Isolation Publicity with Kylie Howarth

 

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.

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Kylie Howarth

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.

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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.

 

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Hi Kylie and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. You write and illustrate books – did you start with illustrating or writing, and when did you begin to combine the two?

Hello!

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What is your favourite thing to draw – either for your books or just for fun?

Definitely sea creatures.

 

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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,

 

Isolation Publicity with Monique Mulligan

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Monique having high tea

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.

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Monique’s writing space

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.

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Monique has two books coming out this year – Alexandra Rose and her Icy Cold Toes with Serenity Press in May. The release and launch of this book have been affected by cancellations and her adult book, Wherever You Go, is out in September. So far, events in August and September – from what I can tell from these interviews – haven’t been affected as such yet. It will be interesting to see if they are, and how – if they are cancelled outright or have limited numbers based on distancing laws and how this might affect the overall event – will more time be allowed, or will there be multiple sessions?

 

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Hi Monique, and Welcome to The Book Muse

Thank you!

1. How did your writing career begin, and where did it begin?

In a way, my career has always involved writing of some sort – from training programs in the Australian Public Service and writing children’s curriculum for an educational publisher, to journalism, news editing, and later, publishing. When did I start writing creatively? After a few false starts around 2004-6, I would say late 2015, when on a whim, I entered a short story competition. My story was Highly Commended and I won a small cash prize. That gave me the confidence to try writing in different genres, but I soon realised what I wanted to do was write novels.

2. You’ve had several books and anthologies published with Serenity Press – what can you tell my readers about these books?

I have such a soft spot for these anthologies (which I also commissioned and edited as then editorial director of Serenity Press) – A Bouquet of Love and Destination Romance. Each one features ten emerging Australian writers and each story is linked to a common setting, such as a bridal shop and a travel agency. My stories are rom-coms – when I write romance, that is what I am drawn to (the same if I read a romance).

3. Do you still work with Serenity Press? If not, what are you focused on now?

I left Serenity Press in 2018 so I could focus more on my own writing. There were so many wonderful things about being a publisher, but I struggled to co-own a business and manage the editorial side, and find time to finish my novel. I also had a part-time job, which I still have, so something had to give.

4. Your new book, Wherever You Go, is out in September – has the COVID-19 health crisis affected any events or launches you have had planned for this, or another book – and also, both as an author and a publisher?

Not yet – it’s at copy edit stage so I haven’t planned launches yet. It’s being published through Pilyara Press and we’ll start looking at the marketing very soon. However, I do have a children’s book coming out next month – Alexandra Rose and her Icy-Cold Toes – with Serenity Press and I need to come up with some strategies for that!

5. You’ve worked as a publisher, newspaper editor, journalist, children’s curriculum writer and a magazine editor – what were the things you loved about each of these jobs, and what were their individual challenges?

Each of these jobs brought me wisdom and joy in many ways. As a publisher, I was able to commission some gorgeous books, such as Kate Forsyth’s fairy tale series, and travel to London for the London Book Fair and Northern Ireland for a writing retreat in a castle. But being a publisher was all-consuming and left little time for anything else.

As a journalist, newspaper editor and magazine editor, I had some fantastic experiences and met some wonderful people. But these were all high pressure jobs. I went from a casual journalist to senior journalist in a matter of weeks, and within two years, I was the newspaper editor. Big responsibility and late nights while juggling a growing family was really tough.

I was a curriculum writer when my boys were in the earlier years of primary school and the best thing was that I could work from home (back when this was a new thing) and still do all the school mum things I wanted to do. Funny thing, it paid better than all my other jobs! And they paid for me to fly to Sydney once a year … it was perfect for that time of my life.

6. Did any of the skills and techniques of the above jobs ever cross over?

Absolutely. Interviewing techniques, writing under pressure, knowing how to sell a story to a journalist – these are just some of the skills I carry from one role to another.

7. What is Wherever You Go about, and where did the inspiration come from?

Without giving away too much, Wherever You Go was inspired firstly by a news article that led me to wonder how grief and loss affects a marriage. I’ve always been more interested in how relationships worked than in the romance aspect. Other inspirations included my love of food and cooking, and Bridgetown, Western Australia, a place I’m thinking of moving to one day. Here’s the blurb:

A life-shattering tragedy threatens to tear apart chef Amy Bennet’s marriage. Desperate to save it, she moves with her husband Matt to Blackwood, a country town where no one knows who they are.

Forced to deal with her crumbling marriage and the crippling grief that follows her wherever she goes, Amy turns to what she knows best: cooking. She opens a café showcasing regional seasonal produce, and forms the Around the World Supper Club, serving mouth-watering feasts to new friends. As her passion for food returns, she finds a place for herself in Blackwood. But when a Pandora’s Box of shame and blame is unlocked, Matt gives Amy an ultimatum that takes their marriage to the edge.

8. What do you do/have you done with Stories on Stage?

I founded Stories on Stage in 2012 so my workplace could offer something literary in their arts programming. The events are held in a theatre and combine an in-conversation with a supper (home-made by me). It’s always a great night. Since 2012, I’ve hosted more than 50 Australian authors at Stories on Stage. This year, due to COVID-19, we’ve had to cancel our regular events so we’re starting an online edition. I’m excited because it means I can interview a lot of interstate authors who normally couldn’t make it to Perth.

