I'm happy to introduce Elizabeth Foster and her debut novel for tweens, Esme's Wish, as a part of her Books On Tour promotion. Esme’s Wish is a fantasy novel, which I had the privilege read prior to release and I adore it.
Megan: Good morning, Elizabeth. Shall we begin?
Elizabeth: Hi! Fire away with the questions.
Megan: When did you know that you were a writer?
Elizabeth: I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but didn’t know what, so I put it on the back burner and focused on raising my children instead. I loved books but never dreamed I would write one.
When I first started writing Esme’s Wish, my sister, who was also writing at the time, asked me if I thought I was now a writer. I said I didn’t really know. What I did know, deep inside – don’t ask me how – was that if I worked hard and never gave up, I would get there one day.
Megan: Wow! So, Esme’s Wish was your first book. I just wanted to let you know how much I loved Esme’s Wish. As I wrote in my review on Goodreads, Esme’s Wish should come with a warning not to start reading before bed, especially if you have to get up early.
Esme’s Wish, published by Odyssey Books, is your first novel. Where did the inspiration for Esme’s Wish come from?
Elizabeth: Thanks, Megan. I feel both guilty and glad that you lost sleep over it! I first got the idea after I finished reading the Harry Potter series. I loved that series so much that I didn’t want to leave the world J.K. Rowling had created.
As I wrote, my own world started to evolve: an oceanic realm enchanted by the gods, that blended elements of Greek mythology with a Venetian aesthetic. I love Venice, and imagined a similar dreamy canal city for my story. Venice is already a magical place, so it wasn’t hard to add in a little magic of my own.
Megan: I love how such a different book to the Harry Potter series was inspired by it.
How long did Esme’s Wish take to write?
Elizabeth: Around eight or nine years ago from first idea to finish. I wrote about things I enjoyed – the ocean, magic, dragons – so it was intrinsically interesting to me, otherwise I would have given up long ago. I was really obsessed for a long time – just ask my long-suffering family!
Megan: I love that you were obsessed over it. The fact that you were passionate about what you were writing shows through in the incredible world you’ve created.
When you started writing Esme’s Wish, did you realise how long it would take and how much determination it would take to finish?
Elizabeth: I was a complete novice and had no notion of what it would take to bring my book to publishable standard, or the immense effort it would take to find a publisher. I thought it would take a few years, not nine!
My writing journey was full of false starts and wrong turns and plenty of tears. I suppose it was a combination of determination and pride in my craft that kept me going. I also knew that once the book was published, it would be my calling card – so I was determined to give it my best shot.
When I felt it was ready to fly, I entered Esme’s Wish in competitions, mainly so I could get it read in full by publishers! It didn’t win, or get shortlisted, but positive comments from a leading commissioning editor gave me a much-needed confidence boost. I kept polishing, working especially on characterization and pace, and was still tweaking it right up until publication day.
Megan: Your dedication to the story, and you constantly improving your craft certainly shows in your novel. And you’re right. When you first start out and think about writing a novel, or a picture book — anything really — you really don’t know what you are in for, or how much dedication, and sometimes just plain stubbornness and refusing to give up, it will take to see your book published.
Elizabeth: Yes, a certain amount of stubbornness is required. And grit, and patience. I admire anyone who manages to get a book published.
Megan: Writing fantasy is so freeing as it leaves so much scope for the imagination. Some of the ways you approached the various fantasy elements such as the tidal pool, and how the locals of Aeolia interact with their environment, as well as the local laws, customs, and festivals was wonderful. Even down to the way you dropped clues all the way through, and tied up everything neatly by the last page of the book. I was screaming for more, but at the same time I was deeply satisfied by what I had read, and experienced.
How did you create such a rich world?
Elizabeth: Megan, I'm blushing from all your compliments. Thank you! These are the sort of words an author hopes to hear but isn't sure if they ever will! I know that some fantasy writers plan out their world meticulously before they even start to write, but I am more of a pantser (making up things up as I go along) than a plotter when it comes to the fantasy aspects.
Much of the detail comes as the story evolves. Some ideas come from everyday life and experiences. For example, my family and I used to go on holidays to the N.S.W. South Coast and would often swim in a rock pool there. That little pool sparked my imagination and a version of it ended up in the story.
Megan: I write the same. I'm an organized person so I thought I would plan my story, my novel. But, I couldn’t. So, after asking Jen Storer in her Girl and Duck Q & Q Friday, about where should I start, as I only had about three scenes written and nothing else, and her telling me just to write, play and have some fun learning about the story as I go, I just dived right in.
I recently listened to an interview with Kate Forsyth. It was on the So You Want to be a Writer podcast, episode 204. When Kate was asked if she was a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ she said she didn’t like the term ‘pantser.’ Rather, she prefers to say that she writes intuitively. I like that phrase better myself. It certainly sounds like you write that way too.
So, will there be a sequel to, Esme’s Wish?
Elizabeth: Esme’s Wish is the first of three books in the Esme series. I am presently working on the sequel, Esme’s Gift. It continues Esme’s adventures in the world of Aeolia and ties up unfinished business from book one, as well as introducing more complications, of course.
Megan: Did you always know Esme’s Wish was going to be a series?
Elizabeth: Yes, and I am very glad that I planned it that way. Everything is now in place for the sequels, which is making writing them so much easier. Writing series seems to run in the family, too. My son is also writing one.
Megan: I'm sure planning the overarching story would certainly help. And that’s great that you have inspired your son too.
Writing can be a lonely occupation. Do you have a cheer squad to spur you on? Do you belong to a writer’s group, or similar?
Elizabeth: I haven’t had much success with critique partners but fortunately I live with a secret weapon, my son, Chris. I rely heavily on his advice. He has not only edited many drafts of my book but has also been a fantastic help for brainstorming plot ideas or helping me climb out of plot holes. Now I am editing his first novel, a mammoth but awesome epic fantasy, the first in a series of five. While I am desperate to get back to writing my own sequel, debts must be paid!
Megan: That’s wonderful that you have someone that can help you so much. And wow! A five-book series. A mammoth task indeed to edit an epic fantasy novel.
What advice do you have for authors?
Elizabeth: Apart from the obvious one – write a lot – take time to read books where the prose is of an immaculate standard. If you do, your own writing will improve in leaps and bounds. Read widely - classics as well as contemporary, and non-fiction, too.
I like these words by Steve Martin, words which helped tide me through. The quote was in fact serendipitously pinned to the twitter feed of my publisher, Odyssey Books, when I was offered a publishing contract with them.
"Be so good they can't ignore you." ~ Steve Martin.
Megan: Brilliant advice, Elizabeth. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Elizabeth: Only to say thank you for taking the time to find out about my writing life so far. And for liking my book!
Megan: My pleasure, Thanks for your time, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Thanks Megan.
Three fun facts about Elizabeth:
I’d love to own a cat, but I’m allergic, so I put them in my books instead!
One of my most prized possessions is my space pen, with which I can write upside down in bed. (Yes, I know I can use a pencil.)
A lot of my inspiration comes from nature, especially the ocean. I’ve always lived close by water.
About the Author
Elizabeth Foster read avidly as a child, but only discovered the joys of writing some years ago, when reading to her own kids reminded her of how much she missed getting lost in other worlds. Elizabeth lives in Sydney, where she can be found scribbling in cafés, indulging her love of both words and coffee. Esme’s Wish is her debut novel. Find out more about Elizabeth at www.elizabethfoster.com.au
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
Follow the tour:
Monday November 20 - Friday November 24
Thursday November 23
Megan Higginson - www.meganhigginson.com/blog
Friday November 24
Teena Raffa-Mulligan - www.teenaraffamulligan.com
When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the impulsive action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother – so why can’t she? But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.
After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.
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Anne is chatting with me today about her new book series, Ori the Octopus. Her second book in the series is Ori’s Christmas.
Megan: Hi, Anne.
Anne: Hi Megan.
Megan: Well, let's get stuck into the interview, shall we?
Can you tell me a bit about your new book, Ori’s Christmas?
Anne: Having young children myself, I understand how difficult it is to get them to compromise most of the time. I decided to use this as a theme for a book. And given Christmas is a time when most kids get spoilt, that would be a good example of the perfect time to compromise.
Also, as with the first book in the series, Ori the Octopus, the book has actions in it, so children can participate in the story telling and the four craft pages in the middle can be pulled out to keep little hands busy for a little while.
Megan: So, you had a theme, and the Christmas season. I love hearing the stories behind the stories. How did you come up with the idea for a picture book series featuring a helpful Octopus? I mean, it could’ve been any creature.
