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 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 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: 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/

Meet the Author: Dimity Powell

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell loves to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews exclusively for children with over 30 published stories and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, and as creative digital content, but picture books are her jam. Her latest titles include, This is My Dad (2022), Oswald Messweather (2021), Pippa (2019), the SCBWI Crystal Kite 2019 award-winning At the End of Holyrood Lane (2018), and critically acclaimed, The Fix-It Man (2017) also in simplified Chinese. 

Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker, semi-professional chook wrangler, Border collie lover, seasoned presenter and dedicated Books in Homes Australia Volunteer Role Model, Story City Community Mentor and G.A.T.EWAYS presenter who can’t surf despite living on the Gold Coast, Australia. Visit her anytime at: www.dimitypowell.com

Author Insight

Why do you write and what is about writing for children that keeps you producing stories for young readers?

The magic of experiencing a story unfold both as a reader and writer is something I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of. Stories were one of my whole reasons for being as a kid and while not all kids these days love reading as much as I did and still do, I hope know there is a story out there for them that provides that same mystifying personal connection; maybe it just hasn’t been written yet or in a way that resonates with them. This is part of what compels me to write on.

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

My sister and I still have aspirations of running a tea and book shop together; she’d drink and bake and nibble all day. I would hide in some corner and read, naturally. I’ve always wanted to be a Vet too, so I reckon I’d be in the country somewhere running an animal practice (and possibly writing in between birthing calves!).

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

Birthing calves might be slightly more lucrative than making stuff up.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I truly think the best stories come from life – and simply living it. That said, many of my picture book story lines are promoted by a casual suggestion or request for something. I welcome story prompts as they are often the green-go buttons that set my creative thought processes in progress.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step?

Once the seed of an idea or story is planted, I normally allow it to germinate organically, in other words, I sit and think and ruminate on a number of possibilities, characters, names, outcomes. Then I’ll often draft these initial ruminations in long hand in a note book. I prefer to ‘hear’ my characters’ stories and let them tell them to me in my head before committing them to paper. Time, quiet and space are the best fertilisers for this part. Once the rough outline is captured on paper, I then switch to recording everything online: editing, exploring language, researching statistics, endings, character arcs, more editing … I normally get a trusted crit buddy to eye over the manuscript as well before even thinking about submitting.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become?

I think it’s more about the books I read and how they made me feel as a young reader that I still hold on to. I try to remember that when penning a story for a particular age group. No matter what happened to me in my own childhood, it’s how I reacted to it or felt about that experience that provides the most useful and authentic elements in my storytelling today.

Share a little about your path to publication.

After completing a creative children’s writing course while my child was still in Kindy, I promptly set up a spread sheet to record my rejections! This wasn’t for lack of confidence in my abilities rather simply an expectation as the norm. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it for a while as the first short story I ever submitted to the NSW School Magazine was accepted.

After that I won a publishing competition which resulted in my junior novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? (2012) and really launched my notoriety as an emerging children’s author. My ambition to publish a picture book was realised in 2017 with, The Fix-It Man after a long and arduous period of ups and downs. My publication apprenticeship continues to this very day.

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book This is My Dad? Are they what you envisioned for this story?

Nicky’s illustrations are again, 100% spot on for this story. We collaborate effortlessly but this time there was little involvement or back and forth necessary, possibly because this is our third book together and I have immense and implicit trust in her ability to ‘get’ my narrative intent.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

I hope readers both young and old feel a genuine connection with my characters that transcends simple entertainment. I hope they are moved to feel and ponder on the experiences those characters endure and are better able to understand their own situations and the world around them because of their stories. And ultimately, to appreciate that everyone’s story matters.

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

Not usually. If a particular narrative has too many road humps, I simply write around it, invite a bit of that precious ‘quiet’ time and wait for the solution to present itself. It always does. Walking my demanding dogs helps too. Never underestimate the cleansing, rejuvenating power of nature.

Is there an area of writing that you still find challenging?

