Meet the Author: Alan Fyfe

Alan Fyfe is a Jewish writer originally from Mandurah, the unceded country of the Binjareb People, whose verse and prose can be found in Westerly, Overland, Australian Poetry Journal, and Cottonmouth.  He was an inaugural editor of UWA creative writing journal, Trove, and a prose editor for American web journal, Unlikely Stories

  Alan is a winner of the Karl Popper Philosophy Award, was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, was commended in the Tom Collins Poetry Prize, and has been selected as a WA Poets’ Inc Emerging Poet for 2022 / 23.  His first novel, T, received shortlistings for both the T.A.G Hungerford Prize (Australia) and the Chaffinch Press Aware Prize (Ireland).  T is published by Transit Lounge.  Most recently, Alan’s poetry collection, G-d, Sleep, and Chaos, was shortlisted for the Flying Islands unpublished manuscript award. He is currently writing his second novel, The Cross Thieves, a prequel to T in ring composition, as part of a doctorate in creative writing at UWA and is also teaching poetry.

Author Insight

Why do you write?

I don’t have an inspirational answer for that. I invested so much time getting good at writing, in knowing about poetics and the structures of story, that I’m not much good at many other things now. Most of my other skills are trivial – fire twirling is one of them, for example. I might have had a more directed answer earlier in my life, but those answers have all been said and have become cliché. No one needs to hear another writer playing out their messiah complex in an interview, or saying what benefits writing has for them personally. There are good things and bad things about it. At this point, it has just become an irrational belief for me, like a religion. I feel impulses to structure thoughts into poems and stories that I can’t explain except as a form of faith in literature itself, with all the attendant ecstasy and terrors that having faith brings.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Trying to find fulfilment with some other thing, probably. Or just doing some other job and looking forward to holidays. No one’s forcing me to write, it’s a choice I take full responsibility for.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

I’m going to talk about my novel, T, here because I’ve published many different things, each with their own gates to pass. It was money, really. I mean, I didn’t self-publish (which would have required me to pay for it), I looked for a good publisher and eventually found a very good one. But I was out of work when I wrote T, it was hard to live and look after my son, never mind the huge task of editing the novel to the millimetre and nursing it through to publication. Living without money is an extreme challenge; and making art while that’s happening is even harder. Other obstacles were about the kind of story I told.

Methamphetamine is a big issue in WA, and it’s not an issue everyone here is particularly keen to talk about. I didn’t want to tell a false redemption story, that’s not exactly what’s going on with my novel, so there was some resistance to the way I told the story, and some resistance from me to compromising the story too much. I’m all for good editing, in fact I love working with editors to make the art better, but there are certain compromises I wasn’t willing to make. T is a fiction novel, but a lot of it is close to my own experiences. There are also real humans, who are not me, that go through this stuff and I had to honour them. There were many more obstacles, probably a novel worth of obstacles – but probably not a very interesting novel.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?

I did have input into the cover. I have to give my publisher a plug here, Transit Lounge were fantastic to work with and I didn’t feel alienated from the process at any stage. I’ve had some friends who had the opposite experience with their own publishers, they were just told what would happen with their books. I got a big PDF full of draft designs for covers, a lot of work went into it, and I got to workshop cover ideas with my little writing family and get their opinions. Two thirds of my friends wanted to date that guy on the cover. He sort of looks like a character from the book and gives the thing a human face, and there’s a wing for the Icarus theme. In editing T, it was the same, I felt like I was co-working the thing with a really clued up and creative team. I was well consulted and never pressured to do anything I was uncomfortable with. It was a great experience.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Feeling like I put something complex and accomplished in the world that wasn’t there before and, if I’m very lucky, that will still be about after I’m gone. Hah, that’s me being religious about it again – a poet’s afterlife.

—the worst?

There’s a lot of anxiety about getting ahead. Like any creative industry, it’s very tough to excel. You’ll spend months and years waiting to hear back about things that might step you up a bit, even change your life. And the answer is never guaranteed to be one you’ll like.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Nothing. I don’t devote much energy to regret. It’s a waste of time. If I have wronged someone, that’s something to regret. That energy can be devoted to fixing things though, rather than the useless activity of wishing the past was different – you know we can’t make it different, yeah? If I’ve done anything good in writing now, it’s a product of what happened before.

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

Again, I’ve been told all the things I needed to land me wherever the hell this is. Some of them were wrong, but wrong things teach a person to think critically.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

I went to a weird lecture John Kinsella gave when I was an undergrad at UWA at some point in the neolithic past. I can’t remember what the unit was and I’m pretty certain he didn’t talk much about the unit. It was, none the less, a fantastic and incredibly honest lecture; and some of it was about the work of publishing your own writing. He said, “Let’s face it, who gets published depends on who goes to which dinner parties with who.” And that put a pretty bourgeois face on it – I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a dinner party.

I think it was only six months later, I found myself in Brenda Walker’s writing class and I repeated Kinsella’s assertion to her, and she said it might be generally right but there seemed to be some artists who that doesn’t apply to, who “look neither left nor right.” The combination of those two ideas was a good thing to keep me going. It can be a depressing situation for an artist in the times when you’re not getting listened to much, and it was a consolation for me to think that I just didn’t have the network for it. But it was also great to think the pure practice and study of the art was a thing that could win through eventually.

Both Kinsella and Walker were right in their ways. Moving from the Peel Region to the city has helped me with a lot of connections and those connections sometimes throw me good chances at things in writing. But then again, when I published my first piece in a major Australian journal, I didn’t know anyone there, they just loved the story and the way it was written – they thought it was important to publish. It was the same with Transit Lounge, who are a Melbourne publisher outside my usual beat, Barry Scott and the team read the manuscript and thought it was worthy. You need some psychic defences in writing, and you (possibly) need some ideals too, the balance of those two pieces of advice were excellent examples of both.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Practise a lot, most things can be improved with practice. Make some friends who also write, not just networks or people who can advance you, but actual friends you like to be around and enjoy talking to about more than writing. Learn as much as you can access from wherever you are. Finish some projects. Finish projects that seem hard to make work and be honest with yourself about whether the final product works or not. Practise mostly though. Stay at the task until your work becomes undeniable.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I love social media, genuinely. I love being able to share thoughts and entertain people, make them laugh. Social media gives me instant access to that. In a sense, it’s the same as any other canvas to create on. I’ve run an activist campaign on social media and the speed and reach of it was incredible. The campaign worked, in the end, and we saved the thing we were trying to save. But there’s a moment in an author’s life where it can become work too. I was mostly restricted to one platform in the past and I was happy with it, I felt a small friend group to communicate with was a pleasure. But then the professionalisation of the platforms entered my life and that’s a different thing entirely. There’s a lot of pressure on a modern author to promote across the platforms, to find big crowds there. It is an opportunity. We shouldn’t see that access as an entirely bad thing, it has certainly helped poetry sales in a major way, which helps a more niche art like poetry to reach its crowd.  But it can change from fun and connection to cynical hard work real quick. There’s a balance between being professional and having fun that I’m still trying to work out.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Not exactly. I always have something I want to do, some project on or some fully worked out story, or prompt for a poem, that just needs to be wrangled into a nice structure of words. I have exhaustion sometimes, or some other project that seems more fun than the thing I’m absolutely supposed to be doing. I sometimes have to fight myself to concentrate on the thing in front of me and not deliberately procrastinate. I can get very involved in binging a show I like, for example. And there’s depression, which can sometimes stunt my productivity for months. During a bout of depression, I will feel like utter shit and think anything I complete is worthless dust.