9. You’ve done a lot of work in the arts sector – what has been the most rewarding thing about working in this industry?

One thing? That’s hard … but I’d have to say the connections I’ve made with such wonderful, talented creators. And the opportunities I’ve had to read early copies of books!

10. When not writing, what do you enjoy doing or reading?

Lots of things. I love cooking for other people. It brings me pleasure to feed people and see them enjoying what I’ve made. And spending time with those I love brings me great joy.

I love taking photos, especially when I travel – so many times, I look at things and think ‘That would make a great photo’. But I also am being mindful of being in the moment and not always trying to capture a moment.

I love going for long walks (uphill, not so much), rambling around the countryside, and seeing new places.

And most nights, I look forward to chilling out with my husband, my cat on my lap, a glass of good wine in my hand, and watching whatever show or movie we’re into at the time. And later, I read, all sorts of books, whatever my mood tells me to read at the time.

11. Have you won any awards for your writing, and what are they?

Once I won first prize for a poem … but that was a long time ago. The closest I’ve come to winning since then is a Highly Commended. But, I don’t enter many things, and like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

12. How do you think the arts industry will cope in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can people help support the industry? Also, how important do you think the arts are in this time?

The arts industry has been terribly affected by COVID-19, restricting many creatives in sharing their experiences. It’s really tough when all the gigs that earn money are cancelled and there is such uncertainty about when things will change. But artists are survivors. They will survive, albeit by embracing different ways of sharing their experiences. What I have seen across the arts community is a beautiful ‘pulling together’, wherein artists help each other to share music, story, art and more in innovative ways. I hope this continues, because Art in all its forms has always helped people connect and keep on going.

How can people help? Buy books. Buy art. Buy music. Make the most of the free experiences being offered online. Tell people about it. Review whatever you buy.

13. Do you have any favourite authors or books that you always turn to?

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourites, especially Rebecca. I’ve read it so many times. I was thrilled to visit a town she lived in for many years – Fowey, in Cornwall. I’ve started writing a gothic-style novel set in the Blue Mountains, NSW, because I love that genre so much. Stories with big old houses and secrets will always tempt me. I also recently discovered Sarah Waters and really admire her writing.

14. Even though I probably know this – favourite writing companion – cat or dog?

My rescue cat Boogle is my treasured writing companion. When it suits her, she sits on my lap while I write. Also, when it suits her, she sits in front of my screen and makes loud huffing noises.

15. Favourite writing snack?

Chips. It’s always potato chips. Original Smiths Crisps will get me every time.

16. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you are always going to?

We have a chain bookstore nearby which is okay, but I prefer independent bookshops, and none of those are close. I wish they were. I used to dream of owning a bookshop/café at one point, but not any more. I’d never find time to write if I did that! Booksellers work so hard – it’s definitely not as easy as it looks on TV.

17. What are you currently working on?

The Story You Tell, which is the second book in my Around the World Supper Club series. It picks up from Wherever You Go about two years later, but features a different main character. It’s partly inspired by the Echo and Narcissus myth.

18. What’s more of a challenge – shorter works, longer works, fiction or non-fiction?

Writing fiction is more challenging for me than non-fiction – that just flows, probably due to my journalistic background. All forms have their challenges, but I find writing short stories – not my rom-coms though, they just about fell onto the page – harder than long form. Maybe it’s because I can tend to waffle on when I tell anyone a story … you know, you have to set the scene first and give the context. Right?

19. You write for a variety of audiences under the same name, where some authors choose separate names for different genres or audiences – what made you decide to maintain the same name across all books? (This by the way, is something I support – I’m curious as to why different people do it differently).

I’ve thought about this from time to time – should I have a different name for different genres? But I’ve worked hard to build the platform I have under one name, and I don’t want to have to start from scratch. Or look after yet another set of social media accounts – I already have my own plus a work one to look after. It does my head in sometimes!

Also, I have no plans to write more children’s books, so I’m comfortable with maintaining the same name for my future writing.

20. Finally, what is next for your writing career?

Biting my nails and pacing for weeks once Wherever You Go is launched … writing the next book …

I dream of being invited to writers festivals and having a book tour … of having the opportunity to research a book idea overseas.

But in the more immediate future, I just need to stop procasti-cleaning, watching hilarious cat videos or making cups of tea, and write.

You can find Monique at:
Website: moniquemulligan.com
Twitter: @MoniqueMulligan
Instagram: @moniquemulliganauthor
Facebook: Monique Mulligan, Author

Anything I may have missed?

Isolation Publicity with Josephine Moon

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.

cake makers wish

Joephine Moon has written several books, but it’s her latest, The Cake Maker’s Wish, that has been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. She found out early on in the crisis, and as the days and weeks went on, like many, things were cancelled left, right and centre. This interview is getting some of her publicity out there in these trying times.

Hi Josephine and welcome to The Book Muse

1. To begin with, what was the book you were supposed to be launching in the next few months when the pandemic hit, and can you tell my readers what it is about?

I was in my publisher’s office having a team meeting to discuss the publicity and marketing strategies for The Cake Maker’s Wish quite early on in the history of Covid19. I don’t think any of us could have predicted that within weeks they’d be cancelling all author tours and events. It happened so fast.

