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

 

Isolation Publicity with Wendy Orr

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.

NimsIsland_roughs

Wendy is the author of several books for children, including the Nim’s Island seriesDragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance – the latter are both set in Bronze Age Greece. 2020 marks the 21st Birthday of Nim Rusoe, and Wendy had to cancel lots of celebrations around this milestone. So she has agreed to appear here to celebrate, along with my review of Nim’s Island which appeared a few weeks ago.

Hi Wendy and Welcome to The Book Muse

  1. You’re a prolific writer, perhaps best known for Nim’s Island, which celebrates its 21st birthday this year – where did the idea for Nim come from, and what is the basic premise?

Nim’s Island is the story of a girl who lives with her scientist dad and various animal friends on a small, secret island. When her dad disappears on a research trip, Nim reaches out to an adventure writer for help – and they both discover more courage than they knew they had.

Nim was inspired by seeing a small rocky islet off the coast of Vancouver Island when I was eight or nine and deciding I’d like to run away and live on an island all by myself. When we got home – to a town in the landlocked Canadian prairies –  I started writing a story about an orphan girl who runs away to live on an island.

Then in 1995, after Ark in the Park won the CBCA book of the year, two girls wrote one week, each asking me to write a book about them. I said that I couldn’t do that, but I started playing the writer’s game of “What if?” “What if a girl wrote to an author and said “Could you please write a book about me?” and the author said, “No, because I’m a very famous writer who writes very exciting books.”  But what if the girl’s life was more exciting than the author’s?   I decided that the girl’s life was more exciting because she lived on an island, and after many bad drafts, remembered the feeling of writing the island story when I was nine, and Nim’s Island finally came to life.

  1. As a remarkable coincidence, the day we set this up, a review copy of the 21st anniversary edition of Nim’s Island appeared on my doorstep just before I sat down to write these questions. Did you have anything fun planned to celebrate Nim turning 21 that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic?

I was planning to do lots of birthday parties at various bookstores, which would have been fun.

  1. Were any other events – festivals, school visits – cancelled in the wake of the pandemic?

Yes, a few. I had less scheduled than usual because of some family events that had to take precedence.

I can’t wait to dive into Nim. I’ve also seen the movie with Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin – how do you think the movie differs to the books, or at least, the first book, which I think the movie was based on? The first movie is very close to the first book. The book doesn’t have the author’s interaction with her protagonist, as the movie does, but it makes so much sense to me I often forget that I didn’t put it in.

  1. Nim’s Island was the first Australian children’s book to be adapted for a Hollywood film – what was it like to be the first author to go on this journey, and how do you think the Australian adaptation with Bindi Irwin differs? Or is Nim’s Island the kind of place that could be situated anywhere in the world?

I was very lucky; I had a truly wonderful experience all through the production and film process. The producer Paula Mazur and I formed a firm friendship, and I ended up working on the first two drafts of the screenplay with her, as well as being a consultant. I think that there was a total of 10 days that we didn’t communicate with each other in the entire 5 year process – it was very intense, stimulating, and I learned a huge amount. I was on set twice, was very well treated by the stars as well as crew, and then was taken over for the Premiere at Graumman’s Chinese Theater and a short tour of the US. The whole thing was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Return to Nim’s Island, starring Bindi Irwin as Nim, was loosely based on Nim at Sea. This book would have been horrendously expensive to film as I’d written it, so there had to be a lot of changes, but when I read the final screenplay, I loved it and felt it was very much a story that I could have written. It was filmed in the Gold Coast studios and hinterland, as the first film was, and of course Bindi was a natural for Nim.

Rescue on Nim’s Island  then had to work both as a sequel for the book, and for the people who’d seen the film and expected it to carry on from there. It took a bit of juggling but once I’d worked out what I wanted to do, it was a joy to play in that world again.

 

  1. You’ve also written two books – Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance – set in Bronze Age Greece. What was it about the Bronze Age that made you choose it as a setting?

It’s fascinated me from childhood – Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth was probably the most pivotal for me, but all of her work as well Mary Renault’s fed my obsession. Then when I first started writing seriously, about 30 years ago, I had a dream which led me to start researching the Minoans, an absolutely fascinating people.

Both of these novels incorporate free verse and prose – which to me, felt like you were drawing on the oral traditions of antiquity – was this a conscious decision? No, though I’m very pleased it feels like that.  Very little of the writing of Dragonfly Song felt like a conscious decision, although of course with Swallow’s Dance I knew that I wanted to do it the same way. I simply always heard Dragonfly Song in verse – I often hear my books in verse before I write them, but this time I was unable to persuade it to turn into prose. I felt the story was too complex and so eventually decided to write it in the combination that it is now. I was very sure that my publisher would say it was a terrible idea, but she said why not try it? So I did.

  1. How much research did you do into myths of the minotaur prior to writing Dragonfly Song, which very much felt like the journey of Theseus heading to thwart the beast of the labyrinth?