But the idea of a blockage, as such, seems strange to me. I don’t actually know what that means. Does it mean that the writer has nothing to write about? This might sound horrible, but if you don’t have a good idea what to write about, maybe don’t write. Writing is an activity, not a condition of being. I sort of plan to give up writing one day. And I expect that’ll happen when I can’t think of what to write next.

If I’m exhausted, that’s not blockage, it’s the same as wearing yourself out doing anything else. The answer is to rest for a while or to force myself to do it if I have a deadline. Forcing myself is something I seem to be able to do quite a bit, I have a good work ethic and I know the basics of turning out a competent piece, so I sit in front of the laptop and write during a time where it may not be a pleasure to write. I experience not wanting to work hard sometimes because it’s fun to lie around eating cake or whatever, but less than in other jobs I’ve done.

How do you deal with rejection?

Humour, bitching, psychic defences (as previously mentioned). Being truthful with myself that either the pool is huge and hard to stand out in, or that I didn’t make the best work I could have. I used to get complimentary rejection letters sometimes, with a little positive feedback in them. I liked those, it was good for the psychic defence to think I did something great but there wasn’t enough space or bigger writers were on offer, encouragement from people you don’t know can be a surprisingly good motivator in the early stages. Mostly the way to deal with rejection is just keep going or give up. That’s the bare bones of it. A writer can do either, whichever way the writer decides to absorb rejection into their ego. It’s good to have some friends who are on the same path as you. It makes the experience lighter when you feel like it’s shared and, believe me, it is shared.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Cooked yet poetic.

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?

That’s a hard question. So many people who have written things I admire turn out to be irredeemable scumbags; and I think a lot of things said about the “writing life” are either personal to the writer or useless tropes.

I guess I’m going to have to say Emily Dickinson. I got a line of hers tattooed on my arm to celebrate my first book contract. I don’t think Emily could give me much certain advice judging from the way she used words, but to just hear anything she had to say would likely be mind-blowing. You can see in her letters, even her mundane communications were often abstract masterworks. She could talk to me about baking if she wanted to. Seems like she shared the same passion for baking that I do.

Book Byte

Chilling to read, cut with powerful energy and strong feeling.

T or Timothy lives on the economic margins, both using and selling methamphetamine in Mandurah. When a friend, Gulp, tragically dies and T grows close to Lori-Bird his life promises to become more centred. But he moves between loving and leaving her.

This is a lyrical and arresting portrait of characters who crave love but struggle with addiction and the tenuous yet intimate community connections it gives them. The spirit of the Peel landscape informs both T’s identity and the lives of the people he encounters and offers a way out.

Intimate with suffering and beauty, T is also at times transcendent. A contemporary novel with the urgency of what Davies’ Candy, Kerouac’s On the Road, and Garner’s Monkey Grip were to their own times. 

Shortlisted for the TAG Hungerford Manuscript Award 2018

Shortlisted for the International Chaffinch Press Manuscript Award (Ireland).

‘Confronting and discomfiting, with small moments of redemption –T is very much a story for our times.’ Kate Noske and Richard Rossiter (Hungerford Award Judges).

‘There is nothing else currently being written that is quite as exciting. Its blend of realism, grittiness, pared back lyricism and magical realism is unique and hasn’t been seen since the work of a powerful novelist of regional life like Tom Flood. T works the margins, both in terms of place and subject of the culture around meth use, in utterly compelling ways. This story needs to be told.’  Lucy Dougan, Premier’s Award winner and Westerly editor.

By the book here.

Meet the Author: Shae Millward

Shae’s top tip: Join a writing group. In-person or online, or even better – both! The kidlit community has to be one of the friendliest, most helpful and inspiring group of gangsters I know! Find your scribe tribe! #ScribeTribe.

Shae Millward is the author of The Rabbit’s Magician, Koalas Like To and A Boy and a Dog. She aims to inspire through a love of books, the joy of reading and writing, and the art of storytelling. Shae enjoys writing picture books, short stories, poetry, song lyrics, funny or inspirational quotes, and more. She is based in sunny, sandy, seaside, subtropical Hervey Bay, Queensland. Shae’s creative writing skills once helped her win a trip to Disneyland!

SHAE’S WEBSITE:  https://shaemillward.com/

Author Insight

Why do you write and what is about writing for children that keeps you producing stories for young readers? I love books and enjoy reading – and I have many wonderful authors to thank for that. Writing, which I also enjoy, has enabled me to become a part of the industry myself – and that is more thrilling than the thrilliest thriller novel (without any crime or spooky bits, just the excitement)!

Writing for children is funtastical!* My affection for books and stories developed from a young age, so to cycle that back and play some part in helping to inspire an early love of books in others is extremely rewarding – more thrilly-thrills!*

(*Please excuse my scientific terminology.)

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author? It changes the way you read. One moment you’re fully immersed in a novel’s storyline and the next you’re analysing style, syntax, dialogue, descriptive language, voice, tone; stopping in your tracks to admire a beaut metaphor or tipping your hat to a pesky typo – a true survivor – because you know darn well how many rounds of editing and proof-reading the text would have gone through.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? Anywhere. Everywhere. And sometimes they find me!

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? As an only child I was the lucky recipient of many treasured one-on-one story-time sessions. Also, as an only child, my imagination got a fantastic work-out from working out ways to entertain myself.

Learning to read and write came easily and I spent a lot of time reading books and writing my own stories. The tiny town I grew up in didn’t have a bookstore, but the library was ONLY ONE SHORT BLOCK AWAY FROM MY HOUSE! Convenient for frequent visits and lugging books back and forth.

I’m on the Autism spectrum, though it wasn’t diagnosed in childhood. My school reports showed top marks with comments about being too quiet. But, you know, the quiet ones are quite busy – listening, observing, contemplating, people watching, information gathering, etc. All are useful skills for writers.

Share a little about your path to publication. Trigger warning for aspiring authors: I was lucky enough to receive a contract for the first manuscript I submitted. Yup! Decided to give this writing thing a go, submitted to the slush pile, heard back from interested publisher, signed contract.

However, I was not in any writing groups (in-person or online), did not even know what writing groups were out there or all the benefits of them, had vague ideas of what I could or should be doing in regards to promotion and did not have any social media presence as a writer.  I have learnt so much since then!

