PASS IT ON · Writing

Meet the writer – Deborah Kelly

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

The illustrators’ interviews, once they have been featured in the ezine, are uploaded onto this blog.

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….

Deborah Kelly

This interview first appeared in PASS IN ON on Tuesday 15th March 2016 – issue 577


Tell us a bit about yourself

I grew up on a farm in New Zealand where my family grew green beans and garlic. I moved to Australia when I was sixteen but have also lived in Scotland and Japan. I have a degree in Marine Biology. I love to swim and I practice yoga every day.
I live in NSW with my husband, two children and a very mischievous dog.

When did you know that you were a writer?

I can’t recall ever not being a writer! I remember writing poems, stories and letters from a very young age. And I always kept diaries-when I was at school, while I travelled and when I became a mother for the first time. I’ve done all sorts of jobs but whatever I have done and wherever I have been, writing has always been there in the background-like a reliable friend.

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?

When I was seven I wrote my first series of ‘picture books’ about a prince called Puku (I grew up in New Zealand and the word ‘puku’ is Maori for belly!). On the back of each book I drew two columns: Name and Comment. Friends and family were allowed to read each story and write a comment but I insisted it be in pencil ONLY (just in case someone wrote a bad review)! Just as well the comments were all nice-otherwise I might not have kept writing!

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

In 2012 I participated in a ‘pitch to the publishers’ session at the NSW Writers’ Centre. I had precisely two minutes (they had a timer!) to pitch my story to a panel of publishers. I pitched a story I’d written about my Nana, who was a Hungarian refugee. An editor from Random House contacted me a day or two later wanting to meet in Sydney to discuss the manuscript. Random House decided to publish Jam for Nana. They also took another picture book text I had written which became The Bouncing Ball. I was on cloud nine for weeks!

You write stories in a range of formats-which do you prefer and why?

I have written short stories, picture books, chapter books and educational readers for kids.
I love all of these forms and enjoy switching back and forth between them as each offer their own challenges and rewards.
I am enjoying writing the Ruby Wishfingers series because the longer format has enabled me to explore my characters in more depth-both within each book and across the series.


What have you written?

My picture books include The Bouncing Ball (Random House 2013), Jam for Nana (Random House 2014) Dinosaur Disco(Random House 2015). I have two more picture books due out next year; Me and You (Penguin 2017) and an untitled picture book with EK Books (2017).




I have written short stories for Random House’s Stories for Boys and Stories for Girls collections. I also have a story in Hunter Anthologies’ Sproutlings collection which is released in April this year.

I have also written books for the educational market: Sam’s Great Invention (Macmillan Education 2013) and Don’t Sweat It (Macmillan Education 2013)

I recently completed the first three books in a junior fiction series called Ruby Wishfingers for Wombat Books.  Ruby Wishfingers: Skydancer’s Escape was released on March 1st this year. Ruby Wishfingers 2: Toad-ally Magic and the third book in the Ruby Wishfingers series will both come out this year.

In addition to writing for children, I write Haiku poetry which has been published in various forms from magazines to anthologies to interactive maps. My own collection Haiku Journey was published in 2015. I wrote it during the two years I spent living and working in Japan.

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

All of them are special to me but my favourite tends to be the one I’m currently working on because that is where my heart is at that time.

What are you currently working on?      

I have almost finished writing the third book in the Ruby Wishfingers series for Wombat Books. I plan to work on a couple of picture book texts next and after that I would like to explore an idea I have for a middle grade novel.

Do you have a favourite children’s book?

There are so many fantastic children’s books out there that I find it impossible to pick just one favourite.

My favourite chapter book as a child was Maurice Gee’s ‘The World Around the Corner’. I loved the idea that a whole other world existed right in the middle of suburban New Zealand.

More recently, Morris Gleitzman’s Once, Then, Now, After series left a lasting impact on me.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

Jeanette Winterson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini and Markus Zsusak are some of my favourite authors of books for adults.

My favourite children’s authors include Morris Gleitzman, Aaron Blabey, Margaret Wild, Jackie French, Maurice Gee and of course Roald Dahl.

Who has helped you along your writing journey?

So many people have helped me along my writing journey.
Teachers, librarians, friends and family members, my agent, fellow authors and illustrators. The editors and publishers who believed in my work and have taught me so much. Not to mention all the parents, grandparents and kids who come along to my events, buy or borrow my books and take the time to let me know they enjoyed them. It means so much to a writer, especially on days when they are plagued with self-doubt!
Some people say it takes a whole village to raise a child. I believe that it takes a whole community to support an author!

Do you mentor others? What do you do?

I work as a mentor for the Hunter Writers’ Centre in Newcastle. I enjoy meeting other writers and helping where I can. I run Haiku poetry workshops for kids. I love to encourage creativity in children through my workshops- it comes so naturally to them and its such an important thing to hold onto.

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

I am an active member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Newcastle Sub-branch. The CBCA provides a wonderful opportunity to mix with other local authors, illustrators, librarians and teachers-or anyone else interested in children’s books. The CBCA also provides plenty of opportunities for authors to promote their work and also to give back to the community. I have found it to be a great source of encouragement and support in what can be quite a tough industry. I have also made some wonderful friends through the CBCA.

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

I have attended many writing workshops and am always on the lookout for more.
The first one I attended was run by Margaret Hamilton at Pinerolo, her picture book cottage in the Blue Mountains. We sat around the fire eating a beautiful Italian lunch Margaret had made, talked about picture books and listened to Dee Huxley give us a fascinating insight into the illustrator’s world. It was a wonderful introduction to the world of picture books!
I have attended many courses at the NSW Writers’ Centre in Rozelle including a wonderful workshop by Jacqueline Harvey who talked about her bestselling Alice Miranda books. I have also attended workshops at the Hunter Writers’ Centre here in Newcastle. Kerri Lane’s workshop ‘Writing for the Educational Market’ introduced me to a completely different part of the publishing industry.

Do you run writing workshops? What do you include? 

I run a fun-filled, hands on Haiku Poetry writing workshop for primary school aged students which includes a Japanese morning or afternoon tea!

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

I frequently visit schools, literary festivals and libraries to talk about writing and to share my books.
Please visit my website
Or Facebook page:
And be sure to check out Ruby Wishfingers’ own website, full of fun activities and resources relating to the books, as well as teachers notes and information for parents.


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

Learn how to take constructive criticism from those in the know. Attend as many writers’ festivals and author run workshops as you can. And join your local CBCA branch-it’s a fabulous source of information and support!

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