Quite a bit of reading different interpretations of the minotaur myths, and a huge amount on the Minoan civilisation. Swallow’s Dance required even more specific research, and I was lucky enough to receive an Australia Council grant to travel to Santorini and Crete to visit the archaeological sites and museums there and spend time with an archaeologist. Seeing the places in person was almost overwhelming.

  1. You’ve written everything from picture books to middle grad, young adult and as I just found out, you even have a book for adults! Are there any challenges in juggling different styles, genres and audiences, and do you have a preferred audience to write for?

It seems to be more that I find a story and as I work it out, it becomes obvious which genre or age group it needs to be for. If I could only choose one it would probably be middle grade.

  1. If you were to live on an island like Nim, what sort of island would it be, and what sort of shelter would you live in?

Nim’s suits me perfectly: a tropical island, lots of animal friends, and a small hut with internet connection…

  1. Have you won any awards for any of your books?

 

 

*coughs modestly. Quite a few. I’ll attach a list and you can choose which to mention.

Some of Wendy’s awards – she has won and been shortlisted for awards in Australia and America. We both agreed to just feature a handful of the awards she has won or been shortlisted for.

Winner:

Award for Children’s Literature (Dragonfly Song)

Australian Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature (Dragonfly Song)

Australian Standing Orders Librarians’ Choice Award, Secondary Schools, (Dragonfly Song)

Environment Award for Children’s Literature, Australia (Rescue on Nim’s Island)

“Mits’ad Hasfarim” – “The March of Books” Israel (Nim’s Island)
Parent’s Guide  Children’s Media Award Winner (USA)

Puggles Award – Children’s Choice, Australia (Rescue on Nim’s Island)

 

Honour or Shortlist:

 

BILBY Award (Queensland)

CROW Award (South Australia)

Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Books, USA
KOALA awards, NSW , Australia

NSW Premier’s Award: Children’s Literature;Community Relations

Rocky Mountain Award
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award

South Carolina Best Books for Young Adults

Speech Pathology Australia Awards,
Student Choice Picture Book Award (USA)

  1. How long have you lived in Australia, and what made you and your family choose to move here?

I married an Australian farmer while studying in London, UK, so it was obvious that we would move here when I finished college, which is what we did. There were a few unfortunate twists and turns after that, but we ended up managing to buy a farm eventually.

 

  1. Have any particular places in Australia inspired some of your works?

Spook’s Shack was inspired by the 5 acre bush block that we live on now. There was a very creepy shack here that seemed likely to be inhabited by a ghost.

  1. What did you do prior to becoming an author, and what made you decide to give writing a go and submit to publishers?

I was a paediatric occupational therapist. At lunch one day a friend told me she’d written a book and I thought, ‘I’ve always said I was going to write – when am I going to start?’ I was doing a postgrad course at the time but started writing the day after I mailed my last assignment. My dream was to write and work part time but after breaking my neck, I became a full time writer.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite writing companions, snacks or rituals?

My dogs remind insist that two walks a day is the most important writing ritual. I had started becoming a bit precious about favourite pens and notebooks, but since the pandemic started we’ve had family living with us, which includes two toddlers, and I’ve quickly gone back to being able to write whenever there’s a moment, with whatever’s at hand, much as I did when I started writing with two young children.

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

Walking – after being told that my injuries meant I’d never be able to go for a walk again, I’m constantly grateful that I can do it. I especially love beach walks. Singing brings me a lot of joy too. Apart from that, all very normal things – coffee with friends, seeing my family, travelling…  And of course reading, but that’s like saying breathing.

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors to read when you’re not writing?

I’m always working on a book, so I always keep on reading too. Lots of classics, a lot of literary fiction – and of course children’s books. I’m not good at choosing favourites, but a couple that I’ve loved lately were Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett. I can’t wait to read the next Hilary Mantel – you can’t go past Phillip Pulman’s Dark Materials series.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live, and who are they? (multiple is okay too)

We’re incredibly lucky to have four great indie bookshops on the Peninsula – 5 if you count Frankston, which has Robinsons Books. Farrell’s Booksellers in Mornington; Petersen’s Bookshop in Hastings, The Rosebud Book Barn and Antipodes Book Shop in Sorrento – they’re each quite individual shops, different from each other except all run by passionate individuals with a great knowledge of books.

  1. Do you have any new projects in the works, and what do you think they will be?

How would I survive without new projects in my head? The next will be Cuckoo’s Flight, a third Bronze Age novel which will come out in March 2021. The others are too embryonic t be shared right now.

  1. The arts are always important, and is even more important now as we isolate from each other – what impact do you think the pandemic will have, and how can people help to support the arts, in particular the Australian arts industry?