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book The Rabbit’s Magician? Are they what you envisioned for this story? Paul [Ford Street publisher] put Andy and I in contact from the start, he was happy for us to communicate back-and-forth freely, with him copied in on our emails. So we were able to bounce a lot of ideas around and make good progress. Even though I was in the loop throughout the process, just as The Amazing Albertino surprised and delighted the audience in the story, the amazing Andy surprised and delighted me with each picture. In the opening scenes, the depiction of that darling little rabbit staring up at the moon while his ears droop down captures the sense of waiting and longing. There are some beautiful silhouette moments with the moon as a backdrop that speak of Alby and Ziggy’s close relationship. The spread of Ziggy with the stars, rainbow and flowers has a peaceful ambience in perfect alignment with the words.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? *gasp* Ssshhh, don’t say that name! Don’t give that notion any power!

If I feel like I’m stuck on something, I switch to another part of the work or a different project altogether. It doesn’t even have to be writing-related – you could clean out a drawer, anything to feel productive and shift that mindset. Going for a walk or some form of movement also helps to get the energy flowing.

Writers are problems solvers. We’re always working out what to cut and what to keep, how to say something in a different way or how to make that sentence better. We solve problems – it’s what we do!

Is there an area of writing that you still find challenging? Writing a shopping list. Something is often missed. And I arrive home with items that weren’t even on the list, usually of the chocolate variety.

Writing cheques. I’d like to write cheques with a lot of zeros, but that ability has eluded me thus far.

And, obviously, writing serious answers to questions.

What are you working on at the moment? Well, I always have a bunch of ideas for picture book stories floating around, and my long-term work-in-progress is a middle-grade novel which I pick up between projects. I’m also creating a range of t-shirt designs. It’s a bit top secret at the moment, however, I can divulge that some designs are autism-championing and others are especially for writerly folk!

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? As well as being a whole lotta fun, there’s something quite magical about working with – or rather, playing with – imagination and creative energies.

—the worst? When I’m working on a rhyming book and my thoughts start coming in rhyme. I’ll be walking up & down the supermarket aisles with a stream of consciousness that goes something like:

I must remember toilet rolls,

Baked beans and spaghetti.

I also need some bread and cheese

I’d better not forgetti!

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is very important for book promotion, finding out about opportunities, connecting with other writers and people in the publishing world… and watching funny cat videos… and funny dog videos… and funny bird videos… ok, all the funny animal videos!

Living in a regional area makes social media even more valuable to me in terms of feeling connected to ALL OF THE COOL STUFF going on in the kidlit community.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Thoughtful. Fun. Evolving.

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? Dan Brown. I’ve heard he takes frequent research trips yeah, just casually popping into Paris, hanging out in Rome. I’d ask him all about this. If he tells me that it’s very important to visit the locations you intend to write about, then I think I’ll write a novel with a main character who spends a lot of time sipping drinks on a Hawaiian beach. I’ll just need to book a “research trip” first, haha!

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? M. Night Shyamalan, along with three other people. That would spook him. No, wait, that would spook me! So, I’ll change my answer to an escalator repairman we can laugh at the irony!

Book Byte

Ziggy’s beloved magician has performed an amazing disappearing trick. But just where is The Amazing Albertino?

Ziggy waits.

And waits some more.

Has something gone wrong with the trick?

The Rabbit’s Magician is a gentle story of love, loss and comfort. It is a children’s picture book but offers comfort to anyone of any age who has lost a loved one – person or animal. 

BOOK AVAILABLE AT: https://fordstreetpublishing.com/book/the-rabbits-magician/

FOLLOW SHAE’S ONLINE BOOK TOUR…

Meet the Author: Adriane Howell

Adriane’s top tip for aspiring authors: Consider whom you allow to read your work-in-progress; not all opinions are created equal.

Adriane Howell is a Melbourne-based arts worker and writer who has lived in Paris and Johannesburg. In 2013 she graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing. She is co-founder of the literary journal Gargouille. Hydra is her debut novel.

AUTHOR WEBSITE: https://www.adrianehowell.com

AUTHOR INSTAGRAM: @felinefelttip

Author Insight

Why do you write? It’s a compulsion.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Another form of storytelling, film perhaps.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Battles with the Self.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? All stages of the process were transparent and collaborative. When working on the cover, Barry and I went back and forth dissecting images and moods. Some mock-ups were too masculine, others too sexual. There was also the matter of acquiring rights. I’m delighted with the final product.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When I’m lost in the words and, failing that, when I close my notebook for the evening.

—the worst? The sense of having exposed myself.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have found my therapist earlier.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I need to experience things for myself, make my own mistakes, so it’s unlikely I would have heeded any form of warning.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? D.B.C. Pierre writes of the novel’s structure as an exercise in breathing: dialogue and conflict are short sharp inhalations, dream sequences and philosophising are more meditative breaths. It’s about finding a balance between the two. You don’t want your reader hyperventilating nor falling asleep.

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a distraction, sometimes much needed but mostly not.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? It’s rare that I give into ‘writer’s block’. I’ve found some of my best writing has occurred hours into writing mindless, nonsensical bullshit. Writing is rarely visited by the muse, it’s mostly about the hours invested. There are, however, tricks to make my writing flow: walks, coffee, not over eating, keeping warm (I’m like a cat gravitating towards any slither of sun), reading and art exhibitions.

How do you deal with rejection? Get back to work. There’s a reason for rejection but you’ll go mad trying to find it.

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? Vladimir Nabokov and my question would remain between us.

Book Byte

Anja is a young, ambitious antiquarian, passionate for the clean and balanced lines of mid-century furniture. She is intent on classifying objects based on emotional response and when her career goes awry, Anja finds herself adrift. Like a close friend, she confesses her intimacies and rage to us with candour, tenderness, and humour.

Cast out from the world of antiques, she stumbles upon a beachside cottage that the neighbouring naval base is offering for a 100-year lease. The property is derelict, isolated, and surrounded by scrub. Despite of, or because of, its wildness and solitude, Anja uses the last of the inheritance from her mother to lease the property. Yet a presence – human, ghost, other – seemingly inhabits the grounds. 

Hydra is a novel of dark suspense and mental disquiet, struck through with black humour. Adriane Howell beguilingly explores notions of moral culpability, revenge, memory, and narrative – all through the female lens of freedom and constraint. She holds us captive to the last page.

SALE SITE: https://www.readings.com.au/products/35320891/hydra

Meet Illustrator Amy Calautti

Amy has loved to draw from a young age and often made up games based around drawing to entertain her younger brother and cousins. Her artistic talent was noticed and she was accepted into fashion and textile design in high school and TAFE . When she became a mother, she fell in love with picture book illustration, and realised what her true potential could be. Amy and has developed  a few distinct styles and is always playing with new techniques to expand her repertoire.

Website: www.http://amygorgeousness2.wixsite.com/amyillustrates

Instagram: @amygorgeousness

Facebook: www.facebook.com/amyillustrates

Illustrator insight

What does art mean to you? Art is a beautiful way of communicating ideas and feelings.

