Meet the Author: Tracy Ryan

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Don’t aspire; just write. Don’t think of yourself as “aspiring”; think of yourself as writing. And read widely, and/or deeply, because that goes with writing. Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan was born and grew up in Western Australia, where she now lives in the wheatbelt, but has also lived overseas in the UK, USA and Ireland. She has worked in libraries, bookselling, editing, community journalism and teaching. As well as five novels, she has published nine collections of poetry.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  I have always written, since I could first read, so it’s a habit of thinking, a way of processing experience.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t imagine that. I’ve also taught a lot, so I’d probably be teaching, but I don’t see it as either/or. Writing would be as well as, no matter what else was involved. This is true for many other writers too. Sometimes people put writing on hold while they do other things, but even then they’ve often been jotting things down in their spare time. What we see that gets published is usually only a small portion of what people have been writing across their lifetimes.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I don’t think in terms of obstacles. I was brought up with love, I was well-fed and looked-after in my family of origin, and I have a supportive family now. For some people life is much harder, so I’m not saying obstacles are nonsense, just that I don’t focus on them for myself. If you focus too much on them it’s discouraging. There’s always someone who has it worse, and someone who has it apparently easier. You just keep trying. If opportunities seem to elude you, you try to create them.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? My publishers have been great about this, in that we always end up discussing the choices for covers. I’m not a designer, though, nor a particularly visual person, so I defer to those who are. Nonetheless, it’s good to have that discussion, to clarify where writer, publisher, designer and marketing people are coming from. With regard to the content, I’ve always had terrific editors too, from whom I’ve learned heaps.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When a book is finished.

—the worst? The feeling of being stuck – grinding to a halt – which is actually a normal part of the process. It’s a stop-start thing, and sometimes there are many stops and starts!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? The internet did not exist when I was starting out; people didn’t even have home computers. So it’s crazy for me to try to picture how it would be to start out now. I think, though, that the basic principles of commitment to your work (to the value of imaginative writing in general too) and of persistence, self-belief, have not changed.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That it was an OK choice. My parents thought so, but I can remember a guidance counsellor at school who said basically, “That’s not a job.” Fortunately, to counterbalance that, I had some teachers who were great encouragers. I ignored the guidance counsellor. (Most writers probably do.)

What’s the best advice you were ever given? “Everything comes at a cost, so if you can’t see the cost of something, look harder.”

It was said at school, in a then-Social Studies class, but has applied to so many things in life I can’t count how often I’ve recalled and quoted it. It applies to the writing and publishing life: if anything looks suspiciously easy, or suspiciously obvious, reconsider. It makes me sound paranoid, or sceptical, I suppose. But it’s a helpful principle when making decisions.

There’s logic at work there, whether it’s in new technologies that appear to make life better but come at too great an ecological price – or some sort of deal you are offered that seems too good to be true. Or that someone somewhere is paying for a benefit you enjoy. It stretches to so many examples…

 

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not on social media, other than a blog I share with the writer John Kinsella, who is my life-partner (but I don’t post frequently). Our shared blog is at: http://poetsvegananarchistpacifist.blogspot.com.au/

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, lots – that’s the “being stuck” I mentioned above. I overcome it by recognising that it’s part of the writing process (not opposed to it) and eventually it goes into abeyance. Also I mess around with translations or other ways of working with language – journal entries, whatever – so as to keep connected while letting go of the problem. So far, it hasn’t been fatal. I think it’s quite common.

How do you deal with rejection? Get over it. Like writer’s block, it’s part of the deal. A certain degree of stubbornness is necessary to do this work. It can sting, as for anyone else, but if you let it stop you, you might as well try some other kind of work. People see the big successes that writers have, and don’t understand that they had lots of rejections too. Persistence is a key writerly trait, even if sometimes a piece of writing really is no good, and does deserve rejection. You go back and say to yourself, “How could I do it better?” or “Where else could I send it?”

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Questions, ruminations, excavations.

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 the French author Stendhal (real name Marie-Henri Beyle), 1783-1842. He was known to be very witty and his books are breathtaking. His writing is quirky, lively, intelligent, full of passion and compassion, and he felt he was writing for readers well into the future. Especially women! I’d love to hear his take on being a writer now, and as his biggest fame came posthumously, I’m sure he’d have something pithy and facetious to say about that. He’s a serious novelist who also makes you laugh; a great combination.

BOOK BYTE

We are not most people

Tracy Ryan

 

 

Kurt Stocker’s Swiss childhood is dominated by strict and God-fearing parents. He enters a seminary with the intent of becoming a priest and making his parents proud of him, but struggles to adapt. Leaving this vocation behind, he marries Liesl and they eventually emigrate to Australia.