Anne: The first book, Ori the Octopus, is about Ori helping his friends all at once. As he is using all of his legs he gets confused and drops everything. His friends see him sad, so they step in and they all do the tasks together. The original inspiration truth be told, was the multi-tasking busy mum. It grew from there into a story of friendship, helping others and teamwork.
Megan: The eternal wish of mothers that they had another pair of hands, or four.
Anne: Around the house when I'm being pulled this way and that I say "Hold on, I'm not Ori the Octopus!"
Megan: That’s hilarious!
Anne: Although other messages can be derived from Ori. Once I was reading at a library to a group of young kids and their mums. Afterwards one mum said to me that my book told her that we all need to ask for help sometimes. So, we all get messages even from a simple preschooler book!
Ori is also helpful in Ori's Christmas in that he plans the day's celebrations, but his friends figure out how to compromise so the day is enjoyed by all.
Megan: Your website is super interactive. It has videos of Ori the Octopus, free printable activity sheets which include colouring sheets, mazes, counting and matching sheets, drawings, and even some sea themed Christmas Carols. What was the idea behind your website?
Anne: I wanted free and safe entertainment for the younger children. I am aiming to be selling a book that is followed up with more...I call the activity sheets '5 minute fillers' - to give mum a break to hang the washing out or what not.
Also, the first book has cut out puppets in it. The kids can watch the puppet videos on my website then get inspired to make their own shows with the puppets from the book.
With the second book, there are loads of Christmas activities to do as you said, carols, cards, mazes etc.
Megan: That is amazing. I’m sure there be plenty of parents and teachers very happy with the activities, and I’m sure the kids would enjoy them.
Have you done any author visits?
Anne: Lots of author visits. I have done about 49 events for the first book and have just started with visits for the second.
Megan: Wow! That is a lot. What is the most gratifying thing about reading your books to children?
Anne: I do libraries, book shops, schools, and many preschools. Lots of fun -great fun - I love it. I get to act like a kid myself.
Megan: Any fun experiences you want to share?
Anne: Here is one of the funniest moments...at a preschool during book week. We stand up for the dancing. One boy is having a good look and then announces, "You're really short like my grandma" — priceless! You can't buy that humour and candidness.
Megan: That is so funny!
Anne: I also want to share one that is coming up and I am excited and nervous. When I arrived here from Malta my parents took us to live in Mt Druitt and I went to a local primary school there from year 2 to year 6. I have organised, through a not for profit org called Paint the town REaD to go and read at the school next month. I will read to the playgroup, then to kindy. They also want me to talk to the parents about what I experienced when I first came here, it wasn't all good and I think sharing it might reach someone.
Megan: I love how telling our stories can help other people.
So, you’ve self-published your two books. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route?
Anne: Self-publishing. Well, it is difficult to get trade published, no lie in that. I was really passionate about wanting to do this, text and ills. I read up for about a year then started to retrain and off I went!
Good and bad point of self-publishing. The worst problem is that your book doesn't always make it on that elusive shelf space. you have to work so much harder for that shelf space.
Megan: Why did you decide to illustrate the book yourself?
Anne: I love to draw! Always have. I have got some good feedback on the illustrations but I know my style will not fit all books. But for this series I think it fits well. Simple, cheerful, colourful characters, with faces that can easily portray emotions.
Megan: You’re on the right track. Illustrators have told me is that the illustrations need to show the character, emotion, movement, and to extend the words on the page.
What experience have you had in illustration? Did you learn as you went, or did you do a course?
Anne: I completed two illustrator courses, one on-line and one in town (Sydney). I also had to get some training in photoshop as I use that in my illustrations also. My illustrations are a mixture of painted objects and illustrator pictures.
Megan: What made you decide to do the courses and not just dive in and illustrate your books without doing the extra work? Considering you’ve always drawn.
Anne: I did at first. I painted the whole book but wasn’t happy with the result. So, I retrained and used a mixture — much happier with the results.
The illustrations definitely look better with the mixture of illustrator pics and painted, so after I did the course yes. But even then, I had to play around with it. I ended up having nine versions of Ori before I had one I liked. Now I've got loads of images I can play around with.
Megan: What are the most valuable lessons have you brought away from this experience?
Anne: The illustrations you mean or the whole getting a book out there?
Megan: The whole experience. You can break it down if you want.
Anne: I've learnt lots at every stage but the message I keep telling myself is — persevere and keep trying new things. If you fail, you will learn something.
My husband and I are both trying new careers right now. Before this I worked in health management and so did he. I am now writing books for kids and loving it and he is starting his own business in law. Even if we don't succeed, life is short, and you've got to try things while you can and, I figure we're being good role models for our kids.
Megan: So, Anne, what’s next for you? Is there another Ori book on the horizon?
Anne: Sure is - hopefully out for book week next year. This one is with another special message that is close to my heart — taking care of our environment. So, stay tuned.
Megan: Well, I think that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for your time today, Anne, and for participating in my 'In Conversation' series.
Anne: Thanks Megan - that was easy peasy lemon squeeze as Lola would say (of Charlie and Lola). Thank you for doing this interview. Bye!
Three fun facts about Anne — here they come… (drum roll).
1. Anne likes to do accents (see her Ori Octopus puppet videos) and impressions of famous and not-so-famous people.
2. Anne loves to dance. However, with the closing of her teen-hood night clubs and other responsibilities, Anne doesn’t get out dancing anymore. So, she struts her stuff at home in the living room, the study, and kitchen…anywhere there is space really.
3. Anne’s philosophy: “The best thing about having children is that it allows you to still act like a child yourself.” Examples: watching kid’s movies, going boogie boarding, fishing, ordering kid’s meals, lots of art and craft and generally acting silly.
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 is closely followed by Ori’s Christmas, both released in 2017.
Website: Anne Donnelly.com
Facebook: Anne Donnelly
Ori’s book blog tour:
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Today I'm chatting with Melissa Gijsbers, single mum of two chronically ill teenage boys, Melissa has crowdfunded, and self-published two books, and her new book, Lizzy’s Dragon was recently released with Stone Table Books.
Megan: Hello Melissa.
Megan: I have watched your journey for the last couple of years and have been blown away by your tenacity in the face of so many obstacles. However, even though times have been tough, you haven’t given up on your dreams of writing and publishing your books.
Can you share a little about your journey as a writer, and how being a single parent with two chronically ill teenage boys have impacted your writing journey?
Melissa: I have always loved writing. It's something that I could do that I was good at, that was mine. My siblings are very musical, and were heavily involved when we were teenagers, but it wasn't my thing. When I was in high school, I won some writing awards, but being an author wasn't considered an 'acceptable' career path and I was encouraged to look at other things.
Life got in the way for a while - I ran my own business for over 9 years, and was a blogger since before it was popular, so I still wrote, but not creative writing.
When my youngest son turned 7, I was told I had to return to work, so I closed down my business, and discovered creative writing again.
In 2012, I joined the 12x12 in 12 and Chapter Book Challenges, and things have gone from there. Through the Chapter Book Challenge, I discovered that I really like writing in that format.
Four years ago, my younger son came down with Glandular Fever, and that turned into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, last Easter, my older son was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
It's a hard road, but many things we've been through have sparked ideas for stories, though when things are really hard, it gets overwhelming, and sometimes it can be hard finding the energy to write.
I've been a single parent for nearly 12 years now, and I often go away to my favourite cafe and spend a blissful couple of hours writing, but I haven't been able to do that lately with my older son in and out of hospital.
Although we do have a reputation around the hospital, all the staff ask me how my latest book is going.
Megan: That is amazing. You’re single. You work. You're looking after your teenage boys, taking them to hospital and doctors’ visits, and you also run writing workshops for kids.
How do you find time to write, besides the blissful couple of hours here and there?
Melissa: I do my best to fit it in around everything! I carry my iPad with me most of the time so I can add to stories when I have a minute. I have found the Scrivener app useful for writing snippets. I also have a notebook with me at all times so I can jot down things if an idea hits me.
For editing, I print out my manuscript and carry it with me so I can edit on the go rather than having to make sure I have my laptop or iPad with me
Megan: Wow! You certainly make sure that you make the most of every minute that you possibly can.
You’ve self-published two books. Where did the ideas come from for those books?
Melissa: The first book, Swallow Me Now, came about because my kids were being bullied, and they wanted a story that had a realistic ending, rather than one where the bully and victim become best friends, or the bully magically goes to another school. It's based on experiences I had as a missionary kid struggling to fit in, and experiences my kids had of being bullied.
