Today I welcome Felicity Banks to the blog. Felicity is a Canberra author specialising in fantasy and interactive fiction, including her Antipodean Queen fantasy steampunk series, which is also published by Odyssey Books.
The Monster Apprentice is the first in a new series you’re writing. What is the story behind this story/ what inspired it?
I think the story behind The Monster Apprentice might be longer than the book itself but here goes! When I was eighteen years old, I lived in Indonesia for six months. One day, while listening to a sermon (obviously not very attentively) I had the idea of inventing my own fantasy world—something that was different to the overwhelming majority of fantasy novels (ie written by white men and set in a place somewhat like Great Britain). I invented Rahana that day: a tropical archipelago like Indonesia, with a wide range of different cultures and traditions (so I could set all kinds of different books there), and with a magical system that made physical strength irrelevant.
I wrote a book set in that world, then turned that book into a trilogy. Years later, after writing the entire young adult trilogy, I went to New Zealand to travel on the Young Endeavour sail training vessel. Who says research isn’t fun?
While staying in Christchurch before the voyage, I ran out of sightseeing money and decided to stay where I was and write a kids’ book set in Rahana. The first draft of The Monster Apprentice was written by hand in ten days. I was staying in a backpacker within sight of the famous Christchurch Cathedral (this was more than ten years ago, before the earthquake), and I’d walk down to the Botanic Gardens and write there. I asked for a discount at the backpacker in exchange for a future book dedication—and they said yes.
The book has changed a lot since then. Captain Sol didn’t even exist until after I’d gone on a tall ship myself.
Naturally, The Monster Apprentice turned into a trilogy too. The Princess and the Pirate will be released in early 2019, and Waking Dead Mountain in 2020.
Is it illustrated? If so, who by?
Yes! My publisher, Odyssey Books, has an imprint specifically for beautiful novelty books for adults, and one of those books is Makeshift Galaxy, which is stunning. When I asked to have Tash Turgoose illustrate my kids’ trilogy, the publisher said, ‘Yes!’ and the rest is history! She does amazing pencil drawings. It actually looks like my magical world has been photographed.
What age group is this series aimed at?
It’s middle grade, meaning it’s written for 10-14 year olds—but having said that, it’s a story that I’d enjoy reading as a 36-year old. I asked the amazing Australian children’s author, Sandy Fussell, to write a cover quote for me, and was stunned when she said yes. I enjoy reading her children’s books for my own pleasure, and I like to think mine are also in that class of being an excellent book for any age.
What drew you to writing for this age? Or was it just that the story you wrote fit that age group?
Ooh, good question! I usually write young adult books, because they tend to be faster-moving and more optimistic than “adult” books. Children’s books share those qualities, and are also gentler on the emotions (usually!) so that appealed. At the time I’d been thinking about writing for Penguin’s “Aussie Chomps” series. That, plus knowing I was due to set sail in ten days, meant a shorter book made sense for me at the time.
Why do you enjoy writing for that age group?
I’m fascinated by coming-of-age stories, and the idea of deciding who you and and/or who you want to be. It’s a classic theme for non-adult books, but I think we’re all constantly figuring out who we are, and that’s a great thing to write about.
How will you be celebrating the release of your book?
With a free pirate ball! Here in Canberra there’s an amazing dance group called the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy that runs a themed ball every month. I contacted them asking for a pirate-themed ball in February, with a free half hour at the beginning. They said yes, and the rest is history!
Three Fun Facts:
Blurb about The Monster Apprentice:
The only weapon Dance has is her name.
When pirates threaten the tiny hidden island of Luar, Dance knows her home has only one hope of survival: the magical monsters that killed her twin sister.
Dance loses her friends one by one as she attempts to prepare her strange apprentices for the showdown between monsters and pirates. Can she do it alone?
The Monster’s Apprentice is a powerful story of looking at the world differently and finding an answer in an unexpected place.
Felicity Banks is a Canberra author specialising in fantasy and interactive fiction, including her Antipodean Queen fantasy steampunk series, which is also published by Odyssey Books. All her interactive fiction is listed under “Felicity Banks” at Interactive Fiction Data Base (IFDB): Felicity Banks and most of her interactive fiction can be read via an app.