I’m hoping that as people turn to the arts during their quarantine, they’ll realise how important arts are to their well-being at all times.  Like many authors and other artists, I’m offering some free resources but hope that people will also understand the need to support the arts that are supporting them. Most bookshops are processing orders and often delivering even while they’re closed, so I’d encourage people to buy from them rather than a multinational like Amazon – your local shop will be able to suggest suitable books for different tastes, so you’ll read books that you’d miss by shopping online. And of course that’s also a great way of supporting Australian authors.

Isolation Publicity with Sherryl Clark

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.

DeadGone-2.2

Sherryl writes in various genres and styles for adults and children, such as crime, poetry, short novels with Elyse Perry, a sports series and many others. Sherryl is releasing a sequel to Trust Me, I’m Dead later this year. So far, none of her events surrounding this book have been cancelled, but she has had workshops and other appearances cancelled during the first months of the pandemic.

Hi Sherryl and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. You write for kids and adults – what made you decide to tackle two very different audiences in a variety of ways?

I started out writing for adults, and then I did a children’s writing workshop with Meredith Costain – out of that came “The Too-Tight Tutu” which was published by Penguin (Aussie Bite), and the children’s books became my focus. I still kept writing crime fiction. I’d revise my novel (I had two previous not-good ones I left in the bottom drawer) every now and then, and it had some rejections along the way. Then I did another rewrite and entered it in the CWA Debut Dagger – it was shortlisted and that led to the publishing deal with Verve Books UK. I’m still writing both kinds of books but the crime novels take up more of my time now.

 

  1. You have several new books and series – the Elyse Perry series, and Trust Me, I’m Dead, your recent adult crime novel – did you have to cancel any events surrounding any of these books or other books due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes, I had several things lined up – two writers’ festivals and some workshops planned. I did one school visit before the lockdown and caught a bad cold from it! Since the lockdown, no school visits or author talks for months now. Because schools are closed in Victoria for Term 2, that means no author visits even online really – I think teachers are having enough trouble without trying to beam in an author! Book Week has been moved to October.
I’m really sorry the local literary festivals have had to be cancelled – they have such good reputations for friendly, interesting sessions and people interested in books getting together to talk about them.

  1. Can you tell my readers more about the sequel to Trust Me, I’m Dead?

The title is Dead and Gone (took a while to settle on that!). Judi has gone back to Candlebark where she lives, and is working in the local pub to make ends meet when the owner is murdered. That brings Det Sgt Heath back into her life (the minor romance element) but when she has her own ideas about who the killer is, she’s ignored. She gets involved anyway, through a series of mysterious incidents, and pursues it on her own. Her niece, Mia, is also part of the story when Judi’s custody of her is disputed.

 

  1. The sequel to your crime novel comes out this year – was that release affected by the pandemic health crisis?

Not so far! The e-book will be out 25th June, and the print book in August. Although Verve originally were only going to publish as e-book and POD, TMID sold really well as a print book and so now they have an Australian distributor to make it easier to buy here. A lot of the publicity we did last time was via blogs and web magazines, so it’ll probably be like that again. I’d love to have a proper launch, though.

  1. Apart from writing, you do school visits and run writing workshops for kids – did you have to cancel, postpone or alter the way you present any of these due to the pandemic?

I’ve lost all of that work, so one thing I have done is short videos of writing prompts that I put on YouTube for free, and on my blog. I’m also teaching two webinars for Shooting Star Press on character and story structure. I recorded myself reading The Littlest Pirate in a Pickle last week for Katherine Public Library – that was a challenge! But it ended up being fun.

  1. How long have you been part of your local writing community, and what led you into this industry?

Oh goodness, I started working in community arts way back in the 80s. I was part of Victorian Community Writers for many years, and our focus was running workshops and things in country areas. I worked with some great people who are still friends. I was in a women’s writing group for more than 30 years, and my current group has been going for ten years. So all that teaching in the community then led me to teaching in TAFE. I guess a big part of my community now is also past students. It’s lovely to keep in touch with them.

  1. You’ve been writing for children for over twenty years – what led you to writing for this audience in particular?

As I said, initially it was that workshop with Meredith. Then I had more help from Michael Dugan. I got into writing educational chapter books early on, and it suited me because I’d written a lot of short stories. Gradually I wrote longer and longer things, and some picture books. I also went to a lot of conferences and PD events to increase my skills, then I did an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline College in Minneapolis. It’s just been about learning and growing and new ideas, and having fun drawing on bits of my own childhood. My first ever attempts at writing for children were a bit too didactic. When I started aiming for fun and action instead, I improved.

  1. You also have two collections of poetry – do you find it easier to write fiction or poetry, or do they each have their own challenges, and what are they?

I love poetry. It’s my ‘thing’ I do without any thought of publication. It’s expression and language and ideas and emotion, and it all just comes out on the page. Later I might look at something and see if it’s worth reworking and sending out, but it’s not my primary urge. With fiction, I have more of a sense of structure and what it needs – characters who interest me, a plot that doesn’t run dry, the strong central idea that will keep me writing and rewriting without losing the passion for it. I’ve taught story structure many times to students and it seems to have embedded itself in my writing brain, which is helpful. I can see pretty soon where the holes in something are and how to fix them.