The second book, 321 Done, was inspired by something my son did. My older son is a speedcuber, this means he solves the Rubik's cube very, very fast. Shortly after his brother was diagnosed with ME/CFS, he did a fundraiser at his school to raise money and awareness about ME/CFS to see how many times he could solve a cube in half an hour. This book is a fictionalised version of this event.
Megan: I’ve seen your older son solve those cubes. His fingers are like speed lightening. How have the books been received? And has anything about that surprised you?
Melissa: The books have been well received. The biggest surprise is how many parents & kids have told me how much the books have helped them - they have enjoyed the strategies for bullying in Swallow Me Now.
And how much the cubing community has embraced 321 Done - it was the first book that features a speedcuber that has been published.
The biggest surprise with my books is how much people are enjoying my story.
Megan: It must feel wonderful for your books to have been so well received. Especially all the hard work you put into it, as you also crowdfunded to get them published too.
So, what has kept you following your dreams despite the difficulties?
Melissa: Writing is something I feel I have to do. It's something that excites me. Sharing my love of writing and books gives me a buzz. In the midst of all the difficulties, it's something that feeds me.
I often have people ask what I'm doing to look after myself, I reply that I write. They often look at me as if I'm crazy, but it's what I do!
Megan: I totally get it.
Melissa: So many people don't!
Megan: You also have a new blog, Diary of a Chronic Mum. Can you tell me about it, and why you started that blog?
Melissa: I started it so that we could follow our own journey and see how far we've come, as well as sharing some of the strategies we use to cope.
I hope that it will help others in a similar situation, as well as being a way to help me cope - writing about it all!
Sometimes, in the midst of a difficult situation, you forget about how much things change and how far you’ve actually come.
Megan: So very true. It’s really wonderful that you can use your own experiences to help others.
You have a new book coming out, Lizzy’s Dragon with Stone Table Books. Can you share how that opportunity came about?
Melissa: That came about as a result of a friend reading Swallow Me Now! He got a job as an editor at Stone Table Books and they were looking for middle grade books and he asked if I wrote fantasy. I said I'd give it a go. We came up with the idea for a water breathing dragon and the rest, as they say, is history!
Megan: I love the fact that this opportunity came about because of a book you had self-published, and your friend was able to get a taste of writing style, and like it enough to ask you to write for them.
So, tell me. What is Lizzy’s Dragon about?
Melissa: Lizzy is a girl who really loves reptiles and wants a lizard as a pet, her parents won't let her. Her annoying little brother, Joey, seems to get what he wants! One day, she finds a strange looking egg. When it hatches, Lizzy finds the most unusual lizard she has ever seen.
Megan: Sounds fantastic. Where is Lizzy’s Dragon set?
Melissa: Somewhere in country Australia during a drought. There is no town name mentioned, so it could be anywhere.
Megan: So many fantasy stories are set overseas in places like England and Scotland. Why did you pick Australia for the setting?
Melissa: When we came up with the idea for a water dragon, we thought of bushfires! I lived in country Victoria during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires and my Dad was a forester and fought the fires. It's something I was familiar with, so setting in Australia was an obvious choice for this book. Plus, as you say, there aren't many fantasy stories set in Australia.
Megan: So, it sounds like you worked closely with the editor on this book. How was that experience compared to writing your previous books and having total control over the end product?
Melissa: I really enjoyed the process. I find I do my best work when I'm working closely with an editor. The publisher found an amazing illustrator who brought my words to life.
Megan: A good editor is wonderful. They really do help you bring your story into a whole other realm don’t they?
Melissa: They do. They are able to see things that I missed, and help to turn a good story into an amazing story.
Megan: Do you have any current projects you are working on?
Melissa: My 4 year old nephew has asked me to write him a story about a boy and a unicorn! I am also working on a couple of stories for adults, not sure if they will be novels or novellas.
It's fun playing around with different formats and genre.
Megan: It certainly is. I love just writing whatever story comes in my head. I think about the audience when I rewrite.
Well, it sounds like you have plenty of stories to be working on. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Good luck on the launch of Lizzy’s Dragon.
When and where will Lizzy’s Dragon be available?
Melissa: Lizzy's Dragon is available now through Stone Table Books and on Amazon, or request your favourite bookshop or library stock it.
Megan: That sounds great. Well, I think that about wraps it up. Did you have anything else you want to add?
Melissa: For anyone who thinks they don't have time - if writing is what you really want to do, then go for it. Even if you can only get the occasional 10 minutes here or there. You don't have to write for hours every day to be an author. I don't, and I'm making my dreams come true.
Megan: And that is the crux of it. No excuses! Just go for your dreams and make everything that seems like an obstacle and opportunity. An opportunity for growth.
Thank you so much for your time today, Melissa. I'm sure that your story will inspire a lot of people.
Melissa: Thank you for the interview and the opportunity.
Three fun Facts about Melissa:
Melissa Gijsbers lives in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne with her two teenage sons and their pet blue tongue lizard. She is an avid reader and writer and runs a group for writers at her local library. She currently has three books available for purchase and is looking forward to adding to this list. You can find out more about Melissa at www.melissagijsbers.com and www.melissawrites.com.au
Follow the blog tour:
Just Write For Kids: Character Q & A: Interview with Lizzy's Dragon, Bubbles.
Tales to Tell Me: Lizzy’s Dragon by Melissa Gijsbers.
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by Ester de Boer
Children's picture book illustrator. I also drink copious amounts of tea, and eat chocolate.
Do you want a writer's group activity with a difference? An activity that will stretch you in ways you wouldn't believe? Then you may want to try this interesting, and fun activity that will have you painting, and then writing with music.
Recently I ran a weekend art workshop in Canberra in which I used a synesthetic (Synesthesia) approach to teaching the elements of drawing through responding to sound.
Since our little writers’ huddle is on the artsy side I thought I would adapt it to the art of the written word.
We warmed up with some basic drawing and painting exercises and experiments, and I scattered a variety of art materials all over the table for us to choose from, and yes it was merry chaos!
Those of you who know a bit about art history would be familiar with Kandinsky. He was a Russian painter who is credited as having produced some of the first truly abstract paintings. One of the inspirations for the way he painted was an amazing ability called synaesthesia: Kandinsky could actually hear the colours he painted with!
It’s an enviable gift for any artist, but I think we all have a bit of it, and it comes out in our everyday expressions, for example “Feeling blue”, “black humour”, “green with envy” or “white noise” for the colours. Or how about texture, with expressions like “gravelly” or “velvety” to describe a voice?
I selected four different pieces of music, each with very different mood, texture, variations of dynamic and pitch, and we responded to each piece visually, describing the sounds into visual representations.
After sharing our artworks, I replayed the four pieces. This time, we responded both to the music and our visual representations through any kind of short, free-form writing.
Just as music and art have texture, rhythm, pitch/tone and tempo, so does writing. What was very interesting was how writing in direct response to music actually influenced our individual writing styles.
(To make this work properly, it’s important not to be given information about the music, use music with recognisable words or be able to see any video clips as they can obviously influence the outcome. The only recognisable piece is Flight of the Bumblebee, but I am happy to say that none of us drew a beehive!)
Stomp break dance with me
Boom! BANG! explode collide
Whiiiirl… BANG! fly……. land
c-runch—lift, glide… drop
Dancing. Joyful carousing.
Off to the markets.
Full of life. Laughter.
Slowly the day ends.
The sun sets into the horizon.
Ready for a new day.
Silken smoke drifts through the lattice, twists and writhes in the perfumed air… Its phantom fingers reach across the empty room and,
As we touch, it grasps, encircles around like cords,
Impossible to unbind.
Sadness. Love is lost.
All is lost.
There is no hope.
All is gone.
The voices all tell me
it is all gone.
But is it really?
I’m more determined to
live for life, for life
Each day slips by.
How will we live it?
Lose a day?
Gain some life?
Like a leaf blowing in the wind
blown by the storms of life?
Or rising like an eagle
to fly far above
Upon the pond, plipipipipop!
Spit! Spat! Raindrops drip-drop... dripipipipip!
Making puddles that splip and splap!
Drip. Drip. Pelting helter skelter.
Ssssshht-t BEEP Spaceport 9 canyouhearmeoverandout BEEP… ssshhhhht -t-t cracklesshhhhhtt-t-t-t. . … . . … .no noise. . . . U N K N O W N w h i t e r o u n d m e s s a g e .. . . number 9 receiving…. re ceiving… . re ceding. . .. . re ce d i n g … into the white round void that is s i I e n c e… silent .. sssilent over-over-over-over and out.
