Isolation Publicity with Angela Savage

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.

WDIWDMTM18
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.

Angela Savage is the author of the Jayne Keeney Mysteries, and Mother of Pearl. She also works with Writer’s Victoria and the State Library of Victoria, has run manty awards and runs writing workshops, some of which have been moved online during the pandemic. Like many authors, she has had events and launches, and many other things related to her jobs with the State Library of Victoria and Writer’s Victoria have been put on hold for now. She appears below to discuss all of these as part of my isolation publicity series.

Hi Angela and welcome to The Book Muse

Hi Ashleigh – thanks for inviting me along.

  1. You released a new book last year – Mother of Pearl. What is the basic plot and premise of that book?

Mother of Pearl explores family, motherhood, culture and power through the lens of international commercial surrogacy between Australia and Thailand. The story is told through the eyes of three characters: Anna, an aid worker; her sister Meg, who longs for a baby; and Mukda, a single mother in rural Thailand. The lives of the women and their families become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of trying to bring a child into the world across boarders of class, culture and nationality.

  1. What genre would you say Mother of Pearl is, and what genre do you usually write in?

Mother of Pearl sits somewhere between literary and popular fiction. My three previous novels were crime fiction.

  1. What events, launches and festivals have you had to cancel due to COVID-19, and which were you really looking forward to?

I had events lined up at the inaugural Yarra Valley Writers Festival in Healesville, Queenscliffe Literary Festival, Melbourne Jewish Book Week and Willy Lit Fest, plus some good leads on festivals in the second half of the year. Amazingly, Yarra Valley Writers Festival went ahead online on 9-10 May and Willy List Fest 2020 Vision will go online from 21 May. While I’m sad to miss out on meeting face-to-face with readers and writers, I’m delighted to appear on these program rather than chalking up more cancellations. As YVWF Director Brook Powell put it, ‘No, it’s not the same, but it is of the moment.’

 

  1. How are you working with Writer’s Victoria to help artists during the pandemic?

Writers Victoria has offered online learning for several years as part of our mix of services, so we were able to quickly adapt to deliver the bulk of our workshop program online. We’ve also launched Spotlight, a suite of budget options to link emerging writers with experienced writers, editors and industry experts for personalised feedback on their work.

Aware that writers were likely to be feeling anxious and isolated, we ran our Flash Fiction competition in April, providing daily word prompts and inviting writers to submit 30-word stories based on the prompt. While many of the thousands of stories we received did reflect on the pandemic, writers also told us how much they appreciated the creative routine and having something other than COVID-19 to focus their attention.

For Writers Victoria members who are launching new books in 2020, we’re offering promotion through our social media channels, where we have a combined following of around 36,000. Normally worth $180, it’s free for members as part of our response to COVID-19. I hope that by the end of the year, social distancing restrictions will have eased enough for Writers Victoria to host a book fair/mega launch party for local authors whose books were released during lockdown.

  1. Alongside this, what are you, as an individual hoping to do, and encouraging others to do to support Australian arts and booksellers?

I read mostly Australian fiction and buy mostly Australian books for myself and as gifts, using social media to share books that I’ve loved and to reach out to authors. When people ask for recommendations, I recommend Australian books; and I also use examples from Australian works when I teach writing.

  1. Have you won, or been shortlisted for any awards for your writing?

I was very fortunate to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript in 2004 for what became my debut novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, which was later shortlisted for the 2007 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Book. Both other books in the Jayne Keeney PI series, The Half-Child and The Dying Beach, were shortlisted for Ned Kelly Awards, with The Dying Beach also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Awards. My short story, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ won the 2011 Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award. I’ve just had another short story, ‘The Black Feather’, longlisted for the Peter Carey Award.

  1. Where did the idea for Jayne Keeney, PI come from, and how long have you been writing her stories for?

Jayne Keeney first appeared in a short story called ‘The Mole on the Temple’, set in Bangkok, which won third prize in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards in 1998. With this encouragement, I started writing more short stories featuring Jayne, one of which grew into my first novel. People mistake Jayne for me (my fault for giving us the same dark curly hair), but she’s more of an alter ego: someone I might’ve been like if I’d made very different life choices.

  1. Jayne Keeney looks to be mainly set in South-East Asia – what was it about this setting that lent itself so well to the character and her stories?

I lived and worked in Southeast Asia off and on for over seven years, in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia as well as Thailand, where the Jayne Keeney novels are set. Working cross-culturally is a lot like being a detective: you’re always looking for the big picture from a small set of clues, trying to tell a reliable source from an unreliable one, constantly searching for meanings lost in translation. Creating an Australian detective character gave me the chance to explore these themes in fiction – the tension and the humour that arise when cultures collide. The choice of Thailand as a setting was a practical one: only in a city as big as Bangkok could an expatriate Australian woman set up a PI business and stay low enough beneath the radar to make a go of it.

  1. Do you have one publisher, or many, and what has the publishing journey been like if you have had multiple publishers?

Melanie Ostell, then a senior editor at Text Publishing, was on the judging panel when I won the Victorian Premier’s Award and subsequently offered me a publishing deal. Text published all three Jayne Keeney novels, but passed on Mother of Pearl. It was subsequently picked up by Transit Lounge, which was serendipitous as Transit Lounge boss Barry Scott administered the Premier’s Awards the year my manuscript won. Generally speaking, publishers don’t like it when their writers change genres as it messes with their ‘brand’. My risk paid off, but it was a nerve-wracking experience—not one I’d recommend.

 

  1. Apart from your novels, what other writing have you done, and where?

I’ve had a few short stories published in Australia and overseas, including my Scarlet Stiletto Award winner, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ (in Crime Scenes) and ‘The Odds’ (in Deadlier: 100 of the Best Crime Stories Written by Women). I’ve been publishing non-fiction articles since the late-1980s, and had a regular column in AsiaLIFE magazine when I lived in Cambodia. I’ve also written several comics, drawn by my friend Bernard Caleo.

  1. When you’re not writing, what sort of things do you enjoy doing?

I love reading. I came to writing as a reader, and I’m compelled by a desire to give to readers of my work some vestige of the pleasure I derive from reading other writers. I also enjoy travelling, walking, cooking, knitting and singing karaoke with more enthusiasm than talent. One of my greatest pleasures is hanging out with people I love, drinking wine and talking.

  1. Did you have a career in another industry prior to being an author, and what did you do?

I had a 12-year career in international development, working on HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health projects in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, mostly for the Red Cross. I spent 12 years after that working in community development in Victoria. Since September 2017, I’ve been director of Writers Victoria.

  1. Did this experience, or any others have an impact on how and what you write?

Even though I knew I wanted to be a writer from an early age, I made the assumption that to be a good writer, I needed to live an interesting life. Working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health projects in Southeast Asia was more than interesting, it was life-changing: confronting, enlivening, exhausting and humbling. When I set out to become a published author in my early 30s, it made sense for me to turn to that experience for creative inspiration.

Ironically, of all the jobs I’ve had, my current role in the arts sector is the least conducive to getting any writing done.

  1. Do you have a favourite furry writing companion?

Not unless you count my partner, with whom I share a study.

 

  1. When it comes to reading, which authors or genres are you always drawn to?

Asking me to name authors I’m drawn to is harder than asking about my favourite child! I read more Australian fiction than anything else. Some of my favourite local authors include Simone Lazaroo, Tara June Winch, Christos Tsiolkas, Carrie Tiffany, Laura Jean McKay, Kate Mildenhall and Alice Pung. Among my favourite international authors are Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Ondaatje and Tash Aw, though I’ve recently read Hilary Mantel and I suspect she has a lot to teach me. I also enjoy reading crime fiction and will read anything by Sulari Gentill, Jock Serong, Emma Viskic and Robert Gott.

  1. How do you think the arts will recover after this pandemic is over?

The breadth, depth and diversity of the arts that survives the pandemic depends to a large degree on government and public support. As Benjamin Law noted in The Guardian, ‘In times of crisis, humans turn to art for help.’ Yet we are often unaware of the ecosystem needed to bring the work of artists—whether writers, film-makers, visual artists, performers, game designers, etc—to us. Organisations like Writers Victoria will continue to advocate for the health of the arts ecosystem but I fear that many organisations, publishers, theatres, galleries and studios will not survive this crisis.

  1. The book community is often urging people to buy local, buy Australian – which is what I always do. If people don’t do this, what valuable local markets and culture will we lose if the only access we have to books is international authors and international sellers?

Much has been said about the importance of seeing ourselves in what we read in terms of personal and cultural wellbeing. We will be diminished as individuals and as a nation without a local book industry.

  1. The book community and arts community in Australia are coming together during this tough time – do you think this will encourage people outside of the communities to buy and read locally?

A number of publishers are reporting increases in book sales during the COVID-19 lockdown, which is a positive sign, though I’m not sure what proportion of these sales are for specifically Australian books. Certainly, the community is deeply supportive of its members; whether this translates into a wider commitment to buying Australian books remains to be seen.

  1. Which local booksellers are you hoping to support during these tough times?

I continue to shop at my local bookseller Brunswick Bound, and will also shop at Readings once the State Library where I work re-opens our offices.

 

  1. Finally, what is next for your writing – another Jayne Keeney, or something else?

Right now I can only dream of writing. I somehow seem thwarted by not knowing how any of this ends. That said, I’m mulling over a few non-fiction pieces, percolating another novel (historical fiction this time), and my short story ‘The Black Feather’ was recently longlisted for the Peter Carey Award. So all is not lost.

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Angela!

 

Isolation Publicity with Karen Turner

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.

StormbirdCover

Karen Turner is the author of Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird, an historical fiction trilogy that has partially been self-published and partially been traditionally published. Karen, like many other authors, has had releases, events and launches cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.

 

 

Hi Karen, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. To start, can you tell my audience about your new book, Stormbird and the previous two, Torn and Inviolate?

Torn was my first novel. It tells the story of Alexandra, growing up in rural Yorkshire in 1808, during the time of the Napoleonic wars. From a young age Alex rails against the constraints imposed on women in her time; forced to watch enviously as her brothers get to go to university, and later when they join the war in Europe. She is betrothed against her will but falls in love with a most inappropriate man. When finally she is betrayed in the worst possible way, she seems to come to terms with the limitations of her life.

My second book Inviolate, picks up Alex’s story where Torn finishes. Darker than Torn, it follows Alex as she embarks on her future only to find that she is haunted by her past. As Alex was older in this book, I was able to explore some different, more adult themes including deceit and violence.

Stormbird, my third and latest novel, takes place in the same home that Alex grew up in, but the year is now 1941. The lady of the house, Jessica, finds herself trapped in a moral dilemma when she discovers Anton, a German Luftwaffe pilot, hiding in her barn.

