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….
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.
So you’ve written your children’s story. You’ve polished it until it shines and now comes the daunting task of looking for a publisher.
I’ve tried to take the sting out of this step by scouring the internet to find a list of Australian Children’s Book Publishers currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Now what do I mean by unsolicited manuscripts (or mss for short)? If a publisher solicits a manuscript what that means is that they approach you and ask you to send it to them. An unsolicited manuscript is one that they haven’t specifically asked for.
There are lots of websites out there with lists and lists of publishers however when you sit down and start clicking through you find that links are broken or wrong, that trade publishers are mixed up with vanity publishers or that they only accept manuscripts from agents. It’s a time consuming job and we all know that time is money.
Inside this PDF is a list, in alphabetical order of 18 Australian Publishers of Children’s Books who are actively looking for your mss. The list comes complete with a short summary of what is being sought and a direct (non-broken) link to their guidelines page. For the small price of $5.00 this compilation will save you much frustration and more importantly, time. Time much better spent writing a new story.
So if you wish to purchase this little gem – look to your right, scroll down a bit and find the PayPal button link in the margin. If you’d prefer not to pay with PayPal you can email me – email@example.com for my bank details.
Every week in PASS IT ON I hunt down an inspirational quote. Last week I included a quote by Harriett Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
Earlier that day, so last Monday (25th June) I received my copy of The School Magazine (Orbit) that contained a poem of mine called The Crows.
This poem had been accepted for publication five years ago, and while I hadn’t forgotten about it completely, it certainly wasn’t something that was on my mind and so came as a lovely suprise when it finally did arrive, rekindling that spark that I felt was beginning to fade. I think this is why I chose that particular quote because it really resonated with me and helped me to remember why I write in the first place, because I love playing with words, I love their sounds, their shapes, their ability to stir up emotions, their musicality, their beauty and their power.
As you know, earlier this year I received a Maurice Saxby Mentorship. I received this mentorship for one reason only – I applied for one. If I hadn’t applied I would have had no chance at all. I read another quote the other day, not sure who said it but it went something like…
To increase your success rate you must double your failure rate.
This is something that I think I had forgotten until quite recently. Appying for the mentorship was the first challenge I’d set myself in a long time. I’d been resting on my laurels, content with past successes yet knowing that I needed to take the next step if I was ever to realize my dream.
Another quote that comes to mind…
Nothing succeeds like success.
Which brings me to why I have written this post titled NEVER GIVE UP.
On Tuesday 26th June, I received a phone call. THE phone call. The one that we writers all dream of receiving one day. The one that takes your breath away, that puts jelly in your legs and tears in your eyes. The one that makes you so, so glad that you never gave up. THAT phone call.
And now I can call myself author!
So if any of you reading this have found yourself feeling less than enthusiastic about the direction in which your writing is going – step outside your comfort zone, do something different, something new, something scary. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable, allow yourself to fail but whatever you do… DON’T EVER, EVER, EVER GIVE UP!!
Once again I’d like to thank everyone who contributed this week and I’d also like to post that I am on the hunt for children’s book illustrators to profile. If you’re looking for exposure PIO is the place to hang out. Many Australian children’s book publishers subscribe to PIO and your illustration is the first thing they see on a Monday morning. Please do get in touch or pass on this call to any illustrators that you know.
And if you don’t yet subscribe to PIO, at $38/per year (80 cents/week) – it’s got to be the best valued newsletter around.
I’ve always written. One of my greatest treasures is my Grade 3 English book with the puppy dog sticker on the front – and a jumble of fantastical stories and glittery stickers inside. The bigger and more glittery your sticker, the better your work – and I still feel the thump of my eight-year-old heart when I run my hand over a particular sticker of some kids riding a 1960s ferris wheel, bespangled with glitz and covering a full half-page.
Hang literary awards – that sticker is one of my greatest literary achievements, ever.
Since my grade-three tales, I’ve spent many years writing in many genre. In 1995 I had my first book published with Hodder Headline (You Name It, a non-fiction adult book) and over the decades have had countless magazine and online articles published, but it was only since having kids that my attention turned to the children’s book genre.
