).

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The lifestyle is great: thinking up ideas while walking the dog, brainstorming while staring out the window, and I love that it keeps me open to possibilities with a child-like enthusiasm (much of the time).

The worst? So much is good, but the worst may be that it is generally undervalued as a profession by the wider community. Unless you are a “big name” and make a lot of money from it – which very few authors do – I feel that many people treat my work as a hobby.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? That is a tricky question! Hmmm. If I could control it, I would change my attitude a little. I’d tell myself to be more patient, and more confident in my abilities.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That authors don’t just write. They also need to know about promotion, accounting, research, law, networking and more.

What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? You are in it for the long haul.

How important is social media to you as an author? Quite important now. I don’t think it sells many books, but it lets you know about some submission opportunities, and brings you in contact with a wonderful community of fantastic, creative people who know all about the pros, cons and solitary nature of the writer’s life.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Sort of. I have no shortage of ideas for future books: I have a spreadsheet full of them! But I do get stuck on works-in-progress from time to time. I most commonly get stuck on finding that “hook” that makes a book attractive to readers by being distinctively different from other books on that topic. What do I do about it? I try out different styles: text types, points of view, humorous or poetic. If I’m still stuck after that, I make the painful decision to put that work aside for a while and work on something else. I always have simultaneous works in progress, even though I tend to focus on one at a time. Sometimes when I go back to it, it still doesn’t work; sometimes the break gives me time to discover a way to make it work. An author in my genre who I particularly respect, Melissa Stewart, recently shared that it took her ten years to find the right hook for one of her manuscripts!

How do you deal with rejection? These days it doesn’t usually bother me very much. I have learnt that it’s not always about the manuscript: often it’s just not right for that publisher at that time. If I think the rejected manuscript needs revision, I’ll do that before sending it out again. If I think revision is not needed, I’ll send it off to other targeted publishers. I like to know I have “irons in the fire”. I also keep working on other work.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Fun and informative.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? A love of reading and the natural world. I enjoy incorporating word play into my books, and always make sure they work as read-alouds. With degrees in zoology, and having worked as a zookeeper for ten years, my interests in animals and nature shine through in my writing. If my books help readers to increase their love and respect for nature, I’ll be very happy.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors? I read picture books, children’s fiction, YA and occasionally books for adults. I particularly like well-written fantasy stories. My favourite books include The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), Blood Song (Anthony Ryan), Down by the Cool of the Pool (Tony Mitton & Guy Parker-Rees), and the writing of Margaret Wild, Jackie French, Glenda Millard, Dickens and JRR Tolkien.

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 would like JK Rowling (Harry Potter books) to talk about how she managed to develop such a rich story over so many years. I am especially awestruck each time I discover little clues planted two or three books before they become relevant.

I’VE GOT A TAIL! Terrific Tails of the Animal World (Ill. Hannah Tolson, Amicus Ink, Feb 2020)

Starring a viper whose tail looks like a spider, animals from around the world describe how their tails help them survive. Covering adaptations to desert, ocean, forest, and arctic habitats, this narrative nonfiction picture book highlights the diversity of the animal world. It’s the third book in the I’ve Got… series by Murphy and Tolson.

Sales links: Booktopia – https://www.booktopia.com.au/odd-bods-julie-murphy/book/9781541585027.html

Fishpond – https://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Ive-Got-Tail-Julie-Murphy-Hannah-Tolson-Illustrated-by/9781681525013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Christine Bell

Christine’s top tip for aspiring authors: Even when you’re not getting published keep writing. Elizabeth Jolley did that over twenty years of rejection and then when one book got published, the others all lined up behind and, in short time, she seemed prolific.

Christine Bell is a Melbourne fiction writer. Her debut historical novel No Small Shame was published by Ventura Press (Impact) this month. In October 2019, Christine was awarded the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) Colleen McCullough Residency for an Established Writer. She is a Varuna fellow and holds a Master of Creative Writing (RMIT). Christine has had 35 short fiction works published for children. No Small Shame is her first adult novel.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I love the thrill of creating characters and seeing people, places, events coming to life on the page that didn’t exist before. Then I write to discover why my characters make certain choices, what influences them and to see how they respond to both the world and shifting circumstances.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d perhaps be a teacher or a librarian. I taught ESL to Chinese English Major students for a term at a Chinese university and loved it. I also taught creative writing classes for a couple of terms to adult students and loved that too. But being a writer, I couldn’t wait to get back to work on my story.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Getting a novel published has proven far more elusive than getting my children’s fiction published. Two YA novels went to various acquisitions meetings, but didn’t make it through. Really though, I think my biggest obstacle was probably my own fear and self-doubt. I took a long time to send No Small Shame out into the world. I loved it and couldn’t bear to let it go.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Ventura Press have been very inclusive throughout every stage, from discussions on the cover design and editorial process to changing the original title. I really appreciated that they took up some of my suggestions. I trusted them implicitly and knew that, if they did not agree with any, they knew the market and readers far better than me. My input into the cover design was to suggest the type of cover images I liked and then to say which design I liked best during concept development. Happily, we all picked the same as our favourite which was the one developed into the final cover art on the book.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I love those moments when I’m so engrossed in writing a scene that my fingers fly across the keyboard. It still delights me to see an idea become real on the page, a new character or event come to life that an hour ago did not exist. Also I love those times when a gnarly scene I’ve been wrestling develops into a crucial and poignant moment in the book. I have to say though that the very best moment was when I finally held No Small Shame, the book, in my hands!

