Meet the Author: Paul Russell

Paul’s top writing tip: Be honest. Your stories are yours alone, find what it is that makes you unique and use that to make your stories the same.

Paul Russell is a primary teacher, artist, playwright and children’s author with five previous titles including Grandma Forgets, which made the CBCA list of notable picture books in 2018.  He is passionate about the place of imagination and daydreaming in children’s learning. He has a daughter who would rather be a princess or a dragon than a regular school student and he is grateful to teachers who embrace this in her education.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I can’t help it. When I was younger I always claimed it was the only way I could get to sleep, if I didn’t write stories down they would keep me awake all night playing in my mind.

I think I have finally accepted now that I am just never going to fully grow up. I still have the imagination of an eight-year-old child and still see the world for what it could be, might be or will never be, making stories such an important part of my life.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Every day and in every way. I had a joyous childhood filled with great adventures and the freedom to play. We never had a lot of money but my parents always had time for me. I had school holidays with notepads filled with stories, games and visits to local libraries.

I still see one of the greatest joys of parenthood is being able to have a second childhood through my own children.

You teach in a primary school. How much inspiration do you draw from your students? Do you test your early drafts on them? I hate coming up with character names and often steal student names, especially in first drafts but I don’t always find more inspiration in them than anywhere else. I think as an author you have to always be on the lookout for ideas. Sometimes they come in a student but other times it is an odd fact, a piece of rubbish on the side of the road or a comment a passerby says (or should have said). Inspiration is weird, it is the noting down when inspired that is important because you will never be inspired the same way twice and it is very easy to dismiss and too easy to forget.

I’ve tried running drafts past students but found they were always reluctant to be brutally honest, which is often what drafts need. My first novel I lied and told a student that one of my friends wrote it and I didn’t like it, to try to get some better feedback. Didn’t help, she still loved it.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? When you think you have something amazing but you can’t convince anyone to even read it. I submitted my first manuscript to a publisher when I was 17 and continued to send manuscripts regularly and wasn’t published till my mid-thirties. Half a lifetime of rejection makes you resilient and a better author.

However, I still think that some of those early works are really good and with the right timing would have made great published works. Timing is always out of your control. The greatest manuscript on the same topic or in the same style as a book a publisher just signed isn’t going to be signed and sometimes a not so great manuscript is going to hit the right desk on the right day.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the illustrations? Different illustrators work differently. With my first picture book Nicky Johnston was incredibly generous with her artworks, she shared roughs, asked for input and showed me everything. Most of my input was just WOW! but I was still very involved, I even got to choose the number plate on the blue car.

Aśka on the other hand was completely independent, she tells her own story with the artworks and they work independently and totally harmoniously but I didn’t really see anything until big sections were completed. We did chat a lot back and forth about colour palettes in The Incurable Imagination but in the end you just have to learn to trust the experts in their area.

I have learned that words are my skill and although I have an art degree and am prone to a bit of doodling, I could never be an illustrator.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The last full stop in a piece. Signing a contract or seeing a finished book is great but finishing a piece of work, regardless if anyone else will ever see it, love it or publish it, is the greatest feeling in the world.

—the worst? When you know you have a great idea but you can’t quite get it to work. Or a rejection letter on a script you really like.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would join writing groups and talk to other writers. When I started my writing, and honestly too much now, I just live in my own bubble and write. I have found writers incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and experiences and always willing to share. I wish I had learnt this earlier.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Do it. I always thought it was an impossible goal, even now I pinch myself just to make sure. The more you write the better you get. Don’t write to be published, write to be a writer and to bring your stories to life, the rest will happen eventually if you don’t stop.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? “You really have a talent, you know if you get good enough you can pay someone to fix your spelling.”

How important is social media to you as an author? I only started social media five years ago when my publisher told me I had to get onto Facebook. I use my Facebook page and Instagram account like a scrap book of photos and reviews of my books and am really quite poor at adding rich content to my page.

However, it’s the best way to meet other people like yourself. I have loads of people I only know thorough Social Media, I watch people who I want to be or people who want to be like me. I see ideas for launches or get to experience them. Social Media creates networks of authors and illustrators that was impossible only a short time ago and honestly makes everyone so approachable, I love it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No. Never. Only a lack of time in my life to write. In my mind writer’s block only occurs if you are trying to force something. I will always be working on a number of different writing ideas at any one time. If I get a bit stuck for one or feel like it is getting sluggish and forced I will move to something else.

Writer’s block is a thing for people who are not busy enough with the rest of their life. I’ve never sat in front of a page or screen and not known what to write, my life is busy enough that when I have the ideas I try to find the screen or page.