Endings. And reaching them. So really, most areas! Honestly, though, when something ‘writes itself’, it’s awesome however without the challenge of the odd struggle, not only would my job be less interesting but my stories more pedestrian.

What are you working on at the moment?

There’s a second, Pippa picture book in the works for publication this year or next and I currently have a few other picture book scripts in various stages of development that I absolutely love.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? —the worst?

Best: I get to learn something new each and every day. EVERY day. I love that.

Worst: Hmm, not having a functioning Time Turner necklace thingy like Hermione had.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’ve known successful authors who lived without it but for sheer visibility and accessibility, I think it’s pretty vital. If nothing else, it gives creatives a chance to preen and self-pontificate a bit, right! SM does provide platforms to celebrate each tiny baby step forward too, which is important in this business as not all wins are colossal to begin with. The key is finding the platform you are most comfortable with and represents, ‘you’ the best, then be consistent.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

It takes decades to be an overnight success.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Are you kidding? I can’t describe anything in three words! Here goes: mellifluous, satirical, pure-hearted.

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?

Stephen Fry. He’s like every Shakespearean play rolled into one; tragic, comic, historically brilliant and desperately poetic. He could tell me anything he wants; I’m sure I’d find it illuminating.

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?

Ryan Reynolds. Because I’d really like to visit Canada one day and I need to know more about Deadpool 3.

Book Byte

Leo lives with his monster-battling, world creating, children’s author mother, and has never known a father figure. So when his teacher announces Tell Us About Your Dad Day, Leo’s tummy flip-flops; he worries that he won’t have anything to present to his class. Then he remembers that he already knows someone cool, courageous and clever – someone who’s not his dad, but is his everything. A heart-warming celebration of families of all shapes and sizes that will resonate with millions of children.

Available from EK Books:

Or

Dimity Powell: https://dimitypowell.com/this-is-my-dad/ – signed copies

Amazon Books:

Boomerang Books:

Booktopia:

Dymocks Books:

Readings Books:

Barnes and Noble:

Indigo Books:  

This Is My Dad Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgWxDgJnHpY

 

Meet the Author: Kesta Fleming

Kesta’s top tip for aspiring authors: Join a writers’ group and connect with the writing community – especially with other children’s authors. You learn so much from other writers and it’s such a lovely community. Writing itself is often very solitary, but the writing life doesn’t have to be. Get out there an meet people. That’s where the ideas and stories (and all the hot writing tips) are!

Kesta Fleming headshotKesta Fleming is a writer and poet, and author of the Marlow Brown chapter book series for seven- to ten-year-olds. She was born in England but grew up in the Adelaide Hills in a house full of books, bells and music. With a love of stories and a fascination for words she began writing when young. In addition to Marlow Brown, she has had numerous poems, plays, articles and short stories published in The School Magazine and in anthologies. Kesta is a former teacher and now divides her time between writing for children and her therapeutic work helping people manage stress and anxiety. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, two teenagers and a Brittany Spaniel.

Visit Kesta’s website at Kesta Fleming Children’s Author – Creator of the Marlow Brown Series

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Kesta, you started making up your own rhymes and poems as a six-year-old. What was the inspiration for this early venture into sharing the wonder of words? I grew up in a family where music making and stories were as basic to my existence as food, water and shelter. In fact, stories and music were perhaps even more valued than a permanent home. Many of my early memories involve sleeping in a tent or the back of the car, as my parents were adventurous and we travelled a lot. So, we’d be sung to at bedtime, read to while eating family dinners each evening, and play word games and sing on long car journeys.

Added to this, my mother was the queen of nursery rhymes – there wasn’t one she didn’t know – and she wrote her own stories.  My father was a pianist and played several other instruments including banjo, ukulele and mouth organ, and he composed his own music. It was the ’70s and for my parents that meant crocheted jackets, caftans and regular performances with a folk group they’d formed. And then, the whole family rang bells, but that’s another story … It’s little wonder I was inspired to make up my own poems and rhymes as a six-year-old. Rhythm and rhyme was what life was all about!