A cold fist in my belly.
Fear traces its icy fingers down my back.
It says, ‘I will get you!’
Safe? Am I?
This thing is pursuing me.
Will I get away…this time?
Long arms reach for me.
The thing I feared the most.
Megan's Two Cents
I found this a fascinating exercise to do. I was amazed at who much the music influenced what we painted, and not only what we wrote, but the language, the tempo, even the theme.
Let me know if you give this a try and how you go.
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I’m excited to welcome Cameron Macintosh to my blog today on his book blog tour for his new book series, Max Booth Future Sleuth.
Cameron Macintosh was born in Melbourne and has lived there ever since, apart from overseas backpacking jaunts whenever he’s been able to fund them. He studied Psychology and Italian at Melbourne University, and Professional Writing at RMIT. Worried that no one would ever publish any of his own books, he became an editor so that he could interfere with the books of others.
Then, in 2008, a lovely publisher asked him to write a book about the Beaconsfield mine disaster. This was an excellent introduction to professional writing.
Since then, he has written more than 80 books for primary and early secondary students. He has also honed hundreds of books for teachers and students in his other life as an editor for high quality educational publishers. In the few minutes per week that he isn’t wrestling with words on the laptop, he loves singing and playing the guitar, and reading music biographies.
Cameron: Good morning Megan!
Megan: How are you today? Are you ready to be interrogated...? I mean interviewed?
Cameron: Thanks very much for making the time to chat - I hope I'll have a few brain cells working - anything could happen.
Megan: Hehe. We shall soon see. It should certainly make things interesting. Let's begin.
You have more than 80 titles in print throughout the world, which is incredible. I’m keen to hear what your journey into publication looks like.
Cameron: Thanks Megan, it’s been a long journey and I definitely took the scenic route! Like most aspiring authors, I have a ream of rejection letters and emails to prove it. But I finally got a break into publishing by doing a work placement for an educational publisher – doing proofreading and photocopying (mostly photocopying, truth be told!)
But… they were wonderful people and they eventually gave me a job as an editor, which I used to worm my way into authoring books for the educational market. And now the Max Booth books are my first foray into mainstream publishing, which is extremely exciting.
Megan: Was this after you did the Creative Writing course at RMIT?
Cameron: That's right - I actually did the work placement as a unit of the RMIT course. I'd really recommend aspiring authors and editors take any chance they can to do work placements. The personal contacts and experiences have made a huge difference. Although of course there are so many other interesting paths to publication - that one just happened to be a great springboard for me.
Megan: That must have been an amazing opportunity that has certainly lead to many open doors for you, and it must have given you a lot of insight into the publishing industry. I read that one of your first books was to cover the Beaconsfield Mine disaster. How did you go about researching and writing it?
Cameron: That was a really interesting and challenging first commission. The publisher wanted as much of it as possible to be based on primary sources and media coverage from the time of the incident, which allowed me to weave in a lot of authentic detail. But I felt the need, very strongly, to tread very carefully, as so many lives were impacted by the disaster and are still living with its aftereffects today.
Megan: That must have been difficult, and you achieved it. What are some of the lessons you learned while researching and writing that particular book that has helped you since?
Cameron: In terms of the research, I definitely took away a strong message about the need to double- and triple-check sources when writing non-fiction! And to do my utmost to respect the people who are being written about.
As far as writing goes, that was my first experience of writing to a strict brief - which is standard in educational publishing - and to leave any hints of ego on the doormat. The goal in that situation is to give the publisher what they need, and that usually means producing a manuscript that will sit neatly alongside other books in the same series.
More broadly though, it was a very practical way to learn the value of drafting and redrafting. I still have the ream of paper I went through to get that manuscript in order!
Megan: You really took many valuable lessons away from that experience.
So, you got your publishing break writing for the education market. You have written a lot for them. What is it like? For instance, do you choose the subjects that you write about? Or do you get a brief?
Cameron: I really enjoy the educational writing. It's very much brief-driven, but all of the publishers I've worked with have been fantastic in their willingness to allow as much creative input as possible.
I've definitely noticed some big differences between fiction and non-fiction commissions. With fiction, usually I've been asked to come up with my own story idea, but one that works with a particular theme or area of study. The trickiest parameter to deal with is the levelling - trying to stick to word lists and sentence lengths without suffocating the story!
Non-fiction tends to be more prescriptive - the publisher will usually have a very specific idea about what they need from the manuscript - often with a bookmap - and I'll mostly be fleshing it out and trying to find interesting details to add. Both present their challenges but it's a fantastic industry to be a part of.
Megan: That is really fascinating.
You have a book that came out in July this year, Max Booth Future Sleuth: Book 1 - Tape Escape. It’s been illustrated by Dave Atze and is published by Big Sky Publishing. Can you give me a little spiel has to what the story is about?
Cameron: Certainly! The premise of the story is that it’s the year 2424, in a city called Bluggsville. Our hero Max is an 11 year-old street kid who sleeps in a packing case in the city museum’s storeroom. He survives by identifying ancient artefacts that the museum staff haven’t been able to identify themselves, and gets paid some pocket money for each artefact he identifies.
The objects he identifies are from the 20th and 21st centuries – things that the reader would know about but that are now mysterious to people in the year 2424. In Tape Escape, Max is given a weird lump of plastic to identify – a cassette tape from the 1980s. He discovers that it contains lost recordings by a still-famous rockstar. The recordings are so valuable that when a dodgy musicologist finds out about them, Max’s discovery suddenly gets him into all sorts of trouble (DOT DOT DOT!)
Megan: It certainly sounds exciting, Cameron. I love hearing the stories behind the stories. Where did the idea for this particular story come from?
Cameron: Thanks Megan. Well the spark of the story definitely came from a visit to Pompeii and the amazing archaeological museum in Naples. Seeing so many everyday objects that had survived a catastrophic volcanic eruption and centuries of burial was a real mind-blower.
Cups and spoons that probably would've been quite uninteresting to the people of Pompeii were completely spellbinding to me - and this made me wonder how people of future generations might look at items that we commonly use today.
This thought seemed to offer a lot of potential for story ideas, and I was eventually able to tease the idea out into a solid concept about a future detective, Max, who investigates objects from today, or recent decades, and is completely fascinated by them - even things that might not seem so interesting to us in the here and now.
It's great fun choosing the present-day objects, and I must say that the illustrator, Dave Atze, really understands and manages to amplify the wonder, and humour, of Max's discoveries.
Megan: That is so cool. I love how you didn’t just think about it and dismiss it, but continued that train of thought until a story emerged. Did the experience of writing your own novel prove different from writing to a brief? If so, in what way?
Cameron: Great question! It was definitely a very different experience to writing to a brief. Just being able to let the story take its own shape and length was quite liberating after having written for the same age group, with so many limitations.
At the same time, I think subconsciously it probably benefited from all of that brief-driven writing too - I really wanted the Max stories to engage both enthusiastic and reluctant readers, so it was helpful having a few parameters at the back of my mind in terms of vocab and sentence length. I really hope they've helped make the stories as accessible to as many readers as possible.
Megan: That is really wonderful. I have dyslexia and it is one of them, as you say, perimeters, in my mind as well as to make sure that my book is accessible to as many readers as possible. I could seriously go off tangent here and start an in-depth discussion about engaging reluctant readers, but maybe another time.
Back to your Max Booth book. How was it working with the illustrator? Did you have much input into the whole process?
Cameron: That would be a really enjoyable discussion to have. I'd love to see your book!
It was a real treat to work with Dave Atze on the two titles we've produced so far. He's incredibly versatile and really brings out the humour and pathos in the stories. I included illustration ideas in the manuscript (way too many!) but was more than happy for Dave and the publishers to work out which ones were worth pursuing.
I was lucky enough to see Dave's roughs and throw in a few comments, but he's such an intuitive artist who really 'gets' the characters, so I was happy to keep out of the way as much as possible and let him work his magic - which he did incredibly well.
Megan: That would be great to have another conversation, Cameron. I’d love to have a chat about my book, and writing fun and engaging stories to encourage children to read.
I’m a huge sci-fi fan so I couldn’t help noticing that a few of your books have the sci-fi theme. What draws you to writing Sci-fi?
Cameron: It's funny because I haven't read a lot of sci-fi as an adult, but I find it a really rich source ideas for kids' books.
I think that's because it offers limitless possibilities of setting, in terms of time and physical location, as well as imagined technologies that you can use to shape and colour your stories. And who doesn't enjoy a bit of speculation about how the world might look in the future, as scary as that can be?
