It’s always a celebration when a new picture book becomes available for young readers and today it’s my pleasure to welcome Anne Helen Donnelly as part of her online book tour for Ori’s Clean-up, latest in her Ori the Octopus series.
Anne lives in Sydney with her husband and her two young children. She has taught dance, been an entertainer at children’s parties, and she reads and teaches art and craft to children. She paints children’s canvasses and makes greeting cards.
Anne has been encouraged to share her story-telling, her illustrations and her creativity, resulting in her Ori the Octopus series. The first book Ori the Octopus was closely followed by Ori’s Christmas, both released in 2017. In 2018 Anne is combining another of her passions, care of the environment, in her third book Ori’s Clean-up, released this month.
I asked Anne about her creative life…
What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Getting out doing readings and workshops with children.
—the worst? I have been trying to revamp my website for two months now, this would have to be top of my list right now.
Where do you draw the inspiration for your picture books? For my current picture book, the environment and its care has always been a passion for me. Otherwise, from everywhere/anywhere. I can think in pictures, so I may see something that sparks an idea.
How has your background in dance and being an entertainer at children’s parties influenced you as an author/illustrator? The dancing has helped me as I have had to capture the attention of children and motivate them. Teaching 20 four and five-year-old boys teamwork in a dance troupe is a tough gig. The entertaining is the same. You use anything that works; comedy, magic, games and mostly getting them involved. And you learn not to do one thing for very long and to mix it up.
How do you approach a new picture book project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Like most writers, an idea usually has to sit and ‘cook’ until it’s ready to be told. Then I write the first draft, then many, many redrafts with usually more than one critique and assessment.
What are you working on at the moment? I am working on promoting my new book. I just completed four events up in Port Macquarie and have some 11+ events coming up this year.
Also, as mentioned earlier, I am revamping my website while ‘cooking’ another picture book manuscript or two.
How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? I assume this means after the manuscript has ‘baked’? It varies, starting at eight months.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? An enjoyable story, lovely pictures and a message. My current book has a clear message of taking care of our environment, regardless of how young you are.
Is there any area of art or writing that you still find challenging? We are all always improving so I like to think that my manuscripts in two to three years’ time will be better than what I am writing now. Ditto for illustrating, but I do find drawing hands challenging.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I would say what is my toughest obstacle now as an independent publisher is competing with trade published books for promotion/sales and shelf space.
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing and illustrating children’s books? I would still be involved with children in a voluntary manner in between a regular job like I used to be. My last university qualifications mean, prior to entering the Kid Lit world, I was a health manager. I used to manage a Cancer Care Centre across two hospitals. It was a generalist management role; budgets, doctors and other health workforce, patients, service delivery, accreditations, complaints, improvements etc – the whole works.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author/illustrator? Network earlier on.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become a picture book creator? Some more facts about the size of the Australian market and the common obstacles. I probably would have still continued anyway, I like to try things. You only live once!
What’s the best advice you were ever given? My first editor helped me with my writing by saying I had some $5 words in my manuscript. Meaning, some of my vocabulary was aimed too high for my intended readership.
Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Tough one. I really don’t know. My mum’s uncle was an amazing man. He was an interpreter in the British forces in Malta. He spoke five languages perfectly, down to the accents. I only got to meet him twice before he died, and I so enjoyed listening to him and talking with him. He felt like a kindred soul, and so down to earth. It would have been wonderful to have more time with him.
Of course, I also had to ask for Anne’s top tip for aspiring author/illustrators. It’s good advice:
Do a good picture book writing course and get to as many pitching sessions and manuscript assessments as you can.
Anne has been out and about chatting about her new book as part of the launch celebrations organised by Books on Tour. Here’s where to find her other book stops…
Monday July 30 – Friday August 3
Monday July 30
Tuesday July 31
Wednesday August 1