The Cake Maker’s Wish follows the story of Olivia Kent, who bravely decides to move herself and her young son Darcy from their family home in Richmond, Tasmania, to the (fictional) village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds in England. She (along with many others from around the world) has answered the call to help the village in an experimental project to revive its dying economy. At the same time, she has just one wish—to have a family once more. She hopes that the move may help her reconnect with her grandmother’s history in the village, perhaps find some long-lost relatives, help Darcy to connect with his Norwegian father, or at the very least build a new family of village friends. When she gets there, though, she finds that not everyone in the village is as happy about the project as she believed. And while she hasn’t thought about romance in eight years, some unexpected opportunities arise.

2. Are all your books family dramas, or do you dabble in other genres and styles?

Both The Beekeeper’s Secret and The Gift of Life are mysteries.

3. What attracts you to writing family dramas?

It’s funny, but I haven’t really ever thought of them as family dramas necessarily, though you’re right in that they all contain main characters and their family circumstances either support or hinder their progress. I guess the family—whatever it looks like—is the building block of society and also the main driver behind people’s formative experiences and therefore personalities and behaviours. The narrative richness about families is that they are all so different. There are literally endless possibilities to explore in terms of relationship dynamics. Probably, too, the reason family can be such a strong theme in my books is because I frequently write multi-generational point-of-view characters, therefore they do tend to be linked by family bonds of some sort.

4. The new novel begins in Tasmania, and the moves to the Cotswolds in England – what made you choose these two locations in particular?

I went to the Cotswolds to find a story and was indeed lucky enough to find one so that setting was naturally driven by my time there. As for Tasmania, I simply love the island! My dad and stepmother had a cottage in Tasmania for a number of years and I’ve been down there many times. The first time I went to Evandale I declared that I would set a book there—and I wasn’t even yet published! (That book became my second novel, The Chocolate Promise.) I hold fantasies of having a second home down there where I go simply to write books. I had originally intended for there to be more than one chapter set in Tasmania but as it worked out, we only have the prologue. On the up side, I think that gives me an excuse to try again in the future for another Tasmanian book

5. Can you tell my readers about Story Dogs?

Story Dogs is a nation-wide charity that supports early readers by providing volunteers and their dogs as a form of reading assistance. They primarily have their human-dog teams going into schools, where the kids can read to the dogs. The dogs lift their confidence and provide a comforting, non-judgemental ear.

6. What made you decide to become involved with Story Dogs?

Originally, I wanted to be a volunteer for them with my Golden Retriever, Daisy. My son wasn’t yet in school but I thought it was wonderful and wanted to help. But when I read about the attributes a good reading dog needed, I realised Daisy would never pass the test as she was way too excitable. When Flynn started Prep, I came across the organisation again and thought it was a great initiative and one that married together many of my passions—animals, kids and literacy.

7. Prior to becoming an author, what did you teach, and what about this subject did you enjoy?

I was a high school English teacher as well as teaching Film and TV. I don’t think I enjoyed much about it, which is why I didn’t last long 😉

In hindsight, I think I should have been a primary school teacher. When I left high school teaching, I did eighteen months on contracts in primary schools and really enjoyed it. In primary school, you get the chance to build strong relationships and nurture young minds and capture that sense of natural curiosity and love of learning. I love that. After my son started at school and I was volunteering in his class, I had a real hankering to get back in the classroom. It hasn’t really gone away, but there is no way I could write novels and teach as well.

8. What sort of books did you edit during your editorial career?

I worked in an aerospace company for two years, editing aircraft maintenance manuals and company tenders. I also got myself a niche role creating training workshops for the engineers to improve their communication skills, which broke up the monotony of the job, but the whole experience was pretty soul destroying for a creative person. After that, I got a job as a project editor, working on full-colour high school text books. It was such a fun job. Hands down the best job I ever had. (And I have had a LOT of jobs! All good research material now for building characters.)

9. When did you decide to write a novel, and what gave you the confidence to submit to a publisher?

In 1999, I attended at workshop with the Queensland Writers Centre and had what I call a ‘full body moment’ when I thought, ‘This is it—this is what I want to do with the rest of my life’ I knew that I couldn’t just write a novel, though. That’s a bit like trying to build a house when you can’t even pitch a tent. I spent years writing short stories and articles and lots of other things. At some point I moved to novels and wrote across many different genres. It took me a long time to find the style I wanted to write in. Along the way, I submitted manuscripts to agents and publishers and was rejected by everyone in the country at least once.

I don’t think I ever felt confident; I’m not sure I ever feel that way even now. What I did feel was passion for wanting to improve and a hope that wouldn’t die, no matter how many times I was rejected. I’m a big believer in just having a go, so I think that was always my driving force.

10. Have you had any shorter pieces published elsewhere?

Yes, several short stories and multiple articles for newspapers and magazines.

11. When not writing or helping with Story Dogs, what do you enjoy doing?

I’m a huge animal lover, and we live with a lot of animals, so I’m always patting a cat, playing with a dog, or taking care of horses or goats. I bake a lot and read a lot. I also work as the Business Coordinator for an aged care company and create digital content for them too. And, of course, I am a mum to a gorgeous seven-year-old and that’s a huge part of my day and life.

12. Which is easier to write – fiction or non-fiction, or do you find each has its own challenges?

For me, non-fiction is far easier for the simple fact that all the information you want is already ‘out there’ somewhere. Your role then becomes one of being a curator of that information. Writing fiction on the other hand is so difficult. You are creating whole worlds and people out of nothing. It’s much trickier to find the boundaries of the story and set the course for the narrative and I spend vast amounts of time rewriting. Non-fiction uses a completely different part of my brain so it’s an enjoyable counterpoint.