I have a wee bit of an obsession with kids’ books, truth be told. I love the pictures. I love the stories that colour in our kids’ brains like an activity book and a box full of crayons. I love fun children’s books, traditional ones, magical ones, educational and just plain nonsense ones. I even love the smell of them.
But what a dream to actually publish your own children’s picture book. What a dream to see the contents of your head down on paper; flickable. What a dream to entrance and inspire children in any way, shape or form. But how to make this dream a reality?
I’ve received enough publisher rejection slips to pâpier maché the Outback. There’s been a lot of despair, frustration and tears shed in this writer’s lifetime, trust me, but forging ahead despite setbacks is relatively ‘easy’ because I love to write. I need to write.
In 2005, whilst on post in China with my family, I finally found myself in a position to write full time – and in 2008, I finished penning a picture book called Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing. I was tempted to send it to Australian publishers but after spending many years watching time slide away – with naught but “we’re considering, we’ll get back to you in 8-12 weeks” slips in the mail, I decided to do something out of the ordinary – I decided to publish myself.
The self-publishing process, at first glance, is most certainly overwhelming. Now that I have four successful self-published books in the bag, the single most frequent question I hear is “but how did you do it?”.
I must admit, when I first passed thought to self-publishing Riley and the Sleeping Dragon, my head was swamped with an enormous ocean and there was that original, ambitious thought, bobbing in the centre of that ocean – a teensy speck amongst the galloping waves.
Where to start? Who what when where how?
So, I took small steps. I’ve written and edited countless articles and manuscripts and I have to say there is not much more valuable than the opinion of someone you respect. I asked some brutally honest people to read my manuscript and the feedback was good.
Shortly afterwards, I took it to the most important critics of all – the kids. The test audience reaction was also excellent. So far, so good.
Next was researching the target market. I needed to understand who the book was for (the English-speaking expat community in China was my initial focus, with Australian children a target for when I returned home), and what ages and what genre the book fell into. Because the project was so large and I was doing it on my own, my main focus was penetrating the expat community in China, and as a well-known family matters columnist and features editor for several English language magazines, I was fortunate to have a high level of exposure and marketing aid, not only in Beijing but other major Chinese cities.
I also needed to seek a niche. As a multi-media book combining scenic photos, graphics, photos of objects and cartoon illustrations, I knew the layout of the book was unusual. I also knew the travelogue style was unique and therefore felt confident it would attract attention in an oversaturated market. I honestly feel that seeking a solid niche is vital for new books to stand out.
Gathering the basics to actually publish the book was very straight forward. I easily sourced ISBNs, barcodes and the info required for my Cataloguing in Publication Entry data. All done by email.
Whilst waiting for these things to arrive, I sourced an illustrator online. I used a Canadian whose work was good but whose time management skills and demands sent me into a flying panic close to book launch time. Finding the right illustrator is absolutely crucial – not only for their talent and style, but for the author/illustrator relationship. I later found a new artist for subsequent books in the Riley series – and Canberra-based Kieron Pratt is an author’s dream (plus, he just happens to make me laugh hysterically on a regular basis).
Once I began working the manuscript into picture form, I found I needed to buy new software (Adobe Illustrator) in order to create print-ready files. Learning how to implement and use this software was vital, and I’m still learning how to use it effectively, four books later.
Whilst working on the book files, I began researching how to list my books with Nielsen Book Data and Global Books in Print, and began contacting both the media and literature organisations such as the Children’s Book Council of Australia, various state writing centres, the Australian School Library Association and others.
During this time, I located a reliable printer (in Beijing). Shopping around for the right one is crucial – and for my second and third Riley books, I sourced a fantastic Australian printer whose prices were highly competitive, without compromising quality.
I was very nervous about bringing Riley and the Sleeping Dragon home to Australia. I spent countless hours researching and implementing how to get my book into the mainstream market here, and was enormously grateful to be taken on by a major book distributor – Dennis Jones & Associates – who now carry all four of my self-published books.