Where to find Felicity Banks:
Facebook: Felicity Banks Books
Book Launch Event Page: Free Mini-ball and book launch
Illustrator: Tash Turgoose
Book Trailer: The Monster Apprentice
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Adam Wallace likes to march to the beat of his own drum. Hilariously funny, I managed to get him serious for a few heartbeats.
Megan: Hellooooo, Adam. Are you there?
Adam: Ready when you are!
Megan: Let's dive right on in, shall we?
Adam: Let's do it!
Megan: In your life before writing fulltime, what did you do?
Adam: Haha! Wow! We really are straight into it!
Megan: Oh, yeah!
Adam: Okay, well, to cut a long story shortish sort of, I had about twenty jobs, but the main things after school were not writing for ten years and becoming an engineer! Yes, I am a numbers nerd! I did that for a while, then got a Primary Teaching Diploma of Education or grad dip, or dipping sauce, I don't know, something that let me teach, and then from there I morphed into writing children's books!
I must also warn you I am currently working on a book called Weird, so my answers may get a little crazy!
Megan: Thanks for the warning. I’m now prepared for the answer to my next question. How exactly did morphing from engineer to primary school teaching to children's book author look like?
Adam: Haha well I guess it was a cross between Mission Impossible and X-Men and the Incredible Hulk, who is my favourite Avenger, and I actually had a pair of Hulk jeans when I was a kid. I was missing the muscles, but I had the jeans.
Anyhoo, I would do a flow chart to show you, but don't know how, so basically, I was bored as an engineer, didn't have motivation to go further with it as a career, and wanted to work with kids, or play golf. I started writing and what came naturally was rhyming children's stories. I loooooooved it, and started writing every day.
And also bought The Artist's Way, which I recommend to everyone in the world, no matter what you do.
From there I went back to Uni and did my teaching degree, while still engineering, and on my rounds and in my assignments, I wrote and did rhymes and one assignment was to write and illustrate a kid's book, and I loved it. I put more into that than any assignment I had ever done, and I still have that book today! So that writing led to more writing and more submissions and many rejections and finally books!
That last sentence was 8 years in one sentence. And people say I waffle on!
Megan: I love The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. It was an essential part for me diving into the world of illustration. Julia has certainly made an impact across the globe in the wold of creativity. And it's that whole ripple effect too.
Adam: Yes, I love the ripple effect! The butterfly effect freaks me out a little, but the ripple effect is amazing. Especially in creative fields, where this leads to that leads to something else. Even with the book I am working on now, I will write something that will spark something else and suddenly I am doing things that never crossed my mind in the initial draft.
I think a creative career is like that as well. When you get started, things happen. If you sit around, nothing does.
“I think a creative career is like that as well.
Megan: I love how a spark can leads to another thing, and that leads to something unexpected and a complete surprise.
So, it took you eight years to break into the industry. And I noticed you’ve self-published, partner published, and traditionally published. Can you talk us through how you made the decision to self-publish, partner publish, and traditional publish? Was it depending on the individual book? Or were other factors involved?
Adam: Hmmmm. Okay. Well there are a few answers to this. I will try and not waffle ... mmmmm, waffles.
I initially self-published because I was working with kids and reading them my stories and was feeling confident they were liking them (except for the time I read a story to two kids and halfway through they got up and walked off!!!).
Megan: Kids don't try and be polite about how they feel about something. They tell you straight up. Honesty. Love it.
Adam: Definitely! And as creative people, yes men are no good to us at all! We need to know if something isn't working, or we can head down the wrong path for a long time. Not all advice is going to be right for what we want, but at least it needs to be honest.
Adam: However, publishers weren't as keen on the stories as the kids were, and I built up around 150 rejections over 5 years.
That helped me decide to self-publish to 1) Actually have a book rather than just hundreds of stories on my computer and 2) Show the publishers there was a market for these stories. So, I borrowed a little cash off Dad and got an illustrator - you may have heard of him ... Heath McKenzie? He's done some stuff since.
I printed 2000 copies of Better Out Than In and set about selling them. I sold the 2000 in around a year or so, which was awesome, and then I heard a whisper that a publisher was looking to start doing children's books. This was JoJo Publishing. I submitted, they accepted, and they offered me either a traditional or a partner publishing option. I went for Partner. We redid Better Out Than In, and then I did another 7 books with JoJo’s. It didn't end so well, but they really gave me a start when no one else would, and I am forever grateful to them for giving me that chance!