—the worst? Self doubt. The fear that I’m fooling myself. Will anyone want to read my book? That fear can be paralysing on occasions, but then I have to give myself a good prod and get back to work.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d trust myself to write the book I always wanted to write, even if it was big and scary and might never be published.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? If you want to write novels, write novels. Don’t worry whether you’re good enough or if it will ever get published.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Make your similes work for your story. Match them to your work. For example: In No Small Shame, there’s a scene where Mary’s husband is having a nightmare and thrashing about in the bed. In the original scene I wrote it using a simile along the lines that Mary was drowning in a churning sea, but when I went to rework it, I knew it needed to be connected more immediately to their world and setting, and so it became about the timbers shifting in a coal mine and the roof beginning to cave in.

How important is social media to you as an author? At one time, I looked upon it as a necessary evil. A time sucker that took me away from writing. But then as I began to make connections and friendships with writers whom I’d never met and couldn’t hope to meet, my attitude changed to one of gratitude. Plus the incredible, generous response of the online writing community to authors who’ve had launches and events cancelled during this Covid-19 crisis has proven beyond doubt how valuable the connections you make through social media can be. Plus you’re never working alone in a bubble or isolated.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Generally, I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I can experience chronic bouts of procrastination, when I consciously avoid beginning a scene, telling myself I need to do more research, think about it more etc. Ultimately, I have to make myself sit down and just write. I tell myself, I just need to get the bare bones down. It almost always works, then I’m left wondering why I put it off so long!

How do you deal with rejection? Usually I give myself 24 hours to mope, then send it out again. I’ve always been pretty resilient, except for one brief patch in 2018 when I lost confidence in the direction of my work-in-progress, then received two particularly disappointing rejections in one week. For the first time, I shut my office door, saying, I don’t think I can do this anymore. It took some weeks for me to realise that I’d become so obsessed with writing and getting published, I’d forgotten to take time out for other things. For fun! I gave myself a long Christmas break and took up learning to play the piano and mastering photography with a mirrorless camera. I began the New Year somewhat renewed and reinspired for work-in-progress, especially after I did a hugely inspirational masterclass with Antoni Jach.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Authentic, compelling, gritty.

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? This answer would change for me on any given day, depending on what I was reading or writing. Today, I’d nominate Ruth Park. She wrote with such raw honesty and her characters, such as the Darcy family in Harp in the South, bore a familiarity to the O’Donnells in No Small Shame. They also faced poverty and prejudice, along with the daily struggle to break free of their circumstances. I think Park with her Irish migrant background would have many more tales she could tell. With my Irish, Scottish heritage, I’d be keen to listen.

BOOK BYTE

No Small Shame

Christine Bell

Australia, 1914. The world is erupting in war. Jobs are scarce and immigrants unwelcome. For young Catholic Mary O’Donnell, this is not the new life she imagined. When one foolish night of passion leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage, Mary’s reluctant husband Liam escapes to the trenches. With her overbearing mother attempting to control her every decision, Mary flees to Melbourne determined to build a life for herself and her child. There, she forms an unlikely friendship with Protestant army reject Tom Robbins. But as a shattering betrayal is revealed, Mary must make an impossible choice. Does she embrace the path fate has set for her, or follow the one she longs to take? From the harshness of a pit village in Scotland to the upheaval of wartime Australia, No Small Shame tells the moving story of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.

Purchase links:

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/products/30505748/no-small-shame

Dymocks: https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/no-small-shame-by-christine-bell-9781920727901

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/no-small-shame-christine bell/book/9781920727901.html

Ebook: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/No-Small-Shame-choice-forever-ebook/dp/B07WQYNC2G

Social media links:

Website:              https://christinebell.com.au

Twitter:                https://twitter.com/chrisbellwrites

Facebook:            https://www.facebook.com/chris.bell.77377

Instagram:           https://www.instagram.com/christinembell

 

 

Meet the Author: Dan Kaufman

Dan’s top tip for aspiring authors: Develop a tough skin and don’t take the rejections personally.

