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 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.
Kate and Jol Temple are a husband and wife writing team – the authors of the Alice Toolie books, and the latest picture book, released in May, Bin Chicken – featuring the ibis, known affectionately in Australia as the bin chicken. They had festival appearances and school visits cancelled due to the pandemic, and talk about all their projects here. It is so exciting to feature as many authors as possible during these hard times.
- You write all your books as a team – what is this process like, and how did you decide to tackle your books in this way?
Working as a team creatively has a lot of rewards. There’s always someone to bounce off, you have access to ideas that you might not come up with and there’s a natural quality control. We didn’t really ever decide to start working like this, it just happened! We’d both worked in creative teams professionally so it was an easy fit. I think that it seems strange but we talk to many kids who write stories and comics with their friends too, so kids are often the first to understand this way of working.
- What is the main age group you write for, and what made you choose this age group in particular?
We write for two different age groups; we write picture books for kids of all ages (you’re never too old for a picture book!) and we also write junior fiction like the Yours Troolie Alice Toolie series which is for boys and girls 7 -10.
- Your new book is Bin Chicken – was the release of this book affected by the pandemic, and in what way?
Bin Chicken was set to come out May 1. We had big plans! Three writers’ festivals and lot of school visits. We also like to throw launches with cupcakes and heaps of cool activities for kids but sadly, this was all cancelled because we’re all social distancing. The arrivial of the books was also delayed due to supply chain, but they got here just in time!
- What made you choose the ibis – the bin chicken – to write a book about?
Bin Chicken is about one of our favourite and most maligned birds, the ibis! It’s such a funny and stinky bird. It stalks playgrounds and city parks but its real home should be mudflats and wetlands. Basically, humans have changed this ibis’s natural habitat and it has had to adapt. What I love about this book is that it’s all about how resilient this bird is… its way of life has changed and it just adapted… it reminds me of us right now, adapting to so much change in our own way of life and kids have been awesome at that.
- Do you write in other formats other than picture books, and what do you write for other audiences?
We love writing for kids… can’t think of anyone better to write for.
- You love to rhyme in your books – what made you choose this way of writing, and what do you think it brings to books for children?
We do write in rhyme when it comes to picture books… now that I think all our picture books rhyme. I guess it’s all those Dr Seuss books we read as kids and then read to our own kids. But we have just written a draft of a new picture book that isn’t in rhyme so we’re branching out!
- When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and how long have you been writing for?
Kate: There were only two jobs I ever really wanted. I always wanted to write books for kids and I also thought I’d be an excellent ice-cream manufacture. I wrote books from the age of 10 and I never really stopped.
- Who was it that instilled a love for words in you as a child?
Growing up my house was full of good kids’ books. I read a lot, I loved it. I also was very lucky when I was a teenager that went to live in Demark in the house of a famous Danish children’s publisher. That was a house that was truly full of books! But also authors and illustrators coming and going… to me it was a glamorous and enchanting calling and although the reality of writing work is not technically glamorous, I still find it enchanting and even occasionally glamorous.
- What book has been the biggest challenge for you to write, and why?
Room On Our Rock!!!! What a nightmare it is to write a book that you read front-to-back and back-to-front! It gives me a headache just thinking about it! But it was worth it.
- You have a dog who thinks it’s a racoon – what kind of writing buddy is your dog?
We have the best dog EVER. She is a great writing companion and a great lockdown companion. She loves pats and walks but can sleep on the sofa all day while you write. You can’t ask for more than that.
- Did either of you have a pre-writing career, and what was it?
We had the SAME pre-writing career. We were both staff writers in a creative advertising agency. It’s hard work coming up with ideas on tap but it does teach you a lot of skills that have been useful as fiction writers… but writing kids’ books is much more fun.
- Did this career crossover into your career as a writer in any way, and how?
Both are creative writing jobs so there’s cross over in terms of skills, but the motivation and discipline are very different. The main thing working in an agency taught me what how to accept rejection, take feedback and not to be too attached to ideas. This flexibility has been very useful in writing for kids.
- How do you think the arts will be affected by the pandemic, and what would you like to see people do to support the arts?
The pandemic has been catastrophic for arts workers. I hope it’s brought the nature of arts work into the general social awareness more. Arts workers work very differently and get paid quite differently. This has all been impacted terribly, especially since Plan B jobs for arts workers in hospitality etc have also been hit hard. I don’t know what the policy answers are, but there needs to be one.
- Do you have a favourite local bookseller you frequent, and which ones would you like to explore?
We are lucky that there are so many bookshops that actively support their local authors and illustrators. Berkelouw Leichhardt is brilliant and they really know their children’s section. Better Read is another favourite in Sydney. For Melbourne The Children’s Bookroom and Readings Kids.
- When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I dream of a banana lounge. It hasn’t happened yet, but I drop a heap of hints. When I do have time, I really enjoy gardening when I have time. I’d love to give a more exciting and creative answer to this, like I knit sweaters for walrus pups or tend to my bonsai collection, but the truth is when I’m not writing I’m busy being a mum. Jol on the other had has an excellent hobby turning junk he finds into mini Star Wars dioramas. He’s developed quiet a following on Insta for this!
- What kind of adventures have you had recently, and have they inspired any future works?
We recently came back from a very special trip to Japan to see the Setouchi Art Triennial it was unimaginably good. There was also lots of visiting old castles and little museums. I’m very grateful that we had that trip before this pandemic happened. We may need to live off those great memories for a while.
- Do you have any authors or other books you love to read, and why these ones in particular?
We read a lot of different stuff, I’m a big fan of Deborah Abela and we also loved Tristan Banck’s new book Detention.
- Finally, what is next for Kate and Jol?
We’ve got some exciting stuff on the horizon after Bin Chicken and there’s a new Alice Toolie out later this year. There may even be a new back-to-front book illustrated by Teri Rose Baynton who illustrated Room on Our Rock. Teri is an Australian now living in NZ so we don’t get to see her face-to-face much but we love her work and it’s always a pleasure working with her.