While all this was going on, I was still submitting to other publishers, but they weren't interested, so I also started self-publishing some little how to draw books, which went offfffff! They are now the backbone of my writing business, and so I continue to self-publish them because they are going so well. I have also done freelance books, basically pay for hire work, for Hinkler Books and now for Sourcebooks in the USA, which has also been amazing!
With traditional publishing, the choice to do that was made when Paul Collins at Ford St took me on, and again I am so grateful to him for that as well. I met Paul, and after a while he came to me with a style of book he wanted, and so I wrote and illustrated that for him and we were away!
Megan: You’ve certainly come a long way since your JoJo publishing days. Your book, How to Catch an Easter Bunny was read out at Trump’s first Easter Egg Roll in 2017. You’ve also hit the New York Best Seller list several times, and some of your books like, Spark, have received awards. Can you explain what these experiences were like?
Adam: Oh wow, all of those things were AMAZING and bizarre and exciting. Especially the Easter Egg Roll thing. I had no idea it had even happened, and to this day don't know how it did! I have had different reactions. The Easter thing was laughing and telling everyone, the bestseller list was so awesome and, in a way, a nice justification that I was on the right track.
For a long time, I had been told that my books only sold because I was selling them, so for these books to reach the Bestseller list without me doing anything aside from writing them was really nice and made me feel like I was actually writing books that worked, regardless of if I was there telling people about them and jumping around like a crazy person.
Spark was amazing. I actually burst into tears with that one, because it was dedicated to my grandmother, who was also a writer, and who actually had some of her stories illustrated by Mirka Moira! So, Spark was inspired by an experience I had with her, and was totally written for her and in a way with her, so for us to be recognised for our book together was incredible. And I can't thank Andrew Plant enough for his paintings/illustrations that brought the book to life.
Megan: I love Spark, and yes. The illustrations are so amazing and evocative, and to have Spark which is so important to you to be recognized in that way is fabulous. Did these accolades make your next manuscript easily accepted, or do you still get the odd rejection letter?
Adam: Haha! No! I get rejection letters still! What I have found is that the accolades give me more exposure, which is incredible, and so it gets a bit of a foot in the door and gets me out of the slush pile (sometimes). But the publishers still have to like what I write, and it still has to fit with their vision and mission. So, I still get rejections!
But rejections can also be opportunities! The How to Draw books, for example. They were rejected all around and have now sold over 70,000 copies! Or ones I did with JoJos that got rejected everywhere else, did really well and in fact are still going well now! So, it is definitely worth persisting, especially if you really love something you have written.
Megan: And that is what is comes down to, doesn’t it? Doing what you love. Believing in your work. And persisting. And you’ve certainly shown all that in bucket loads. There is so many ways to get your work out into the world now.
Adam: It totally comes down to that. I mean, sometimes we still have to take a look and realise that perhaps a certain piece of work just isn't good enough, but, also, sometimes a rejection doesn't mean that at all. It just means it either needs work or it isn't the right time or place for that story.
Megan: At KidLitVic-meet the publishers last year, you were described as the publishers’ author. You have the qualities as an author that they love to see. What qualities are they?
Adam: Oh, yes! That was a funny experience, and really nice and made me blush at the same time. Well, the things Paul was talking about at KidLit were the fact that I am prepared to put in the slog. The glory is great, but you have to do the slog, get out there and show kids your work, and let them get to know you as a person as well as a book making guy.
Social media and computer stuff is great, but for me face-to-face is the best! I do school visits and go to craft markets and look, to be honest, I love being with the kids, it gives me energy and inspiration, and I can fully be myself. Also, I think I am quick. I can write and draw quickly and with quality, so deadlines are very rarely an issue. I like to get my work in fast so that there is then time to work on it with the publisher and make it as awesome as possible for the kids, who are the only ones who matter in the end, I believe.
Megan: You are so right. We need to be able to stand back from our work and cast a critical eye over it and see if what they say has merit, and we need to put in the hard slog and persist.
And your comment about school visits is a nice segue into my next question. Besides writing disgustingly funny stories, you make visits to schools around Melbourne. You just said that you ‘love author visits because I love being with the kids, it gives me energy, and I can fully be myself."