What’s the best aspect of your artistic life? My studio is at home, and I love being at home for my children. Also,  I love doing something that I enjoy and it slots so seamlessly into my life.

—the worst? Maybe that it takes so long? I want to do all the projects I possibly can.

How do you approach an Illustration project? Walk us through your creative process. I read the manuscript and then I storyboard the illustrations in a thumbnail size. I sometimes go through several ideas before I show my editor and author. After the storyboard is finished I fix any changes that need to be made. Once the storyboard is approved I move onto final artwork which could be digital or traditional watercolour depending on what style the client and I want to go with. Both styles take about the same amount of time because I’m fast at painting watercolour but I then have to digitise it anyway. So the whole process is about four months, for watercolour and digital art. Digital art still takes me a while although I am getting the hang of it.

Picture books are a creative collaboration between author and illustrator. How closely did you work with Wenda on One Book was all it took? Wenda was an absolute dream to work with. She was very encouraging and I had a great experience. Our main points of discussion were when I handed in my first storyboard. Wenda, Anouska (our editor) and I bounced around some ideas for a couple of illustrations and I think it’s nice to get some input at that point of the illustration process.

One thing I’ve noticed about the picture books you’ve illustrated in the past few years is the variation in style from one book to another. What’s the background story on how the style is chosen? I originally started in a watercolour style, the I got a laptop tablet to digitise my artwork and I started to play around with hand sketching and digitally colouring illustrations. My watercolour style is usually good for cute, sentimental and heartfelt stories. My digital and ink styles are good for exciting humorous and energetic stories.

I usually let the client choose the style I work in. When I got my first contract with EK (Turning cartwheels) Anouska (editor)and Amy Adeney (author)  liked my digital style, and I  continued using the same style  so my editor  knows what style to expect. But I can consistently illustrate in a few styles, you just have to tell me which one you want. Also I’m thinking of creating a new style which I’m hoping to start experimenting with soon.

Did you draw on your own childhood experiences of libraries in creating the illustrations for the book? No, I am dyslexic so reading wasn’t my safe haven as a child. My love of reading came much later; riding a train every day to work was when I began devouring books.

How much time do you spend on creating each illustration? An illustration can take so-o-o long, anywhere from three hours to five days for final art.

Do you have a preferred medium? Water colour, pencil, and my laptop for digital illustration.

Is there any area of art that you still find challenging? It sounds weird but storyboarding is the trickiest, but I really like working out interesting compositions.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator? Nothing, I got pretty lucky and I got three of my first book contracts within a few weeks of each other and went into panic mode to get all the work done. Haha

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator? I’m still quite new at Illustrating so I don’t have a huge wealth of knowledge, but it would be to stay positive and to show your work online.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? What’s the worst someone can say, no? Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you.

What’s your top tip for aspiring illustrators? I would make sure to put together a low res pdf portfolio showing your best work that tells a story and is aimed towards the children’s book market. Once it’s done, submit your portfolio to publishers you think may like your work.

What is your creative dream? I’m living my creative dream but there’s always room for improvement. Maybe to illustrate another fabulous book that becomes a sensation and I am just so busy with work for years to come.

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? Probably my husband as he is an electrician and has worked on lifts before. He would be able to fix it and we would be out of there in no time. If I can’t pick him, maybe Taika Waititi would be a good laugh.

Book Byte

Violet has searched her room high and low, but just can’t find a book she hasn’t read before. She wishes her town had a library; a magical place full of adventure where she would never run out of stories to discover. But alas, on this particular rainy day, the only unfamiliar book she can find is the one propping up the kitchen table. Dad won’t miss it, right?…
With a CLATTER and a CRASH, Violet’s actions set in motion an unstoppable chain of events that soon has the whole town in chaos! Young readers will delight at the playful, colourful illustrations, while learning an important lesson about how actions lead to consequences. The story also introduces children to the wonder of libraries, while highlighting their vital role in fostering literacy.
One Book Was All it Took is the perfect tongue-in-cheek adventure story to share with budding bookworms. From the hilarity of the chaos that Violet causes, to the heart-warming reminder of the important role libraries have played in many of our lives, readers of all ages will find joy in this vibrant book. It is also an excellent introduction to the concept of how our actions can affect others, an important lesson for all young ones – especially Violet!

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Robinanne Lavelle

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up! Find your passion and then keep investigating where it could be placed to be of the most use to others.

Robinanne Lavelle

Robinanne Lavelle lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. She completed a Bachelor of Economics, a Master’s degree in Business and another in Education Management. She has been a teacher, a lecturer and author of five textbooks in the social sciences. As well as academic pursuits, spirituality and emotional intelligence have been at the forefront of her life’s journey. After studying yoga and meditation with monks, she ran courses and has written a book on mindfulness and meditation. Robinanne has been writing professionally since 1990 and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon! Her latest release, The Road Awaits, a book of poems and stories, explores the life changing events that shaped her childhood and the adult she is today.

Visit her website here.

Author Insight

What inspires you to write? I just want to express myself and to help others. Writing seems a natural way to do this

What role does your career as an educator play in your writing? I believe most educators are people who want to help others by sharing knowledge. You can do this in the classroom/lecture theatre, and you can reach many more people through books. For example, when I co-wrote the Layman’s Guide to Law in WA the textbook reached 75% of those studying law in upper school throughout the state. I could help many more students than I could in one classroom.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Interesting, educational, and organised.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? My grandmother wrote a book, then my mother wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. I felt they were both very articulate, expressive, passionate women.

Share a little about your path to publication. I studied law in upper high school in Melbourne. When the subject was introduced to WA, I was one of the first teachers to teach it. Victoria and WA law is not all the same and having only a Victoria textbook available was fraught with problems. I started writing a journal with five other teachers to help new teachers with the subject and this led to two of us ending up writing the textbook and workbook for both students and teachers in Years 11 and 12.

How involved are you in your cover and interior book designs? I had a vision of The Road Awaits having a nostalgic VW combi van on the cover. I searched for a professional photograph that would capture a combi in Australia. I collected many photos. I played around with the photos and eventually it was a photo that was taken in South Australia and captured the idea that the book is about travel in Australia, a road trip. I played around with the name of the book for months too, until it just felt ‘right’. Then I handed it over to the publishers for their professional take on how it should look. As for the layout and design inside, I have a Masters in Educational Management and my dissertation was on format of textbooks, plus through the books I have written, I have gained a lot of experience in what works for the reader. Thus, I set this book out with the photo relating to the poem, then the poem and finally a little story that elaborates on the poem or situation. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? The Road Awaits is a book about facing and overcoming hardships and treasuring the little gems you find on your path to a better future. I hope people will enjoy the journey, find inspiration in the stories, and stir them up to travel Australia.