Dan Kaufman spent most of his career at The Sydney Morning Herald, where he edited almost every section at one time or another, from Travel to MyCareer. He also wrote for almost every section, including essays and literary articles for Spectrum, and had the unofficial title of being the humiliation correspondent by writing about such topics as spending 24 hours in Star City and going to a bondage club. Since leaving the SMH he has continued to write the occasional opinion column for it. He also teaches writing workshops through his business Media Survival.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? It’s a compulsion. Once a story or an idea comes to mind and takes over, I become obsessed with it until I’ve finished.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I have no idea. I spent most of my adult life as a journalist – and I now teach writing workshops – so it’s hard to imagine life without writing. I often think writing saved me.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Stamina and finding the right person to believe in the book. It’s not enough to get an agent – or even an editor who likes it. Often, you then need to get other people in the publishing company to get on board. However, if – like me – you write novels that don’t fit neatly into a specific genre, or that take risks (or both) then getting a publisher is almost as hard as winning the lottery. I wrote a previous book that I spent over 10 years writing and was obsessed with it. I still am, actually. I got an agent, I had interest from several publishers, I even had a judge from a literary competition email me and say that the novel deserved to get published and that he loved it – but no publisher could get the group approval amongst their editors to go ahead with it.

So with my new novel I took a different approach and sent it to a small publisher who didn’t need to get the approval of other editors – and it worked. However, it took thousands upon thousands of rejections over many, many, many years before I got a book deal.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Because I spent so long working as a magazine and newspaper sections editor – and I have worked on the production of countless covers in the past – I was hands on with my book. Luckily, my publisher (the fantastic David Tenenbaum from Melbourne Books) was great about this.

The cover idea was mine, and I suggested a great illustrator I know (Michael McGurk, who I have worked with in the past on magazines and at The Sydney Morning Herald) – and Michael absolutely knocked it out of the park.  I couldn’t be happier with the cover design.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Simple: it allows me to disappear into an imaginary world and make things happen – all while playing with words, which I love doing more than anything else.

—the worst? It’s unlikely that I’ll become a millionaire from it. Or even afford toilet paper on the black market.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would spend a lot more time working on plots before just diving in. I’ve written countless unpublished books, and in retrospect they all had a common flaw: the plots were too thin. It took me a LONG time to learn how to put a plot together.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To create better plots!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Show, don’t tell. Rather than saying that something is happening, show it. Paint a picture in the reader’s mind with details. For example, don’t just say that John was happy. Show him thumping his steering wheel with joy while screaming out a victorious “yes!”

However, it’s a fine line – too many details can detract from the story.

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is important – maybe even crucial now in the age of the corona virus. Having said that, I’m still working on improving my own social media presence in an authentic way. I want to make sure that whatever I do online remains true to who I am as a person.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No – but that doesn’t mean the ideas are always flowing. I think of writers block as when someone sits in front of a keyboard and doesn’t know what to write and gets frustrated.

That’s never happened to me, because my approach is not to force things. When the ideas come, get them out of you. When they don’t, then let it go. After a while, they’ll come back.

Thinking that you have to write is, in my mind, a bad attitude. The writing should come out of you because you have something to say. You shouldn’t even have a choice: you have to write. When you don’t have anything to say, that’s a sign you shouldn’t be writing at all. Only bad writing can come when people think they have to write and so they just force it.

How do you deal with rejection? Sometimes, quite frankly, it can be soul crushing. Having said that, I try to find any constructive criticism and make the most of it – and if it’s just a blanket rejection, then I try to use it as an excuse to think about how I can make my writing even better.

Rejection is an integral part of writing. Criticism is the best thing that can happen to us, and being forced to improve our novels and not become complacent can be a positive, not a negative, force.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Comic, bittersweet, satirical.

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? There are many writers who I absolutely idolise – but I have learnt from my journalism days that it’s never good to meet your idols. However, if I had to pick one then I’d go with DBC Pierre (the author of Vernon God Little) – I’m sure he could give me some great tips on both writing and being a writer. Vernon was such a brilliant novel that it would be great just to talk to DBC about how he developed it.

BOOK BYTE

Drowning in the Shadows

by Dan Kaufman

 

 

David’s journalism students petrify him. Then again, so does his cat.

His girlfriend broke up with him, he writes about bars for a shrinking newspaper that’s abandoned news reporting for lifestyle articles, and he’s desperately searching for meaning amongst the backdrop of Sydney’s shallow social scene.

Then he meets a young woman who just might be the answer. The only problem is, she’s a friend of one of his students.

Drowning in the Shallows is a comedy about heartache, a satire of Sydney society, a coming-of-age tale about a man in his 30s who is only now growing up, and a love story about a man and his beloved evil cat.

Buy the book here.