  1. Have any of your books been nominated or won any awards, and which ones?

My first verse novel Farm Kid won the NSW Premier’s Award for children’s books, and the next one Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) was a CBCA Honour Book. I think I have 12 CBCA Notables now. Also Meet Rose was shortlisted for the NSW History Award for children’s books.

  1. You also write across genres – was this a conscious choice, or does the story idea lead you into what genre you’ll write in each time?

It tends to be the idea that leads me. I do love crime fiction, so those ideas are consciously developed with murder and plot twists in mind. With children’s books, sometimes the books will be commissioned (so the publisher proposes the concept and genre). All my pirate stories, though, came from researching a historical figure, a pirate who was a real failure – that led to a big historical novel and lots of Littlest Pirate chapter books! But I’ve also written a science fiction thriller for YA (unpublished) because I had an idea that really intrigued me and it was the best way to explore it.

  1. When you began your career as a teacher – did you ever think you’d move into a writing and publishing career?

It was the other way around! I was writing first, for a long time, and I did an Arts degree at Deakin via distance learning, then I worked in community arts and began teaching workshops. I didn’t start teaching in TAFE until 1994, I think, and by then I’d had quite a few things published. Poems and stories, a few competition wins, and then the first children’s book.

  1. Do you have a writing process, and what is it?

I tend to sit on ideas for a while and let them build. I make notes and write little bits, and do research to fill the ideas out more. I don’t start writing until I have a good sense of what the whole thing will be, even if I don’t know the middle. I still know more or less where I will end up, and I do diagrams of the structure. I try to stick to the main diagram but I like to let my subconscious do a lot of the work. So if something pops up in the writing, I usually go with it unless it starts a niggle in my brain that it’s not working. I don’t write in chapters – I start at the beginning and just keep writing without any breaks until I get to the end. I do chapters later in the rewrites.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite or preferred writing companion?

No. Just me. I have a new cat who can’t stop walking on the keyboard and chewing paper so she’s banned from the room now.

 

  1. When it comes to your own reading habits, what do you enjoy reading, and why?

I love reading crime fiction. I’ve become even more addicted over the last few years. I have lots of favourite authors. But I also love middle grade novels and verse novels. I have a lot of favourite poets, too. I try to read more literary fiction and other genres because I think it’s good for me, and sometimes I find something brilliant and disturbing that blows me away and keeps me thinking for days. Those are real brain stirrers! Like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. I also really enjoy Helen Garner’s nonfiction.

  1. You work in the arts and education – for you – how do these two industries complement each other, and how do you think they’ll be impacted overall by the pandemic?

I just think the LNP hate the arts and always have. I still remember Jeff Kennett refusing to be part of the Victorian Premier’s Awards. And Simon Birmingham taking the Professional Writing and Editing courses (and a lot of other arts courses) off the FEE-HELP list because he said they were unimportant ‘lifestyle’ courses. Not to mention the ongoing, endless funding cuts to the Australia Council and the ABC/SBS, and anything that is about the arts. People don’t realise how much money has been syphoned out of the arts over the last 8 years or so.
There was the huge scandal about the $500 million sports grants and where that money went, and I just thought – what about the arts? Our industry makes billions of dollars for the economy but it relies so much on artists and writers working for very little – the assumption is too often that you should do it for the love of it.
So it doesn’t surprise me at all that so many artists and writers are not eligible for Jobkeeper. There is no way the arts industries weren’t discussed in that proposal, and they chose to ignore the need. I think artists and writers will keep working, because most of us can’t stop creating, but bigger industries like film and galleries and theatres will suffer for a lot longer. But we have long memories.
As for education, the bureaucrats stuffed TAFE a long time ago, and pushed universities into relying on overseas students by cutting funding. Look where that’s ended up. I really do wonder how the creative arts industry will come out of all this. (Sorry about the soapbox, but as someone said, while everyone is reading and listening to music and concerts and watching stuff online etc, have a think about where all of that came from – who made it.)

  1. What do you want to see from the arts and literature consuming public during and after this pandemic?

I think we’re already seeing more people reading and buying books – I hope that continues. And support your local bookstore – everyone says independents and I agree but I know people who run Dymocks branches fantastically well with events to help writers promote their books and they deserve book sales, too. Save Amazon for the e-books you can’t get otherwise. If you see someone performing online and asking for donations, donate if you can. And when we can go out again, put things like theatre and live music and art exhibitions on your visiting list. And more than anything, support the artists and writers who are missing out on Jobkeeper because the rules exclude them (and maybe also think about what the gig economy actually means – it means a heck of a lot of artists who have to survive without any solid, ongoing income, as well as all the delivery drivers etc).

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

We are very lucky – we have the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville! And Book and Paper in Williamstown. I love walking into a bookshop where I can browse and discover something wonderful.