Stormbird is the ultimate forbidden love story, but it’s also a tense drama as the characters struggle to survive in war-torn England – a time when harbouring the enemy was worse than being the enemy. Realising they can never be together, and with the authorities closing in, Jessica and Anton embark on a wild dash to the coast in the hope of getting Anton out of the country.

  1. When you started out on your writing journey, what was the first thing you remember deciding to submit for publication?

 

The very first thing I submitted was a short story that I wrote for a competition. The story was A Book By Any Other Cover and it won 1st prize in The Society of Women Writers’ Biennial Awards 2005.

It has since been published in a compilation of my other short stories called All That & Everything. The print version of All That & Everything sold out a few years ago but it is still available in eBook through Amazon etc.

  1. What is it about World War Two, and historical fiction in general, that you are attracted to?

 

I was attracted to WWII because my mother was born in Yorkshire in 1941 and I grew up with stories of her childhood, playing in the rubble of bombed-out houses, food rationing and never meeting her father. My grandmother told me stories of driving an ambulance around Leeds rescuing survivors of the bombing raids, and nights of dancing and partying because tomorrow may never happen. It was a time of great hardship, grief and living-for-the-moment; a romantic yet profoundly dangerous period of history.

I’m very drawn to history and the ‘old ways’. Old-fashioned costumes, homes and manners – the style of a bygone era – I have some affinity with. Many people do, I think, which is why the historical fiction genre is so popular.

  1. Prior to your novels being published, what had you had published before, and where were these stories printed?

 

 

I had a poem published once, many years ago, but I’m not a poet (I secretly think they just wanted me to buy a copy of the book!) My first published book was All That & Everything – a compilation of short stories that was published a couple of years before my first novel, Torn. It’s downloadable for eReaders through Amazon etc.

Additionally, I have a background in finance and over the years have had innumerable articles published in industry mags and newsletters.

  1. So far most authors I have interviewed have been traditionally published. Have you headed down this path, self-publishing or a hybrid and can you explain why you chose the method you did?

 

I started out self-publishing after seeing the rejection letters from traditional publishers start to mount up. I believed in Torn and really wanted it to be read so I decided to go down the self-publishing route – and I’m glad I did. Torn has received so many wonderful reviews and apparently brought so much pleasure to readers, that I’ve never regretted the effort (not to mention the expense) of going it alone. And it is expensive – really expensive, but you’re in control at all times which is a bonus.

Meanwhile, the pinnacle of every writer’s ambition is to be ‘picked up’ by a traditional publisher and when that finally happened with Stormbird, I was thrilled.

Nobody tells you what it’s really like and now, having experienced both modes of publishing, I can say that the main difference for me has been the cost – the cost of publishing Stormbird was entirely covered by the publisher.

The trade-off was that I lost a great deal of control over what my book looked like, and the publishing schedule – I had to wait nearly a year after signing the contract to see the book in print! Besides that, publishers don’t seem to be good communicators so there’s always the feeling of being in the dark. Then, after the initial launch, the momentum dries up, as the publisher tends to move onto the next project. They have to – it’s all about business – but I have been left to do my own marketing and sales without the assistance I naively thought I’d have.

In summary, I suppose, traditional publishing is still seen by many as a barometer of one’s success, but I have enjoyed the freedom and control of self-publishing more.

  1. Like many authors who have participated, I understand you had events cancelled due to the pandemic. What were these events, and which of them were you looking forward to the most?

 

I had some author talks and a writing workshop cancelled. While disappointing, the one cancellation that has really upset me was the Simultaneous Story Time (SST) that was run through a network of libraries in Australia.

The plan was that a children’s book was to be read to children simultaneously in libraries across the country. I was asked by the Berrigan Shire Library if I would be their reader and I agreed. I was soooo excited to be doing this! I received a copy of the book and was even practising my character voices and then…bummer!

  1. Do you hope to be able to reschedule these events once the pandemic is over?

 

Yes definitely. Many libraries and book groups are gearing-up so author events will be able to go ahead in future via remote hook-up, but regardless of whether it’s remote or on-site, I love to work with book-minded people. I will very happily reschedule cancelled events as well as schedule new ones.

Some unexpected opportunities have already arisen as a result of the pandemic and I’ve recently met quite a few people through online groups. I can see no reason why this wouldn’t continue in the ‘new world’ when we all emerge from this.

A writer’s life, by its nature, is insular and lonely. Speaking for myself, I spend my days in imaginary houses, talking with and thinking about imaginary people and situations –  I love to get out and meet real people.

 

  1. How much have your ties to Italy and Yorkshire informed your stories, your plots and your characters?

 

My family ties to Yorkshire have been particularly strong in my stories, especially Stormbird. All three of my novels were set in Yorkshire, in a village on the outskirts of Leeds where I once lived, and now visit regularly.

My Italian roots haven’t made their way into my stories. However, as often as possible, I pack up and go to Rome for around 3 months at a time so I can focus on my writing. The reason is that when I’m at home in Australia, there are too many distractions so when I need to get some serious writing done, I leave my husband at home and move myself to Rome where I rent an apartment and live just for writing.

So, while Yorkshire has been the inspiration for my writing, Italy has been the facilitator.

  1. Which, if any, writing awards have you won, and how did you enter them?

 

To date I have won eleven literary awards for my short stories and Stormbird was shortlisted for a major Australian romance award.

Every award you enter has different criteria so the most important thing to do is to make sure you read the entry instructions and follow the guidelines strictly. Often the entry instructions – and whether you can follow them or not – is part of the judging criteria. Some will ask you to send a physical copy of your work, while others will only accept electronic versions – nearly all of them will require an entry fee. Then there are font and spacing guidelines, margins and word limits to watch out for.

You can find out about literary awards through writer magazines, author groups and websites.

  1. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers that helped you on your writing journey to share?

 

I get asked this so often and there are two main things I always tell people.

  1. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, just get it down. A book is never written in one draft anyway; writing something perfect straight off is not going to happen. Just start writing and worry about the detail later – that’s the easy part. Knowing when your book is finished is the hard part, but that’s a whole other subject!!
  1. It doesn’t matter how well you write, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re serious about your writing, you must engage a professional editor. Nothing takes a reader out of a good story like a silly spelling or grammatical error. More than that, a good editor can help with structure, continuity and will work with you to polish your manuscript to the best it can be. If you value your work, it deserves this much!

 

 

  1. What’s the next writing project you hope to undertake?

 

My next project is a completely new concept for me. I’m writing a book that will be set in Australia, in Victoria during the Gold Rush. I’ve had an idea in my head for a long time but was always so focussed on telling the Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird stories. It’s Australia’s turn now.

 

  1. When not writing, what do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

 

When I’m not writing I love to read just about anything depending on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I go through a horror stage and I’ll read something like a Stephen King. Other times I’ll be in a biographical fad. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the Game of Thrones books – I love to get stuck in to a series where you follow the characters through multiple books.

Sometimes, I’ve been known to read non-fiction, particularly ancient history; Egypt, Rome, Greece.

One of the most important things for a writer to do, of course, is to read so when I’m thinking about my next book I try to read books of a similar genre. For example, when I was writing Torn and Inviolate I read a lot of Pamela Belle, Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory.

Now that I’m working on a book set in Australia, I’m loving Kate Grenville.

Any comments about anything I may have missed?

 

 

Well…when I’m not writing I love to run and keep fit. My favourite event is the Melbourne half-marathon as it finishes with a lap around the MCG. I drink too much coffee and eat too much chocolate. I have been a very strict vegetarian for over 30 years.

I enjoy being creative. I bake sourdough bread and have a starter that is about four years old and needs feeding every few days just like a pet.

I have a lead-lighting studio at home and make some nice things, although I’m not very artistic. I love making chocolates and spend a lot of time playing with colours and decorative techniques, with hand-made fondant fillings in different flavours.

What else? I speak Italian and get together (via Zoom) with a group each week where we speak Italian, and discuss current affairs, politics, books, work, movies – anything really. No English allowed. When in Italy I volunteer at an animal shelter twice a week. The centre relies totally on public donation, so I use my dual-language skills to chat with visitors and explain the work the shelter does.

I have had a singing career and worked for many years for a recording company as a session vocalist (yes, there are CDs out there with my name on them!) I have sung at weddings, funerals and in more bands in more pubs, on more stages than I can recall! I have had record producers try to sign me, but I always resisted – not sure why except that I simply enjoyed the singing that I did. I didn’t want the pressure that a contract would mean.

Hmm…Is that it?

Oh yeah, I see dead people.

I think that’s it now.

Thank You Karen

  Isolation Publicity with George Ivanoff

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.

 

George Ivanoff is an actor and author of books aimed at younger readers, such as the Other Worlds series. George didn’t have any launches cancelled, but he had many author and school appearances cancelled. Here, he talks about writing, acting and his Other Worlds series, and what he had to cancel.

Any out of date information in this and other interviews is due to when they were conducted, and when they were returned as this influenced the posting schedule when I started putting this series together.

Hi George and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. As an author of over 100 books for kids and teenagers, when did you decide you wanted to write for this age group?

I’m not sure there was ever a conscious decision. I write the sort of stuff that I like reading, and I generally prefer reading books aimed at kids and teens. I was a reluctant reader throughout most of primary school, so I came to reading rather late; which might explain why I still read books aimed at younger readers. I do read grown-up stuff as well, but while I’m fine with non-fiction, I find that many grown-up novels take way too long to get to the point. (There are exceptions of course — Agatha Christie, for example, always manages to keep my attention.) I guess it comes down to the fact that I have a short attention span and have never completely grown up!

  1. What are your favourite genres to write in, and why these in particular?

I like writing in a variety of genres, but my favourite is science fiction. It is the genre of possibilities.

  1. Does your background as an actor help when writing novels and creating characters?

Yes. I often say that doing an acting course was the best thing I ever did for my writing. There are a lot of similarities between writing and acting — immersing yourself in the world of the story; creating characters; and taking risks. Actors and writers both put themselves out there, running the risk of ridicule. Studying the craft of acting taught me to take risks… which helped to develop my writing. Prior to studying acting, I was very timid and risk averse about most things, including my writing.

  1. What might readers have seen you acting in?

Back in the day, I did a lot of small parts in films and TV shows. I remember with great fondness, playing a pot plant deliveryman on Neighbours in the 90s. They insisted I do it with an ocker Aussie accent… which, of course, I could not do convincingly. I was in the credits as “Pot Man”… just above the dog. Other roles included playing an arsonist on Australia’s Most Wanted, and an officious army officer in the WW1 film William Kelly’s War. In addition to that, I also did many jobs as an extra (one of those uncredited background people). Those jobs included being a scantily clad, red-headed warrior in the appalling Journey to the Centre of the Earth mini-series, and being a mystical, cross-dressing neo-Nazi in a red sequinned evening gown on that ‘classic’ television series Chances. I got to spend hours pretending to be dead, lying in the mud, in the middle of the night, with giant cranes spraying water to simulate rain, for the concluding shooting-out of Ned Kelly; and Nicolas Cage almost ran me over in a 4WD during the shooting of a massive crowd scene in the Melbourne CBD for The Knowing.

