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.
Kylie Howarth is the author of several picture books, and the new Fish Kid series. The second Fish Kid book was released in March, as restrictions started coming in, and would have had launches and events cancelled. It looks like a really fun series, too. Like many authors, Kylie has turned to online publicity – the best we can do in these times, across as many channels as possible. I hope this interview helps more readers find their way to Kylie’s work.
Hi Kylie and welcome to The Book Muse
- You write and illustrate books – did you start with illustrating or writing, and when did you begin to combine the two?
Initially a friend approached me to see if I’d illustrate a book she’d written. We soon discovered that was not the way things are usually done in the publishing industry. This sparked something in me though, so from there I began writing and illustrating my own stories and was lucky enough to find a publisher who was keen to acquire them.
- Can you tell my readers about your illustration process, and the mediums you work with?
I love to use my children’s paintings as background textures in my books. We have messy backyard art sessions, then I scan the textures we create into my computer. I’d usually draw all my linework in pencil on paper, then add colour and texture digitally. More recently though, I’ve begun drawing my linework in Procreate and illustrating my books on my iPad.
- What style of books do you usually write – picture books or longer works, and what age group do you aim to write for?
I initially started out creating only picture books as these were the type of books I was reading to my children. As they grew and became interested in junior fiction, I began writing and illustrating my Fish Kid chapter book series. I have two books in this series out now, which is great for kids aged 6 – 12 and am currently working on the third. I’m also working on a new picture book which is top secret for now.
- When you first submitted to a publisher, what was that process like, and how long did it take you to be accepted?
It took submitting three different picture book manuscripts before I had one accepted. A publisher I met a SCBWI event, was interested in my very first manuscript. She held onto it for a year! I’d sent her another in the meantime and eventually she contacted me to say they weren’t going to take either. She did however ask if I’d consider illustrating another author’s book. I agreed to take a look at the manuscript and at the same time, sent her a third story idea of my own. She picked up the phone five minutes after I’d sent ‘Fish Jam,’ and said she wanted to publish it! She then asked how soon I could get the final artwork to her.
- Did you have any new releases coming out in the next few months, and what were they?
Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was just released in March.
- Did you have to cancel any events, launches or author appearances due to the pandemic, and if so, what were they?
Yes, my book launch for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was scheduled for the 29th of March. I’d ordered all the book stock, booked the venue, printed book marks and bought 2 boxes of sea creature lollies. My wonderful friends had bought manta ray cookie cutters, sea creature costumes and shark fin cupcake toppers, as they always help and support my book launches. Unfortunately the launch was cancelled due to the pandemic, so I’ve had to eat a lot of sea creature lollies all by myself.
School workshops and festival events I was booked for were also cancelled.
- What do you usually do during school visits, and how many have you had to cancel over the next few months?
At school visits I like to get kids excited about the themes in my books. For my Fish Kid talks I bring along shark egg cases, read out crazy fish facts, show them images of me diving with hammerhead sharks and swimming with humpback whales, and even play them songs on my conch shell! I explain how these experiences inspire the ideas for my stories. Then the kids draw along with me as I show them how to draw sea creatures step-by-step. For the younger kids, I’ll read them my ‘Chip’ picture books, teach them how to draw him, then we have fun brainstorming things we could find on the beach to dress him up in disguise.
I had several visits and events cancelled at the end of last term, as well as a trip to Sydney to promote the Dulux colouring in book I’d recently created. I’d normally start to get a lot of school visit bookings coming in now for Term 2 but that won’t be happening.
In saying that, I’m thrilled that the CBCA have delayed Book Week until Term 4 this year. Term 3 is usually the busiest for authors, and hopefully now, all our Book Week bookings will be postponed rather than cancelled.
- Your Fish Kid series looks like fun – what age group is it aimed at, and did you illustrate this series as well?
They are aimed at kids aged 7 – 12 but I’ve found that people of any age enjoy them.
I illustrated the first book in the series, Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja, using pencil and ink on paper. Then I got my fancy new ipad and actually illustrated the second book digitally. So it’s interesting to compare the two – most people can’t see a difference.
- Your website says you run workshops for all ages – how do you alter these presentations for younger children compared to middle grade or young adult readers?
It’s actually fairly easy to adjust to the different age groups. I show them similar images and talk about similar things, but just add more detail for the older groups.
For the kindy kids I’ll print out a template with the basic shape of ‘Chip’ the seagull already on it, and they can add the beak and eyes etc from there. The older kids will get to do a few different drawings, develop their sea creatures further into characters and then begin thinking of story ideas for those characters as well.
- What is your favourite thing to draw – either for your books or just for fun?
Definitely sea creatures.
- Do you prefer in person events, or online events?
I do like in person events because its wonderful to engage and interact with the kids personally. In saying that, you can still do that to a degree online. You can also wear your Ugg boots!
- Favourite medium to work with, and why?
I love the HB pencil brush in Procreate. Working digitally is saving me so much time right now, particularly when I’m working on roughs. I can draw a scene quickly, erase, enlarge and move bits around, then hit ‘share’ and email it straight to my art director. No scanning or cleaning up the scanned images in photoshop.
- What inspires your stories and illustrations?
My kids and the adventures we have together. I write stories that I think they will love, about things that they are interested in. We spend a lot of time snorkelling and boating as a family, which is why the ocean is a consistent theme in my books.
- As an arts industry worker, what is the most important thing about the arts and supporting the arts for you?
If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s how important the arts really are. Everyone is relying on the arts for enjoyment, schooling, mental health and so many other reasons, right now. Its important to support our creators as the world would be a sad and boring place without us.
- Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live? What do you like about them?
There are some fabulous bookstores in Western Australia and I thank them all for being so supportive of local authors. Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts are particularly amazing. During the pandemic they’ve been running Home Club live on Instagram, where a different author or illustrator joins them each day, shows you around their studio and does craft and drawing activities with the kids watching. I was supposed to be on this week, but unfortunately tweaked my neck and have been bed ridden, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching them all! If you don’t catch them live, you can watch the episodes later on YouTube.
Anything I may have missed?
Thank you, Kylie,