  1. Do you have any recommendations for reading and viewing during the time we’re spending in isolation?

Mystery Road on the ABC is top of my list at the moment. I’m getting into Scandi crime again on Netflix and SBS on Demand (watching Bordertown for more research on Finland). The trouble is I get sidetracked into a new series and forget where I’m up to in the other ones, so I have to keep a list! With crime fiction, my favourites lately have been Peace by Garry Disher, Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic and The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan. Also NZ crime writer Vanda Symon has a great series with her character Sam Shephard. I have a list somewhere of good movies set in France to watch (since I can’t go this year like we planned) but I’ve lost it!

  1. You’re also an editor – are there any challenges in editing your own work before you send it off to a publisher or another editor?

My first drafts tend to focus more on plot than character development, so I have to make sure in rewrites that I deepen characterisation and all their internal stuff. I don’t have problems with grammar and punctuation, because it was drummed into me at school (and I am forever grateful, Mrs Roberts, I really am). But I tend to write a bit lean, so what I need to look out for are gaps or holes or where I haven’t given the reader enough ‘meat’. And sometimes I have motivation issues with characters – pushing them around a bit instead of thinking more about why they do things.

  1. Finally, what future projects do you have planned?

At the moment, I’m working on the Finland novel still, and writing articles for Medium, which I enjoy. I have some picture books that still aren’t hitting the mark (and often they never do and have to be abandoned). I’m thinking ahead to a third novel about Judi and mulling possible plot ideas. I’m also thinking about putting together all the articles about writing that I’ve published on Medium (along with new ones) and making a book out of them. That’s a long-term idea!
I’m also planning a writing retreat for myself when the lockdown is over, and we can travel again. Somewhere on my own with lots of silence, and hopefully a beach for long, inspirational walks.

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Sherryl!

Isolation Publicity with Petra James

 

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.

Petra James is the author of the Hapless Hero Henrie series, and the second book came out in May in the midst of the pandemic. Part of her publicity for this book is the following interview we arranged ages ago, just after I read the first book for Writing NSW. This interview was done before the advent of online events, so doesn’t reflect the changes that other authors have made.

Hi Petra and Welcome to The Book Muse
It’s lovely to be here – thank you.

1. The second book in your Hapless Hero Henrie series is out in May – what is the basic premise of this novel?

Henrie is on her first Hero Hunt – with Alex Fischer from Hapless Hero Henrie and a girl called Marley Hart, who has rung the Hero Hotline seeking a hero. There’s a mystery about Marley’s great aunt Agnes (an archaeologist), a missing gold statue, a secret from the past, and a new villain.

2. How many books do you think you have planned for Henrie Melchior’s story?

At the moment, it’s just the two books but Violetta Villarne (from Villains Inc) has a habit of popping up when she’s least expected so I wouldn’t be surprised if she has more to say and do. She loves making trouble …

3. This is one I’m really looking forward to after getting to review the first book for Writing NSW earlier this year. Where did the idea for House of Heroes come from – a family where no girls have been born for decades?

Thank you so much for your wonderful review of Hapless Hero Henrie. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it.

I’m the youngest of four girls and I was supposed to be a boy but, obviously, I wasn’t so I grew up with this sense that I wasn’t quite who I was supposed to be. I took this idea to the extreme by wondering what dramatic events could be set in motion if a girl was born into a family business, governed by tradition, and males.

I also wanted to reclaim the hero space for girls because, of course, girls can be heroes too!

4. What, if any, events and appearances did you have planned for the release of this book before the pandemic crisis forced their cancellation?

We’d really just started talking about this when COVID struck but I was hoping to attend some bookshop book clubs, visit some schools ….

5. Out of all the characters you have created, do you have a favourite, and why this character?

This is always a tough question to answer. I guess each new character is like a new friend so there’s a joyful sense of discovery as you get to know each other. So Henrie is probably top of the list at the moment because she’s the main character of my latest book. But then all the characters in my other books are like old friends, and old friends are equally cherished.

6. How did you get your start in children’s publishing, and what is your job within the industry these days?

I worked for a literary magazine in the UK when I left university and soon realised that publishing was the job for me. I loved every part of it. And still do. I’m a children’s publisher now – working with amazing authors, illustrators and designers. I feel pretty lucky to have such a job.

7. Do you have a favourite children’s book, series or author, or many, and what are they?

I have so many favourites. For so many different reasons. This question could take me months to answer. And I’d probably want to keep changing it. It would be like the Magic Pudding of answers – I could never ever finish it.

8. How do you think children’s books and stories have changed over the years, compared to what you may have read as a child?

I think there’s a much greater range of stories now with so many more authors writing for children. I think humour is more prevalent too.

9. Growing up, what sort of books did you find yourself drawn to in particular, and why?

I loved all the Enid Blyton books, especially the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I planned for a while to be a spy. And Ferdinand the Bull was my favourite picture book, probably because my dad loved this story and read it to me constantly.