I don’t do much in the way of acting these days… it’s now mostly an occasionally paying hobby. Aside from my own book trailers, my most recent bit of acting was in the sci-fi, comedy audio series Night Terrace. I had a guest role in the Season 2 episode “A Verb of Nouns”, in which I play a slightly shifty and mysterious writer named Scribe. This was a super cool job, as I was such a big fan of the first season. And recently I had the pleasure of writing a short story based on the series for their Season 3 Kickstarter campaign.

You can hear a brief clip of me in Night Terrace here.

  1. One of your series is the Other Worlds series, which features various forms of diversity such as disability, which appears in book two with Xandra. How much research did you do for each character to make sure they felt authentic for the reader?

I had quite short deadlines on these books, so my research was mostly internet based. But I also had a chat to a nurse friend of mine, whose nephew has muscular dystrophy, about the character of Xandra and how I would handle her situation. My portrayal isn’t always 100% accurate. I did, for example, take some creative liberty with her wheelchair. It’s a motorised wheelchair, but I have her younger brother push it at one point… which my friend assured me would not be possible. But I did it anyway, as I felt the story point outweighed the need for realism in that circumstance.

  1. Beast World has a very steampunk feel to it – did you choose the steampunk theme, or did it evolve naturally as you came up with the plot? (I love the animals as the royals as well)

The steampunk setting and the talking animals were the first two things I decided on when I planned out that story. I love the Victorian era and I desperately wanted to play in a steampunk world. It was that setting which then lead to other decisions, such as animal counterparts for some historical figures, like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Coming across pics of the Crystal Palace while researching the Victorian era resulted in The Great Exhibition being woven into the plot. And the ability to have all sorts of steampunk gadgets, lead to Xandra being wheelchair bound… because leaving the wheelchair behind meant I could put her into a cool steam-powered walking chair.

  1. Apart from Other Worlds, you write lots of choose your own adventure books – what is it about this style that appeals to you, and how well does it adapt itself to a variety of genres?

My You Choose books came about because I loved the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels when I was younger. As a kid I loved the fact that I had some control over the story and that I could re-read the books and end up with completely different outcomes. I thought that was just so unbelievably cool! It also appealed to my obsessive nature and the need to discover every possible permutation of a story. As a writer, I love the process of coming up with multiple paths and finding ways for them to intertwine. I’ve written 13 books in the series and had so much fun with them. As a format, I think it can be combined with pretty much any genre. I certainly used a number of different genres — sci-fi, fantasy, horror, action/adventure, comedy.

  1. What other series and books do you write, and are they all in the same general genre, or do you like to dabble in a variety of genres based on the book?

I do enjoy dabbling with genre, style and format. My current series in non-fiction. The Australia Survival Guide came out last year, and I’m going through proofs at the moment for the second book, The Human Body Survival Guide. With these books, I’m trying to take a fun and creative approach to kids’ non-fiction. There is a nameless, video game obsessed, 13-year-old boy who narrates these books and presents the factual information.

But I’ve also written realistic adventure with the RFDS Adventures, YA sci-fi with the Gamers Trilogy and a heap of educational books (including school readers and non-fiction tied in to the Australian Curriculum).

  1. Have you ever written for older audiences, and what have you written for them?

Yes, I’ve written numerous short stories, usually sci-fi and fantasy, for grown-up audiences. I have a particular interest in media tie-in fiction. It is a difficult area to break into, but I’ve managed to get a few things through. In 2016 I had a story called “An Eye For an Eye” in The X-Files: Secret Agendas and the following year a story called “Another Man’s Skin” in the Deadworld Anthology. They were definitely NOT for kids. I’m currently writing a novel for the Lethbridge-Stewart range of books (a spin-off from Doctor Who, following the adventures of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart). That’s for a general audience — so, while aimed at adults in terms of story complexity, it still needs to be reasonably safe for younger readers.

  1. Have you had any new books released, or scheduled to be released in the next few months, and if so, what are they?

The Gamers Trilogy was recently re-branded and published with new titles and covers in March. My next book, The Human Body Survival Guide, is not due out until 15 September.

  1. Did you have to cancel any launches, events or appearances of any kind due to the COVID-19 crisis?

No cancelled launches, as the Gamers relaunch happened a few weeks before lockdown. But lots of cancelled/postponed speaking gigs, from school visits to library talks to festivals. While I understand that the circumstances make this necessary, it has been so very disappointing. I love interacting with kids during school visits, and other authors during festivals. The majority of my working life is spent in solitary confinement in front of my computer, so I cherish these forays out into the wider world.

To compensate, I am now offering virtual sessions, and have got a few lined up already. The first is a class about writing for the primary education market coming up on 4 May. And I’ve put together avideo about virtual presentations for schools.

But nothing really compares to face-to-face interaction, and I can’t wait for life to return to normal.

 

  1. Do you have plans for any new novels, new series or additions to series like Other Worlds?

Everything is a bit up in the air at the moment. Once I’ve finished working on the Lethbridge-Stewart novel, I’m scheduled to have a chat with my publisher at Penguin Random House about what I do next with them. I’ve got LOTS of ideas.

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Chocolate! Always… chocolate!

  1. You’ve worked with various state reading challenges – what do you enjoy about working to help build these challenges?

I love that these reading challenges exist. They’re a great way of getting kids enthused about reading. I’ve not actually worked with them, as such. They’ve simply chosen some of my books for their recommended reading lists… which is VERY COOL! Also, in 2018, the organisers of the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge interviewed me, along with a bunch of other authors and illustrators, for a series of video promos. That was a lot of fun.

  1. As an author, what do you think books can do for people during the pandemic?

What can’t they do??!! Just like at any other time, books have the ability to entertain and educate. They help people empathise and see other points of view. They provide an escape. They allow people to visit places they have never been to and interact with people they have never met. But in this time of pandemic, with self-isolation and social distancing, they have also become a lifeline — a way to still connect and not feel so alone.

  1. Which local booksellers do you love to frequent and support?

I love bookshops! And I am lucky to live close to a number of really good ones. Ordinarily, when not in lockdown, I travel around quite a bit for speaking gigs, and I take the opportunity to visit as many bookshops as possible. I’m a Melbourne resident, and some of my favourites include The Little Bookroom (Carlton), Beaumaris Books (Beaumaris), The Sun Bookshop (Yarraville), Pictures & Pages (Coburg), Ulysses Bookstore (Sandringham), Dymocks Camberwell (Camberwell) and Eltham Bookshop (Eltham). Each of these shops have enthusiastic staff with a broad knowledge of what’s being published in Australia.

  1. As someone who works in the arts as a presenter, actor and author, what do you enjoy about working in the arts, and what additional support do you feel the arts sector needs to ensure its survival, especially during these times?

What I enjoy about the Arts sector is the creativity. For me it’s not just a job. It is something that I adore being involved in. It would be really nice if the government treated it with the same amount of respect they treat other sectors with. I get the distinct impression that the government simply does not take the Arts sector all that seriously… which is rather short sighted. Some basic support and respect would mean that we wouldn’t have to face threats to copyright or parallel importation restrictions — things that are fundamental to the Australian publishing industry and authors’ ability to earn money. In terms of our current situation, the federal stimulus package seems rather geared towards businesses and people in permanent employment. While there is some support to freelancers, accessing that support is so much more convoluted and difficult for people working in the Arts sector. Having said that, the Victorian State Government have apparently announced an Arts Survival Package. I haven’t had the chance to look into that yet, but it sounds hopeful.

  1. Finally, are there any future projects on the horizon?

There are numerous potential projects. But nothing set in concrete.

 

Any further comments?

During the pandemic self-isolation, I’ve been trying to put video readings up online once a week. It can’t replace face-to-face interaction… but at least it’s something to help fill the void. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep it up, but for the moment it is proving to be a fun distraction. And it’s a way of continuing to interact with readers and promoting my books. I do sometimes enlist the help of my family to assist in this online madness. My reading from The Australia Survival Guide (which is another example of my inability to do an Aussie accent) was directed/shot by my wife, and involved my 11-year-old throwing one of our pet chickens at me.

If you really feel the need to see some of my other readings, you can go to my YouTube Channel.

I should probably shut up now. I just realised how verbose I was being with the answers to some of these questions. If you made it this far without slipping into a coma… thank you!

Thank you George, and best of luck with everything,

 

Isolation Publicity with Deb Abela

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!

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

Bear in Space Final cover front

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Tea. That’s it really. Tea.

  1. 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.

Anything further?

Here are ways to find me.

Thanks Deb!

 

Isolation Publicity with Andrew McDonald

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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.

Andrew MacDonald is the author of many books for younger readers but is perhaps most well-known for his Real Pigeons series about crime fighting pigeons. Because this is what most people associate with him, he has become known as ‘the pigeon man’. Below, he discusses writing, where the idea for Real Pigeons came from, other crime fighting animals and gets to answer a question from the son of a friend who is a big fan of the books.

Hi Andrew, and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. Your series Real Pigeons looks and sounds like fun – where did the idea for crime solving pigeons come from?

The idea first occurred to me when I was travelling overseas and realised that pigeons are one of the constants that you see, from country to country. They’re everywhere!

I started wondering what hidden agenda pigeons might have and it made sense that they would be selfless creatures protecting the world from evil. Plus, pigeons look hilarious. The way they waddle around always makes me laugh. The idea for a series of stories about funny, loveable and brave crime-fighting pigeons really took hold from there.

And it all came together when illustrator Ben Wood began drawing the world of the Real Pigeons.

  1. How many books do you have planned for the series?

We initially signed up to do six books in the series – and we’ve just agreed to do a further four with our publisher, Hardie Grant Egmont. As long as kids are reading and enjoying the books, I’m very happy to stay in that wacky pigeon world and keep telling birdie stories.

  1. Have you written other work, or do you find that people mostly recognise you as the author of real pigeons?

 

I wrote a couple of middle-grade novels a few years ago, but I’m definitely best known for Real Pigeons now. Some people now call me ‘Pigeon Man’ and ‘That Pigeon Guy’ and ‘Why does he like pigeons so much?’ I don’t mind though. At this stage, I find being associated with pigeons is a positive thing. They’re a lot smarter than people give them credit for.

  1. Anthropomorphic animals are always fun to read and write – what other animals do you think would be crime solvers like your pigeons?

Animals are ideal for crime-fighting and mystery solving because we – the human race – tend to overlook them so frequently.

I’ll bet cats are online trying to solve cold murder cases when their owners aren’t home.

I’ll bet the flying foxes that zoom over Melbourne at night know exactly where the crime is happening below (I assume crime has a distinct sonar-y feeling they pick up on).