And you can also get away with much more craziness - story wise - than you can in a story that requires realism or strict historical accuracy. A lifelong fascination with robots has definitely been an influence too!
Megan: That’s so true. I think that’s why I love sci-fi and fantasy. The pure escapism into other worlds; other realities.
So, Cameron, what do you think makes a good story?
Cameron: Boiling it down to the simplest level, I think it comes down to interesting character/s, dealing with an interesting, and seemingly insurmountable, problem. As a reader, I love seeing how characters react when thrown into the deep end, and learning from how they sink or swim!
I don't mean to imply that a good story needs to deal with high drama - the problem at the heart of the story can just as easily be an internal, emotional conflict. It's all worth sharing with the world.
Megan: Those are really great tips, Cameron.
What advice do you have for emerging authors? As you worked as an editor, could you please tell us from an editor’s point of view, and then as an author.
Cameron: Wow, really interesting question. As an editor, I'd advise aspiring authors to look very carefully at publishers' submission guidelines and make sure you tick all of their boxes, as most publishers who accept unsolicited submissions deal with a huge volume of manuscripts - make sure you give yours every chance of being read.
I used to do a bit of 'slush pile' reading (as much as I hate that term!) and found that so many of the submissions didn't match what the publishers had requested. And obviously, take the time to polish your work as much as possible before you send it out. One of the best ways to do this is to join or start a writing group with people whose opinions you can trust.
As an author, I wish there was a magic formula but really, it’s all about persistence and self-belief, and humility is a useful attribute too – because you’re going to need it! I’ve known so many brilliant writers who faced a few rejections and gave up.
I can't state strongly enough the need to have some kind of supportive writing community around you, too. I've been in a small but wonderful writing group for more than five years and the mutual encouragement and kind criticism has helped each of us beyond calculation...
Megan: Thank you so much for being so candid about the submission process. As an author, you certainly need to be persistent and not give up in the face of rejection. And finding a supportive writing community is super important.
So, Cameron, what’s next for you?
Cameron: Well, I'm currently drafting the third Max Booth adventure and enjoying that very very much. I've just started scribbling down the bones of a 'grown-up' book too. I'll find out find very soon if I'm grown-up enough to see it through!
Megan: That’s brilliant, Cameron. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Okay. I always do three fun facts. So, what are three fun facts about yourself?
1. I love toy robots from the 1980s, especially Dingbots and Omnibots (definitely worth Googling!)
2. I spent so much time in my teens and early 20s listening to the Beatles that I still consider Beatle-ologist as a viable fall-back career.
3. I cook at least two curries a week but will never refuse an invitation to dinner at an Indian restaurant!
Megan: Where can we find you?
You can find more about me and my books on my website: www.cameronmacintosh.com , and on Big Sky Publishing website, and on Facebook as Cameron Mactosh author.
You can check out the book trailer for Max Booth Future Sleuth: Book 1 - Tape Escape on my YouTube Channel.
Max Booth Future Sleuth - Selfie Search is also now available.
Megan: Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Cameron. It's been wonderful.
Cameron: Thank you so much Megan! It's been a real pleasure.
Follow the Book Blog Tour:
Boomerang Books: Interview with Cameron Macintosh. Max Booth Future Sleuth
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Point of view is often difficult to write and maintain, especially when, if you are like me, you’re starting out and getting your head around all the sorts of things you have to learn when writing a novel. (I've just finished the first draft of my first YA Sci-fi/fantasy novel).
When done well, deep point of view draws the reader into the story. When done badly, it’s like getting a cold dead fish slapped in your face and you can’t close the book quick enough. Or is that just me? I recently came across this blog post by Peter Summersby, ‘Notice what they Notice,’ about noticing what your character notices and I found it fascinating and decided to conduct a workshop around this idea with my local Writer’s Group, Dribbles and Scribbles.
In Peter’s article, he discusses the fact that men and women will notice different things, as would a thief and a doctor. He acknowledges that writers should use all the senses while writing, but for this demonstration he focuses on just what they see. Peter shows a picture of a female elf laying on a bed of moss with a knife held loosely in her hand. He demonstrates what he means by what two different men observe, and what that may reveal about them and their character.
In the first account the man notice her breasts under the green dress, this could indicate that the man has feelings for her, he might be in love with her. It could also indicate that he is wanton and actively seeks out sexual encounters.
In the second account the man notices her clothing too but instead notices what they are made of. He also notices what the knife is made of but finally he notices the small coin pouch hanging on her belt. This indicates two things he is trying to assess her wealth and steal from her, or notices that she might have rich friends with which he could become friendly with to gain even more money.'
'In both situations the woman hasn’t changed, their view is different, this was done to illustrate that the character has their own values that should differ from character to character. If they all notice the same thing it becomes harder to separate the characters in your readers mind. If the reader is truly invested in your characters this approach is a good way to drop the reader into the characters mind and assists with maintaining deep point of view.’ Peter Summersby, Notice what they Notice.
Writer’s Group Activity
For the activity, we thought of a scene in our current Work In Progress (W.I.P.), we picked two characters, and then we rewrote the scene from the two different perspectives. I've included mine as an example.
The original scene from my novel, The Gateway Chronicles: Keystone Quest. (Working title)
Jake found it mind-numbing sitting at the back following the herd, eating the dust that was kicked up by a couple of hundred head of cattle, and Grandma Andy going on and on about her earthworms.
‘Did you know that there are over 600 species of Earthworm in the world and at least five are giant. We have one here in Australia. The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is one of the few left. They are very special. Even David Attenborough, the naturalist, knew they were special.’ Grandma Andy turned to Jake, ‘I have one of the last known pockets of the GGE’s in Australia on my farm. And I’ve discovered some giant worms around here. New species I reckon!’
Jake rolled his eyes. He’d heard it all before. How they were special and endangered. How they were unique and needed protecting. Seriously, they were worms. How could they be so special?
A sudden disturbance ahead, a shimmer of light against the horizon, and the cattle went from plodding along and having to be harried by whip and dog, to stampeding in every direction. It happened so quickly. Within minutes, he was by himself with only dust and his grandmother’s last words hanging in the air for company.
For this exercise, I've choosen 13 year old Jake, and his 60 year old scientist grandmother, Grandma Andy. I’ve also tried to include the rest of the senses as well to make a more interesting read.
1. ‘I’m sick of eating dust at the back of the herd,’ said Jake, spitting red dust and wiping his mouth while sweat trickled down his face. He had never gotten used to the heat of the Queensland outback and longed for the coolness of Melbourne. Cows mooed to one another. The smell of cow dung was everywhere. He wished he was back home with his Mum playing video games, or with his mates at the skate park.
Jake heard his Grandma Andy speaking but it just sound like, ‘Blah! Blah! Blah! Worms.’ On repeat. He rolled his eyes. Man she was interesting when she talked about her travels, but worms! Seriously. They were so boring. He rolled his eyes, hoping at the same time Gran wouldn't catch him at it. He spat again. And another thing, he couldn’t understand why he was always left at the back of the herd.
‘Why can’t I…’ The words barely had left his mouth when the cows went from quiet mooing and dogs yipping at their heels to keep them moving, to loud bellowing and thundering of hooves as the cattle scattered in every direction. Briefly he glimpsed his grandmother among the chaos, then she disappeared, leaving him. As the swirl of dust settled, only the smell of fresh cow dung hung in the air. Silence fell and Jake was alone.
2. Andy looked over at Jake and could see boredom written on his face. Every so often he would smile, nod politely, and then spit the dust from his mouth, wipe the grit from his eyes and slap at the flies buzzing around his face.
Andy turned her face to the sun and let the warmth penetrate the coldness of southern Victoria that seemed to settle in her bones and only the warmth of the Queensland sun would chase it away. The gentle lowing of the cattle, the cracking of whips, the yips of the working dogs, and the feel of her horse beneath her were like a balm to her soul.
Andy turned to Jake and could see him slump further in the saddle, ‘I have one of the last known pockets of the GGE’s in Australia on my farm. And I’ve discovered some giant worms around here. New species I reckon!’
‘Why can’t I…’ said Jake, rolling his eyes. But, his words were cut off. Andy caught a glimpse of a familiar flash of light up ahead in a clearing. ‘No! It can’t be. Not here,’ she said more to herself than anyone else.