Walk us through your writing process. Do you spend time planning or start writing and see where it will lead you? I have an idea what I want to do and usually formulate the layout first. So, it might be topics or chapter headings and then I start to fill in!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’ve never had writer’s block but then I don’t write fiction. I think fictional writers might be more inclined to have this issue. I have a subject I’m writing about, and I just write.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? I find proof-reading very challenging. Having ADHD, I don’t tend to focus well on every word and tend to read what I think I have written – not necessarily what is on the page! I always need a great editor and have found such in Olympia Publishers in London.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? I get to work from home. I’m not super keen on mornings and so waking up slowly, having a coffee, and taking it to my desk and working for an hour in my pjs (before showering etc.) I think is such luxury.

—the worst? Sometimes I think I would like to retire. I like the idea that I could do anything I like in retirement because once I start on a book there is a process and schedule to adhere to.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not an avid social media person. I much prefer to meet someone in the flesh for coffee or something. It is important though for an author to have a profile and face on social media. As an author you need to reach out to people and have yourself available online.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Make your difficulties your strengths. I have ADHD but this can mean I can do things and see things differently to other people and I cherish this as a gift now.

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? No doubt at all – it would be the Australian playwright, David Williamson. I believe he is our modern-day Shakespeare!

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? Eckhart Tolle – his understanding of the human mind and spirit is amazing!

Book Byte

The Road Awaits

Joan Elkington & Robinanne Lavelle

This invigorating collection of poems highlights the beauty of the natural world which is often forgotten about in the new digital age. Robinanne Lavelle reminisces about the first road trip she took as a child which drove her strong admiration for nature. From the beaches of Bondi to the grapes of Barossa, and shipwrecks of the rugged west coast, Lavelle explores the small divinities which make Australia so magnificent whilst passing on apples of wisdom fed to her by her parents. With sharp turns and bumps, this road trip will cause a range of drastically different emotions but is sure to leave any reader changed and awakened. Whether a passionate environmentalist or an indifferent traveller, the road awaits…

Purchase online through:

Amazon

Dymocks

Meet the Illustrator: Hilary Jean Tapper

Keep drawing. Draw for the love of drawing. No matter what happens, do it for the love.

Hilary Jean Tapper

Hilary Jean Tapper is a picture book illustrator, Courage Doll creator, filmmaker, Creative Arts Therapist and researcher, based in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is perpetually in pursuance of, and enchanted by, the magic of the arts. She’s also obsessed with existential philosophy, vegan food, small things and rainbows. Hilary’s work seeks to inspire the courage to create, and to remember our connection within, with those around us, and the greater world we are a part of.

Illustrator Insight

What does art mean to you? Phew, what a question! Art has been, and continues to be, a central part of my life. My grandfather was a New Zealand artist, and from as early as I can remember, I identified with him – I wanted to be an artist too! I love so many different forms of the arts: drama, film, dance, painting, drawing, music, and have been involved in these since I was a few years old. I struggled with depression in my teenage years, and it was the arts, particularly filmmaking, which got me through. When I was 26 I enrolled in a Masters programme in Creative Arts Therapy, and since then, my understanding of and love for the arts and creativity has only expanded and increased, especially in regard to its therapeutic capacities.

What’s the best aspect of your artistic life? The best aspect of my artistic life is that there’s never an ‘end’, every new creation offers something new – new possibilities, new ideas, new styles. There’s no summit to the mountain of art, only the next image, the next dance, the next creation. There’s no limit to our imaginations and possibilities.

—the worst? The worst aspect of my artistic life is the flip side of the best aspect of my artistic life – never feeling satisfied!

How do you approach an illustration project? Walk us through your creative process. The beginning of a picture book is my favourite step in the creative process. I love receiving the manuscript, reading it through for the first time, and diving into ideas and characters, imagining what I could do with it. I’ll then take my pencil and copy paper, and freely sketch out some of these ideas. I love watching the characters evolve from the pencil lines! Once these characters are approved by the publisher and author, then I move to storyboarding, then black and white roughs, then colour roughs. Each of these rounds involves feedback from the publisher. Once everything has been fine-tuned we move to the final art.

How much time do you spend on creating each illustration? I have no idea! There’s no time in creative time! One image might blossom in an hour. Another might be ten!

Do you have a preferred medium? My favourite medium to work in is watercolour paint, with pencil and permanent ink outlines. I am currently experimenting with bringing a little more loose colour pencil and gouache paint into the mix.

Is there any area of art that you still find challenging? Oh, the whole thing! I am always challenged by my inability to give form to what I can imagine, but I also know that this is the very task, and wonder if it may always feel like this. This is the role of the imagination – to envision what is always yet to come. I am also constantly challenged by creating the final art, I find it quite paralysing to create what feels like it needs to be “perfect”. It is terribly uninspiring, and I freeze up and can’t paint at all. I have to try to by-pass this by listening to fun music, dancing, and getting paint on the page without thinking too much about it!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator? I am still starting out as an illustrator, but with every book I learn something new, even just within the three books I’ve finished, I can see how much I have grown and changed. It was a huge learning curve doing my first book – so many new lessons – how to draw the same character across 32 images from different angles, how to create enough paint to be the same hue across 32 images, how to sit and illustrate for 40+ hours in a week! (My hand was so stiff and couldn’t move after my first book!) These were things I had no idea about, and probably wouldn’t have unless I illustrated a book. Now I feel a tiny bit looser and more informed in how to pace myself and prepare myself for each book, so this helps. If I were starting out for the first time now, I would just tell myself “Trust the process”.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator? I actually went to a children’s literature conference called the Wild Imaginings Hui in Dunedin before I received my first picture book contract. At the conference I was able to hear from and speak to some of New Zealand’s best and experienced children’s book illustrators, and their advice gave me so much perspective as well as inspiration. Meeting illustrators and hearing about their experiences prior to this journey starting was a real blessing.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve been blessed with so much good advice! But probably the best advice I’ve ever been given, which got me through the panic I experienced painting my first picture book, comes from Deborah Green, saying “Stay close in with the art”. To me this meant keeping close in to my body, my senses, my feelings, and to the art materials. It’s so easy for me to loose touch with both and get swept up in my head and thoughts, fears and inner critic. But staying close in with my body and the art materials, allows me to stay with the process of artmaking, to keep breathing through the difficult space, to be open to the unexpected, to let the art lead and just enjoy the mystery of the creative process.

Other good illustration advice came from New Zealand illustrator Jenny Cooper who I had the great fortune of hearing speak live at my local library. She gave so many tips that day, I wrote down almost everything she said. But one of the best parts was hearing her say that our final art will never be as good as the roughs. There’s an aliveness and beauty when it doesn’t “have to be” perfect, and I lose it when I do the final art, I get all rigid and tight. I felt permission in this moment to just accept and trust the creative process, and accept there won’t be perfection at any stage.

What’s your top tip for aspiring illustrators? I keep coming across so many drawings, sketches and paintings I’ve done over the last ten years. Looking back on them, I can see how much I have grown through experimentation. All that I can say, other than the extraordinary blessings I’ve had in my life and the endless support of my husband and my family, is keep drawing. Keep drawing. Draw for the love of drawing. No matter what happens, do it for the love.

