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.
Deb Abela is the author of many books including the spelling bee books and the Grimsden trilogy, both of which she discusses below., as well as her new book out in August, Bear in Space, the loss of school visits and the difficulties in connecting with those she works with through the Room to Read charity.
Hi Deb, and welcome to The Book Muse!
- Have you always wanted to be a writer, and where did you get your start in writing content for children?
Yes. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 7. I LOVE disappearing into a book. My first job writing for kids was as producer/writer for a show called, Cheez TV on Network TEN. It was a cartoon hosting show, which meant I was PAID to watch cartoons! Yes, paid!
- What was it like working with Cheez TV – and what was the weirdest thing, or the most interesting thing you had to write a segment about?
In between cartoons, I had to write segments for the hosts…sometimes they acted out skits, interviewed people or we went on location. The best location we went to was New York City and one of the most interesting things I wrote about was interviewing an astronaut about her time in space. We had to ask her, of course, how astronauts go to the toilet in outer space.
- You have written a variety of novels for children – are they all aimed at middle grade readers, or are some aimed at a different age group?
I loved being 11 and so most of my characters are the same age. I’ve written about 11 year olds who are spies, brilliant spellers, trapped in a flooded city, flying machine inventors, escapees from WW2, soccer players and owners of amusement parks. I have two picture books for younger readers called Wolfie An Unlikely Hero and Bear in Space, which is about a bear in space.
- I got started with your books with The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee – and as a quiz writer, started writing a quiz in my mind even though it was a review book – what is it about spelling bees that inspired you to write the India Wimple books?
When I was in grade 4, I had this stupendous teacher called Miss Gray. Every Monday she would hand out a list of words for us to study and on Friday she would hold Spelling Olympics. She’d pit the boys against the girls in a running race to the board to spell the word. We LOVED it and became really good spellers.
- Do you think there’d be more India Wimple books, or has she gone as far as possible with spelling bees?
There are two spelling bees, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery. In the first, shy, nervous India Wimple is encouraged by her gorgeous family to enter the national competition and in the second India is invited to compete in the international comp in London.
- The Grimsdon trilogy is one I’m yet to read – what is the premise of that, and what made you decide to write three books?
About 15 years ago I got really angry that governments around the world weren’t addressing the issue of climate change…so I thought, I wonder what would happen if we keep ignoring the science and something big goes wrong. So I flooded a city and added sea monsters, flying machines and girls who are good with swords. I was harassed by kids to write more, so followed New City and Final Storm, with just as much action, wild weather, robots and courageous kids. They are essentially action adventure stories where the kids rule!
- Have you had any new releases come out this year so far, and what are they?
I have a new picture book coming out in August called Bear in Space. It began with a sketch of a bear by illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, floating in space. The story is about a bear who is different who loves space and when he builds a rocket to fly into space, it’s there he makes his first real friend when he meets a panda in her rocket who also loves space. It’s about being different and the importance of being yourself and having friends who love you just the way you are.
- Have you had to cancel, postpone or change the way you participate in any events, appearances or launches?
Like so many people, 2020 for me has been completely turned upside down. I’d been invited to festivals all over Australia, including the Byron Bay and Sydney Writers Festivals, two festivals overseas and was invited to be writer-in-residence at schools across the country. I LOVE working with kids, so it has been so disappointing to have all those visits be cancelled, and I feel so bad for the festival organisers who put so much work into creating such brilliant events that couldn’t safely go ahead. So I am now doing my school visits and workshops and teaching online, which is fun for now but I’m really looking forward to going into the classes again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up5I7OfVuaI&feature=emb_logo
- Have you won any awards for your books, and which ones are they?
I’ve been very fortunate to have won awards and been shortlisted for many of my books. Here’s a link to the awards: https://www.deborahabela.com/debs-awards
- You’ve also written across several genres – have any had more challenges than another, or do they all present their own writing or research based challenges?
All writing presents its own challenges and after 26 books, one thing I do know is that they are all different. Even books from the same series can have their own personality and difficulties. I wrote my first book, Max Remy In Search of the Time and Space Machine in 6 weeks, but others have taken much longer. The Grimsdon series is more complicated and really pushed the way my brain works, but it is one of my favourite series. For my WW2 novel, Teresa A New Australian, I spent 3 months researching before I even began writing the novel, which I needed for the novel to ring true.
- You’re also an ambassador for Room to Read – what does Room to Read do, and what specific work do you do for them?
Room to Read is a charity that has changed the lives of 16.8 million children in 16 countries. They believe that real world change begins with education and they do this by working with local communities, partner organisations, and governments to develop literacy skills in primary kids and help girls complete secondary school. www.roomtoread.org.
- Has any of Room to Read’s work been affected by COVID-19?
Yes, it is harder to reach some communities now and our fundraising efforts this year have been hampered and some put on hold. The founder, John Wood, is still optimistic, and they held an online event on May 1 led by Julia Roberts and over 200 artists and leaders to bring the joy of reading into homes worldwide.
- What do you do as a role model for Books in Homes?
Books in Homes works with schools and communities to deliver free books of choice to kids who may not have their own, setting them up for a love of reading and literacy skills which will form the foundation for lifelong achievement. My role is helping select the books and go into classrooms to hand out the free books….you should see those happy faces when they hear they can keep the books forever!
- As an author and artist, how are you managing the changes in how the arts industry is working during these hard times?
It’s very tough out there. The entertainment and publishing industries have been some of the hardest hit during this time. Booksellers, festivals and publishers are looking at ways to survive with the cancellation of festivals, book launches, readings and tours. Ironically, isolation has given me more time to write than I’ve had in years. I don’t know what the industry will look like when we come out of this, but I do know for now I need to buy books from my local store and keep finding solace and fun in writing.
- Do you have a favourite local bookseller you like to frequent?
I am lucky because I have two bookshops just a walk away, The Children’s Bookshop and Gleebooks. There is also a Dymocks not far as well but the great thing is, bookshops are still operating online and would LOVE to take orders from readers, which is going to be so important in supporting them and ensuring they survive.
- Who are your favourite authors to read?
Ahhh….there are so many…but I do have a few who make me feel as if I’m sitting in front of a warm fire. For kids I love Kate DiCamilo and Katherine Rundell and adults Elizabeth Strout. I’ll stop there because this list is huge.
- Many artists and authors are affected by what is going on right now – what advice do you have for people who might not think the arts are suffering, or who take it the industry for granted?
Please buy books. For you, as presents, for later…your bookshop needs you now. A lot of us have more time and the libraries are closed, so visiting a bookshop online is the perfect solution!
Keep creating – do whatever it is that is calling you, it is great for your soul, your heart and your mental health.
- Do you have a furry writing companion who keeps you company during writing sessions?
No furry friends, but the trees all around us are full of cockatoos, lorikeets, kookaburras and few seasonal birds that I love like the koel.
- Favourite writing snack?
Tea. That’s it really. Tea.
- What do you have planned next for your writing?
I have a few smaller series ideas I’ve been developing and two middle grade novels I’ve ben really enjoying. I’ve also written a poem for an environmental anthology. It’s been fun playing with ideas and disappearing into these stories as the characters slowly come to life and let me escape.
Here are ways to find me.
- Facebook: Deborah Abela Author http://www.facebook.com/deborah.abela.9
- Twitter: @DeborahAbela https://twitter.com/DeborahAbela
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahabela/
- Instagram: deborah_abela_ https://www.instagram.com/deborah_abela_/
- Teachers’ Resources: https://www.deborahabela.com/teacher-notes
- Videos and trailers: https://www.deborahabela.com/videos