Andy urged her horse into a gallop, just as the usually docile cattle started bellowing panic. Whatever it was up head, sent the cattle stampeding in all directions, kicking up a dust cloud which obliterated the view. Glancing behind Andy saw Jake sitting like a sack on Dodger, who stood docile among the bedlam. What? Did Dodger just wink at her? And then they were gone from sight.
Through this exercise I discovered that in the first draft, though I have tried to write third person close point of view, I have really just been looking over my various characters shoulders and noticing what I would notice if I was looking at the same scene, experiencing the same activity.
This exercise was an eye opener for me. I found I had really get into my characters’ skin, so to speak, in order to pay close attention to what they would notice, what my character would be feeling, thinking, smelling. The smells in themselves would be different for different people, depending on past experiences and what they would associate those smells with. This means I really have to know and understand my characters.
I have a lot of rewriting to do, but I know my stories from now on will be written differently. Two recently released books that I have read, and I highly recommend, does this very thing of noticing what your character notices in deep point of view: Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.
Let me know how you go with your own stories and if this post helped you in any way.
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I recently had the privilege of meeting Leigh at a recent visit not far from where I live. He was on his whirl wind tour of the various schools and libraries across Australia, as well as overseas. He delighted the audience with his tales of being an art teacher, and pursuing children’s book illustration, as well as other artistic pursuits.
Today, I welcome Leigh to my blog.
You’ve been asked this a lot, but how did you get started in illustrating and writing your own books?
Around 1992, when I’d been illustrating other people’s stories for a couple of years, I began to lose interest. Primarily because I felt disengaged from the characters I was being asked to illustrate. Then an editor suggested that I create my own character which turned out to be Old Tom. He’d been hanging round and taking shape in my head subconsciously for a while. Originally, he looked like a gangster but I toned him down a tad, without making him look too goody – two – shoes. Naughty rather than nasty. Four publishers rejected Old Tom before an eagle-eyed editor at Penguin nabbed him.
You say your stories are character driven. Who are they inspired by?
I don’t think my characters are inspired by any person or ‘persons’ in particular. They’re a mixture of characters who I’ve met, or taught, even aspects of my family. There’s a bit of me in each one I suspect.
How do you road test any new characters you create?
I showed a couple to my mother earlier on. She was appalled, particularly when it came to Mr Chicken. I knew at that point I was on to something. I have an aversion to ‘cute’. I’m simply not interested in cute books, not that I pay too much attention to children’s books in any case. However, I admit I am a bit of a romantic at heart, hence the underlying good heartedness of my characters and the relationships between them…. or most of them. I never road test characters with kids. Every kid is different and ultimately a writer or artist needs to rely on their instincts. Well I do anyway.
I had the privilege to attend one of your talks at my local library in Gippsland. During your talk, you said that you write from the heart. Does what come out ever surprise you? If yes, can you give an example?
Yes. I’ve surprised myself on a few occasions. The first time was when, about twenty years ago I was asked to give a lecture to fine art and graphic art students at my old art school (Caulfield Tech. now Monash University) I’d only written a couple of books at that point and some students asked me to select a few pages and read them from my first book ‘Old Tom’. My voice cracked at a certain spot and I realised that I’d strayed into autobiography. The students picked it up as well.
Your illustrations are so loose and immediate. What do you do to create that effect?
It’s just how I draw. The drawings evolve on the page. I work hard to make it look effortless. I feel I’ve failed if a drawing looks laboured. I’ve always had better eyes than talent. Which means I’m nowhere near as good as I wish I were. My limitations all too often stare back at me from the page.
That can be a healthy thing for an artist. To keep striving for ones own idea of perfection even though you know it’s all too often unattainable. My primal goal when drawing is to get to the essence of the subject, be it a character or a building.
How long does it take you to complete an illustration?
It varies. Sometimes a drawing works straight off and it looks fresh and spontaneous and it’s done. However, there’s usually a spoil sport part or illustration where I have to battle to get it right….and then disguise the considerable effort along the way. Then it might take a day or days to finish. Often in this case I rip it up and start again, in a sort of frenzy because by then the deadline is looming.
I noticed in your books that you include well known buildings in the illustrations. I’m aware that you have a passionate interest in architecture and history. How important is it for illustrators to create from the heart?
I’ve no idea what’s in anyone else’s head, I just know that the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from creating these books comes from creating a genuine sense of place. An authentic sense of the atmosphere in London, Paris, or Rome.
You are working on your art in its various forms all the time. How do you feed your creativity?
I read a lot. Books about architecture, History, Baroque, Georgian, Tudor. English or German architecture interests me most. I read history books often. Biographies too. At the moment, I’m reading David Marr’s biography of Patrick White. As well as a history of London. I travel quite a bit too. I’ve been to London over thirty times.
Horrible Harriet has been made into a stage show. How did that come about?
I was approached by the producers who were, in consultation with me, offered the stage rights by my publishers. I had some input but stepped back after a point. I have learnt not to get too emotionally involved in the translation into other mediums of my books or characters.
What is it like to see your work interpreted in that way?
Unnerving and strange. My ‘children’ have left home. It’s ultimately flattering in spite of a degree of anxiety I inevitably feel.
I’ve watched a lot of interviews of you. Some show you going into schools and talking to the kids, engaging with them, and the students totally engrossed in every word, especially when it comes to the drawing segment where you show them how to draw Old Tom. What do you like most about school visits?
I enjoy engaging kids, especially when I sense that they are loosening up and creating for the pleasure of it. It’s satisfying too when kids who may not be used to drawing or writing creatively end up being completely engaged.
You are the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016/2017. What does that mean for you?
It’s been a great honour and is and has been a wonderful experience.
What would you like to see change in the schools of Australia, and why?
Every school needs a Library and school Librarian. Misguided schools are, or have already done away with their school Library. I’ve heard dreadful stories about Librarians retiring or being put in excess and the school library, carefully built up over many years completely emptied with books thrown out or delivered to op shops. Libraries, good ones are carefully calibrated to the needs of the students and teachers at the particular school. They are more than just books. And I’d like to see art and music as a ‘definite’ on the primary school curriculum.
What’s next for you?
Mr Chicken’s next adventure: ‘Mr Chicken all over Australia’
Would you tell us ‘Three Fun Facts’ about yourself?
Well, here’s just one…. I’m allergic to cats.
Australian Children’s Laureate 2016-2017
“Leigh Hobbs, best-selling author of more than 20 books, including the iconic Old Tom, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Horrible Harriet is the Australian Children's Laureate for 2016 – 2017.
His subversive humour has delighted children for more than two decades.
Leigh Hobbs was born in Melbourne, grew up in Bairnsdale and has lived and worked in Sydney, Sale and London. He is an artist who works across a wide range of mediums, as well as writing and illustrating his children's books.
Many of his cartoons have appeared in the Melbourne Age newspaper. He is best known, though, for his children's books featuring his characters Old Tom, Horrible Harriet and Fiona the Pig and Mr Chicken, as well as the Freaks and their teachers in 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy.
Old Tom has been adapted into an extremely popular TV series. Leigh has three times been shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award (for Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, Horrible Harriet and Old Tom's Holiday) and his books have won every major children’s choice award in Australia. Leigh’s books are published by Allen & Unwin.” Quote from Children's Laureate website.
You can find more information about Leigh Hobbs on his website, about his role as the 2016-2017 Children's Laureate here, and his books and toys (you can buy Horrible Harriet, and Mr Chicken soft toys) through Allen and Unwin.
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Fear can hold you back from so many things, but especially from following your dreams and becoming all who you were meant to be. How can you face those fears and move forward in your life?
‘I would love to write and illustrate my own picture books.’ This was something that I said to myself a number of years ago when my kids were small. I don’t know what it is but so many authors and illustrators discover/rediscover a love of picture books when they are reading them to children. Either their own children or someone else’s.
For me, I always wrote but never called myself a writer until recently. I always drew, but never progressed beyond feeling that my pictures were terrible. The thing is, they were not good, but I could not break through that ugly stage to get them to be any better. So I stagnated in both my writing and my drawing.
Four years ago I had a breakthrough with my writing. I started taking courses and investing in my passion for writing and telling stories. I still drew and painted but never seriously. It couldn't get any better than I was, and I couldn’t get past it, especially when it came to drawing people. I compared myself to others. I listened to the little voice, the critic on my shoulder, who had said I’d never be good enough; I’d never measure up so why bother?
I compared myself to others and listened to the voice, the inner critic on my shoulder, who said, 'You'll never be good enough. Why bother?'
Why bother indeed? Because, like with my writing, I couldn’t leave it alone; I had to pick up a pen and draw. I had to try to capture a moment, tell a story. It was a part of me as far back as I can remember. That feeling was always there but never acknowledged. My father, Pop and Nan were all artists.