How do you deal with rejection? I don’t think anyone is immune to rejection, nothing hurts more than when you put your heart totally into a script and no one else can see what you can.

Take a day. Eat a block of chocolate. Start the next one.

I am still convinced that one day I will be able to pass all those rejected scripts onto someone who will see what I saw in them but until that day you just keep going. Rejection is the building blocks for success, and rejection is only ever final if you give up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Imaginative, childish, passionate.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I grew up on English television and I think Ben Elton is the writer I would most like to sit down with. I would want to just sit there and hear him talk Young Ones, Blackadder and novels.

I think the greatest thing I have discovered in the past couple of years is lots of the children’s authors and illustrators who I thought I would never have a chance to meet or spend any time with I have met. I have met so many amazing and generous authors who share their time and stories with such passion.

It really is the most incredible community to belong to.

BOOK BYTE

The Incurable Imagination

Written by Paul Russell, Illustrated by Aśka

Audrey has the worst case of ‘imaginitis’ her teachers have ever seen! While other children paint their families, Audrey paints the ogre who lives under her bed drinking tea. Instead of singing about a black sheep, she writes her own song about a desk with legs that runs away. Her alphabet turns into soup. It’s clear that her ‘imaginitis’ is incurable. What’s worse, her condition is contagious and soon the other kids in her class start showing symptoms of an equally incurable imagination! As ‘imaginitis’ spreads, the teachers are horrified and the parents begin to protest too. But perhaps imagination isn’t such a bad disease after all? It might even be useful if it makes learning more fun.

Buy the book:

https://ekbooks.org/product/the-incurable-imagination/

 

 

Meet the Author: Tanya Southey

Tanya’s top tip for aspiring authors: Just write.  Write if it’s crappy, write if you can’t find the right sentence, write.  Sometimes I trick myself when I am sitting waiting for the most perfect sentence to appear, I start typing “Blah, blah, perfect sentence and then this happened…” and I write whatever came next and then I come back and write the first sentence later.

Tanya Southey is a grown-up.  Well, most of the time.  She has lived in multiple worlds – business, charities and consulting. Ollie and the Starchaser is Tanya’s first published book.  The book is close to her heart as it explores family, the place she likes living in the most.

Tanya grew up in South Africa, has lived in the USA and now calls Australia home.  She has a husband, a daughter and three dogs. The dogs keep the family entertained and are lively characters in her book. Tanya has always worked to help people reach their potential, navigate life and all its challenges.  Her books whether for children, adults or poetry all touch on the beauty of an ordinary life and she hopes they resonate with her readers’ desire to lead their best lives.

Visit Tanya’s author Website to find out more: http://www.tanyasouthey.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? This question is a little like “Why do you breathe?”  I have always written, from when I was about six years old.  It’s a way for me to process the world with all its emotions.  I let it lie for some years, but I still scratched the occasional poem in a journal.

What inspires you creatively? Inspiration comes from two of my senses; the most dominant are visual prompts, beautiful photographs, scenery or art.  The other is music.  It could be a song with lyrics or an instrumental piece of music that evokes a feeling in me. I also find wide open spaces, trees, beaches, blue or rainy skies just open the valve and get the words flowing.

What was your path to publication? Please share a little of your writing journey. I am self-published at the moment.  I sent my manuscript to some traditional publishers, but the path to publishing seemed long and I had this distinct feeling that the timing for my current book was now.  I had already ruminated on the story for nine years and I had the time to get it into the world, so I decided to “just do it”. I wanted my mum to hold the book in her hands and she’s not getting any younger.

My path involved getting a first draft out and I ruminated on that for nine years while I did writing courses and learned about the publishing world.  I found an editor, worked closely with her and then self-published in six months.  I also had a long-standing girlfriend complete a final proofread. She is like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld, with grammar, and she made sure that commas, tenses and spelling were all correct.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? My current book Ollie and the Starchaser was a collaboration with my daughter, Jess Southey.  Jess is a professional artist and I wanted to work with her.  I handed her the manuscript and got out of her way.  I gave her very little artistic direction.  What was amazing for me, was seeing the imagery of the story through her eyes as an artist.  She has created a drawing for the beginning of each chapter and this has brought the story to life in addition to the words.

I am also working on a project called #52words52weeks.  On New Year’s Eve, I posted on Facebook, and asked my friends to give me 52 words and I am writing a poem a week for this year.  Three weeks in, my friend in London who is a street photographer (or as I call her ‘poetographer’) teamed up with me and we have been pairing her images with my poems every week.  This has been a joyous project and we plan to publish a coffee table book with her photos and my poems at the end of the year.  The cover will be one of her beautiful pictures.  You can follow this on project on my author page on Facebook (Tanya Southey – Author) or on Instagram @tanyasouthey.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best part of writing is creating worlds and characters that don’t exist anywhere except in your head.  Since being published, my new best feeling is everyone else’s reactions to what I have created.  My biggest surprise is how much Ollie and the Starchaser has resonated with adults.  I didn’t expect adults to feel so much in a children’s story. I have loved that.