How much of an asset is your teaching background when it comes to writing your books for children? I haven’t really thought of it in terms of an asset to the actual writing, but it’s certainly been a big influence on me. Teaching children in lower primary exposed me to lots of lovely picture books and junior fiction stories during my twenties before I had my own children. So, it not only kept alive my love of children’s literature at a time I might typically have moved away from it, but it also kept my knowledge of what was being published current. And it fueled my love of reading stories aloud. Seeing children captivated by a great story and being part of expanding their imagination is inspiring. Helping them to make sense of the words themselves as they learn to read, and having it finally ‘click’ is also inspiring. How much this all helps me when writing my own stories, I couldn’t say. But it certainly gives me purpose.

What’s the story behind the Marlow Brown series? The Marlow Brown series is about a girl exploring interests that don’t fit the female stereotype and that typically lead to professions dominated by men. So, in the first book she’s smitten with the idea of becoming a scientist, and in the second, she’s totally set on becoming a top-class magician. I’m currently working on the third which has an engineering focus.

It might all sound serious and heavy going, but it isn’t at all! Marlow actually started out as a boy, and it was my publisher who suggested we switch her to a girl. After much thought and consideration about how this might change things, all I ended up doing was a simple pronoun switch. Marlow’s character remained exactly the same.

I think the story is all the better for the switch. It means there’s no big deal made of Marlow not fitting the stereotype. She’s totally unaware of such things. She’s simply a kid following her passions, doing what she loves. And getting into scrapes – because that’s the kind of kid she is. It’s a series full of humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? I always struggle with this question! I have an admission: sometimes I feel inspiration-less. But that’s okay … when I finally remember that other times I’m full of it. I think inspiration comes from doing stuff. From talking to people. From watching. From listening. For me it also comes from remembering what it was like to be a child. I have very vivid memories from my own childhood so I tap into those. And I think, most of all, it comes from being curious and asking ‘What if…?’ It comes from playing and being playful.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? Lots of people, but perhaps the steadiest influence has been my writers’ group. We meet monthly and have done for years. Everyone is always so supportive and helpful, but our late friend and fellow writer, John Tyrell, should perhaps take a lion’s share of the credit. John was all encouragement. If I hadn’t brought anything to workshop for a while, or was down in the doldrums with my writing, he’d say he missed reading my stuff. I had several months a few years back of writing nothing, but turning up to writers’ group and facilitating all the same. It was John’s encouragement and belief in me that got me back into it.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? A lack of understanding of just how much tenacity is needed to be successful. I’d give up on manuscripts too soon, thinking that after a certain number of rejections it must mean that there was no point in continuing with that one. I thought I was being tenacious in the way I sent my manuscripts out again and again, but discovered through talking to more experienced writers, that our definitions of perseverance were far from similar! I don’t give up as quickly these days.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? There are two best aspects – the moments when I’m totally engrossed in the story and everything is flowing, and the moment I finish the first draft. It’s the elation of having created something from start to finish, and there it is in front of me. I enjoy working on subsequent drafts, but it’s getting that first one down in full, and adding the last full stop that does it for me.

—the worst? Being stuck. And then procrastinating too long, and getting totally out of the way of writing, but feeling guilty about not getting back on with it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t know that I’d call it writer’s block, but, following on from the previous question, I certainly procrastinate when things get hard. And the way to overcome it is to sit down and write anyway. But that’s easier said than done! One technique that I’ve found really helpful is skipping ahead to a different section and writing it in first person, even if the rest of the story is in third person. Getting right into the head of my protagonist and having them write a letter or email to someone about what’s going on for them seems to free things up for me and make the missing bit in between more accessible.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? That it’s okay to fail. That what matters most is having fun along the way and having a gritty perseverance when it comes to following your dreams. That’s what Marlow Brown has in spades. And that’s what I’ve learned I need too, to be a successful writer. No surprises there!

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a blessing and a curse! I wish it weren’t important, but it is. I’m in a number of writing groups on Facebook and have found these to be a great way to connect with others in the writing community, but I don’t like having to promote my work. It’s time consuming trying to pitch things in the right way for the right platform, and promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m perfectly happy to promote others’ work on social media, but I have to swallow my own discomfort promoting my own. I know other writers struggle with this too, so I take comfort in not being alone in this!