10. What was it about the arts, writing and publishing that made you want to make a career in this industry?

It was a serendipitous discovery. I feel as though it found me rather than the other way around. And once in the publishing/writing world, I knew no other career could ever fit so well.

11. Can you tell us what is next for Henrie and the House of Melchior?

That is a question without an answer … for the moment.

12. In times like these, how important do you think the arts are going to be for people so they can get through it?

Creativity is fuel for the soul. Our physical worlds may have shrunk but the world inside a book is immense. We may not be able to leave the house but we can still explore the most magnificent inner worlds by reading, singing, dancing, playing the ukulele, writing, haiku-ing …

Anything I may have missed?

Thank you Petra, I look forward to more Henrie Melchior stories.

Thanks so much to you and I hope you enjoy Henrie’s Hero Hunt.

Isolation Publicity with Dee White

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.

Dee White small author photo 2019 colour
Dee White has two books coming out, or that have come out during this pandemic – Beyond Belief, and Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training – she has discussed them both here in one of my longest interviews yet! So it is interesting and exciting to get so many different interviews and responses, and shows how diverse our writing industry is in many ways. Like many authors, the release of Dee’s books was affected by the pandemic, and events have been cancelled. Dee agreed to take part in my series to promote these books and hopefully reach her readers.

Hi Dee and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. You’ve got two new releases that I am featuring here – one of which I do have on order. Could you tell my readers about each of them?

Beyond Belief is a work of historical fiction inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris Mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. It tells the story of eleven year-old Jewish boy, Ruben and his family who are fleeing the Nazis and French police after more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps during the Vel D’hiv roundup on 16 and 17 July 1942.

Eddy Popcorn also features an eleven year-old boy, but couldn’t be more different. Eddy Popcorn is contemporary, humorous illustrated fiction. Eddy has been grounded for the school holidays for not doing his homework. Faced with not seeing the beach, or his mates, for the WHOLE holidays, Eddy puts all of his frustration into a helpful book for kids: Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training.

2. Beyond Belief is the one I have on order, and was published in early April – can you tell my readers what it is about, and where the idea came from?

As I mentioned earlier, this book is inspired by a true story that I stumbled upon when I was researching another book, Paris Hunting. (Still a work in progress.) After the roundup, Ruben’s parents leave him at the mosque where they know he will be safe while they go looking for his sister Rosa who has been missing for some months. Ruben must wait for there for the infamous Fox who will take him to Spain to be reunited with his family. (The Fox is also inspired by a real historical character). At the mosque, Ruben must learn how to be a Muslim. One hint of his true identity and he’ll be killed, and so will the people trying to save him.

3. Following on from the previous question, Beyond Belief explores one of the untold stories of World War Two. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and how do you think we can get them into classrooms and mainstream discussions of history?

I feel like there’s so much we can learn from the past but also so much that we can relate to the modern world. Racism and propaganda are still issues we face today. In Paris and in other parts of Europe in the late 1930’s the Nazis instigated a campaign of hate against the Jews. They produced posters showing Jews taking over the world and stealing people’s hard earned money. They forced Jews from the ghettos to ‘act’ in films. They dressed them up in opulent clothes and forced them to walk past Jews dying on the streets of the ghettos to convince the general public that these people didn’t even care about their own race. It was all fake news, but people believed it. They used this propaganda to dehumanise the Jews so that when atrocities were committed against them, people wouldn’t step into help. They used these campaigns of hate to turn people against the Jews in much the same way that the Howard government used the fake ‘children over board’ campaign to turn modern day Australians against refugees. They tried to make us believe that parents were throwing their children overboard to save themselves and this was proven not to be true.

I think I’m drawn to these stories because they show the power of human kindness … and that we are all people, regardless of religious beliefs or place of birth. The interfaith solidarity between the Jews and the Muslims crossed all religious and historical boundaries. It was simply an example of genuine human concern for other humans. During the war there were examples of this all over the world between many different races. During my research I discovered an amazing organisation called I Am Your Protector. https://iamyourprotector.org/ I really believe in their ethos. They do amazing things. They are, “a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another other across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through our work, we transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavour to change the way people view the “other”. We share knowledge, stories, and tools that inspire people to become each other’s protectors.”

In February, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino announced that the Holocaust would become compulsory learning for Years 9 and 10 and I think that’s a great start to bringing books like Beyond Belief into schools. With themes like racism and fake news, books like Beyond Belief aren’t just a way to examine the past, they’re also relevant today. I think that all we can do is try to get the word out about books like Beyond Belief (like you are doing with your blog) and through social and mainstream media to make schools aware that these books are available and how valuable they can be in the classroom. Publishers like Scholastic also provide curriculum-based teacher’s notes to help.

4. Your other new release, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training, was released on the first of May – what is this about, and is it a stand-alone, or part of a series?