—the worst? The obvious is writer’s block.  But I have so much different writing happening at any moment, that if I am stuck on one project, I just move to the next and come back to it.  My other ‘weird’ worst is that I often ‘download’ a whole poem, or perfect sentences for a book, while I am driving.  The problem is that if I don’t pull over and write it down straight away, it often disappears or loses the perfect wording.  I have been known to pull over (safely) and quickly write a poem on my iPhone.

What do you do when you aren’t writing? I read voraciously. I have done this since I was a kid.  I spend time with my family and my three dogs.  I also run a consulting business, a health product side-hustle and pretend that I have retired from the corporate world, but people keep finding me and giving me work to do.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I had found the space and confidence to publish sooner.  I also knew intellectually from talking to other authors, how much time marketing your book takes, but the reality is that has been very intense.  You really do end up becoming, a marketer, advertiser, event coordinator, administrator, public speaker, book packer, post office runner and social media guru.   With all of this, I think that I would have been more prepared and planned for when the book came out.  It’s been organic launch chaos!

You are tackling the issue of grief and loss in your new children’s book, which many can find confronting. What do you hope readers will take away from your story? In all my work in corporations and consulting I have had a theme of dealing with difficult emotions or situations.  The paradox in life is the more we try to protect ourselves and our children from difficult emotions, the less resilient we become.  This book is a gentle introduction to love, loss, family and grief.  The messages are hidden in an adventure story and it is an uplifting story that can be used as a scaffolding for difficult conversations.  Children who have not experienced grief and loss have enjoyed the story as an adventure story, with younger ones not even realising that the grandmother has passed away.  The secondary theme centres on Ollie’s grandmother Nanoo, who is a feisty, strong woman who has not only had a family but also succeeded in the male-dominated world of astronomy.  I have also loved coaching and developing women to do anything they want, so it seemed natural that Nanoo was going to be a quirky woman who can become a role model for girls and boys.

Is there any area of writing that you find especially challenging? Grammar and tenses.  Tenses make me tense!  I sometimes get carried away in the adventurous parts and end up in the present tense when the book is written in the past tense.  Thankfully, the editors are angels who can see this if you don’t spot it first!

What’s the best advice – writing or otherwise – you were ever given? I have been working closely with Joanne Fedler who runs a mentoring program for writers. I love how Joanne teaches to take the personal and strip it back so that it becomes universal.  I am so looking forward to spending the next 12 months with Joanne and a group of aspiring authors as we write our next first drafts together.  I also think being able to recognise when you are writing from a clichéd perspective.  You need to try to stay fresh and original and true to your own voice.

How important is social media to you as an author? I know it’s important for building a platform and for awareness.  I am not obsessing about getting 10s of thousands of followers.  I love my loyal friends and followers and they make me feel accountable to write.  For me it’s a way to stay connected with fans that I love and meet new ones.  The rest is incidental.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I am suffering from writer’s block, then there is likely to be too much going on in my head or in my life.  One technique to become unstuck is to do the “morning pages” that Julia Cameron describes in her brilliant book for creatives – The Artist’s Way.  She also suggests a two-hour artist’s date, where you go out alone and do something that you love.  I find I come back refreshed and with new perspectives.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Diverse, quirky, wisdom-seeking

What is your ultimate writing dream? I would love one of my books to become a movie.  I would be so happy if I could reach non-readers through the medium of film.

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? Only one? I would love to hear from Maya Angelou and how she managed to convey so much emotion and wisdom in her work.  A living person would be Brenè Brown. I would love to ask her how she takes such difficult topics like shame and vulnerability and makes them funny, accessible and engaging.

BOOK BYTE

Ollie and the Starchaser

by Tanya Southey, illustrated by Jessica Southey

Nanoo is Ollie’s beloved grandmother and an astronomer who discovered the planet Terenza, in a gentle galaxy east of the moon. When Nanoo disappears on a trip to the Outback, Ollie cannot accept that she is gone. He is worried, sad and refuses to believe that Nanoo would leave him. He feels helpless sitting around on his farm with only his faithful Labrador, Chloe, to listen to his feelings. However, his luck changes when the Starchaser and his Star-fordshire Terrier, Buddy, plot a way to get to Earth from Terenza. The boys and their dogs begin an epic adventure to find Nanoo. Their journey takes them across the Outback, up the Steps to the Moon and into space. But will Ollie find her, and will he bring her home?

