Picturebooks · Publishing · Writing

Meet the writer – Spider Lee

Every week I like to feature an Australian writer and illustrator in PASS IT ON.

Now with the illustrators, once they have been featured in the ezine, I upload their interview onto a blog. This takes time and I’m often running behind but from now on I’m hoping to keep this up to date.

The writers that I’ve interviewed don’t have a blog of their own so I thought I might upload their interviews here. I won’t be able to go back to the beginning but I hope to fill this space with interesting insights into some of our wonderful writers.

So here we go please meet….


Spider Lee

This interview first appeared in PASS IN ON on Monday 25th January 2016 – issue 570

When did you know that you were a writer?

Most creative people have been creative their whole lives, it’s something that grows inside you so it is hard to define a starting point. I did not come from a bookish environment and really only opened my eyes to reading when I became a parent myself. When I decided to become a writer, I googled myself and found that I already was a successful writer, or at least someone with the same name as me was. So my first task was deciding on a new name. Spider has been my nick name from a very young age, it’s easy to remember and works well with the primary age readers.

When did you first read your writing aloud or give it to someone to read and what was their reaction? How did it impact on you?

Putting yourself ‘out there’ for others to judge & actively calling yourself ‘a writer’ takes a great deal of courage. I have learned that adults will be polite and encouraging regardless of what they really think but children are gut wrenchingly honest, both with their body language and their comments. When I first read Wobbly Boots to a classroom of children, I learned more in 10 minutes than a week of writing workshops … brutal and inspiring all at once!

What and when was your first acceptance? How did you feel?

In retrospect, the publication of my first two picture books, Wobbly Boots and The Hair Ball were bitter sweet. The years of rejection letters and the resulting self-doubt most emerging authors experience can make you vulnerable when it comes to signing your first contract. It’s not always easy to judge the integrity of others in the publishing industry or understand the dynamics of the whole process but I guess like most experiences in life, once bitten twice shy … it’s part of the journey.

What is your favourite genre to write? Why?

I absolutely love writing middle grade fiction, particularly contemporary humour which will engage primary aged boys in the delights of getting lost in the adventure of a book. As a teacher I see so many boys disengaged from reading, you know the ones who just think that if they are holding a book you will be fooled into thinking they are reading! There is nothing more rewarding as a teacher than guiding those children to find books and authors that they grow to love.

How long have you been writing? And what have you written?

I have been writing for about 8 years and have published poetry and two picture books so far, Wobbly Boots & The Hair Ball, but I am finding an easy connection to middle grade fiction, possibly because I am one of 12 children and as a teacher I am surrounded by this age group every day.

Of your own work – do you have a favourite? Why is it your favourite?

Wobbly Boots is dear to me because it deals with a young child’s emotional journey when the adults they love make poor choices. The concept was born out of witnessing the pain young children find themselves in and if this publication helps even one child make sense of their world and come to a place of healing and forgiveness then it was all worth it.

What is your favourite genre to read? Why?

I would choose a middle grade novel over adult fiction any day. I enjoy the odd well written autobiography but when it comes to fiction, the mindset of a child is so much more fertile and receptive to unpredictable or unconventional plot lines. Maybe I’m just immature!

Do you have a favourite author?

Authors – Tim Winton for his beautifully complex characters, Shaun Tan for his ability to present such a fresh perspective, Julia Donaldson for her delightful rhyme and metre and Andy Griffiths for his wicked humour.

Did/do you have any writing heroes or mentors?

There are few ‘real’ modern day heroes these days but Andy Griffiths is definitely one. He is humble in his success and generous with his advice for fellow writers. An inspiration to so many children, Andy is living proof that a super-man needs neither height, muscles, fake tan or perfect hair to succeed in life and make the world a better place.

How do they encourage you?

By being willing to be accessible to fans and writers regardless of age or where you are on your writing journey.

Do you write full time?

I wish! I don’t believe the industry as a whole supports the concept of a full time writer, it’s just a romantic notion … a myth. Most writers have an alternate paid job, be it inside or outside the industry, for financial support or at the very least, a wage earning spouse.

What are your other jobs?

I teach primary aged children which enables me to be immersed on a daily basis in the language, emotions and interactions of children who are the same age as my characters. It provides me with a rich pool of ideas, a sounding board for plot lines and gives me instant feedback chapter by chapter.

Have you ever won an award/s or been shortlisted? What was it for?

The Hair Ball was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards in 2014 and I have several manuscripts which placed very well in the CYA Conference Competition in the last couple of years.

Do you belong to any professional organisations? What are they and how do they help you?

The ASA & SCBWI provide me with what I see as a safety net of professional advice and a broad range of opportunities to develop my craft.

Do you participate in writing workshops as a student? Which ones were memorable?

Workshops run by Sally Rippin, Karen Tayleur and Alison Lester were all memorable for the honest way they shared their writing journey as all of them have worked hard for the success they have achieved.

How might you be contacted in relation to running workshops or for school visits?


We all know that would be writers should read and write as much as possible – do you have any other advice?

I keep a reading journal and write down all my thoughts about a book as soon as I finish reading it. Publishing details, what worked and what didn’t, if I related to the characters and felt emotionally invested in the storyline. I reflected back though this when I am editing manuscripts to help me compare the calibre of my work to texts which publishers obviously felt were marketable.

How might people find you? Website, Blog, Facebook etc.


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