13. Did your background in education and literacy help when it came to crafting your stories?

Being an editor definitely helped because you need to drill down into the really fine points of language that are mostly overlooked.

14. During your writing process, what kind of research do you do?

Research is my happy place and I spent loads of time there. It’s where I find my stories, the inspiration for characters and content for settings. I love location research for settings. I’m also very much a ‘method writer’, so if my character wants to do a coffee cupping, I need to do it too to have that hands-on experience to write about. I also do a lot of interviews with people because human beings are always the best source of information.

15. What events did you have to cancel when the lockdown hit Australia, and which were you looking forward to?

All my touring events were cancelled. Usually, I visit several cities and do dozens of book signings and author talks. I love meeting readers and I’m lucky enough to have some people come out to see me every year. I’m really sad about not seeing my readers.

16. You’ve worked in education and the arts – how do you think these industries complement each other?

Education (at its best) teaches us how to think. The arts teach us how to think creatively, differently and compassionately, and strengthens our resilience.

17. Top five books or authors that you always enjoy?

Monica McInerney, Marian Keyes, JoJo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, and two new favourites this year in Rachel Givney (Jane in Love) and Rose Hartley (Maggie’s Going Nowhere).

18. What are your plans for your future novels?

Right now, I’m working on my 2021 book, currently called The Jam Queen. After that, I honestly don’t know. With the world as it is right now, I’m finding it difficult to organise three meals a day, let alone a new novel

There are many things I’d still like to write, passion projects and children’s stories, and I have many non-fiction books still inside me that I’d like to bring forth too. Part of being a creative is that I need to stay open to what comes my way. I’m always open to a story ‘arriving’ and demanding to be written.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you so much for having me along and for supporting authors, especially at this time. The Cake Maker’s Wish is out on 2 June and pre-orders are open now, with all the links here.

Thanks Josephine!

Isolation Publicity with James Foley, Author and Illustrator

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.

James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator, who has illustrated anthologies, written for anthologies and published several of his own books, including the current series, Toffle Towers, which was written by Tim Harris. So far, James hasn’t had to cancel or postpone any events yet. Yet getting the perspective of author-illustrators was something that interested me, and I wanted to expand this series to other authors as well if they were interested. It’s always interesting to hear the different stories behind the books and creations.

Hi James, and welcome to the Book Muse!

  1. You’re a writer and an illustrator – what came first – writing books, or illustrating?

When I was a kid I was always doing both. I was making little short stories, picture books and comics; they were two sides of the coin for me.

 

  1. Your new series is Toffle Towers – of which I have just ordered the first two. What is Toffle Towers about, and where did the idea come from?

Toffle Towers is about a 10yo boy called Chegwin Toffle who inherits a hotel. As the new manager, he has to find a way to bring in new customers or the hotel will close down and all the staff will lose their jobs. It’s written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me; I’m not exactly sure where Tim got the idea, but I know that the British comedy Fawlty Towers was an inspiration.

 

  1. Toffle Towers is aimed at middle grade readers – are all your books and series aimed at this age group, and if not, which ones are for younger or even older readers?

Some of my books are aimed at middle grade – definitely Toffle Towers, as well as my graphic novels series S.Tinker Inc. There are three books in that series so far: Brobot, Dungzilla and Gastronauts; the fourth is called Chickensaurus and is out this October. The series stars Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and follows her adventures in invention.

I’ve also done picture books for younger readers – The Last Viking, The Last Viking Returns, In The Lion – and a picture book for older readers called My Dead Bunny. The sequel to that, There’s Something About Lena, is out this October.

 

  1. You write graphic novels as well – is this more of a challenge than novels?

I wouldn’t know – I’ve never written a novel. A novel would be a bigger challenge for me because I’ve never written anything that long that was predominantly words. A graphic novel has its own challenges; there are just so many pictures to draw.

  1. Do you do your own illustrations in your work, or do you work with other illustrators, or both?

I’ve mostly worked as an illustrator for other authors. When I’ve been the author, I’ve always done my own illustrations.

  1. Toffle Towers 2 has just come out – did you have any events or launches planned around the release, or any events and appearances in general?

I know Tim did. Most of my gigs are booked for later in the year, and they’re mostly still booked (for now – fingers crossed).

 

  1. As a children’s author, I imagine school visits are important. Did you have to cancel any, and secondly, what do you enjoy about these visits?

I haven’t had to cancel any yet, but it might still happen- it depends if the social distancing restrictions are lifted by August. I enjoy being able to meet my audience, to encourage them to make their own stories, and to make up stories together – it’s so much fun.

 

  1. Many middle grade books now have illustrations – I think this is a really interesting trend, and not something I remember after I reached a certain age in my books – what do you think has driven this trend, and where did you first notice it?

I’ve no idea. It’s been a thing for a while now. I don’t have anything interesting to say on this question, haha

 

  1. Have you ever contributed to any anthologies, and what have these been?

Yes, I contributed to Total Quack Up in 2019, a fundraiser for Dymocks Children’s Charities; also Funny Bones in 2020, a fundraiser for War Child Australia.

funny bones

  1. Have any of your books ever won any awards?

They’ve been nominated for a bunch; the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards, the children’s choice awards, the Aurealis awards; I’ve had a book selected for the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List.