 

The book is available from the following sites:

https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001156396 – direct from the publisher

https://jesssouthey.bigcartel.com/product/ollie-and-the-starchaser – for a signed copy

BUY ON AMAZON
BUY ON BOOK DEPOSITORY
BUY ON BOOKTOPIA
BUY ON BARNES & NOBLE

 

 

Meet the Author/Illustrator: Anne Helen Donnelly

It’s always a celebration when a new picture book becomes available for young readers and today it’s my pleasure to welcome Anne Helen Donnelly as part of her online book tour for Ori’s Clean-up, latest in her Ori the Octopus series.

Anne lives in Sydney with her husband and her two young children. She has taught dance, been an entertainer at children’s parties, and she reads and teaches art and craft to children. She paints children’s canvasses and makes greeting cards.

Anne has been encouraged to share her story-telling, her illustrations and her creativity, resulting in her Ori the Octopus series. The first book Ori the Octopus was closely followed by Ori’s Christmas, both released in 2017. In 2018 Anne is combining another of her passions, care of the environment, in her third book Ori’s Clean-up, released this month.

I asked Anne about her creative life…

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Getting out doing readings and workshops with children.

—the worst? I have been trying to revamp my website for two months now, this would have to be top of my list right now.

Where do you draw the inspiration for your picture books? For my current picture book, the environment and its care has always been a passion for me. Otherwise, from everywhere/anywhere. I can think in pictures, so I may see something that sparks an idea.

How has your background in dance and being an entertainer at children’s parties influenced you as an author/illustrator? The dancing has helped me as I have had to capture the attention of children and motivate them. Teaching 20 four and five-year-old boys teamwork in a dance troupe is a tough gig. The entertaining is the same. You use anything that works; comedy, magic, games and mostly getting them involved. And you learn not to do one thing for very long and to mix it up.

How do you approach a new picture book project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Like most writers, an idea usually has to sit and ‘cook’ until it’s ready to be told. Then I write the first draft, then many, many redrafts with usually more than one critique and assessment.

What are you working on at the moment? I am working on promoting my new book. I just completed four events up in Port Macquarie and have some 11+ events coming up this year.

Also, as mentioned earlier, I am revamping my website while ‘cooking’ another picture book manuscript or two.

How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? I assume this means after the manuscript has ‘baked’? It varies, starting at eight months.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? An enjoyable story, lovely pictures and a message. My current book has a clear message of taking care of our environment, regardless of how young you are.

Is there any area of art or writing that you still find challenging? We are all always improving so I like to think that my manuscripts in two to three years’ time will be better than what I am writing now. Ditto for illustrating, but I do find drawing hands challenging.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I would say what is my toughest obstacle now as an independent publisher is competing with trade published books for promotion/sales and shelf space.

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing and illustrating children’s books? I would still be involved with children in a voluntary manner in between a regular job like I used to be. My last university qualifications mean, prior to entering the Kid Lit world, I was a health manager. I used to manage a Cancer Care Centre across two hospitals. It was a generalist management role; budgets, doctors and other health workforce, patients, service delivery, accreditations, complaints, improvements etc – the whole works.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author/illustrator? Network earlier on.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become a picture book creator? Some more facts about the size of the Australian market and the common obstacles. I probably would have still continued anyway, I like to try things. You only live once!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? My first editor helped me with my writing by saying I had some $5 words in my manuscript. Meaning, some of my vocabulary was aimed too high for my intended readership.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Tough one. I really don’t know. My mum’s uncle was an amazing man. He was an interpreter in the British forces in Malta. He spoke five languages perfectly, down to the accents. I only got to meet him twice before he died, and I so enjoyed listening to him and talking with him. He felt like a kindred soul, and so down to earth. It would have been wonderful to have more time with him.

Of course, I also had to ask for Anne’s top tip for aspiring author/illustrators. It’s good advice:

Do a good picture book writing course and get to as many pitching sessions and manuscript assessments as you can.

BOOK BYTE

Ori the Octopus and his friends have left their rubbish everywhere. They tidy up, but it doesn’t work. To keep their home clean and healthy, they need to do something different, something better.

Buy the book at Booktopia general site and bookstores and on Anne’s website annehelendonnelly.com

Anne has been out and about chatting about her new book as part of the launch celebrations organised by Books on Tour. Here’s where to find her other book stops…

 

 

 

 

 

Monday July 30 – Friday August 3

www.justkidslit.com/blog

Monday July 30

educateempower.com.au

Tuesday July 31

maureeneppen.com

Wednesday August 1

missielovesbooks.com