Since releasing Riley and the Dancing Lion: A journey around Hong Kong (2009) and Riley and the Curious Koala: A journey around Sydney (2010), I’ve tirelessly promoted all three of my Riley books at countless schools, libraries, clubs and events – not to mention online. This is vital for self-publishers and it really is full time work.
I began constructing teachers’ notes for my books, and wrote teaching modules on book writing and publishing, to be presented with book readings at schools. I even implemented a successful Writer in Residence programme at a Canberra school that mimicked the production of the book.
I was and still am ceaseless in my efforts to promote my beloved travelogue series. It’s been incredibly hard work, but I’ve always been driven by an insatiable desire to create educational, enchanting and beautiful books for children. When Paul Collins expressed the desire to take on Book Four in the series (Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne), I wondered if perhaps my self-publishing journey was coming to an end.
Letting go of creating, producing and publishing my own books is a bittersweet thought. I’ve loved every moment and have taken great pride in this intense and incredibly overwhelming journey, but I also know if I want to write more books, I need the time (and energy!) to write them. Having Ford Street take on Grumpy Wombat not only takes my work to a whole other level, it affords me greater time to write – and I’m already working on Book Five which will be set in Canberra and involves a very jumpy kangaroo.
Whether you are a published author or a hopeful newbie, the prime consideration in any publishing journey is to be prepared to work tirelessly and passionately to implement the birth of your work. Whether it’s via the traditional publishing route or the self-publishing slog, the dream is possible. Just don’t wake me up.
Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey around Melbourne
Tania McCartney, illustrations by Kieron Pratt, A$22.95, hardcover
Riley and the Grumpy Wombat – A journey around Melbourne was such fun to read being a Melbourne girl. And Riley is such a cute character. Beginning his adventure making mud pies (I loved making mud pies) in his Nanny’s garden, the helpful soul is determined to find out why the resident, fleeing wombat is so grumpy.
Aboard his red plane Riley and co. fly around Melbourne searching for the grumpy wombat.
The book then continues with Riley’s red plane superimposed onto gorgeous black and white photographs of Melbourne and Victoria.
I was particularly fond of this one as I made the sea change about 12 years ago and adore having this view in my back yard.
Children will thoroughly enjoy gliding around in Riley’s red plane discovering the Victorian treasures not realising that they are absorbing a geography lesson as they do so.
And of course the book ends happily with Riley finding the wombat back in Nanny’s backyard, not grumpy in her burrow but lazing in the lap of luxury, in a brand new mud villa!
Too funny 🙂
Short Author Bio
Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction. Tania lives in Canberra with a husband, two kidlets and a mountain of books.
Riley has discovered a wombat in his nanny’s garden. But why is this furry creature so grumpy? Join Riley and his friends from books one, two and three, as they zoom around the stunning sights of Melbourne in search of a wombat that simply needs a place to call home.
Featuring gorgeous black and white photos of Melbourne and surrounds, Riley and the Grumpy Wombat combines photos, illustrations, adorable characters, humour and an adventuresome storyline in a travelogue-style book that showcases Melbourne at its very best.
In this week’s PIO we profile illustrator Christina Bollenbach as she showcases an illustration from her picture book A Monster for Lukas.
We highlight the 2012 National Year of Reading ‘soft launch’ at Bialik College, in Melbourne with patron William McInnes, Reading Ambassadors Alison Lester and Hazel Edwards.
We list 14 special events of interest to children’s writers and illustrators including festivals, books launches, blog tours and talks.
We include a writing opportunity for educational authors, two competitions and a number of workshops.
Dee White writes on whether or not to go to conferences and author Tania McCartney is profiled.
We include 5 new book reviews and list some very useful blogs and websites.
Tomorrow Tania McCartney will be visiting this blog as part of her Riley and the Grumpy Wombat Blog Tour where she will be discussing her self publishing journey.
I will also include a review of her book along with a chance for you to receive a free copy of Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne.
Once again I’d like to thank everyone who contributed industry news to this week’s PIO and if you are not yet a subscriber and would like to see a copy of this week’s issue please do get in touch. At 75cents/week you can’t afford to be without it.