What do you think makes your author visits memorable? And what advice would you give authors considering author visits?
Adam: I really want to ride on a Segway ... just sayin'.
Well, I think what makes my visits memorable are that I bring hiiiiiigh energy, and really try and engage with the kids. My visits have morphed like the Hulk over the years, and now I have found a nice mix that works well. There is a lot of interaction with the kids, they get to tell stories and use writing techniques that I use, and we also draw pictures and have lots of laughs.
And I think that probably the main thing is that what I do is fun, and it is achievable, and with kids, especially those who find reading, writing, and drawing a chore, or too hard, or think they can't do it, that is a massive key; letting them see they can have fun and come out of it with something they never thought they could achieve. It's awesome for them and it's awesome and a massive buzz for me as well.
In terms of advice for other authors, pretty much the biggest thing is be yourself. I jump around and get a little crazy and really try and wind up the kids, but if you aren’t someone that feels comfortable doing that sort of thing, don't do it! Be you! That is what should be coming across in your books, and also in your presentations, or workshops. If you are you, and comfortable in that, it will come across and that will relax the kids as well.
And the other thing would be to get the kids involved. Don't just get up and talk at them for an hour. I did that at the start and bored myself and the kids to tears.
Megan: I love doing author visits and having fun with the kids. I’m not a live wire like yourself. But, I think that if they can see you are passionate about what you do, they’ll catch that too. And I apparently get really fired up about story writing.
Adam: Haha! That is awesome!!! You getting fired up about it will get them fired up too ... maybe not all of them, but that's okay as well. And you're exactly right about the passion. Fun and energy can be all sorts of different things, it doesn't have to be right out there. Some people have props, some sing songs, some tell stories, some are passionate about writing, and some are really low key but the kids have a ball and love what they hear and do.
I think connecting with the kids is the key. Even fun without connection will bore them in the end.
"I think connecting with the kids is the key.
Megan: So true. Nearly finished, Adam.
I love hearing about the courageous acts of others. And I’m not talking about saving someone or being heroic. I’m talking about feeling afraid of doing something and doing it anyway. Do you have a personal story of courage? Something that you felt you had to do but felt so freaking afraid you thought you’d pee your pants, but you did it anyway.
Adam: Oh man, well there was the time I needed to pee my pants, and I was scared that if I did I would get into trouble, and then I did it anyway ... and I got into trouble. But aside from that!
Oh man, it happens all the time! In terms of physically, I have bungy jumped and done sky-diving and things like that which were terrifying. But there are also things like speaking in front of hundreds of people when I am naturally shy, or sending off my first story, or doing my first interview, or being open and honest even though I know it will cause conflict.
I get scared all the time, professionally and personally, but I love the saying that courage isn't the absence of fear, but feeling it and doing it anyway, and I try and live by that. I got a tattoo of the word YES, because I want to be someone who, even if they're scared, says YES and goes for it anyway.
Fear has its place, don't get me wrong, fear is a safety mechanism, but if it controls us and stops us doing what we love or being who we want to be, then we have to overcome it and say YES!
Megan: I agree with 100% with your statement, Adam. And I live by that motto too. ‘Courage is not the absence of fear but feeling it and doing it anyway.’ Here’s to saying, ‘YES!’
Megan: Finally, three fun facts about you.
Three Fun Facts about Adam:
Haha! Oh, wow, okay ...
Megan: Yay! Brilliant. Thanks so much for the chat today, Adam. You have been so generous with your time and sharing your experiences with others. It’s been a blast.
Adam: My pleasure, thanks so much for letting me play!
Just for fun:
Megan: One of my top posts for 2017 was 5 Ways Zombies Can Inspire You. Adam wrote the book, Zombie Inspiration, which I read and ultimately blogged about what I gained from that book. Check it out if you'd like, and be inspired to say, 'Yes!'
About Adam Wallace:
Adam Wallace is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author who writes children's books and sometimes really boring books for adults that he never shows to anyone. Ever. So don't ask.
Adam has had 45 books published, and he writes and draws every single day ... which is lucky, because he's an author and cartoonist, so writing and drawing is kind of important.
Adam dreams of a world where children read and write for pleasure, and where people never say, 'I can't draw.'
Places on the internet to find Adam:
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On my blog you will find:
You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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