You’ve written poems, plays, articles and short stories as well as books – what is your ‘sweet spot’ and why? I’m not sure if I have a sweet spot but I do like a challenge. Early on, I challenged myself to get something published in every genre that the NSW School Magazine published (with the exception of the cartoon strip because I can’t draw). I was pretty chuffed when I succeeded. I’ve only written one play so far, but I have to say I loved doing that, so I should probably try another. I like dialogue. My current personal challenge is to have a picture book published. I have many picture book manuscripts, but none have hit the right desk at the right time yet. I will get there. I’m determined!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Amusing and relatable. (Is using ‘and’ cheating? Not at all!)

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up on a story if you really believe in it. Keep sending it out. (After hearing this advice, I entered a story which had had multiple rejections as a rhyming picture book manuscript when I’d first written it thirteen years before hand, into the CJ Dennis Poetry Competition, and it won first prize!)

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? Well, at first I was thinking Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron, because I think a bit of magic in that situation could be handy, and if the magic wasn’t working for some reason, then the balance of the three characters might add some light relief … but then I started wondering about J K Rowling, because I love the world she created and I’m sure I could learn loads from her as a writer. But then there’s Dumbledore. I think I’m going for him. I have loads of questions for him! And who knows, he might have some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in his pocket we could try our luck with to help us pass the time.

BOOK BYTE

Marlow Brown 2 - Cover ImageMarlow Brown: Magician in the Making

Written by Kesta Fleming

Illustrated by Marjory Gardner

Marlow Brown dreams of becoming a top-class magician but she has two problems: her special talent for creating chaos, and the fact that Dad won’t stop laughing … How can she show them, once and for all, what a serious and spectacular magician she really is?

Buy the book here.

 

Meet the Author: Penny Macoun

Penny’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t give up, enjoy the process and it will take as long as it takes.

Penny Macoun was born in Sydney, Australia. She has been writing since 1993 when her story about a funnel web spider was printed in a school newsletter.  Ever since, Penny has loved the ‘other worlds’ that words create, and hopes to continue to create these worlds for many years to come.  Rollo’s Wet Surprise is her second book. When she is not writing, teaching or editing, Penny dabbles in various forms of visual arts and enjoys being in the garden.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I enjoy creating the ‘other worlds’ you find in stories. It fills me with excitement to create something new. Words are my passion.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I am a trained Primary School teacher. Up until the pandemic I had been a casual teacher for eight years. When I decided to put a hold on teaching, I decided to follow my career dream of being an author.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? As a self-published author my toughest obstacle was learning all the things I had to do as a ‘publisher’ such as getting an ABN, how to purchase ISBNs and understanding the intricacies of getting files ready for producing a book.

How involved have you been in the development of your book/s? I have been involved every step of the way. This is why I decided to self-publish my books, because I wanted to be able to produce the book how I wanted it to be. I thought of the illustrations as I edited the stories, which meant I could give clear guidelines to the illustrator.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Being able to set my own working hours and have flexibility to do things during the day if I want to. Oh… and sleep in.

—the worst? Low income. I love what I do, but slow and few book sales makes the balance sheet a bit difficult to look at sometimes.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? I think my career as a teacher has influenced me as a children’s author, rather than my childhood. I was working on an adult murder mystery for many years but it was my experiences of reading to children in the classroom and using books to educate that made me begin to see that some of my stories could be turned into books for children.

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? I don’t really set out to write a picture book. I write a story and as I write I am thinking if pictures can be attached to what I have written. Then I edit the story and create a storyboard to work on layout and illustration ideas. I then send the storyboard and the manuscript to the illustrator, who will begin on the artwork. They start by sending me character sketches and a black and white storyboard layout and then will add colour. We send ideas and illustrations back and forth until I give them the tick of completion. The illustrator then sends me print ready files to upload to Ingram Spark to create my book.