And who knows how many dirt-level crimes are being stopped by cicadas beneath our feet. Unless the cicadas themselves are committing the crimes. I’ve never been sure about cicadas. They could go either way.

  1. With book five out in May 2020, did you have to cancel any launches or events due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Yes, everything we had planned to celebrate the new book – Real Pigeons Peck Punches – got cancelled. Bookshop events, library workshops, bookseller visits – and an appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Ben and I still wanted to do something special to mark the release of the new book. Something that would also let us connect with readers. So we’ve worked with Hardie Grant Egmont and launched a special YouTube series called The Super Coo Club.

Basically, The Super Coo Club features weekly videos of Ben and I chatting about Real Pigeons, talking about our creative processes and sharing some writing and drawing tips – while also mucking around and making complete fools of ourselves. That’s what we normally do at events, so that’s what we have done in these videos.

We’ve also asked Real Pigeons fans to send video questions to us. We’ll be answering those questions in the Super Coo Club videos. It’s going to be awesome having some interactivity with young readers, despite everyone being stuck at home

Oh – and each episode comes with writing ideas, drawing prompts and downloadable activity sheets so that kids can get creative themselves after watching the videos. We’re really hoping they enjoy what we’ve made and have fun – from the safety of home!

  1. Which of these events, or appearances were you the keenest for, and why? (It’s okay if you want to talk about all of them)

 

We did have a special event lined up for our appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival – a Real Pigeons Live Mystery with live storytelling, drawing and a mystery for the audience to solve. That would have been really fun. But it’s always about the kids. When you meet a young reader who has connected with something you’ve written, it doesn’t matter if you’re at a big festival or at a library in a town most people have never heard of. What matters is that you get to be a part of a child’s reading journey. And that’s the best thing in the world.

  1. What made you choose the age group you write for, and what are the challenges and joys in writing for this age group?

 

I don’t think I ever consciously chose an age group to write for – the humour and silliness that you see in the Real Pigeons books is just me. That’s what I’m like. Some might say I haven’t evolved much since I was at primary school. But I like to think that I’ve just retained – or at least remembered – the feeling of being that age.

The challenge is that you have strict parameters to work within when writing for a young reader, depending on their age. For example, the language and vocabulary need to be perfectly pitched and the stories can’t be too simple nor too complex. It’s a balancing act. But when it works, it’s so rewarding. Because kids can be very discerning readers – they’ll throw away a book quickly if it doesn’t click for them. But if they take to a book, they’ll often take to it passionately. And you can’t have passionate adult readers without first having passionate kid readers.

 

  1. You do many school visits – what kind of questions do the kids ask, and what is it like presenting to a junior school audience?

 

Presenting to a young audience isn’t without its challenges, but I find it really fun and rewarding.

If you’ve got a good story to tell and you can speak to kids on their level, then you’re bound to have a good time. Personally, I make lots of dumb jokes to get to ‘their level’. But there are lots of ways to do it.

And kids always ask smart questions. They want to know where you get your ideas from, which is essentially a question about how to facilitate and control creativity. They ask about characters and story choices. And they ask about the business of writing.

One question I get all the time is, ‘How much money do you make?’ That question can sound rude, at first, but it’s actually a great way to talk about how making books is a team effort. Authors are important but so are illustrators and editors and publishers and agents and printers and designers and marketing staff – among many others. It’s important that everyone gets paid for their work on a book.

  1. When on a school visit, what sort of things do you plan to include in your presentations and book talks?

 

I’ll always explain what drives me to write stories, how I went from being a kid who really loved writing stories to a published author as an adult. And I’ll explain my creative process. You can never tell anyone the best way to write their story with 100% authority. It’s different for everyone. What works for one person will not work for another. But I can model a creative process by demonstrating mine.

And, of course, I want to inspire kids to write and draw and read and be interested in the world around them. I love demonstrating how passionate I am about stories and reading, so they can see the effect these things have had on my life. A book can tell a great story. But it can also change your life. That’s a very powerful messag.

 

10. What sparked your love for the written word, and when did you decide you wanted to write books?

 

The spark came when I was a kid. I was so young I don’t even remember a sparky moment. I just always loved writing stories, drawing pictures and reading books. I often hung out in my school library just to help the librarian shelve books and sort book orders. What a book nerd!

As I got older, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I studied journalism at university, but around the same time I (re)started writing fiction. And so after I’d completed my degree, instead of getting a cadetship somewhere, I enrolled in RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course. That course was amazing and it showed me how to write a book and how to go about the business of books too.

 

  1. How were you paired with illustrator, Ben Wood?

 

Ben and I didn’t know each other until Real Pigeons. I had already sold the manuscript to Hardie Grant Egmont, and they set out to find an illustrator. They had a pre-existing relationship with Ben, who had been illustrating Ailsa Wild’s very excellent Squishy Taylor series.

While I wasn’t actually involved in selecting an illustrator for the series, I remember saying to Hardie Grant Egmont that whoever they choose must be able to draw a hilarious-looking pigeon. Ben met that criterion straight away – and has since gone way beyond, illustrating an amazing universe of birds, animals and other absurdities.

 

12. Do you have any other series planned, or are you focused on Real Pigeons right now?

 

Right now we’re very much focused on Real Pigeons. We’ve just signed up to do books 7, 8, 9 and 10 in the series with Hardie Grant Egmont, which is really exciting. I still love spending time in our ridiculous pigeon world and I’m so honoured that kids are enjoying that world too.

 

13. I have a question from a young friend, Jarvis, who adores your books. He has asked if there will be a bin chicken and a wolf who will be best friends in future books?

 

Hello Jarvis! Nice to hear from you in the middle of this interview! Thanks for asking such a great question.

Have you met Straw Neck yet? She’s an ibis who makes her first appearance in the second book, Real Pigeons Eat Danger, when the pigeons meet her in a dumpster as she’s making inventions out of rubbish. I can imagine that Straw Neck would get along quite well with a wolf. She’s a straight talker and wouldn’t put up with any hijinks a wolf might try on.

You’ll definitely be seeing more of Straw Neck in the future. As for a wolf … you’ll have to wait and see, hehe!

 

14. Following on from that, would the pigeons ever team up with a cassowary or a kangaroo?

I especially like the thought of the Real Pigeons coming across a cassowary. Cassowaries are such beautiful, strong and dangerous birds. They’re like ninja emus that have dressed up in colourful party clothes. And I can just imagine the pigeons talking to a kangaroo who is convinced that hopping is better than flying. Who knows, maybe one of these ideas will show up in future books!

15. Working in the arts, you provide great entertainment for kids. For you, what does working in the arts sector mean, and what more can be done to support it?

 

It’s quite simply a privilege to write for kids and make a living working in the arts in this country. Being a white, middle-class man definitely put me in a good position to attempt a creative freelance career. I’m lucky. I think about that all the time. And it makes me determined to work hard and try to make the best art I possibly can, while I’m in this position.

But the arts industry in Australia is seriously underfunded. The industry is worth $15 billion yet federal arts funding keeps being reduced. And writers and literature organisations traditionally get a pretty small cut of whatever funding there is anyway. That makes it very hard for book writers and creators to establish themselves and maintain a career once they’re established. Australians are great readers. We buy lots of books, we read heaps. But there needs to be more support for emerging and established book creators, so that Australian readers can read Australian books. I don’t think that point can be overstated.

 

16. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and which one do you find yourself always going back to?

 

I worked at Readings for many years, and they will always be one of my favourites. Their kids’ shop in Carlton is heavenly. But we’re lucky to have so many great bookshops in Australia.

The Little Bookroom in Carlton North is great. Avid Reader in Brisbane is awesome (as is its kids’ shop, Where the Wild Things Are). The Avenue bookshops are all amazing. And I actually think we’re lucky to have lots of bookshops in shopping centres, thanks to the likes of Robinsons, Dymocks, QBD and Harry Hartog. And I haven’t even mentioned some of the great regional bookshops like Squishy Minnie in Kyneton and Blarney Books in Port Fairy.

I could go on but if I wrote about every bookshop in Australia that I like, I’d use up all of the internet’s storage space.

 

  1. Did working as a bookseller help you work out what you wanted to write?

 

Working in bookshops reinforced my love for children’s literature more than anything. But it also exposed me to lot that has helped me on my author journey.

You’re obviously exposed to a lot of reading material when you’re in a bookshop every day. There are always ARCs to read. You get a good taste of what customers like (and don’t like). It’s interesting to chat to publishers who walk in to see how their books – and their competitors’ books – are tracking.

One of the things that I always think about, having worked in a couple of bookshops, is: how is a bookseller going to recommend a book to a customer?

In my experience as a bookseller, you get less than 30 seconds to pitch a book to a customer who has asked for help. That might not sound like much, but whenever I was asked for a kids’ book recommendations, I would throw a handful of books at the customer – with a few lines of recommendations for each one – then let the customer choose.

I think about this all the time because it reinforces just how straightforward the initial pitch for a book needs to be. Because if a bookseller can’t quickly summarise a book – or speak to a cultural reference point to help explain it – then there might be a problem.

 

18. What do you love about children’s and Young Adult literature?

 

I love that the books I read when I was young are the ones that mean the most to me today. I recently read and adored Normal People by Sally Rooney, but I’m not going to carry that book in my heart forever the way I carry Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harriet the Spy. I loved those books as a kid and they’re part of who I am in a very deep and integral way. That’s the power of children’s literature.

 

19. What is it like judging for an award such as the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award?

 

 

It was an amazing experience actually. I was judging the Young Adult category of the prize. There was a lot of reading involved, as you can imagine, but getting paid to read YA books and debate them with other people was a total joy.

It was also interesting reading an entire year’s worth of YA publishing in a small amount of time. It gave me a great overview of Australian YA that year. You could see the trends of that year – in terms of the styles and genres of books getting published. But it also impressed on me the quality and depth of local YA publishing programs.

 

20. Finally, do you have recommendations for good reads during isolation?

 

I struggled to read books when the pandemic first took hold. It was a stressful time and my brain was busy on other matters (reading the Guardian live blog compulsively, looking up value-for-money casserole recipes, etc).

But after a few weeks, things settled down and I resumed reading again. I’ve been reading Comet in Moominland as the Moomins are always a calming read in anxious times.

I’ve also been rereading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (in preparation to read the new Book of Dust volumes) and am about to read Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Clearly, I’m taking comfort in fantasy that takes me far away from my #isolife.

Any further comments?

 

Nothing except to say thank you for having me. And please say hi to Jarvis for me and thank him for the questions!

Thanks Andrew, and good luck with Real Pigeons!

 

Isolation Publicity with Tim Cope

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.

tim cope
Tim Cope

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.

tim and tigon

Tim Cope is an adventurer, film maker and author who has travelled the world, and conducts treks all over the world. On one trek, he met his beloved travel companion, Tigon, and has recently released their story for younger readers. Whilst the book came out last year. Tim had author appearances and treks postponed. He talks about those here, and what he plans to do during the pandemic. The map and headshot in this post were provided by Tim.