What is your creative dream? My creative dream is to see more and more opportunities for people to engage with the arts and creativity. I felt so fortunate to have the arts in my life when I was really struggling with depression as a teenager. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t had that. I hope to help bring the arts, creative arts therapy, and the multitude of ways we can be creative in our lives, more and more into schools, communities, and young people’s lives.

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? Haha, how is getting stuck in a stalled lift light relief? Well, I would probably be quite anxious if this happened, and so I would definitely want my husband with me because he is a super relaxed person, plus he’s a beautiful singer. So maybe he would sing some songs to help pass the time!

Book Byte

Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.

Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!

Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?

Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Lauren Hackney

My special guest this week is a debut children’s author whose first title is a sweet treat of a chapter book created in a delicious collaboration with her two sons. It’s my pleasure to bring you this conversation with Lauren Hackney as part of her online book tour for The Lolly Shop.

Lauren Hackney lives in Manly; a seaside suburb of Brisbane, with her husband, two creative boys, chickens, fish, cockatiels and their recently adopted dog. Together, they love exploring, travelling, trying new things, laughing and being amongst nature. Another pastime of theirs is storytelling. Whether it be a bedtime story, a campfire story or a road trip story – they love discovering where the stories lead.

For many years, Lauren worked in aviation, but she now takes stories on high-flying adventures through the power of magic and imagination. Her first book is The Lolly Shop – a delicious collaboration with her two sons.

Website: LBE Hackney.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheLollyShop

Instagram: www.instagram.com/lbe.hackney/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What – or who – inspired your Lolly Shop stories? My children and I created this story at bedtime. This story was told for many years. However, life circumstances inspired us to publish it.

Do you draw on your own childhood memories and experiences when writing for children? Yes. The simplicity of the 1980s and early 1990s, where there was only one television in the home and no other technology, set the scene for many nights of family interaction with board games and playing cards.  I like to draw on these memories and combine them with the stories I’ve crafted with my children to help create a simple world for “the lolly shop”. I like remembering the simple pleasures of family togetherness when screens weren’t an option.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Our creative process starts when my children are with me and we create stories around campfires, bedtime or road trips. Trying to then recall the stories around our dinner table and illustrate scenes to create a manuscript is the next step. From there I take the steps to draft and redraft the story until we are all happy with it as a family.

Do you have any quirky writing practices? As a family we write the story, not necessarily in order. How we are all feeling at the end of the day generally dictates which part we write/illustrate. Sometimes we start in the middle, the end or back at the beginning…

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? Sometimes I feel that fitting in with other authors is somewhat challenging because I haven’t studied writing formally as much as some. I feel my children and I are more like story tellers rather than writers and that’s why I really enjoy the other aspects that come with being a children’s author, like sharing the story with children and seeing their reaction, going to local bookstores to read to groups at meet and greets. I am learning, however, and I am working on other writing projects my children and I have created.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Have a good laugh with my kids! We work on the books every day, whether it be a small illustration, or a paragraph written, so when we feel there’s no more fuel in the tank – we play a board game, kick a ball in the back yard or take our dog for a walk. Sometimes for us just taking a breather and getting some fresh air helps.

Share a little about your path to publication. Our manuscript was complete; however, we were rejected by every publisher we submitted to. A retired publisher, Wendy Scott, heard about our story and loved it. She generously gave us her time and helped publish our book. To this day we work with Wendy, who is such a pleasure to work with.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? The power of imagination. I hope that children get lost in the story and dream of magic. No matter what happened in their day, we hope the power of imagination can save the day. It certainly did for us!

What is the best thing a reader has said about your books? Can these magic lollies be real?! We loved that this child was so invested in the story that they wanted to play ‘Lolly Shop’ in the lunch break at school. They pretended they could float in the sky, pretended they were invisible and pretended they could run fast. That was the best reaction from a reader so far!

What are you working on at the moment? Book 3 of The Lolly Shop and another bedtime story my youngest and I came up with when his dad fell ill last year.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Re-living this fun bedtime story with younger children. Unfortunately, my kids are growing so The Lolly Shop series will come to an end, but we are also starting to tell other stories.

—the worst? Feeling like I’m not as accomplished as all the amazing authors I have met on this fantastic journey.

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author? I’m still pretty ‘green’ at this so I’m willing to learn. I love all the advice given – so many helpful people out there. I guess ‘just do it’ and ‘find the time’ would be the best advice.

How important is networking to you as an author? I love meeting other creatives, whether it be authors or illustrators, because they have the best back stories. I have heard so many inspirational stories that have driven me to keep going.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? That your future is already happening. Someone out there is living the life you want. It’s your job to find that person and ask how they got there. Hence, I’ve met as many authors as I can to see how they got to where they are.

My husband, who is such an inspirational man, also told me when we first met 21 years ago; ‘Be around those who you want to be like and who drive you to do better. Relationships can be your biggest influence.’ That has always been close to my heart. I’ve done this most of our life together and I’ve ended up with a group of empowering cheerleaders who are constantly lifting me up. And I do the same for them. 

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Don’t ever feel like you’re not good enough. Everyone has a strong suit – you just need to find yours, iron it and make sure it fits!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Magic, working together and family.

Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Spending time with my family, hiking, kayaking, playing soccer, cooking, playing my instruments and most of all – reading!

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? Stephen King. He was the first novelist I discovered when I was a teenager and his imagination is incredible!

BOOK BYTE

Two brothers own a lolly shop. What they think is sugar gets delivered to the store – only for it to be added to their lollies, and the result… lollies with magical powers! It wasn’t sugar that came that day – it was magical powder! With all kinds of mischief caused around town, the boys work together to find a solution where both adults and children can learn to live with magic.

But who is responsible for the magic powder?

Buy the book at: Amazon or email Lauren at her website.

Check out the rest of Lauren’s online book tour

Meet the Author: Kristen Schroeder

Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

Kristen Schroeder

Kristen Schroeder writes for children from her home in Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and children. She and her family are dual American Australian citizens and consider Melbourne their second home. Some of Kristen’s best childhood memories involve discovering a new favorite book or author at her local library. Books introduced her to other countries and worlds. Kristen loves to travel. She began writing for children in 2014 in between running a business and raising her kids. Her latest release, Freddy the Not-Teddy, is a heart-warming picture book about friendship, inclusion and staying true to yourself.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What is about writing picture books that draws you to work in that genre?  I love the picture book art form. The interplay between words and pictures is unique and making it work is a bit like putting a puzzle together.  Picture books are not at all easy to write, like some people wrongly assume! There is also something magical about writing stories for children because they are like little sponges soaking up information and knowledge.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? For my first two published picture books, my inspiration came from my own children. In the case of FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, my son had a stuffy named Freddy and just like the main character Jonah, Freddy was my son’s favourite. We weren’t sure if he was a funny looking chicken, duck or bird. One night before bedtime, I called him “Freddy the not-Teddy” and it sparked the idea for this story. I have also participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge, which I highly recommend for picture book writers. The idea is to generate at least thirty ideas over thirty days during the month of January.  It’s free and the daily blog content is amazing! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Many times, I start with a title (for example both FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY and my debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO started with titles).  After letting things roll around my brain for a while, I open up a new Word document and start typing. I definitely don’t plot out any of my stories in advance. Sometimes the story comes easily and sometimes it does not. My creative process is fluid in that regard. Once I have a draft that I think is semi-decent, I share it with my critique partners.  This is such a valuable part of the process for most writers, and I am no exception. Eventually, I send my new story to my agent and her assistant agent for their feedback. They usually have some revision suggestions, which I really appreciate. Our joint goal is to polish each manuscript so it’s submission-ready and can be sent out to editors.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? My mother was an English teacher who loved to read and passed along that love to me. I dedicated FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY to her, in fact. As a child, I pored over our collection of picture books and loved noticing all the little details in the illustrations. Our local library was one of my favourite places to visit!