Eddy Popcorn’s character and story are inspired by my boys when they were around eleven or twelve. I love the ironic humour of kids at this age. Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is about the pre-teen relationship between kids and adults – that time when kids are starting to question the world around them and whether parents actually have all the answers. I love this age because kids are starting to develop their own perspective on the world and it’s often very funny.

Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is the first book in the series illustrated by Ben Johnston, whose illustrations are amazing. I’d never met or spoken to him, but he really seemed to connect with Eddy and his story. The second book in the series, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming is coming out with Scholastic Australia next year.

5. With both of these books released in the midst of a pandemic, what events, launches and appearances did you have to cancel?

I had a launch at our local library and one at the Little Bookroom organised … and of course these were both cancelled. I had received a grant to do a month long artist residence at a remote regional Victorian school in May/June but this couldn’t go ahead either. I had planned a three-month book tour (in my caravan Luna) from Melbourne to Townsville and return with school, library and bookstore visits and events booked in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I also planned to visit isolated regional areas because I feel they often miss out on having authors visit their towns and schools. All this had to be cancelled. There were also a number of writer’s festivals that had booked me to appear and these didn’t go ahead either.

6. Did you always want to be a writer, and what do you think you would have been if you hadn’t gone down the publishing road?

I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, but it wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ at that time so when I left school I actually went into insurance, which I hated, and then marketing and advertising. From this I was able to get a job as a copywriter so at least I was writing and from there I went into journalism. But even when I was working in insurance, I still wrote in my own time. I was compelled to write. For me it has always been as essential as breathing.

7. What are the craziest, or most outlandish things you have done in the name of research for one of your books?

Probably doing a tour of the Paris sewers for Beyond Belief. It was certainly the smelliest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve also been up in a hot air balloon and invented and trialled my own weapons in the name of research.

8. Where have you travelled to research your books, and which of these places has been the most interesting or your favourite?

My research has taken me to different parts of Australia and the world including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. Paris would definitely have to be my favourite. The month I spent in Paris researching Beyond Belief (Thanks to a Creative Victoria VicArts grant) was amazing. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And the information I needed seemed to find me. I was given an interpreter, Laetitia for the sewer tour and she was so lovely. She also happened to be a Muslim who spoke Arabic and she helped me to verify the authenticity of the events I was writing about. Her next door neighbour was the mother of a Rabbin so Laetitia was able to get me into a synagogue in Paris as well.

9. When it comes to research – how do you begin your research process, and are some topics easier to research than others?

I usually begin my research online, but I always love to visit the actual place I’m writing about if I can. It’s definitely easier to find out about some topics than others. France didn’t actually acknowledge their part in the Holocaust until about 1995 and memorials came much later so it wasn’t that easy to find out some things. Beyond Belief was also emotionally hard to research because of the nature of the subject matter. It was just so awful to visit Holocaust centres and memorials and see the faces of babies and small children who had been murdered. It was also a deeply personal story for me because my father and his parents were forced to flee Nazi occupied Austria.

I’m currently researching an historical fiction set in Australia, The Explorer’s Niece, and that’s proving difficult too because there are discrepancies between the information I’ve uncovered. And two of the local historians were at odds over it and disagree on dates and events. The research process is never smooth sailing. There are always places where you stumble. But that’s part of the challenge and fun of it. I love research because you never know where it will take you and your characters. If I do research online I always try and verify its authenticity in some other way through museums, libraries or a local historical society or by visiting the place myself and talking to people.

10. You’re also a certified writing teacher. Do all your classes take place face to face, or do you also teach online, and how has this been affected by the pandemic?

I’ve been running online writing classes for kids for almost ten years now. My students come from all over the world … From USA, UK, Australia and India, to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, so that part hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. But I also do face-to-face workshops and appearances at festivals, libraries and schools and these have all been cancelled. Also as I mentioned, my one month artist-in-residence, would all have been face-to-face workshops with students from prep to Year 8. I also mentor writers of all ages and this is often done via email so that hasn’t changed either.

11. Is the History, Mystery and Mirth tour still going ahead, or has it been cancelled or postponed – alternatively, has it been adapted into an online tour like some other festivals have?

Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the tour for this year because of the closure of state borders and also schools are very busy at the moment with all the online learning. They have their hands full just trying to deal with the basic curriculum and paperwork and parents and technology fails etc. Perhaps I might be able to go ahead with tour next year. I’m currently in talks with the school I was going to be doing the artist-in-residence at, and hopefully that will go ahead in 2021. I am doing some online events still. I run the writer’s bootcamps at the CYA festival, which will be happening online in July. I’m also running an online workshop on creating compelling characters through SCBWI ACT on 28 June and that will feature Ruben from Beyond Belief and Eddy.

12. Who else is – or was – involved with the History, Mystery and Mirth tour?

I was organising this tour myself, but I’d scheduled a number of events through SCBWI in various parts of Australia and at a number of schools and festivals. And of course there was my artist-in-residence in Yarrawonga, which was to be part of the tour.