How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? Once I have written a story, I like to leave it alone for a few months before looking at it again and starting the editing process. I then will edit the story and send it to my friend, who is an editor. I also use another editor to have a non-biased look at it. After several reviews and the creation of the storyboard and illustration ideas, I give everything to the illustrator, who will usually take a couple of months. Therefore, I guess the whole process can take about six months minimum.

What are you working on at the moment? I have written a sequel to Gorkle, which was my first children’s book. Now that Rollo’s Wet Surprise is complete, I will begin editing it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, I do experience writer’s block. Usually when I have to write something for the writing group I am in. To overcome it, I will either work on a different piece of writing or just do something that isn’t writing, so I can go back to it with a fresh view. Often a few hours or days away from the desk is enough to rejuvenate the writing juices.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Enjoyment and the experience of learning something without even realising it. As an educator, I am always working to link books and my own stories to experiences or things children can learn from.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Writing chapter books for children. I would love to explore this area more. Five years ago I couldn’t even write a picture book and now I have published two, so there’s hope for me yet.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author? Take my time and don’t rush the process. I made this mistake with my first book, which meant there was a lot to fix by a designer before I could publish the book. Rollo’s Wet Surprise went a lot smoother.

How important is social media to you as an author? I find social media is important to get the word out about what I am doing professionally. I also regularly update my website. I find the engagements are becoming fewer as people become disillusioned with social media, which makes me wonder if people are looking at my posts anymore. However, I do feel that an author should use every method they can to spread the word about what they do; someone, somewhere will see the post and hopefully tell someone else and ultimately create a few book sales along the way.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I don’t really remember ever being given advice but something has stuck with me. I was with my dad at a shop counter after I had been looking at the books on display. It was in a hospital convenience store. I said I wanted to be a published author with lots of books like Bryce Courtenay. My dad scoffed and didn’t think much of this as a career, but the shop attendant said there was no harm in trying. Now most days, Dad asks me if I’ve written another book.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Colourful. Educational. Fun.

Website: www.pennymacoun.com.au

If you look at the Rollo’s Wet Surprise page you will find links to all online stores that have this book. I also sell both of my books through my website.

BOOK BYTE

Rollo is a dog that loves to go to work with his owner, Jim, who is a builder. Jim and his team of builders have been working on a house that Rollo has enjoyed visiting because the family like to give him lots of pats and the garden is nice and big, so he has lots of places to explore.

One day, the builders are moving lots of big, heavy windows to a safe area. Rollo begins to explore this new part of the garden, and sniffs around.

While Rollo is exploring, he tries to walk on a surface that he thinks is hard. Unfortunately, the hard surface is a pool cover and Rollo finds himself falling into a large swimming pool. Jim helps him out and everyone thinks it is very funny, except for Rollo.

This book is ideal for teaching children about being safe around water and remembering to always close pool gates and never go near a pool without an adult.

Tea, teamwork and pets of all kinds

Welcome to a new year and an interview with a difference. Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson write The Pet Sitters series together as Ella Shine and it was my pleasure to chat with them both about why they write, how they came up with the series and some of the challenges involved in their creative collaboration.

Ella Shine LOVES pets of all kinds. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her three cats, four bunnies, parakeet, bearded dragon and an imaginary ant farm for company. When she’s not writing stories for children she can be found dreaming up adventures and hunting for the unexpected with at least one of her pets in tow!

When she’s not writing as Ella Shine, Penny writes as Penny Reeve or Penny Jaye and is the author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyjaye.com and www.pennyreeve.com

Award-winning novelist Cecily Anne Paterson writes ‘braveheart’ fiction for girls aged 9-14. She grew up in Pakistan where she went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, and now lives with her family on Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. She’s a freelance editor and writer, an engaging speaker and presenter, a reluctant housekeeper, and an aspiring, but average cellist. See www.cecilypaterson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

Why do you write?

Penny: Writing is how I explore ideas and issues, but I also love the joy and power of story and finding ways to communicate to an audience through words.

