Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Victoria MacKinlay is a debut author with Scholastic Australia. Her first book, RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT came out earlier this month. Like many authors in the Australian book community, she has had various events, appearances and launches cancelled due to the pandemic. In the wake of the pandemic, the book community has come together to try to promote these books, and support authors – as my participants have been discussing through out these interviews
Hi Victoria and welcome to The Book Muse!
1. RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT came out with Scholastic at the start of April – what is the book about?
It’s the tongue-twisting tale of a friendly Frog, a greedy Rabbit and a Robot with a short fuse, and their chaotic adventures with a magic lamp.
It has themes of friendship, greed, kindness and a gentle message about the importance of paying attention. There’s also an ethical dilemma and an act of altruism. So, basically, a LOT packed into a picture book of only 172 words!
2. Where did the idea come from?
My 3-year-old daughter and I were playing with a frog sponge in the bath saying: “Ribbit” and “Rub it” as we were washing. The repetition of those words was so funny and we quickly added a Rabbit and a Robot. The game stuck with both of us. My daughter kept asking for it and I started writing down lists of words that followed the “R*b*t” formation in various notebooks. I challenged myself to tell a fully rounded story using only those words … and that is how Ribbit Rabbit Robot came into being.
3. It is also your debut picture book – prior to becoming an author, what was your job, and what was it that made you take the leap from this into writing?
I have always written stories but before being published I worked at Google for 9 years which was an incredible experience – being part of a start-up that grew into something which has changed the way the world works. I studied French and Italian at University which has allowed me to travel a lot and have a very varied career, but I’ve always dreamed of being a published author.
4. Due to the current pandemic, many authors have had launches, events and festival appearances cancelled – what events have you had to cancel, and is it possible these might be rescheduled?
The launch, various story times and my Sydney Writers Festival appearance were all cancelled, but I have to say the outreach of support and love from the book community has been incredible (including this interview!). I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me, and I’ve enjoyed moving events online (like the Facebook live story time I recently did for Harry Hartog). I hope the SWF will be rescheduled and can’t wait to read to kids in person but can’t complain about the opportunities that have been offered to me since the pandemic. Thank you everyone!
5. The title of your book is alliterative, and the text has some rhyming in it – what do you think these two aspects of literature do for kids who are learning to read?
I love to write in rhyme and read a lot of rhyme and poetry to my daughter. I studied poetry as part of my degree (I actually took the same degree at the same University as Julia Donaldson). RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT happened organically – it was created from the pure joy of playing with my daughter and my love of playing with words – but I am delighted to hear from speech pathologist friends who have described it as “gold” for working with children who struggle with the /r/ sound. I could pretend that that was my masterplan all along but it’s a very happy consequence.
6. As a debut author, how did you get published by Scholastic/what was the submission process like?
I’d seen Clare Hallifax speak at various writers’ festivals and events and booked a manuscript assessment with her at the Creative Kids Tales Festival in 2018. Unbelievably this was my first ever manuscript assessment and she was the very first publisher to read the manuscript. I was in a dream-like state when she said she liked it and asked me to submit it to her. That story will be my second published book. I sent her RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT after she had contracted my first story.
7. Why did you choose a rabbit, a robot and a frog?
Because they all follow the R*b*t sound pattern (or make a sound that does).
8. How were you paired with Scholastic book designer, Sofya Karmazina, as an illustrator for the book?
My publisher paired us together and I am so lucky that they did! Not many people know that in traditional picture book publishing the illustrator and author are kept very separate (I believe so the author doesn’t influence/dominate the illustrator and to give the illustrator space to add their own magic to the story). Essentially, once Scholastic aquired my text, my work was done. When I saw Sofya’s roughs I was blown away, almost intimidated, by how brilliant they were. I had left the text very open and she created the world in which the characters live. She added so many special and fun touches to the story. She’s an amazing talent.
9. How long have you worked in the book industry?
I got serious about writing picture books in January 2017 and signed my first book contract in June 2018. I must say that the kidlit community is made up of some of the most fun, generous and kind people I’ve ever met.
10. The arts are an important sector in society – what does it mean for you to work within this sector?
It’s a great honour and a privilege. I feel lucky every day to be able to do what I do – write for children. And I do hope during ‘the great pause’ this pandemic has afforded us, people will reflect upon the joy and comfort the arts bring to our lives.
11. With the arts becoming so important and significant for everyone during isolation, what stores are you trying to support locally?
I have a massive soft spot for Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt. They have such a beautiful book community and were going to host the launch. And I was thrilled Harry Hartog invited me to do an online story time. I am very keen to get down to Melbourne and visit all the gorgeous bookstores I’ve been stalking online.
12. What is your favourite writing snack?
Chocolate. British Dairy Milk with Turkish Delight is la creme de la creme if I can get it. Otherwise KitKat Chunkies, Kinder Buenos, Daim bars and Reese’s pieces.
13. Pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard – which do you prefer?
Pen and paper. I am a paper lover – when I lived in Florence, I used to spend hours browsing the paper shops and have also got stacks of paper I collected on work trips to Japan. I write on the squared notepads you get from Daiso for $2.80 (they remind me of the notepads we used in French schools on exchanges). Despite my vast collection of notepads, I still find that stories invariably come at inconvenient times and several have been written on crumpled receipts from the bottom of my handbag.
14. Cats or dogs – or both?
I have two beautiful rescue cats but I’m also a dog lover who grew up with a black labrador.
15. Finally, is there another book in the works?
Yes. My second picture book (which is based on the true story of my 8 year old grandfather being gifted a lion cub by a Maharajah) has been pushed back due to the pandemic and is now scheduled for May 2021. I am in the process of signing my third contract and have many more manuscripts on the go.
Thank you, Victoria,