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
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