  1. Are there any literacy related charities you support, and what made you choose these ones?

 

I support Room To Read and Books In Homes Australia. Both aim to get books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.

  1. You’ve worked with Disability in the Arts/Disadvantage in the Arts Australia (WA) – what was this experience like for you, and has working with places like this and Indigenous organisations informed your writing in any way?

It taught me that art is a great leveller; lots of people like to draw and paint when given the chance. It’s taught me to be grateful for my skills and to try to share them as much as possible.

  1. Apart from creating your awesome stories of course, what is your favourite thing about being a kid’s author?

Hearing from kids who really enjoyed your stories.

  1. Favourite illustration medium and method to work with?

I’m mostly working digitally these days – I use a Wacom cintiq digital display and Adobe Photoshop software. But if I’m working traditionally, I love some big sheets of paper and charcoal, and I also love pen and ink and watercolour.

  1. Favourite way of writing – pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard?

Pen and paper first to get down ideas, then the keyboard to edit and finalise.

 

  1. What has SCWBI done to help you in your career?

 

Heaps. It’s been my support network, it got me my first gig, it helped me meet editors and publishers across Australia. It’s been absolutely vital.

 

  1. What has been your favourite writer’s festival?

They’ve all been great but a few have been extra special. I did Brisbane Writer’s Festival a few years ago and spoke to some massive crowds; I did the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival and spoke to some big crowds there too. I’ve done some great regional festivals in WA as well, including one in Geraldton – that included a little plane ride and an overnight stay at the Abrolhos Islands. And there was a little festival on Bruny Island in Tasmania – that was spectacular.

  1. Working in the arts, what has been something you have noticed about the importance of the arts for all ages, and the way people interact with the arts?

I’ve noticed that lots of adults say they can’t draw, ‘they can’t even draw a stick figure’. They can draw, they just need to learn how. I’ve noticed too that most primary school kids LOVE to draw, and when you can take them through a drawing step by step, they feel really proud. I think most people see drawing as some kind of magic skill, but when you teach people how to do it, you demystify it, and it gives them a great sense of achievement to be able to do it.

 

  1. You illustrated the Total Quack Up books – how did Adrian and Sally decide your style worked best for the stories?

I don’t know why they chose me – I’m glad they did though. It was a lot of fun and it led to me working on the Toffle Towers series.

 

  1. Finally, what have you been doing to help kids with isolation in terms of reading, literacy, fun and homeschooling?

I’ve been working with Littlescribe to provide some free online creative writing lessons. They’re on the Littlescribe facebook page and youtube channel. You can check those out here:

I’ve also done a session with my local indie bookshop, Paper Bird Children’s Books and Arts; it’s available on their youtube channel.

Any further comments?

Thank you James, and good luck with Toffle Towers!

Isolation Publicity with Madelaine Dickie

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.

Madelaine Dickie is the author of Troppo and Red Can Origami. Like many authors, she had launches and events cancelled surrounding the release of her book. Whilst this is disappointing for authors, giving them an opportunity to virtually promote their books here and as some publishers and booksellers have done, will help with the release.  

Hi Madelaine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. To begin with, what genre do you usually write in, and what audience do you primarily focus on?

 

My audience, my readers, love racy plots, gorgeous language and vivid characters. They’re deep thinkers, who are empathetic, curious and not afraid to question the status quo. They also love a good dash of danger—a flirtation with risk!

I write across a number of genres and forms. My early publications were mostly poetry and creative non-fiction, my first novel is a surf-noir thriller, my second novel is literary fiction, and I’m currently working on a biography, a 14,000-word essay on art and violence in Mexico, and a crime novel.

 

 

Madelaine's second novel, Red Can Origami, was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019
Red Can Origami was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019

 

 

  1. Your latest novel, Red Can Origami, is about the conflict between a Japanese mining company and a local Aboriginal group in northern Australia – what inspired you to write this story?

 

I spent about six years living and working for Traditional Owners in the Kimberley, first in Broome, then in Wyndham. It was a privilege to reside in a living cultural landscape, where people have a continuing and powerful connection to country. Through my work, I had the opportunity to attend native title consent determinations, Indigenous Protected Area celebrations, back to country trips and huge bush meetings attended by hundreds of people. Red Can Origami came out of these wonderful and wild years. The book has serious subject matter, but it’s also funny and fast-paced, and the action flies from the rodeos and fishing holes of northern Australia, to the dazzling streets of night time Tokyo …

 

 

  1. Did you have any events related to your book or books planned for this year before everything had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What were they, and which were you most excited about?

I was really looking forward to all of my events. They included talks for the City of Fremantle; Melville Library; Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival; and Corrugated Lines up in Broome.

 

  1. You’ve travelled to Japan, Mexico, and many African countries – how have these trips informed your writing, and do you have a favourite place you’d love to go back to one day?

 

Martha Gellhorn spoke of countries being like lovers. For me, Indonesia was my first love affair—passionate, troubled, exhilarating, exhausting. I’ve spent about three years in Indonesia all up on different trips. It’s where I wrote my debut novel Troppo. Troppo is set in Sumatra and is about mad Aussie expats, black magic and big waves.
Now, my tastes and interests are shifting. In Mexico last year, I wrote a non-fiction essay about representations of violence in Mexican textile art and lithographs, as well as manifestations of violence in the surf culture. This is coming out in an anthology with Fremantle Press in 2021 and I’ll be allowed to share more details soon.