 

tim map
Map of Tim’s journey.

Hi Tim, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. You’re an author, an adventurer and a film maker – which did you start with, and how did you get into all three?

  
It all started with a writing project I did in year nine English in which I chose to describe what it was like to come out of a coma (at age ten I had contracted encephalitis). My teacher told me that I could be a writer one day. I’ve always loved writing, particularly the way in which it can harmonise and express the complexities of perception, allowing for the synthesis of thought, feeling and of the senses.

Parallel to that, I grew up in the countryside with a father in the outdoors. I began dreaming of adventure in my teens and by the time I finished school decided to delay university and pursue travel. During a year of working and travelling on a shoe-string budget travel in the UK and Europe I decided that writing and adventure fitted hand in glove for me.

 

 

  1. Of all the places you’ve been to on your adventures, do you have a favourite, and why?

I’ve been travelling to Mongolia just about every year since the year 2000. It is an extraordinary country where traditional life still holds sway. It’s a place where we can reflect on the many alternative systems available to us as societies. In regional areas Mongolians are still predominantly nomadic, private property is almost unheard of, and people mostly only own as many possessions as they can fit on the back of their camels, or on their trucks.

 

  1. Tim and Tigon – your new book – is aimed at middle grade to early young adult readers and comes out in September. What is Tim and Tigon about, and where did the inspiration come from?

 

My inspiration originally came from Tigon himself – my Kazakh dog. A few months  into the trip a man who accompanied on horse back for a couple of weeks gave me his small puppy. “In Kazakhstan dogs choose their owners. He is yours” he had told me. I looked down at this scrawny six month old pup, named Tigon, and wasn’t sure he would make it more than two weeks through the perilous winter of Kazakhstan (where it regularly drops below -40 degrees). I would soon learn, however,  that his spirit was much larger than his tiny frame. As we travelled together for three years across the Eurasian steppe to Europe, I watched Tigon grow into an adult, and live through untold challenges and scrapes. His sense of humour, his bravery, his curiosity and ability to appeal to the better side of human beings inspired me and lifted my spirits every day. And somehow, across all cultures, young people could immediately relate to Tigon.

Back here in Australia I visited hundreds of schools and organisations with my story, and the feedback from parents and teachers was always that it was hard to find engaging non-fiction for young people. Eventually I was able to fulfil the dream of writing about Tigon in this new book.

 

 

  1. Have you had to cancel any author events, launches or appearances due to COVID-19 yet, and if so, what were they? If not, what are you looking forward to?

  

2020 for me was a slated as a year in which I would do three main things:

1.Tour schools nationally with my book.

2.Run expeditions to Mongolia

3.Buy a house.

By mid March, all three of these had been more or less wiped out. Like for many my life has been turned upside down.

In terms of book events I had schools scheduled across Victoria, NSW, WA and Queensland that have all been indefinitely postponed or cancelled. I am in the process of trying to convert these to virtual appearances but it is a very fast changing landscape as everyone knows.

 

 

  1. What other books have you had published, and what audience do you primarily write for?

 

I’ve published three books: Off the Rails (Penguin), On the Trail of Genghis Khan (Bloomsbury), and Tim & Tigon (Pan Macmillan). I write for a wide audience including those interested in adventure, travel, history, culture, and more recently animals.

 

 

  1. Most of your books are non-fiction or memoir – any plans for a fiction book, either based on your experiences or in another genre?

 

My COVID lockdown project is to fulfil another dream, which is to complete an illustrated picture story book about Tigon. I don’t intend to write fiction at this stage although that idea has always been brewing in the back of my mind.

 

  1. You present to schools a lot – what are some of the things you love about doing this, and what sort of things do you speak to students about?

 

In my talks to students I talk about the adventures I’ve been on, and the lessons I’ve learned – primarily from the people and lands I travel through. These lessons revolve around resilience, patience, friendship, grief, risk taking, and learning to embrace the unfamiliar.  I think it’s  crucial for young people to look at the wide variety of options that exist for pathways in life. By looking into cultures, lands, and people who are different from ourselves we can extend ourselves and our understanding of the world – and of course assess our place in it. I enjoy the type of questions and reactions that young people have. They don’t self-limit their imagination, or aspirations, and have a natural curiosity about the great unknown. For adults sometimes adventures can seem like crazy, dangerous projects for which there are untold reasons not to undertake in the first place.

 

 

  1. Your adventure dog is Tigon – where did you meet Tigon, and what sort of writing and adventure companion is he?

 

Tigon was born in a small village called Zhana Zhol (‘new road’) in Eastern Kazakhstan. (Rest of this question more or less answered in question 3).

 

 

  1. You’re also a film maker – what sort of films have you made in the past, and what do you have planned for the future?

 

 

I made a documentary for the ABC about my journey by recumbent bicycle across Russia to China. It was called ‘Off the Rails: On the Back Roads to Beijing.’ Following on from that I rowed a wooden boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean with three mates. We sold the footage to National Geographic who made a documentary film. In 2010 I directed and co-produced a three hour TV series for the ABC and for ARTE in Europe. It was called ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan.’

All of my films to date have been based on my adventures with a focus on the people, culture, and lands that I travel through.

 

 

  1. Was there a certain book or film that you read or watched as a child that sparked your interest in taking on big adventures across the world?

 

 

When I was a teenager I watched Sea to Summit, a film about Tim Macartney Snape walking from the bay of Bengal to the summit of Everest. I later read classic adventure stories such as Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger), and the iconic mountaineering book Into the Void (Joe Simpson). I knew then that adventure was what I wanted to pursue in life.

 

 

  1. When you’re not on treks or adventures and at home, what do you enjoy doing during these down times?

 

 

I love reading, spending time with family and friends, hiking, walking, cycling, and surfing. I follow politics closely, and try to study to improve my language skills (Mongolian and Russian).

 

 

  1. In all three fields you work in, which authors, explorers and film makers were your inspiration?

 

In terms of authors, my inspiration were both fiction and non-fiction. As an 18 year old I loved reading Tolstoy classics, as well as the above mentioned author Wilfred Thesiger. In terms of adventurers, Mountaineer Tim Macartney Snape was definitely a big inspiration, as were Australian modern adventurers Eric Phillip and John Muir. My passion was adventure filmography. Michael Dillon, who made Sea to Summit was someone I looked up to. Amazingly many years later Mike joined me briefly as a videographer on my trek by horse from Mongolia to Hungary.

 

 

  1. Adventuring, like writing, is often a solitary and isolated quest – do you feel that the impacts and feelings that come with each intersect, or are there differences in how isolated you are writing versus heading off on an adventure?

 

It’s a really good question. I think I’m a naturally introverted person. For me both writing and adventure offer time to reflect and digest in solitude. On an adventure I love being out there in new environments, meeting new people, then retreating to the wilds and the inner of my tent where I have solitude and my diary. I think the difference between writing from the confines of a house, and being on an adventure is that the adventure offers more of a rich sensory experience. Adventure for me is about seeking new experiences, and writing is about reflecting on them and learning from those experiences, and preparing myself for new ones.

 

  1. You also run group treks with World Expeditions – which of these treks are the most popular, and have any of these stories made it into your writing?

 

My most popular trek takes us through the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia. The route roughly follows the trail I took in 2004 during the early phases of my trek from Mongolia to Hungary. I love returning there. People still live a life mostly free from mechanical transport. They live with the seasons, closely tied to the land.

  1. When you’re at home, which local booksellers do you enjoy visiting?

 

Well until recently I lived in North-East Victoria in a small village called mount beauty. So the nearest place for new books was the local library. I think libraries are an underestimated resource these days.

Having said that, I am now in Melbourne, and I do enjoy going down to Readings in Carlton from time to time. 

 

  1. Exploring and adventuring feels as far from the arts as it can get sometimes, but do you find that there is some intersection between the two industries?

 

Most adventurers that I have admired are people, like artists, who challenge society to think critically, and who have chosen an unconventional path in life. Adventure can take on so many meanings, but for me it is largely about the creative concept of that adventure. One I have come up with a theme, and driving question, I assess everything through that prism, much in the way that many kinds of art projects might be driven.  Yes I believe there is a very strong intersection between the arts and exploration.

 

  1. Once travel is open again, where do you hope to do your next trek?

 

I had a trek in New Zealand all planned before COVID came along, so I will probably be headed to the South Island as soon as its possible. I also look forward to getting back to some of my favourite local hunting grounds in the Victorian Alps and Wilsons Promontory.

 

  1. Have nomadic people always been an area of interest – and where did this interest first come from?

 

When I was a kid growing up in rural Gippsland, I often used to try to imagine the landscape pre-colonial times. My Dad had a book about indigenous Australian cultures and I spent untold hours gazing at the photos. I wanted to know what it was like to live more in rhythm with nature, rather than locked in to human constructs of time, space, and land. those same elements drew me to Nomadic culture in Mongolia many years later.

 

 

  1. Finally, what is next in terms of writing? Are you working on anything while you’re at home?

My upcoming project is to complete a picture story book for 4-6 year olds about Tigon.

Beyond that I would love to write a book about living in Mongolia for a year with nomads, or perhaps following the trail of the Roma people (Gypsies) from India to Europe.

 

 

Anything further?

 

Thanks Tim!

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Nova Weetman

 

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.

 

Sick Bay

Nova Weetman is the author of three middle grade books, including last year’s Sick Bay. All three have been published by UQP. So far this year, Nova has spearheaded the #AuthorsForFireys campaign during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season that ravaged the country for well beyond the usual bushfire season, and has had her novel, Sick Bay, shortlisted for an ABIA award. She’s also had many appearances and workshops cancelled, and like many authors, this has meant a loss of income that contributes to her author income alongside royalties. She talks about writing and the arts below.

 

Hi Nova, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

 

  1. You primarily write for middle grade – what books have you written for this age group, and what drew you to writing for this age group?

 

I’ve written three books for middle grade readers published by UQP  – The Secrets We Keep, The Secrets We Share and Sick Bay. My most recent is Sick Bay. I’ve also published three choose your own books for middle grade readers. I love writing for 9-14 year-olds because reading was the most important thing for me at that age. I also think my writing voice suits that age group more than it does writing for YA.

 

  1. What kind of writing did you do before you moved into writing novels, and how does scriptwriting differ from prose writing?

 

I worked in television and film before I wrote novels. I was also writing short prose back then, but then transitioned across to writing for young people when I developed a television show about teens. I realised how much I enjoyed writing stories for that age group and it just sort of made sense. Writing novels is much more personal. It’s a conversation between you and reader. Writing scripts involves a whole team.

 

  1. Is it easier to write a series, or standalone novels, or are there unique challenges for each?

 

I don’t really write series – even the secrets books can be read as standalone novels. I’d prefer to write standalone I think. I get a bit impatient having to revisit characters and plots from an earlier book when I’m writing sequels, and can’t imagine dealing with the limitations of a series.