Decades later in small town Australia, Terry Riley feels drawn to convent life, despite her parents’ objections. At the convent she is haunted by a strange sickness and knows in time that she must return to a more conventional life. It is then she begins a relationship with the now divorced Kurt, who was once her high school teacher.This is the story of an odd couple, of an older man and a younger woman in love with one another, but so damaged by their past lives that even a regular sexual relationship seems impossible. Beautiful in its frankness but disturbing in its examination of faith and human existence, this is a novel that is affectionate, haunting and ultimately unforgettable.

The book is available from https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/we-are-not-most-people/

 

 

Meet the Author-Illustrator: Adrienne Body

Author Illustrator Adrienne Body

Adrienne Body is an author and illustrator of children’s fiction and non-fiction picture books. Growing up in New Zealand with stories and illustrations by great local children’s authors like Lynley Dodd and Margaret Mahy inspired her to put her love of art together with her love of words to bring to life her own cute and colourful characters.

Website: Adriennebody.com

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CREATOR INSIGHT

What’s the best aspect of your artistic life?

I like having an outlet for all the crazy random sparks of ideas that come from great experiences and interactions. I love that (hopefully) my books help kids to learn, to feel positive about books and reading, and encourage their own creativity. If a book or character of mine makes someone smile or laugh, I’m happy.

—the worst?

I often wish I had more time to devote to it, but it doesn’t pay the bills right now.

How do you approach an illustration project?

Usually I am illustrating my own text. Sometimes the text comes first, sometimes the idea forms with the text and images forming together. Mostly I just let things stew in my head until something clicks. Then I get the words down, map out a page by page layout, then start work on the individual illustrations.

I find it helps to give myself a deadline, even if it’s fairly arbitrary, otherwise I procrastinate too much. Other than that, I find there is no point in trying to work on any project of mine if I am not in the right mood for it. Things just get frustrating.

When doing illustrations or cover art for others I try to get to know the story, talk to the author about it, and again let it all stew for a while. I’ll then rough out some concepts and go from there.

What are you working on at the moment?

I always have a few different projects floating about in my head. I can never tell which one is going to elbow its way to the front next. At some stage I plan on revisiting my very first character, Breakfast the sheep. In her next story she is trying to help her friend (a currently nameless cow) figure out a way to jump over the moon. I’m having a lot of fun with the rhymes and the not-so-successful moon jumping ideas. Accurate use of the laws of physics is not something that is going to be playing a role in this story.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Confidence, time, and expense. It can be a big and scary investment; particularly if you decide to self-publish. Print-on-demand wasn’t really a thing when I put out my first book, so deciding to front up the cash to print a batch after being (very politely and positively) rejected by a couple of publishers was nerve-racking. Although one publisher was very encouraging about my illustrations, so that helped a little with the self-confidence.

Is there any area of art that you still find challenging?

It’s hard to let my projects ‘into the wild’ sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy with them, so I have to tell myself that they are finished enough, otherwise I’d never publish anything. It comes down to the confidence thing.

Also, marketing can be a challenge, particularly when you aren’t great at talking about yourself and your work.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve always been writing and drawing. If I don’t do something creative pretty regularly, then I struggle with life in general. It is my sanity, my therapy. It’s not my day job, not my main income, and I (try not to) think I’m a bit rubbish at it, but I think it’s what I’m meant to be doing.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator?

I think I would do some courses on some different techniques and on using different digital illustration software. But it’s never too late to do that, so I probably soon will.

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

I always had self-doubt, thinking that I would never be creative enough to come up with new ideas or produce something good enough for a client. It would have been nice to have a cheerleader then, someone whose opinion I trusted who could tell me that I would be good enough and to keep working toward it. I got there on my own.

What’s your top tip for aspiring illustrators?

Find yourself someone who will genuinely (in a constructive and sensitive way) tell you if something you make is rubbish; and believe them when they tell you it’s not.

 

BOOK BYTE

Granddad’s Fish Tank

“This full-colour children’s picture book is full to the brim with adorable aquatic creatures who have oodles of personality. Granddad’s Fish Tank is a great tool to encourage literacy development skills. It’s rich in fun rhymes and rhythm, paired with bright and quirky water-colour illustrations.”

Available here: https://adriennebody.wixsite.com/kidsbooks/books-by-adrienne-body

 

Books by Adrienne Body

 

 

 

 

 

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