I think generally, travelling has always meant the space to write, the space to dream, to think, to read, to drift, and to reflect with some objectivity on my own country, on Australia, on our strengths and shortcomings.

I’d love to go back to Pavones in Costa Rica, and one day, I would love to visit Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

 

  1. When did your writing journey begin with Fremantle Press?

 

My journey with Fremantle Press began when I won the City of Fremantle T.A.G Hungerford Award for Troppo in 2014.

 

Madelaine's first novel Troppo won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award
Madelaine’s first novel, Troppo, won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award in 2014

 

  1. Have you won any awards for your writing, and what are they?

 

At university, I won the Illawarra Mercury Journalism Prize and the Nicholas Pounder Prize. I received a Prime Minister’s Asia Australia Endeavour Award to write the first draft of Troppo in Java … and the book went on to win the Hungerford Award, as well as to be shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Dobbie Literary Award. Red Can Origami was written in Tokyo, at Youkobo Art Space, with the support of an Asialink Arts Residency.

 

  1. Do you prefer writing with pen and paper, or on the computer, and why?

 

I write in pen or pencil on blank sheets of A4 paper. This slow form of writing lends itself to stronger, more poetic work. It gives me the chance to see how the words within a sentence settle next to each other. I write and rewrite and rewrite until the rhythm is exactly right.

 

  1. Apart from Troppo and Red Can Origami, have you written anything else in either short or longform that has been published?

 

My first short story won a national competition and was published when I was seven years old. I wrote it on a typewriter and my dad helped me with the editing! Since then, my short stories, radio stories, poetry, essays and creative non-fiction pieces have consistently been published, mostly in Australia, and sometimes overseas. While I was in Japan, I wrote a piece titled ‘Wandering the Yellowcake Road’ about my journey through parts of the Fukushima Da’ichi Nuclear Exclusion Zone. If you Google the title, you should be able to find this one online, published by Coldnoon International Journal of Travelling and Travelling Cultures.

 

  1. Have you ever appeared at, or attended writer’s festivals, and have there been any that have stood out for you?

 

I was invited to Makassar International Writers Festival in 2017, organised by Lily Yulianti, and presenting in Indonesian was an incredible (and challenging!) experience. I was inspired by how many young people were in attendance. They were curious, engaged, energised and intelligent. It was really different to the vibe at writers’ festivals in Australia.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in society, and what can people do to support them in these difficult times?

 

I think literature is crucial to our contemporary society. Literature is our memory, our history, and our mirror. I hope people are able to keep reading. My reading has suffered a blow since the coronavirus pandemic—I’m spending more time on that endless scroll of Facebook, or Instagram, or news, and finding it harder to focus, to lose myself.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers you support in your local area?

 

I live in Exmouth, a remote town on the Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia, and I’m very pleased to have the support of The Social Society and Exmouth Newsagency and Toyworld. They both stock copies of my books!

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors and/or books?

 

I love the work of Barry Lopez, Don Winslow, Thea Astley, James Crumley, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Merlinda Bobis, Ludmilla Petrushevskya and Denis Johnson.

 

Madelaine's writing schedule is structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Photo by Aimee Jan.
Madelaine arranges her writing schedule around tides and swells. Photo by Aimee Jan

 

  1. Other than writing, what do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

 

I’m a surfer—and not a summer surfer, or a sometimes surfer. My writing days and weeks are structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Many of our surf spots here are boat access only, and my best days in the surf are off the reef with my girlfriends. They’re amazingly capable water women—they have their skippers’ tickets, can 4WD, own their own boats, and are incredibly brave. When I’m not surfing or writing, I like going for long walks through the desert with my husband, and I like drinking cold white wine on hot desert evenings.

Red Can Origami came out of six years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Red Can Origami came from 6 years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of WA
  1. Working in the arts, what have you learned from others in the industry, and have you been able to apply this to your own work?

 

My greatest lessons have been from the masters—from writers who push the boundaries of form and of language. From the way Beckett finds rhythm in minimalism, to Joyce’s bold and shameless play, to Kurniawan’s quirky narrative structures, writing is a constant learning process. I have also learned a great deal from Georgia Richter, my wonderful editor at Fremantle Press.

 

  1. What do you think the most important thing the arts can bring to people in these trying times?

 

I think the arts can bring escapism and hope, can prompt reflection and contemplation.

 

  1. Do you have any other novels in the works, and when do you hope to be able to release them?

 

I’m currently working on a biography of the Kimberley Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann.

Wayne is a Nyikina man, a boiler-maker welder, a lawyer, and a former finalist in the Western Australian of the Year Awards.

He has rubbed shoulders with Queen Elizabeth, the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as numerous Australian Prime Ministers and Western Australian premiers. His most demanding role was as CEO of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). At its helm, Wayne successfully negotiated a 1.5-billion-dollar compensation package for Traditional Owners relating to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas plant at James Price Point, north of Broome. Wayne came under constant assault during this time, was called a ‘toxic coconut’ and accused of thinking white, lying white, and talking white. He approached me to write this book out of a desire to set the public record straight.

It’s a fantastic project and I’m genuinely thrilled to be at the desk each day. This book is going to be really special and really powerful! I’m hoping to finish a first draft by the end of the year.