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book Freddy the Not-Teddy? From the early stages of writing this manuscript, I knew one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process would be seeing how the illustrator imagined Freddy. I was invited to give feedback on Hilary’s initial sketches of Freddy, but he is 100% her brainchild. I am thrilled with how he looks! In fact, I’m having a custom stuffed animal made in his likeness.

Are they what you envisioned for this story? I didn’t envision what Freddy would look like because I knew that would be the illustrator’s job.  As a picture book author, it’s important to trust your publisher and illustrator. And as stated above, I am really pleased with the finished product. Hilary is such a talented illustrator and was a perfect choice for this book.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I don’t usually approach writing my stories with a pre-conceived notion of messaging. I know some authors do, however I usually think of a concept, or even a title, and then see where the story takes me. My ultimate goal is to entertain and engage the reader, so hopefully they want to read the story again (and again!) and pore over all of the details like I did as a child.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are times when I definitely get stuck whilst writing a particular story. It can happen during the early drafting stage for an idea that I like, but don’t know how to approach yet. Or sometimes, I get feedback from my critique partners or my agent telling me part of the story isn’t working for them. Even if I agree with their feedback, I may not know how to make the revisions right away. Setting the story aside, instead of forcing it, helps me.  Ideally, my subconscious works away on it as I go about other activities and sometimes a solution becomes clear. I also ask for help from critique partners.

What are you working on at the moment? I recently completed a revision on a picture book about a child who wants a giant as a best friend. I also completed a new picture book about a Zamboni machine, which is an ice resurfacer used at ice rinks. This one is influenced by the long Minnesota winters in my home state.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Utilising the creative part of my brain makes me a happier person in general. I enjoy having a project percolating at all times.

—the worst? Being a results-oriented person, it is hard for me to create just for the sake of creating. I always hope each manuscript will get published, but that’s not realistic.

How important is social media to you as an author? I started using Twitter when I first started writing for children, and I really enjoy interacting with the writing community on that platform. It’s also a great place to engage with agents and editors, as well as participating in Twitter pitch events.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was lucky enough to attend a Picture Book Boot Camp retreat at the Highlights Foundation in late 2019 run by prolific children’s author Jane Yolen and her author daughter Heidi Stemple.  Jane’s mantra is, “Butt in chair, heart on the page.” The only way to write is to sit down and do it. Considering she’s published over 400 children’s books, I’d say it’s working for her!

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, heartfelt, quirky.

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? Beverly Cleary. She passed away last year at the age of 104. I devoured her books as a child and would have liked to meet her just because. I don’t think I’d even ask about her writing except I’d like to know where she got the idea for the mouse on the motorcycle!

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? Oprah. Firstly, I would feel confident that I would not be stuck in that lift forever because Oprah’s people would move heaven and earth to get her out safely. Secondly, after sharing a few semi-perilous hours together, we would be bonded by the experience and besties for life, obviously.

Book Byte

Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.

Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!

Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?

Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!

Buy the book here. (Teacher notes are available).

Meet the Author: Brendan Colley

Brendan’s top tip for authors: Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course.

Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the UK and Japan for 11 years before settling down in Australia in 2007. He lives in Hobart with his bookseller wife.

His debut novel The Signal Line won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.

@brendancolley

Author Insight

Why do you write?

My reasons for writing have changed over time. Essentially, it’s something I must do at the end of every day. I had a passion for scribbling words on paper, so I started writing stories. That evolved into a wish to be read, then to be published, and after many fruitless years, a desire to create something I loved. These days, the act of fetching something down is organic to who I am. I’d write if nobody read what I wrote. There’s a pay-off in the discipline, and that’s the thing I learned after 25 years of rejection. Writing is its own reward, and I couldn’t have known that if I’d been published earlier.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I have a day job, so writing occupies that extra time that might otherwise be spent on a serious hobby. If I didn’t write, I’d probably learn a musical instrument (piano). My wife also writes, and if we both didn’t write I’m sure we’d do something together, like learn a language (Japanese). We met in Japan, where we were both working as English teachers. We never became fluent, as we spent all our free time on our creative projects. That’s always been a regret.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

My passion for writing is greater than my talent for writing. The imagination and ideas were there from the beginning, but the craft took a long time to develop. Fortunately, I can outsit anyone if I love something enough J

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?

Transit Lounge, my publisher, has been a true gift to me. My novel has received so much love and careful attention. At every point of the process I had an active voice: but the team that helped bring this novel into the world understood what it needed, and I tried hard to let go of my preconceptions and defer to their judgment as much as I could.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

That I can depend on it. My wife writes in the early morning, and tends to retire early; I write in the evenings. Regardless of what the day has been, writing is there waiting for me at 9 p.m. All I need to do is have the discipline to sit in the chair, and things will arrive that entertain me, mystify me, heal me, or make me suffer (in a beautiful way). It’s the surprise gift I get to interact with at the end of every day; and I need it.

—the worst?

I say ‘no’ a lot. I could have travelled more, seen more, met more people, socialised more. My wife and I live in a TV free house, and prioritise reading as much for our writing as we do for the pleasure of reading. I treat my 9 p.m. writing start time as seriously as I do the start time to my working day. I’ve lost count of the social invitations I’ve turned down over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of; and it isn’t useful. The well needs to be filling to have something meaningful to write about, and the tension between having the discipline to cut yourself from the world to write, and releasing yourself from the chair to make connections and have experiences, is a constant struggle for me.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. I’ve always been drawn to the longer form: feature length screenplays in the early years; and the novel. As such, I only got to test the quality of my work every 4-6 years. Two decades can pass with a room plastered in rejection slips from less than a half-dozen projects. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course. Importantly, it will add detail for the bio paragraph in your query letter when you produce something that is ready.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’m only recently published, so I’ve never thought of social media in terms of publicity. On the other hand, it’s great for sharing my writing journey with friends and family.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block; although I certainly experience stretches of time where a scene or a project feels like it’s at a standstill. My way of pushing through these moments is to stay in the act of creating. If I can’t commit words to my work-in-progress, I’ll spend the session writing something else: a poem; a typed letter to a friend; a shorter piece; or play around with an idea I’ve been collecting notes for. In this way, I’m keeping the channel open. Like anything worthwhile, writing is hard, requiring a significant output of energy, so there’s an expectation at the start of any session that there’s a pain barrier of sorts to push through. But though it’s challenging, there’s a satisfaction to be gained; and if there’s none, that’s usually a sign for me to write something else for a bit.