Though I did not have much to do with my Pop, and my Nan died when I was a baby, their art was always around, inspiring me that maybe someday I could do the same. My parents separated and later divorced when I was 13. And, as my father was violent, we had to go into hiding. Though in years later I did meet up with my dad and have a small amount to do with him, it was not a lot and he no longer was doing any art. He has since passed away.
My big breakthrough with both my art and my writing (which I thought I was all good with) came when I picked up a copy of, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron at the beginning of this year. It was first published in 1992 and, as Ali Stewart has so aptly put it in her recent blog post, Three Important Insights from The Artists Way, ‘with umpteen reprints, several spinoffs, and numerous nips, tucks, and facelifts, the perennial title continues to unstick stuck creatives.’ It has certainly unstuck me.
I first heard Valerie Khoo on the podcast, So You Want to be a Writer, talk about the book, The Artists Way at the beginning of the year. Next thing she was going on ‘artist dates, learning the mysterious rope art formally known as macramé, Japanese Book Binding, and going to musicals. This opened a new world to her, and she seemed so much happier. Then, I read a blog post that mentioned The Artists Way, and the same week walked into a second-hand store, and there, in a stack of books lay The Artists Way. Its spine was highlighted to me and my gaze immediately drawn to it. Curious about the fuss, and figuring God had his hand in this somehow, I took it home and began my journey of healing, acceptance, and discovering a sense of play.
So, what was it that unstuck me and helped me overcome my fears? A lot of hard work and commitment for the full 12 weeks of The Artists Way program, and committed to stretching and challenging myself ever since, that’s what. Each week of The Artists Way program, especially at the beginning, you have to work through questions and activities to find what is keeping you stuck. I was amazed how the very act of WRITING an experience down and seeing it black and white could unblock something within. Do it! It will amaze, shock, and surprise you.
For me, it was a combination of having my classmates laugh at my stories. I was a shy kid with very poor self-esteem. Looking back now I can see that my stories were funny. At high school, I would write stories straight out of left field and have a totally different take on the assignment. This also caused my classmates to burst into laughter and for me to wish I could just sink into the floor and disappear.
My art was different. I had one great art teacher for three terms in year eight. But, the rest of the time my art teachers were interested in Abstract Art which I hated. I wanted to learn to draw and paint nature, people, and animals. As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t get past the ‘yuk’ stage. I didn’t know how.
About five years ago I got hold of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This was my first breakthrough. Going through the exercises and then trying to draw later I was amazed at the difference. As you can see below, there is a remarkable distinction between the two drawings.
However, I still stagnated — until this year and The Artists Way.
In The Artists Way there is a section of affirmations. One spoke to me and has made one of the biggest impacts. I can nurture my artist. Up to this point, because I felt my artwork was no good, I didn’t need to invest time and/or money on courses or good materials. Oh. My. Goodness. The change that happened when I gave myself permission to invest in good quality paints, paint brushes, paper, liners, as well as online courses was incredible.
So, what did I do after The Artists Way?
I drew. I painted. I continued to take myself on Artists Dates. I spoke with illustrators like Giuseppe Poli and Katrin Dreiling and picked their brains. You can read what they told me here and here. With Giuseppe’s encouragement, I joined the 52 Week Facebook Illustration Challenge and started putting up my work online, not just in that group but everywhere on my social media pages.
My illustrations aren’t great. But, the very act of having to come up with a new piece every week is a wonderful discipline. These were my Artist Dates as well as going to the art store for art supplies. And I can see the improvement already. I often sit in amazement of what I just completed. I also signed up with Skillshare and started taking Nina Rycroft’s illustration courses, as well as any other courses that I felt could help me learn how to use the different mediums.
For me, putting up my art on public display is about conquering my fear of not being good enough and feeling afraid of never measuring up. I have changed my thinking. I no longer compare myself to my friend Ester, who is an amazing artist, and an incredible illustrator. Nor do I compare me to anyone else. I am me. I look at the world differently to anyone else. I am discovering my own style. And, most of all, I am having fun. I experiment all the time. I now compare myself to myself and how far I have come in such a short time.
And do you know what has surprised me the most? This release, this freedom I have found in my art has found its way into my writing. I play with words. I have fun with them. I have fun in my stories. I especially noticed this in the Sci-fi/fantasy novel I just finished. I had an absolutely thrilling time writing the last part of my novel. Each time I sat down I felt exhilarated.
As for my art, I have signed up to take Nina Rycroft’s illustration Masterclass e-course. And my friend Ester is taking it with me. We’ll be doing it together. How cool is that?
So, what about you? What can you do to become all that you can be and start understanding your fears, overcome those that hold your back?
Valerie Khoo is now getting commissions for her rope art AND her artworks. Katrin Dreiling has just had her first book come out. It’s written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by her. It's called, The World's Worst Pirate.
As for me, people are liking my illustrations and watching my journey. One day, I will realise my dream and write and illustrate my own picture book.
You can find out more about Julia Cameron and her book: The Artists Way
Betty Edwards has a website. Find out more here and read her book and do the exercises. It’s amazing.
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Michelle Worthington is an international award winning children's author. She released her first children's picture book in November 2011. Since then she has released ten picture books, two within the last six months. Michelle is also the founder of Share Your Story Australia.
Persistent and tenacious , Michelle joined me for a chat about overcoming rejection, what’s her ‘why’ and how that impacts all she does, and how now she is available to help and mentor aspiring, and emerging authors .
Megan: Can you give me a brief overview of you journey to publication of that first book in 2011?
Michelle: Goodness me, that seems like a million years ago. After ten years of trying, I had all but given up on my dream of getting my picture book published. I had made every mistake, got a contract that was cancelled during the GFC and not had any clue there were people out there that could have helped me.
It was timing that got me my first contract in the end. I found a local publisher who had just finished an Australian animal book when I emailed my manuscript and were looking to use the same illustrator. Timing and luck, I'm not sure how much talent had to do with it, but I hope a little bit too!
Megan: I'm pretty sure talent had a lot to do with it. So much has happened since then. What publishing experiences have you had over the years since? What publishing experiences have you had over the years?
Michelle: I have had the absolute pleasure to work with some amazing publishers and illustrators and learned so much along the way. I'm still learning. I think you always do as a creative in such a dynamic industry. I love working as part of a team so the publication process suits me, both traditionally and independent. I am mostly traditionally published, except for The Pink Pirate.
That makes me what they call a hybrid. I really don't like that term. It shouldn't matter what pathway to publication you take, as long as you have something to say that makes a difference.
Megan: That's so true. Do you think that it is because for a long time self-publishing had a bad name because of a lot of not well made books were put out? Though that has changed so much now. These days you often can't tell traditionally published books from many of the self-published books
Michelle: I think so, but times are changing. Opinions are taking longer to change but the focus has to be on quality and author branding, no matter what publishing channel you choose.
Megan: You have had your share of rejection letters and emails. What have you learnt from those experiences?
Michelle: Over 300 to date. It showed me how passionate I was about doing this. Each rejection was an opportunity to learn and improve my writing or figure out what sort of writer I wanted to be. I still get down about rejections, especially when I really thought my story would be a good fit for that publisher, but it won't stop me. My motto is, "not this story, not them, not now" and move on.
Megan: And that is the key to the whole journey in the end, isn't Michelle? Digging deep and discovering and articulating your 'why.' And your passion for what you believe comes out in everything you do too.
Michelle: Absolutely, if you don't know your why, stop right now and figure it out for two reasons. to keep you going when times get tough and to make your life so much easier when it comes to marketing and promotion, a very tricky element of being an author.
It’s easier to market your why than yourself. I don't like talking about myself, but I can talk about my books until the cows come home. I think a lot of authors miss the point when it comes to marketing, especially via social media.
Megan: That is so true. One of the first things I did before I set up my website, and my Facebook pages was to articulate my why. This helps steer every conversation, and everything I get involved in. It has certainly helped me avoid some nasty virtual reefs.
Speaking about being able to talk about your books... as authors, we often put aspects of ourselves in our characters who we write about. What character do you identify with the most out of all the books you’ve read, and those you’ve written?
Michelle: Of the books I have read, I am Anne of Green Gables, Laura Wilder, Silky from the Far Away Tree and a hobbit, but the only book I have ever written with myself as the character was Hootie the Cutie. It was the trickiest book to write. All my books have elements of my upbringing, my beliefs, and my experiences in them. That is what children connect with, authentic stories.