Cecily: It’s annoying, but I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion I’ve had my whole life since I was eight and sat down and wrote newspapers about what was going on in our family. (They weren’t very interesting.)

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

Penny: I’d probably be doing what I already do when I’m not writing: being a stay-at-home mum trying to find ways to make a living with my creativity. Or I’d find myself in a teaching role of some sort, but probably not full-time classroom teaching. I love working with kids.

Cecily: I have very inferior skills, but I’d like to be a full-time musician. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind running a fancy op shop. Being realistic, I suppose I’d probably settle down to being a teacher or working in administration.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Penny: When I first started out, I struggled to find a publisher who published the genre I wrote in. Plus, my writing wasn’t that great. So I needed to improve my craft while at the same time getting creative about finding the right publisher.

Cecily: Same as Penny. Craft, creativity and finding ways to get past rejection. I was encouraged early on by an editor from Penguin Books who liked my first novel and suggested ways to make it better, so I rewrote it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it in the end, but it gave me some assurance that I wasn’t simply a deluded, talentless hack.

The Pet Sitters junior fiction series is a collaborative project. How did that come about?

Cecily: We were talking about children’s books, as we are prone to do, and one, particular, massively successful series for eight-year olds. I think I may have uttered the words, ‘We could write those,’ and the vision grew legs.

Penny: It was also a great project to have on the go during 2020 as it required us to work together and have a sense of writing connection even when many other writing opportunities were slowing down.

Walk us through the process, please. How did that work? Were there specific challenges?

Penny: We decided early on that we wanted to write the books together with both of us having equal creative input. We began with a planning day where we sat and drank tea and plotted the stories. Then we took turns to write the first draft chapters, using our plan as a guide. It was immensely fun but was also quite challenging, especially at the beginning as we have very different natural writing styles.

Cecily: To be fair, we drank a lot of tea. And even before we started on the story plans, we did a lot of work on intended audience, the length of the books, and the different elements we wanted to include. We created the characters in detail before they even set foot in a story. We also created the author character of ‘Ella Shine’. It seemed too cumbersome to have both our names on the front cover, so we made up something far more memorable. You can read more about us here: https://puddledogpress.com/about

How involved have you both been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the cover and illustrations?

Penny: Because we decided to independently publish these books, we took ownership of the entire project. This meant we needed to source and contract an illustrator for the project. Thankfully, Lisa Flanagan was interested, and her style really complements the stories.

Cecily: Penny and I are both honest enough to know where our talents and experience lie and there was a neat, natural division of labour in creating this series. It’s a great example of the  whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Working together, we’ve achieved more than we thought we could. (For example, Penny was smart enough to apply for government funding for audiobooks, which we received. Adding the amazing voice narration skills of Suzanne Ellis to the project has made it even better. Check out our audiobooks here. https://puddledogpress.com/pet-sitters-news/cot8kp5zvuay7fkq1m8ignczlzfeq5 )

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Penny: I love the creative stage of writing; the freedom of the first draft. But I also love the final product and being able to interact with students and readers when the book is finished. I suppose because audience is always my focus, I love seeing how people response to the books I write.

Cecily: Finishing. I get to the middle of a book and feel like poking my eyes out, it’s so hard. I like ending, and editing, and then later, reading what I wrote. (Also, I like fan mail. Especially the emails where they tell you that my books made them cry… in a good way.)

—the worst?

Penny: Rejections are never fun. One of my books (Our of the Cages) was rejected 11 times before it found a publisher, but it went on to win an award so the extra time and effort probably paid off.

Cecily: Yeah. Same as Penny. Rejection by publishers, and rejection by readers in the form of bad reviews. My skin is thickish, but it still hurts.

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

Penny: I’d tell myself to relax and take my time, to learn as much as I could, but also to have realistic expectations. Being a writer in Australia is hard work and statistically doesn’t pay well. I’d probably also tell myself to go do a basic marketing course!