How do you deal with rejection?

Over the years I’ve developed a habit of starting my next project on the same day I finish my current one. I always know what I’m working on next; so there’s an excitement for that first session. It involves A4 sheets of paper, index cards, coloured pens, and the sketching of schematics. That first session – though I may have been collecting notes on the project for years – is momentous. Everything’s possible, there are no mistakes to be made, and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. It builds anticipation for the second, third, and fourth sessions. In this way, as I go through the heart-wrenching process of querying my manuscript, I’m bit-by-bit gifting my creative spirit to something else. It doesn’t soften the blow of rejection, but by drawing life from another inspiration, I’m reminded that the act of creating something is the thing I need most.  

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Quirky, strange, heartfelt.

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?

Diane Samuels is an author and playwright. I only learned of her last year, on a podcast in which she was in conversation with Paul Kalburgi on The Writer’s Toolkit. The way she approaches creativity, and how she articulates it, resonated deeply with me. She writes with a spirit and an attitude that is a true example. I’d love to with talk with her about it. One jewel she shared was a question someone put to her early in her journey:

Do you want a writing career; or a writing life?

I wish someone had challenged me with this question when I was starting out. For so many years I wrote with an angst that was counter-productive to the spirit of creating; when all along I had what I was looking for.

Book Byte

Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.
But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who
has been pursuing it for 40 years. Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?
The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.

You can buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sharon Giltrow

Join a critique group where you can share your story with like-minded people. Take their feedback and make your story even better, while at the same time give feedback on their story.

Sharon Giltrow

Sharon Giltrow 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. Sharon has taught for all of her career. Previously a teacher of children who are hearing impaired and deaf-blind, she now teaches young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her humorous debut picture book, Bedtime Daddy! was released in May 2020 through EK books. Sharon’s humorous follow up picture book, Get Ready, Mama! was released through EK books last month. Her third and fourth picture books, Let’s Go Shopping, Grandma! And Let’s Go to The Beach, Grandpa! are due to be released through Dixi Books in 2022 and 2023. Samara Rubin and the Utility Belt, book one in Sharon’s early middle grade series The Utility Belt, will be released in 2022 through Clear Fork Publishing,  with book two Toby King and the Utility Belt to follow. Sharon is also a blogger for the Children’s Book Academy.

Author insight

Why do you write? I write because I have to. I have this need to write. If I haven’t written for a couple of days, I feel lost. Writing gives me a purpose and a creative outlet.

Where do you find your inspiration? All around me. In the everyday. A word, something I see or something someone says.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, relatable, inspiring.

How much of an asset is your teaching background when it comes to writing your books for children? Being a teacher is a great asset for my writing. I am surrounded by my audience and can see what they like and relate to. It is also very helpful when it comes to author visits as I know how to present to children.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? The writing community that I am a member of both here in Australia and overseas. In particular my critique groups, for without them I would not have any books published.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Thinking I’m not good enough to be an author, even after I have had books published. Oh, and convincing a publisher to publish my work.

How involved are you in your book cover designs and illustrations?

So far, I have been very involved in the cover design and illustrations for my books. For Get Ready, Mama! I was given cover designs to choose from. I loved them all but in the end, I offered a different idea for the cover. The publisher loved the idea and that became the cover. When I receive the storyboards for my books, I write my text on it to see how the text and the illustrations match. Then if needed I offer suggestions.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? That although the everyday can sometimes be challenging it is also very joyful. Also humour can be found everywhere if you take the time to look.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? After writing the idea down, then finding it again, and deciding it is the one, I spend the next week brainstorming for twenty minutes every day. Then I plot out my story using the ‘Three-act structure’. Beginning – hook, intro, problem, set up. Middle – challenges, obstacles, confrontation. Ending – completion and resolution. Then I start writing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I am a plotter so if I have followed the above creative process then I don’t usually experience ‘writer’s block’. I do experience ‘writer’s procrastination’ and that is usually at the start of the process. If I am in the middle of the process and I am feeling stuck I go for a walk with a question about the story in my mind and usually while I’m walking, I get an answer, which I then record using voice memos on my phone. Also, if I am writing a longer piece of work I try and stop in a spot that I can easily come back to i.e., in the middle of a scene.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? Choosing which idea to write about and getting started. Oh, and rejections from agents and publishers, they are hard on the ego. But I pick myself up and keep going.

What are you working on at the moment? I have an early middle grade book being released this year, which is about an 11-year-old girl who is given a mysterious gift. I am currently editing book two and writing book three in this series.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Taking an idea and making it into a complete world, with characters, settings, problems and resolutions. I love that as a writer I can create a character and build a world for them that never existed before.

—the worst? The waiting! Waiting to get a contract, waiting for the book to be published, waiting for children to read my books.

How important is social media to you as an author? For me social media is very important. It allows me to promote my work. It also provides me with an international community that supports me and who I can support.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up. That book contract could be just around the corner and if you give up now you will never get published. Someone told me that you need to aim for at least one hundred rejections before you get signed. This number gave me something to aim for. I signed my first book contract after a total of 190 rejections across different manuscripts.

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? That’s tough it would be a choice between Mo Williems, Mac Barnett or Jon Klassen. I love their humorous books. But if I had to choose one it would be Mo Williems. I would like him to tell me the secret to writing such funny books. Also if he has any ideas lying around that he didn’t need. And why can’t the pigeon drive the bus?

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? My family. My husband because he would keep me calm. My son because he would be more scared than me and I would have to pretend to be calm for him. My daughter because she would have her phone in her hand and could call for help while making a hilarious TikTok.

Book byte

Even the most reluctant risers will find the fun in the morning routine with this lively role-reversal story about a mama who just doesn’t want to get ready!

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, get breakfast all over her top, or… wait, is Mama watching TV? Learn how to get Mama up and ready despite her mischievous delaying tactics with this essential guide to dealing with morning mayhem!

With gorgeous illustrations and playful writing, Get Ready, Mama! is the perfect way to introduce some fun into the morning routine. Little ones will delight in the cheeky role-reversal that sees a young girl doing everything she can to get her reluctant mother out of the house, while parents and carers will gain a strategy for motivating reluctant risers.

Getting ready in the morning is a mission for many families with young children, but this inventive, tongue-in-cheek story provides a fun way of speeding things along. Full of heart and humour, Get Ready, Mama! is for anyone who has heard enough of “five more minutes”.

Buy the book at https://ekbooks.org/product/get-ready-mama/?v=fdd13832cd81

or https://bookshop.org/books/get-ready-mama/9781922539083

Find out more about Sharon and her writing life on her website https://www.sharongiltrowauthor.com/