 

  1. 2020 has already been a hectic year – bushfires, and now a pandemic. Earlier in the year, you ran #AuthorsForFireys on Twitter -for those who don’t know about it, can you tell my readers what it was, and where the idea came from?

 

Emily Gale and I decided we needed to do something to help fundraise because we both felt really helpless watching the fires burn large tracts of Australia. We took the idea of a twitter auction from Zana Fraillon’s #authorsforasylum and used the same model. Basically it was designed so that authors and illustrators could run their own twitter auction item, but it just grew and grew until we had to rely on the help of an awesome team to set-up a giant spreadsheet and wrangle the money tally!

 

  1. Congratulations on the ABIA shortlisting for Sick Bay – what was it like hearing about that?

 

It’s lovely being shortlisted for any award, and the ABIAs are particularly lovely because they are industry awards. I rely so heavily on booksellers handselling my books so it’s really special to have an ABIA shortlisting. Celebrating is a bit tricky though in isolation!

 

  1. Have you had to cancel any kind of events – launches, festival appearances, school or library visits – in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?

So many things have been cancelled. It’s very hard. I’m happy to do online school visits but it’s not the same. I love being in the room with students and workshopping, and Zoom changes that dynamic!

 

  1. Of these events – which ones were you looking forward to the most?

 

I was really looking forward to Clunes Book Fair where I was doing a couple of sessions, and a week-long school visit trip to Queensland that can’t happen because of the border restrictions.

 

  1. As an author, what do you enjoy about interacting with your readers?

 

I think as a children’s author, hearing from kids is a massive part of why we do what we do. Knowing that your books are being loved and read by young readers is everything. I had an email recently from a young reader who had just finished Sick Bay. She was type 1 diabetic and she’d given the book to some of her friends so they could understand more about her life. She told me it was a really accurate portrayal and that was pretty great to hear.

 

  1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and what was the first thing you ever submitted to a publisher?

I have wanted to be a writer my whole life. I wrote a book with my best friend when I was twelve called The Jelly People. That was the beginning. I submitted a picture book to Five Mile Press when I was about 19. My 17 year-old brother illustrated it and we received a very lovely rejection letter!

 

  1. Do your ideas form organically, or are they often inspired by things you see, hear or read out in the real world?

 

My ideas mostly come from characters that grow in my head over a period of weeks or months. But sometimes, like with Sick Bay, it was a location that started the story. I knew for years I wanted to write a book set in a school Sick Bay but it took ages to figure out what the story would be. I guess I’m open to ideas forming both organically and through inspiration.

 

  1. When writing, do you prefer using pen and paper, or a typewriter, or a computer?

 

I write notes by hand and drafts on computer. I often plot with pen and paper but when it comes to actually writing I go straight onto the laptop.

 

  1. Do you have any writing rituals, preferred writing snacks and furry writing companions?

 

Coffee, jelly snakes in the afternoon and a daily trip to the op shop near my studio. I also reward myself with something during the day. Maybe I allow myself to read a couple of chapters, or watch an episode of something if I’ve been really productive.

 

 

  1. The kid lit community is really supportive – of each other, of bloggers and their readers – how has this helped you in your career, and what does it mean to be part of such an awesome community?

 

Being part of this community is huge. It’s everything – friends who understand the highs and lows of writing, people who get it when you’re rejected or when you have a bad review. I think we’re really lucky to have such a supportive community. I’ve certainly never experienced this in any other job. It’s lovely too because we are all very different and we’re in it together because of our love of children’s literature.

 

 

  1. During the fires, as we’ve already discussed, the arts sector really came together to help those affected. In light of this, artists – writers, singers, etc – really need support now. What would you like to see people do to give artists this support?

I’d like to see the Australia Council funded properly for the first time in many years. I’d like to see the arts matter to our federal politicians. I’d like to know that all artists are being supported in similar ways financially to the bailouts for other industries. It’s great if people can buy local books from local bookshops, and support local artists as much as they can. But it’s not just the job of the community to do this – government has to lead.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and how are you hoping to support them during the pandemic?

 

I’m trying to share a bit of the love around – The Little Bookroom in Nicholson St, North Carlton has my heart and they’ve delivered quite a few parcels to our house recently. I’ve also ordered books from Readings and Booktopia and Neighbourhood Books.

 

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors, and what books are you hoping to read during the pandemic as we all shelter inside?

 

So many favourite authors, and I’ve actually been reading a lot since lockdown started. I’ve just finished (and loved) two new Australian middle grade novels – one from Penny Tangey and the other from Julianne Negri’s. I’ve ordered Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Jess Hill’s Stella winner, and am about to start reading Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country.

 

 

  1. What do you enjoy doing when not writing, and do you have any favourite boardgames?

 

I love 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, baking bread, watching crime shows, trawling op shops and playing cards. We have just bought a card game called Anomia that is excellent and fun and irritating all at the same time.

 

  1. Your books explore a range of diverse characters – how much research do you do before putting pen to paper?

 

I research a lot before I start. With Sick Bay the character of Riley who is type 1 diabetic was created with the help of my daughter’s friend who is type 1 diabetic. I spent a lot of time interviewing her and creating a character around things she told me. I steal a lot from my kid’s friends too because they have a broad circle of people in their lives, so that makes research fun.

 

  1. Do you have a preferred genre to read or write in?

 

I’m a realism girl. I read it and I write it. I have never tried to write fantasy, because my brain doesn’t think like that. I’m a small story person – I focus on details and character – not world-building and large-scale plots.

 

  1. Finally, sort of related to question six – what stories do you have planned for the future?

 

I have two books set for publication next year. One is the third in the Secrets series. It’s a puberty book sort of – a growing up reluctantly story. And the other is a historic, feminist, time-slip that I’ve co-written with Emily Gale. It’s a very different project for me because it’s a time-slip so I guess it’s not strictly realism although it sort of is. It’s also based on a real person so we spent a lot of time trawling through archives in the NSW library. It was lots of fun and I loved co-writing and will hopefully do it again.

 

Anything I may have missed?

 

Thanks Nova!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Aleesah Darlison

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.

Aleesah Darlison is the author of League of Llamas – a series of four books aimed at younger readers that  has come out this year during the months of the pandemic. She’s had to cancel launches and all kinds of author appearances in the wake of the pandemic. She appears here to discuss her series, llamas and animals in writing.

League of Llamas: Undercover Llama

League of Llamas: Rogue Llama

LOL with 4 covers black

Hi Aleesah and welcome to the Book Muse! (thanks for having me!)

Aleesah llama books_March 2020
Aleesah and her first two books
  1. Like many of my participants, you write for children – what attracted you to writing for children more than adults, and which age group do you primarily write for?

I didn’t consciously start out writing for children. I think I eventually gravitated to the genre because I had young children of my own, and because my inner child needed to express herself! One day when I grow up, I might spread my wings and write for adults too. My favourite age groups to write for are 3 – 5 year olds with picture books then 6 – 12 year olds with chapter books and junior fiction.

  1. Where did the idea for League of Llamas come from, and was it a conscious decision to only write four books?

Several of my kids and their friends were obsessed with llamas and we started talking about them one day, bouncing ideas off each other until we came up with the concept of llama secret agents. Once I had that initial seed, I worked with it, developing characters and plots designed to make kids laugh out loud – it’s all about engagement factor, after all! League of Llamas, or LOL, for short works in with that idea. I did consciously develop ideas for four books and that’s what I pitched to my publisher, Penguin Random House. Four is my favourite number and it’s neat and tidy! I have plenty of other ideas for additional stories, so we can always add more.

 

  1. Llamas as secret agents sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read and write – what is it about llamas that you think is so funny?

Writing about llamas doing secret agent business and other silly things was so much fun! I often gave myself (and my editor) a giggle with the stories. I just loved working on these books. My llamas are stand-out characters – they have strong personalities and do naughty things. They’re giddy at times, they have great camaraderie, they have some admirable qualities but also they have many, many faults.

The llama main characters (Phillipe, Lloyd, and Elloise) are all convinced of their own positive attributes, but they’re not so good at recognising their faults, their foibles, and their idiosyncrasies. Being completely oblivious means they have no inhibitions and no boundaries. They don’t hold back so they can be entirely themselves, which tends to create rather hilarious moments.

  1. Following on from that – are llamas effective secret agents, and could our spy agencies utilise them as well as humans?

Absolutely! My llamas can create the best disguises (Phillipe goes undercover as a giraffe), Lloyd is unwavering in his loyalty to his fellow secret agents (he’s as cool as a cucumber under pressure – although he is ruled by his stomach and LOVES donuts), and Elloise is a force to be reckoned with (you have to watch her side-kicks and karate chops). Singularly, they may be vulnerable, but as a team they’re unstoppable!

  1. You’ve written over 50 books for children and young adults – what are the most common themes and characteristics you find appearing in each book?

There’s usually an animal or two or three (or more!) in my stories. My favourite things as a child were books and animals, so I guess it’s natural that I write about animals now that I’m grown up, well, sort of … I get to combine my two great loves and have fun doing it. This all means that I’m well-known for my stories that feature animals and the environment, as well as child self-empowerment, unicorns … and llamas, of course!

  1. Which animals are the most fun to turn into a character of some kind, and why?

All of them! There are so many adorable animals out there just waiting to be written about. As authors, we have an endless supply of potential characters in our animal friends.

  1. Animals are a common aspect in books for children – for both fiction and non-fiction. As a kid’s author and parent, what do you think draws children into books about and featuring animal characters?

Many animal species are familiar to children, so they have a sense of comfort and connection with them from the moment they open a book. Some are super cute and disarming too, a fact that’s helped along by how talented illustrators depict their subjects. I challenge anyone to resist a baby panda or koala or llama? It’s impossible!

IMG_8216
Aleesah reading to a llama

 

  1. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic did you have any launches, events, and appearances planned that had to be cancelled, and what were they for?

Oh, yes! Before the release of my League of Llamas Series, I’d been working for months to create numerous events and activities. The series was even featuring at a festival launch where we were going to have real live llamas for people to meet. I had bookings for to present League of Llamas workshops and talks at multiple festivals, schools, and libraries across Australia. Basically, I had five months’ worth of events and tours that had to be rescheduled. There was so much work put into setting up these events, then there was more work involved in rescheduling, and now there will be more work again in re-confirming and running those events once we defeat COVID. It’s been a challenge to say the least.

  1. What is, or are, your favourite things about school visits, and why these in particular?

It’s always the kids. They’re amazing and so full of fun and joy. They’re always eager, friendly, and welcoming.  Seriously, it’s one of the perks of the job to be able to work with kids.