Megan: I love Hootie the Cutie. One of my fav's.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times about you as an author having something to say, and finding a way to say it. How important is it for us to share our stories with the wider community?
Michelle: It is how we have passed down knowledge from generation to generation from the beginning of time. It is what makes us human, the ability to share stories with each other in order to teach, inspire and create. Everyone has a story to tell, and sometimes you have to show real bravery to tell it.
Megan: Telling stories is a wonderful way to communicate a message, to pass on a story that happened long ago, or yesterday. All sorts of things. You’ve recently started Share Your Story. Can you explain what it is, and how it came to be, and why you started it?
Michelle: It started out of my desire to help aspiring authors have an easier journey to publication than I did. There is so much amazing talent in Australia right now and so many stories that can inspire change for the better in our community.
But with the publishing industry becoming more and more daunting, I wanted to create a tribe of new writers and experienced authors who could work together to bring a new voice to the Australian arts scene. We are not a writers group. We are an organisation aiming to educate, inspire and empower writers to publish their stories and grow their author business. My goal is for authors to outgrow us and come back as guest speakers and mentors.
Megan: Wow! That is amazing. I love your heart Michelle. And you are right. It is daunting these days. I find it difficult in that, for someone unpublished like myself, I hear so many conflicting bits of advice. It is wonderful you have someone, like yourself, being willing to show and to guide aspiring and emerging authors, to help them grow their brand, their business, and to grow as a writer too.
You’ve been so giving of your time today. Thank you so much. Are there any final words you have for any emerging authors that are looking to get published?
Michelle: If you know in your heart that your story matters, never give up. I'm always here to help if you need me. My email inbox is always open.
I think that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for today. I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat.
Michelle: Thanks for having me.
3 fun facts about Michelle:
I love wearing old socks
I'm allergic to dust
My next husband will be Jamie from Outlander, that's why my current husband won't let me go to Scotland
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In the second in my series of conversations with authors and illustrators, I am pleased to welcome illustrator, Katrin Dreiling.
Megan: Hi, Katrin. I just wanted to say that I am so pleased to have found you on social media. I think I first saw your illustrations on Facebook. I love your quirky, fun style. And I am rapt to have met you in person at KidLitVic2017 this year too.
Katrin: Oh, wow thank you Megan I'm very happy I have met you personally and online, too. It's always fantastic to meet the people behind their profile pics in real life...
Megan: So true. So, maybe we should start at the beginning, as that is always a good place to start.
Has art always been an influence in your life? If so, in what way?
Katrin: It certainly has. Since I was really little I would always draw or craft things. I have always been very interested in music, too. Not so much making music myself but listening to it and trying to understand the musician's mind and his/her work.
Megan: I have been reading your blog. In your first post, Eins, you shared briefly about your childhood and teen years. Would you share just a little bit with me, and what has helped you overcome your fears of following your dreams?
Katrin: My teens and even twenties were marked by emotional and some physical abuse by my parents and sibling and they pretty much had planned out what was accepted for me to do and what not. Even regarding my job choice. I broke free from most of that when I moved out, and later on moved to South Africa for three months to help teaching English at an orphanage.
The wounds of such abuse last for a life time, though. To various degrees. I also stepped away from that past in a big way when I met my husband who helped me become 'myself' again. But it still took me a long time to come back to art because in my mind I still listened to what my parents wanted.
Megan: I can understand that, especially the emotional and psychological abuse. It can take a lifetime to change your thinking, and is certainly a work in progress. What would you say was the catalyst, the reason that you turned to art again as an adult?
Katrin: So, it was always there but very much in the background. My children then brought me back to it and my husband encouraged me to keep going.
Megan: It is wonderful that you have had the support of your husband. It is so important to have a cheer squad cheering you on and encouraging you. I read on your blog that you were a teacher. What made you give up teaching and go into illustration?
Katrin: It's really tricky to pinpoint a moment when that happened. I think I stopped putting more effort into building up my teaching career and increased working on my art simultaneously. It was a gradual process. I guess I could feel how much illustrating fulfilled me and that my work steadily improved... it was going somewhere and that encouraged me to keep going. At some point, I actually had three jobs - mum, teacher and illustrator and one thing had to go.
Megan: Woah! That sounds full on.
Katrin: Interestingly enough the money that I earned as a teacher versus the complete lack thereof in illustrating didn't stop me. It's an import message to my children, too, I think. My husband had the same idea unfortunately. Just around the same time when I stopped working actively as a teacher, he quit his job as a university professor and founded a tech startup. It's going well and somewhere, but in the middle of it all we sometimes look at each other and think we are completely nuts—with three children, a dog and a mortgage.
Katrin: We still like to think that we inspire our children… even if finances are tight sometimes.
Megan: I don't think that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, it might teach them something about what it takes to follow your dreams, do what you are good at, and what fulfills you.
So, at some point you decided to go into illustration. What was the first thing you did?
Katrin: Do you mean career step wise or the kind of illustration I focused on first?
Megan: Good point. They are both different. Let's take your second question as I was going to ask you about the style of illustration you do. I love it. How did that come about? And did it come about before you decided to make illustration your career?
Katrin: I'm glad you like it Megan, thank you.
So, I've always had this thing that I would 'outline' things I drew first with a black pen. It's still how I work mostly. I use ink fine liners for outlining and then I fill it with any kind of paint or even (digitally) with paper collages.
When I was young, art teachers at school, or especially an 'artsy' friend of mine back then tried to convince me it looked 'wrong' and that in reality things are not outlined like that.
They only made me more stubborn I think.
I admire everyone who can draw things realistically so that it looks like a copy. But it's not for me. If I wanted that I would use a camera. I'm interested in the things one cannot see and that tickle a child's imagination. The results are often wonky and quirky but I'm working on this idea and hope that it will be obvious to see and get better every day.
Megan: I'm with you on that point. Realism is amazing, and I also admire people who can do that. But, I'm the same mind when it comes to illustration. I like how you say that you are, 'Interested in the things one cannot see, and that tickle a child's imagination.' Beautiful. Okay, I've said this a few times, but I do like your style. It makes me feel like I don't have to be perfect and realistic in developing my own style. I can make things a little wonky, a bit different. You have inspired me.
Katrin: Yay! (Cheering Minion)
Megan: So, what was the first step you took in making illustration your career?
Katrin: First, I've created a picture book 'on the side' while still teaching. It's called 'How to get a fat fairy flying' and I self-published it. I think the 'true' moment of making it a career, though, was stepping into the 'public' with my work - posting it on Facebook and joining the Brisbane Illustrators Group. Both set a machinery of things into motion. You meet people and hear and learn things and everything just 'grows'.
Megan: That's true. It's not something you can do alone.
'I'm interested in the things one cannot see and that tickle a child's imagination.' Katrin Dreiling
Katrin: Then I started going to conferences. I did the CYA competition and won second place in 2015....I think? (I'm so bad with dates and numbers).
Megan: Wow! Congrats on the win. Conferences are great for connecting with others. You have illustrated a book written by Michelle Worthington, The World's Worst Pirate. Can you tell me how that came about?
Katrin: I met Kathy Creamer and later on her husband Peter on Facebook. They run Little Pink Dog Books and Kathy approached me about submissions for their brand new publishing business. They were also my first ever clients who bought an original art piece from me and I really appreciate all their support and that they believed in my work from an early stage on.
Megan: That is so wonderful. Your experience really shows the importance of getting to know others in the industry and getting your work out there.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add? What advice do you have for an emerging illustrator, such as myself?
Katrin: I think the most important thing is that your illustrations 'tell' something that goes beyond just the visual. Have a message. The rest will follow
(I hope this made sense...)
Megan: Can you elaborate? Do you mean that each illustration tells a story?
Katrin: Ideally illustrations in a picture book don't just show what's in the text but tell their own little tale. They also carry an emotion and atmosphere that adds to the story told. At least that's the kind of illustrations I always go back to when I look at picture books.
Megan:That is what I have learnt too. Thank you so much for your time today, Katrin. I think that about wraps it up.
Katrin: It was a pleasure Megan Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work!
Three Fun Facts about Katrin:
1. I'm scared of birds. If they swoop me or come too close to my head it sets off a ridiculous presentation of running, screaming, and arm-waving...
2. I can't get enough of watching Golden Retriever puppy videos.
3. I love to recycle art supplies and use the tiniest scrap of leftover paper for my work.
If you want to find out more about Katrin, or would like to follow her on social media, head over to her website. www,katrindreiling.com
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You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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