 

 

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

 

Thanks Madelaine and best of luck in your career.

 

Isolation Publicity with Alison Booth

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.

the-philosophers-daughter-cover

Alison Booth has a PhD from the London School of Economics, and is the author of several books, including The Philosopher’s Daughter, which came out in early April. Like many of my participants, she had events and launches cancelled. With some of these moving online, my series is one aspect of how these authors are getting the word about their books out there, and in some cases, I am reviewing them – these reviews will appear in separate posts as close to the interview date as possible – or as soon as I can get them up – I am hoping to stick to keeping them close together, otherwise will link them to each other in the posts when I am able to.

 

Hi Alison, and welcome to The Book Muse!

 

  1. Your novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, came out on the second of April, 2020. To begin, can you tell my readers a bit about your latest book?

 

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

 

  1. What inspired this book in particular, and what genre do you usually write in?

 

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong but very different young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I wanted to introduce an alteration in the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

 

The second half of The Philosopher’s Daughters mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia, one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by British colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then.

 

I’ve long been fascinated by how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents; they can react against them, agree with them, or be crushed by them. The closer we are to a parent, the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden that Harriet, the older of the two sisters, carries.

 

 

  1. What events did you have to cancel due to the pandemic, and where were these events going to take place?

 

We’d planned events in the UK, which is where the novel is published. Needless to say, these have had to be cancelled and my trip to the UK had to be shelved too. To make things more complicated, the London warehouse went into lockdown some weeks ago so book distribution halted. However, the publisher organised a British book bloggers tour that began before the lockdown, and I’m thrilled with the responses.

Amazon has the kindle version of the book on its UK and Australian websites, and once the UK lockdown ends and the paperback version of the book is mobile again and arrives in Australia, we have plans for events in Australia.

I’ve been very impressed with the outreach from the book community to authors whose releases have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m very grateful to you and all the others who have offered coverage on their blogs.

 

 

  1. Other than The Philosopher’s Daughters, what other works have you written, and what genre are they in, or are they all different genres?

 

My previous novels include A Perfect Marriage (2018), a work of contemporary fiction, while my first three novels (Stillwater Creek (2010), The Indigo Sky (2011), and A Distant Land (2012),) are historical fiction spanning the period from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. More details can be seen at my fiction website: http:// http://www.alisonbooth.net

 

  1. Have any of your books won any awards?

 

Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.

 

  1. You’re also a professor at ANU in Canberra – what is your PhD in, and what do you teach?

 

My PhD is from the London School of Economics and is in economics. During my teaching career, I taught a variety of courses and my favourites were graduate labour economics and public economics. I am Emeritus Professor now and I no longer teach but I’m continuing with research projects.

 

  1. What is your area of interest, and why did you choose this area in particular?

 

My research interest is behavioural economics, which studies the effects of psychological and cultural factors and the like on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. I chose this area because of my interest in the links between cultural factors, economics and psychology.

 

  1. Does this area of study and research inform your fiction writing, or do you find they are completely separate?

 

There is some overlap to the extent that fiction involves human psychology and I’ve always been interested in this. But also my research is concerned with inequalities, both in terms of racial and gender issues, and this comes across in the fiction.

 

  1. When not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?

 

Reading, bush walking, visits to art galleries and the cinema, and dining with friends.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or comfort read, and why this one in particular?

 

My father introduced me to the novels of Patrick White. I love reading and rereading them. While at each stage of my life I’ve noticed different things about these books, I particularly appreciate the landscapes White describes and his acute psychological insights.

I don’t have a comfort read but I do have a comfort TV programme, and that is the complete set of episodes of Dad’s Army. The characters in this series are superb.

 

  1. How do you switch between academic writing and fiction writing, or do you have a schedule and process to do this easily?

 

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I work very regularly and aim for 300 words a day. This is not many words and I can fit this in with other things happening in my life. Once a draft is finished, I put it away for a while and then block off a chunk of time when I can work on revising it. I don’t mind the actual switching between the different forms of writing any more, though I did find that shift between heart and head difficult to begin with. I write many drafts; for each novel there are typically well over twenty.

 

 

  1. What do you have planned next for your fictional worlds?

 

I’m working on two book drafts. Both are historical although not in the purists’ definition of historical as being set more than fifty years ago. I’m at the redraft stage for both projects, so would prefer to keep them under wraps until I work out what needs doing to each of them.

 

 

  1. Books are important in these trying times – what booksellers are you trying to support and purchase books from?

 

Local bookstores and for some purchases Booktopia and Fishpond.

 

  1. With many festivals and launches heading online at the moment, do you think this will continue after the pandemic, making access to these easier for those who can’t attend in any capacity?

 

My guess is that online events will continue for a while, but with time – assuming the pandemic goes and the associated fears fade – we will return to the physical form, perhaps modified in some way and there may well be hybrid events. If we do return to where we were before the pandemic, I think it is very important for organisers of book events and festivals to provide podcasts for those who are unable to attend for whatever reason. Maybe this lockdown will have provided us all with more skills so this can be achieved.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or author?

 

That’s a difficult question! I admire a great many authors and read widely. My favourite authors include Patrick White, Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Anna Burns. This year I’ve read some wonderful books including Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Anna Burns’ Milkman.

 

 

  1. What were your favourite books to read when you were younger?

 

When I was very young my favourite books were by authors Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, and I also loved the children’s encyclopedias on my parents’ bookshelves.