Cecily: I’d study genre, figure out what’s selling and write that! (Money to pay the bills does help in life…) Also, I’d work hard on my craft and join a critique group sooner than I did.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Penny: Don’t send your manuscript to all the publishers at the same time. Suzanne Gervay once said this to me after I admitted I admitted I’d sent my story to five publishers. She advised me to send out sparingly to allow time and space to rework in between. And she was right. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Cecily: I’m not sure if this was said to me, or if I made it up myself, but it’s this: you can’t expect most people around you to care about the books you write. Your audience is out there somewhere, but it probably isn’t your family or even your friends. If you live or die by the praise of the people immediately around you, you won’t keep living as a writer.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Penny: Learn, read and write. Never think you’ve learned or read everything you need to. We can always learn more both about our craft and the work of others. But at the same time, don’t stop writing!

Cecily: Start a blog. Write and publish something small every day. Read other people’s work and pull it apart. Why did they do it this way? What makes this good or bad? If you grew up reading anything written before the 1980s, know that writing has changed. You can’t write something in the style that you loved as a kid: it doesn’t work anymore. Get a handle on close third person point of view, or your work will never even get looked at.

How important is social media to you as an author?

Penny: Social media is probably quite important for authors, but I’ll admit it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m active on Facebook but not on many other platforms as I find it too much to keep up with. For the Pet Sitters stories, we use Facebook quite a lot because it’s a useful took for interacting with our readers’ parents and teachers.  https://www.facebook.com/puddledogpress

Cecily:  Facebook = my alternate existence. Instagram = I do it because the cool kids are there. Linked In = boring, but I’m there because, you know… Twitter = runs screaming from the room. Everything else: I’m too old to know what it is or how to use it.

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

Penny: I very rarely experience the blank page writers block, but I do sometimes face the editing version of writers’ block where I don’t know what or how to improve my manuscript. If this happens I might go back to my planning stage, do some mind mapping on my characters or seek the advice of a trusted writing friend or writing ‘how-to’ book. I also try to get back to the fun, or the heart, of the project I’m working on as that seems to help break through the ‘stuck’ stage.

Cecily: Extremely rarely. If I’ve planned my story properly, I just write what’s in the plan. Occasionally I get scared of my characters and can’t write them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think, ‘this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, and no one is going to read it,’ but I force myself to write two thousand words anyway. I figure I can always fix it later. You can’t fix a blank page.

How do you deal with rejection?

Penny: I get really down, eat lots of chocolate, wonder why I’m writing and consider giving up altogether. But a couple of days later I pick myself up, remember how much I love the story I’ve been working on and get back to it!

Cecily: Chocolate.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Penny: I’d probably describe my writing as topical, relatable and fun. Ella Shine is possibly more playful and less serious than my other writing!

Cecily: Character-driven, dialogue-rich, lots of sub-text. Like Penny, Ella Shine is more light-hearted and fun than my usual middle grade and YA novels.

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?

Penny: I’d love to have a chat with Kate Dicamillo. I’d like to hear how she holds and weighs the hard parts of her writing with the lightness and hope of children’s literature. I’d be interested in it technically (her writing process) but also emotionally (how she processes the balance).

Cecily: I’d like to hang with a literary legend like Anne Tyler and find out if truly exceptional writing (the sort I get jealous of) can only happen for introverted, thoughtful, eccentric types who don’t have to keep ahead of the schedules of four children and who have someone else doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. Can you be a great writer/artist if you’re also a regular parent-at-home without long periods of reflection and solitude? It doesn’t seem to happen for me.

BOOK BYTE

Need a pet sitter? Cassie and Lina are the girls for the task… as long as Gus the talking cat can keep out of trouble!

Best friends Cassie and Lina would love to take a pet to the Pet Parade but it’s not possible… until they’re asked to pet sit Gus the cat next door. The girls might be ‘ready for anything’ but Gus isn’t quite the cat they were expecting.

Looking for an engaging, fun junior series with great values, gorgeous characters and hilarious action, with a sprinkling of the unexpected? Welcome to the Pet Sitters.

Pet Sitters Website: www.puddledogpress.com

Store site: https://puddledogpress.com/store