  1. Do your kids inspire any of your stories and characters, and in what way?

All the time. Either with silly, funny, or clever things that they do or say and which I then translate some way into a book. Otherwise, it might be with ideas and information about things that they like that could form the basis of a story or character. Kids think in the most imaginative ways and come up can often come up with things that you just wouldn’t think of as an adult.

 

  1. You write series and stand-alone books – what are the challenges for each one, and which do you find the easiest to write, or at least, to get started on?

Each book has its own challenges. Sometimes a stand-alone story will simply flow onto the page, sometimes you have to push. With a series you need unique stories with the same characters so it can be tricky to maintain stamina over the long haul. Series are a lot of work because you’re often writing and editing multiple instalments at once and to multiple tight deadlines. Plus, you have to keep track of everything to ensure you’re not repeating yourself. Planning is paramount, so I’d suggest that if you really don’t like planning your stories that you don’t tackle a series.

  1. How far have you gone to research something for one of your books, and what has been the most interesting thing you’ve uncovered so far?

When I was first starting out, I was really into historical novels and went a long way towards writing two manuscripts (one biographical, one fiction). These manuscripts are yet to see the light of day as I still haven’t gotten them quite right. I’d go to the NSW State Library almost every day or night researching on microfiche and old  newspapers, digging up court documents and purchasing birth certificates and war records from the archives (which I still have). Historical novels are a huge amount of work! It was fascinating reading the court transcripts to a case that involved one of the real-life people I was writing about. Those transcripts showed so much of the reality of the world these people lived in and their personalities and back stories. It wasn’t just about the court case – it was their own relationships and personal interactions, the social mores of the time, and the prejudices people actually held and honestly believed they had a right to feel.

 

  1. You love llamas – would you enjoy having one as a writing companion, or would something like a cat or a dog be easier?

I’ve seen that people use llamas as yoga companions … so maybe they would work as a writing companion too. I’ve visited a lot of llama farms, so I have been up close and personal with them. If I had one of my own, I’m sure they’d make for great writing inspiration … but they would be tricky fitting in a house. So, I guess I’d have to go with a dog. I’ve had dogs as pets for years and they’ve always stuck by me with my writing. My current dog, Lexie, has a bed under my desk and she spends most days there if I’m writing.

 

  1. With each picture book, you seem to have worked with a different illustrator – how has that process worked with each book and illustrator?

Publishers choose the illustrator for a project and each story has a different feel or essence so requires a different style of illustration. Sometimes, I can suggest illustrators, but usually the publisher has a firm idea or preference for who they would like to work with on a project. Sometimes, I’ve known and met the illustrator. Sometimes, I’ve never met them or spoken to them. Illustrator choice often isn’t up to the author, it’s up to the publisher so authors tend to run with it. So far, it’s always worked out well for me!

  1. You also have two series for younger readers – Little Witch and Unicorn Riders – are there more books planned for these series?

No, those series are a little older now. Unicorn Riders was my second series (after Totally Twins) so came out about ten years ago. There are eight books in that series so while I thought I’d explored the unicorn stories in quite a bit of depth, I would have loved to create a companion series called Griffin Riders and based in one of the neighbouring kingdoms. Maybe one day I’ll get back to that idea!

 

  1. Are there any new series or stand-alone books planned for the future, or is there anything in the works right now?

I have ideas for other series that I’m currently developing, but – most exciting – is that my publisher, Penguin Random House, recently accepted a new picture book series from me so that will keep me busy for the next few years. We’ve currently got four books planned for that series, so I need to get cracking with the writing!

  1. I ask a question like this to as many people as possible – how do you think the arts will be impacted due to the pandemic, and what can people do to help?

From what I’ve seen and heard, many creatives have lost presentation work, which really supports us more than book royalties. On top of that, they’ve lost launch opportunities and book sales because book stores have had to close or don’t have any foot traffic due to self-isolation and lockdown restrictions. Then you have the potential for publishing contracts and new releases to be stalled or cancelled altogether. I haven’t heard much on that front yet, but it may happen.

The other impact is that, although many people have found themselves at home more and you’d think this means more writing time, the worry and stress of the virus or of losing income has depleted any ability to focus on creativity. Many authors like myself also have children who need to be home schooled, so we’re busier than ever before, but not with our writing.

There have been many negative impacts of COVID on the writing industry, as there have been for many industries. I think the main thing to focus on is that the restrictions and ‘hibernation’ won’t last forever and that if we can stay healthy and well, then we can pick ourselves up and carry on. Hopefully soon. And hopefully without losing too many talented creatives to the virus.

Social media and Zoom have been lifesavers in keeping us connected and supporting one another. The Australian children’s writing industry is a tight-knit group, so those connections are helping many us hang in there.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and why this one in particular?

I’ve been supported by many booksellers over my career, so they’re all absolutely wonderful, they’re the life-blood of our industry. They work so hard! If I could name a few Sunshine Coast local ones it would be QBD Kawana, Harry Hartog Maroochydore, Annie’s Books on Peregian, Pages & Pages Noosa, and The Little Book Nook in Palmwoods.

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

 

I have a penchant for detective and crime stories and also Stephen King! I do tend to read a lot of children’s books too and I’m a sucker for a clever picture book.

  1. Finally, will there be more League of Llamas books for younger readers to enjoy?

Absolutely! Books 3 and 4 come out on 3 July. If kids and parents want to grab copies, they can order via www.penguin.com.au or they can visit QBD, Harry Hartog, and other booksellers OR purchase online at Amazon or Booktopia. Go the llamas!

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Aleesah!

That’s it, thanks so much Ashleigh!

 

Isolation Publicity with Allison (A.L.) Tait

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.

One of my participants is Allison Tait, or A.L. Tait – author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the soon-to-be-released (in September) – The Fire Star. Allison has studied freelance writing and has written on pretty much any topic you could think of, which must have been very interesting. Like many authors, Allison has had lots of festival appearances and events cancelled due to the pandemic, as well as school visits. Below, she talks about her books, the Australian Writer’s Centre and her freelance career, and of course, Procrasti-pup makes an appearance too!

Hi Allison, and welcome to The Book Muse

Thanks so much for having me Ashleigh! It’s lovely to have an opportunity to connect.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write professionally, and was there a specific course you did at university?

It’s a long story because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a sense that being a professional writer was a viable career path. I was in regional NSW, before the internet, and I thought that authors were magical unicorns who created their work in turrets in England.

I got my break as a writer when I landed a magazine journalism cadetship and I worked in that industry for 15 years before I ever wrote a book. My first book was non-fiction and was about how to pay off your credit cards…

 

  1. You started your career as a journalist – was this as a freelancer, or a regular journalist and where did you get your start?

I began as a cadet journalist with Federal Publishing Company when I was 19. I learnt every aspect of magazine publishing, from sub-editing and production, to writing features. It was very valuable training for all aspects of my career.

I worked as staff on different publications in Australia and in the UK from that point until I had my first baby, though I had periods where I worked part-time on staff and part-time as a freelancer, because I was transitioning from editing roles into fulltime features writing.

  1. What sort of articles have you written in the past, and do you still write for publications, whilst working on your novels and at the Australian Writer’s Centre?

If you can think of a topic, I have probably written an article about it at some point. I have written about everything from cars, golf, gardens and finances, to home interiors, sex, business and dating. One of the things I have always loved most about being a features writer is the variety of the work. These days, I only write articles when there is something in particular I want to say, and that is becoming less frequent all the time. Most of my words are reserved for other arenas now.

  1. At what point during your journalism career did you decide to write novels, and which age group did you start with?

I started writing novels when I travelled to the UK in my early 20s. I had taken a temporary job as a switchboard operator while I applied for journalism jobs in London, and I was, not to put too fine a point on it, bored out of my mind. So I began writing a romance novel to amuse myself and a friend I was corresponding with at the time.

I picked up a job on Homes & Gardens magazine not long after, but I kept chipping away at the manuscript and then wrote two or three more, before branching out into longer works of contemporary fiction for adults. None of these manuscripts ever got published, but I learnt a lot along the way.

  1. The series I probably know you the best for are the Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. How do you feel these books have changed your writing career?

The Mapmaker Chronicles changed everything about my writing career. The idea had come to me thanks to two conversations I’d had with my oldest son, then nine years old, but I ignored it for a good six months because a) I’d never written for children and b) I’d never even contemplated writing a series and I knew that a race to map the world was going to take more than one book.

Once I did sit down to write it, with encouragement from my agent at the time, I could not believe how effortless it felt. The first draft of the first book took me six weeks and the published version is not that different from the first draft. It was the most fun I’d had sitting down and I realised I’d found my true writing love.

  1. Each series features male and female characters in fantasy medieval settings whop may not fit into the gender binaries that people expect. What was it about Gabe, Quinn that you think appeals to readers across the spectrum?

There are two things I love most about both of those characters – one is that they are reluctant heroes, and I do love a reluctant hero, and the other is that both of them are clever enough to recognise when they’re not the smartest person in the room.

I think readers recognise the true bravery involved in not wanting to do something – but doing it anyway for the good of other people. Quinn and Gabe are both questioners. They don’t blindly follow orders – not even Gabe who has grown up in a monastery with all the obedience that entails – but they understand duty and the importance of doing the right thing.

  1. The Mapmaker Chronicles is about mapping the world – when you started writing this, was there something specific about the role of maps in our world that sparked this idea?

The idea was sparked by two conversations with my son Joe, which brought about a feeling and a question. One was about how far space goes (and the feeling that accompanies staring out in the black night sky and wondering where the edges are) and one was a question about how the world was mapped.

I’ve always loved antique maps – as much for the fact that they show us what we didn’t know about the world at any given time as for the fact that they show us what we did know.

So I brought together that feeling of not knowing where the edges are and the fact that explorers could only map the world by going.

And then I added in a character who would really much rather stay home.

  1. With The Ateban Cipher, was there something about ciphers, and communication that helped you form this story and idea?

This series was again built about a feeling and a question. I love old books and have travelled to Dublin twice to see The Book Of Kells, a medieval manuscript. Each time, I was struck by how much I wanted to possess the book.

The question came from a tiny article in a newspaper about the Voynich Manuscript, a very famous antique cipher, which has been pored over by scholars for 100+ years. I got to the end of the article with one question in my mind: Why would you write a book that no-one can read?

So I took the feeling and the question and added in a character who has been raised in a monastery, where such books were written and read, but must leave it for the first time every to keep the book, with all its secrets, safe. Once in the outside world, he runs into the most foreign thing that a boy who has always been surrounded by men could encounter: a group of rebel girls.

  1. Are there more books in those series in the works, or are there any new series or books planned?

At present, there are sadly no plans for more books in either of my current series, though I would happily dive back into either of those worlds in a heartbeat!

I do, however, have a brand-new book coming out in September 2020 with Penguin Books! It’s called THE FIRE STAR (A Maven & Reeve Mystery) and is a mystery adventure novel for readers 12+.