 

 

Thank you, Alison,

 

Thank you so much, Ashleigh. If anyone reading this interview likes my books, I’d be delighted if they could post a review on the website of their favourite bookstore and on Amazon. Online feedback is really important to authors and particularly so in this pandemic period.

 

Isolation Publicity with poet, Jennifer MacKenzie

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.

Navigable-ink_cover

Jennifer MacKenzie is a poet, published with Transit Lounge in 2020. Her collection of poetry, Navigable Ink, was inspired by an Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer – as Jennifer describes below. Like many authors, she had various launches and events cancelled, and so is taking part in this interview – hopefully it will get the word about her book out there. Up until now, most of my interviewees have been in the fiction, non-fiction and kid-lit worlds of writing, so it is interesting to get a poet on here, and discuss her work and what she has had to cancel.

Hi Jennifer, and welcome to The Book Muse.

1. To start, can you tell my readers a bit about your book, Navigable Ink?

Navigable Ink is a homage to the Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. It is a portrait of an artist living under extreme stress, but who has the courage to continue his work, and reflect broadly on history and on the political responsibility of the artist. I have employed a number of methods, including creating poems based on some of Pramoedya’s writings, in both fiction and memoir, and also dedicating poems to contemporary Indonesian artist activists. I have focused on the beauty of the Indonesian landscape, and introduced a variety of poetic forms across the collection, in order to make it as vivid and engaging as possible.

2. What inspired, or drove you to write this work in particular?

My previous poetry collection, Borobudur, required a great deal of research into Indonesian history. It was during that time that I began to read Pramoedya extensively. However, writing a collection of poetry is often a slow process. It is only in the last few years that I began to imagine the possibilities of basing a collection on someone I greatly admired.

3. When did you start writing poetry, and what made you decide this was how you wanted to write?

When I was at school I was very fortunate to have the late artist, Les Kossatz, as a teacher for one year. As well as teaching art, he also gave us writing exercises. His way of life, with the studio and artist friends, seemed very exciting to me. At the same time, I was reading a lot of Patrick White, and I found his prose to be a model for poetry writing. At 18, I felt I had to choose either painting or poetry, and I (wisely, based on my painting ability!) chose poetry.

4. What events and launches did you have planned before COVID-19 came along, and you had to cancel everything?

Navigable Ink was due to be launched at Readings in Melbourne on April 1. I was in the process of organising some interstate readings, but they too had to be abandoned. I am scheduled to have events in New York in September, and at the Ubud Writers Festival in October, but they must be considered highly unlikely to happen.

5. How much time have you spent in Indonesia?

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time there, either travelling or doing research for my books. I’ve also participated in a number of writers’ festivals and conferences there.

6. When you translated Pramoodya Ananta Toer’s work, did you have to do any extra study of the Indonesian language?
Yes I did. I studied Indonesian at the University of Melbourne, and at the Universitas Gajah Mada in Jogjakarta.

7. What was it about Toer’s story that interested you, and did you meet him prior to translating his work?

I was very interested in how his writing delineated patterns in history, and how these patterns were central to his own situation as a persecuted writer. I was attracted to his methodology in opening up the history of Indonesia and its culture. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him, but many of my friends did. I communicated with him through friends who visited him.

8. Have you translated any other works into English, or from English into other languages?

Pramoedya’s Arus Balik (Cross-Currents) is the only translation I’ve done.

9. What sort of messages about activism do you think poetry can communicate to readers?

Poetry can take an ethical position on crucial issues such as the climate crisis, and do so in a number of inventive ways. Eco-poetry is an example of poetry which can encompass historical, political and environmental issues while employing a diversity of forms.

10. What do you hope your poetry collection communicates to a wider readership?

Although Pramoedya is very well-known in Indonesia, he seems to be largely unknown in Australia. I have found that what he represents as an artist, and the relevance to the issues of today, of political freedom, of the freedom to write without censorship, of the importance of engagement with crucial historical and environmental issues, to be subjects that are resonating with readers.

11. Working in the arts, what has been something you’ve enjoyed as a poet and reviewer?

The best thing has been the engagement with writers and artists from all over the world. I have made some wonderful friends and have learnt so much from them.

12. With isolation hitting us all hard, how important do you think the arts, and in particular the arts in Australia is for everyone?

Nearly everyone is drawing on the arts in some form to help them through this difficult period. However the support for artists from the Federal Government has been conspicuously lacking. The good thing is that artists have been supporting each other with much generosity.

When it comes to supporting the arts, how important do you think it is to continue to support local artists, writers, organisations and booksellers over conglomerates in these times, given that if we don’t, we could lose our industry and local voices?

It is essential for governments and arts’ bodies to support the arts across the spectrum in this difficult time. Otherwise we are going to lose irreplaceable cultural capital.

13. How supportive do you think the Australian writing community is?

I have found the community to be very supportive, with writers buying and promoting each other’s books. I think we have come to realise how important the connections we have to each other are.

14. Finally, any future works of writing readers should be on the lookout for?

For poetry, Ellen van Neervan’s Throat, and Felicity Plunkett’s A Kinder Sea. (UQP) For prose, Barry Lee Thompson’s Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge) and Annee Lawrence’s The Colour of Things Unseen (Aurora Metro Books)

Anything further?

Thanks Jennifer!