This is the blurb:

A maid with a plan.
A squire with a secret.
A missing jewel.
A kingdom in turmoil.

 

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

 

This could be a complete disaster . . . or the beginning of a great friendship.

Preorders available at your favourite online bookseller!

  1. Has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted any releases or events you may have been attending, and what were they?

So many things. I was booked to appear at several literary festivals this year, all of which have been cancelled. I am also the program director of the Shoalhaven Readers’ & Writers’ Festival, now in its third year, but we have had to cancel the 2020 program.

And, then, of course, there are the school visits that are no longer happening, as well as the fact that Valerie Khoo and I were scheduled for a So You Want To Be A Writer event at VIVID Sydney again this year.

On top of this, CBCA Book Week, which is a massive event for children’s authors has been shifted from August to October, which is going to make things much more difficult for me, both as a writer and as a parent. Term 4 is very, very busy in Australia, as any parent will tell you, and trying to factor in a week or two of Book Week author visits around that is not going to be easy.

  1. When did you start working at the Australian Writer’s Centre, and what courses do you run there?

Hmmm. Now that’s a good question. I have been working as an AWC presenter for seven or eight years, I think. I started out tutoring the online Freelance Writing course, and have since moved across to the Creative Writing 1 and Writing For Children and Young Adults online courses. I’ve also developed three online self-paced courses: Build Your Author Platform, Make Time To Write and the 30-Day Creative Writing Bootcamp.

Two years ago, I created the Kids Creative Writing Quest, which is a 12-module self-paced creative writing course for kids aged 9-14.

 

  1. Of these courses, which do you enjoy preparing for the most?

I enjoy all the courses I do with the Australian Writers’ Centre. The courses all aim to be practical, industry-based and incredibly useful. The feedback I get suggests that students get a LOT out of their courses, which is very motivating for me as a presenter.

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers, and who are your local ones?

I think booksellers are amazing and they are all my favourites. My local booksellers are Dymocks Nowra and Dean Swift Books and they do a brilliant job of keeping books and reading alive in our regional area.

  1. With the arts in trouble, and living through a time when people are going to be relying on the arts to fill their time, what do you hope comes from this crisis in terms for support for the arts and authors in Australia?

To be honest, I hope that people understand the importance of the arts to their lives, and how dull life would be without the books, the music, the theatre, the television and everything else.

  1. Procasti-pup makes many appearances on your social media. Does he help the writing process?

He is without doubt the best thing to ever happen to my Instagram account! On the practical side, he accompanies me on a long walk every morning. Walking is, for me, a very important part of my creative process, and it’s lovely to have such accommodating company as I wrestle with my stories in my head.

  1. Do you have a favourite author, or suggestions for pandemic reading?

I’ve just read ‘The Dictionary Of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams and very much enjoyed the journey to the absorbing world of words.

  1. Finally, what are you doing to pass the time over the next few months?

I am reading, writing, and arguing with my children over screen time (much like every other parent in Australia). Seriously, though, I’m working on a new manuscript, teaching, podcasting and doing the myriad things that always fill my days, such as managing my Facebook groups (Your Kid’s Next Read, Your Own Next Read, So You Want To Be A Writer), social media, updating my blog and generally keeping things ticking over. I’m busy!

Anything further?

Thank you Allison!

 

Isolation Publicity with Christine Bell

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.

Christine released No Small Shame with Ventura Press in April, and like many authoors, had her events surrounding the release of the book cancelled. In this environment, reviews online and interviews like this are crucial in getting the word about the books out – in a time when authors cannot physically and socially connect with their readers, it must be done virtually. Christine also has a background in educational writing for reluctant readers, and this historical fiction novel was inspired by her own family history.

 

NoSmallShameCOVER 98

Hi Christine and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. To begin with, what is the premise of your novel, No Small Shame, which came out with Ventura Press in April 2020?

 

No Small Shame is the story of a young Catholic wife faced with a terrible choice between love and duty during WW1. Mary O’Donnell sets out for Australia in hope of a better life, but one foolish night of passion with a boy from her village back in Scotland leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage. Mary’s journey from powerlessness to agency is an epic story of loyalty and betrayal, friction in families, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.

  1. What inspired this novel and its World War One setting?

The idea for the novel emerged through researching my family history. In 1913, my great-grandparents emigrated from the tiny mining village of Bothwellhaugh in Scotland to the new state-owned coal town of Wonthaggi in Victoria. While I was visiting the State Coal Mine Museum, a little voice kept whispering, ‘there’s a story here. There’s a story here and what a great setting!’ Instead of writing the novel I’d begun a few months earlier, I found myself researching the long-demolished village of Bothwellhaugh and pre-WW1 steam ship journeys to Australia. Once my main character, Mary, turned up, I could ignore the pull no longer and had to set aside the other novel and write Mary’s story.

 

  1. When researching the themes, characters and era of your novel, what sort of sources did you consult, and where did you begin your research?

My initial research was done through libraries and the internet. I accessed archived copies of local newspapers and spent hours in the Public Records Office of Victoria studying the correspondence files of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. I studied primary sources, such as: diaries, oral histories, letters etc. And I gathered more specific resources through historical societies and heritage centres: ie: booklets, texts, maps and photographs. During a research trip to Scotland, I visited a replica of miner’s rows from the era, ventured down a coalmine and visited the site of the demolished village of Bothwellhaugh. I met with a local park ranger and studied photographs and maps, and learned of some of the characters who’d once lived in the village. I walked the battlefields of France and visited several WW1 war museums to learn of soldier’s lives and read a lot of non-fiction to gain a greater understanding of the effects of war and shellshock.

  1. Did you complete your research prior to writing, or did you do some research as you wrote?

I did four months research while I fought the urge to switch novels. Once I commenced the writing, it seemed like I was continually needing to query or verify some small detail ie: When were matches invented? When did electricity come to Melbourne? How many days did it take a steamship to reach Australia from England? Plus I spent many hours researching the timeline and progress of WW1 and its impact on the Australian homefront?

 

  1. Was this story planned out when you began writing it, or was it written as you went?

I began with the idea of exploring the life and choices of a young immigrant coming to Australia in the hope of a better life. I wanted to use the timing of my great-grandparent’s migration to Australia – even though the story is fiction – so the war was always going to be a backdrop to the novel. From there, the plot developed organically which led me down a few dead ends while I worked out what I ultimately wanted the story to say. Writing without a plan, I loved the unexpected turns in the characters’ journeys. Some plot twists occurred naturally as a result of the character’s personalities and circumstances. I was shocked when I realised what would be the inevitable outcome for one character. My urge was to fight it, but after considerable research I realised it was consistent historically and too often true.

  1. What events were planned for the release of your novel prior to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling them?

I was so excited and keen to get my choice of day and date, I booked my launch at Readings Hawthorn way back in December. So it was really disappointing when it became a casualty of Covid-19. I was also booked to be one of the featured authors at Dymocks Camberwell First Tuesday Book Club in April, but, sadly, that too had to be cancelled. I was very fortunate that I got to speak at the Women Writing History Day at Eltham Library the weekend before restrictions were enacted.

 

  1. Prior to having this novel published, you’ve had stories for younger readers published – can you tell my readers about these stories?

I’ve had over 30 short fiction titles published for children from picture story, middle-grade to YA for reluctant readers. I wrote mysteries, adventures and even a few humorous titles though I’d never call myself humorous. I loved to write action books where lots was happening. It’s interesting now to look back and see that as my children grew up, I began to write for an older and older readership!

 

  1. Are any of these works for children still available?

The majority of my children’s titles were published in the education market and so not available for purchase in general bookstores. It’s a few years since the last one was published, but, wonderfully, many are still selling and yielding royalties, plus ELR and PLR.

  1. What are the challenges writing for children versus writing for adults, and as someone who writes, or has written for both audiences, is one easier than the other?

Many similar craft skills are needed when writing for both children and adults. Young children need to be quickly engaged and love action and fun language. With illustrated texts the author needs to trust and leave room for the illustrator to contribute equally to the story. I found once I began writing novels, I gravitated to writing more gritty, complex characters and difficult situations. I love the scope of novel to explore the complexity of relationships and why people make certain choices.

  1. You’ve worked with CYA and SCWBI Victoria – what sort of grounding did these experiences give you for your career as a writer?

I loved my five years working as Assistant Coordinator with SCBWI Vic. It’s such a valuable and inclusive organisation and offers so many opportunities for writers and illustrators to gain knowledge, and meet both peers and industry contacts. Acting as a judge for CYA, I learned much about my own writing through reading the competition entries with a critical eye. Both my SCBWI and CYA roles were wonderful opportunities to contribute and give back, as well as make many friends and contacts in the publishing industry.

 

  1. What have you been doing to pass time since the pandemic shut many things down?

The day cancellations began, author Kirsten Krauth set up a Facebook group Writers Go Forth. Launch Promote Party. Within hours, posts appeared offering, authors who’d had launches or events cancelled, blog spots, interviews, the chance to apply for podcasts, among many other opportunities. An online launch became a real possibility and I instantly became very busy both organising it and responding to various opportunities, as well as those set up by my publicist. So through the pandemic, I’ve been busier than ever.

 

  1. Many people are turning to reading in these difficult times – what have you been reading, and what recommendations do you have for people?

I’ve bought a heap of new books in recent weeks and my TBR pile is about to topple off my bedside table. I try not to read fiction when I’m in the thick of writing, so during this promotion period for No Small Shame it’s a chance to catch up on some of the amazing historical fiction that’s coming out right now, including: Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater; The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks; The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning; The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams just to name a few.

  1. Which local booksellers do you regularly use?

 

Sadly, we don’t have an independent bookseller anywhere nearby but it’s usually no trouble for me to travel to an independent bookstore. I do buy from Booktopia on occasions and have been buying a lot of books online at present. I always go through the local store rather than order online through headoffice as I want the individual store to get the benefit of my purchase.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in Australia, now and in other times, and what can people do to support the local industry?

The arts are hugely important in Australia, though it seems they’re no longer well supported by the Government who deleted the Arts portfolio and shoved it in with infrastructure, transport and communications, as if the Arts is a floater that can be slotted in anywhere rather than acknowledged as an important contributor to this country’s cultural life and well-being. We need to support our creators more than ever and whenever possible send that message to the Government. Also please BUY BOOKS!

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

I’m more dedicated to taking time out for activities away from my desk these days. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to play the piano. It’s been a lifelong dream and I’m learning to produce simple tunes – though strictly for my own enjoyment. I’m also getting into photography. I loved my recent writing residency (pre-Covid) on Norfolk Island which gave me time to practise photographing nature and some truly amazing sunsets and sunrises.

 

  1. Any plans for a future novel, and what are they?

I can’t give away too much yet. But my work-in-progress is set in the year directly after the First World War and tells the story of a young Australian soldier who stays on in France and the traumatic reason he refuses to go home.

Thank you Christine