13. Apart from novels for children and young adults, have you had any other writing published elsewhere?

I’ve had many articles published in newspapers and magazines and online and I’ve written for a number of blogs. I started the Kids’ Book Capers blog at Boomerang Books and as well as my own blogs I ran a blog for a school for four years. When my kids were 2 ½ and 8 months old, we travelled around Australia in tents (with the family dog) for about 18 months and as we travelled I wrote articles for publications like Practical Parenting, Good Weekend and Go Camping.

14. Do you have a favourite writing companion or spot to write your novels in?

My goat Molly used to be my muse but sadly, she passed away when she was 14. I’m a bit of a nomadic writer and don’t have a single place that I work. I love writing outside and I love being in the location that I’m writing about and immersing myself in the setting.

15. Do you prefer to write with a notebook and pen, or on the computer, or a combination?

I always start out writing with a notebook and pen. It’s more portable and works well outside because I don’t have to worry about screen glare. Even in the editing process, if I have to rewrite a section I tend to do it with a notebook and pen. It seems to make it easier for me to immerse myself and connect more closely with my story and characters.

16. Do you have a favourite bookseller you’re trying to support during these tough times?

That’s a really hard one. All the booksellers are amazing and having a difficult time too. My local bookseller New Leaves doesn’t have an online store, but you can post your order through a slot in their front door and they deliver to your door. (Good old fashioned country service) Squishy Minnie is also wonderful. They’re in the next town and they have an online store and they have gorgeous books for kids and teens. And I love The Little Bookroom who are always so supportive of me and other creators and they have my books in store and online as well. Collins Booksellers in Sunbury always so enthusiastic about my work too.

17. Which authors or books are you always drawn to?

I love books with heart and a touch of humour and a bit of mystery … and of course, history as well. I love Bren MacDibble’s books because they have so much heart and originality and her characters are always so memorable. Wendy Orr’s books are like that too and I particularly like her historical fiction like Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Kathryn Gauci is also an amazing author who writes adult historical fiction. I love Rebecca Stead’s books and Jessica Townsend and Nova Weetman and Chrisse Perry and Adam Wallace and Michael Gerard Bauer. There are just so many wonderful books and authors out there.

18. Many authors I have interviewed have also been involved in reading, writing and literacy programs – is this something you do as well?

I have worked in schools and with individuals on a voluntary basis, helping with reading, writing and literacy, but I’m not associated with any particular organisation.

19. Are all your books published by one publisher, or do you work with different publishers?

I work with different publishers. Beyond Belief and Eddy Popcorn are published by Scholastic, my picture book Reena’s Rainbow is published by EK books, I’ve had books published by Pearson Australia and my YA novel Letters to Leonardo was published in Australia by Walker Books and by Mazo Publishing in USA and UK.

20. How would you like to see people supporting the arts and artists in this time, and beyond the pandemic?

The best way that people can support the arts and artists is to engage with art and spread the word about it. Buy books and music and artworks. Go to live shows and festivals and if you like what you read, heard or saw, tell people about it. One of my local bookstores keeps selling out of Beyond Belief and that’s because people keep recommending it to others. Of course reviews are great too. If you like a book, review it on Goodreads or online bookstores.

21. What books do you have planned for the future?

I’m working on Eddy 2 – Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, and I have another historical fiction, The Explorer’s Niece. I’m working on Paris Hunting which is the book I was working on when I stumbled across the story that became Beyond Belief. I also have another historical fiction in the pipeline, Canary Girl and another humorous junior fiction work in progress, Will Smite the Nearly Fearless Knight. So plenty to stop me from getting bored!

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

Wow, thank you for your great questions and for having me on your fabulous blog.

I have a Youtube channel  and you can find out more about me at my website  or on social media at Dee White Author.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been making Pop Motion videos (stop motion videos using popcorn) for Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to the Apocalypse and it is so much fun! In his pop motions, Eddy shares his experiences and tips on how to survive the pandemic. Eddy’s pop motions can be viewed on my Youtube channel and through Eddy’s page on my website. I’m also happy to do workshops in schools about using pop motion as a storytelling tool.

Thanks Dee!

Isolation Publicity with K.M. Kruimink, Vogel Award winner 2020

image001 

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.

image001

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.

 

A Treacherous Country

 Katherine is the winner of the 2020 Vogel Award with A Treacherous Country, which I am really looking forward to reading and reviewing. This is one book that due to its secrecy due to the prize announcement, did not have much publicity planned, so this is one interview that is helping to get it out there. Katrina had some fun with these questions as all my participants have, and I enjoyed finding out about her book, and her reading  and writing life.

 

Hi Katherine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. First, congratulations on winning the Allen and Unwin Vogel’s Literary Award. Where did you hear about it, and what made you decide to enter?

 

Thank you very much, and thank you for including me in The Book Muse!

I’m not sure exactly where I heard about the Vogel’s; I’ve known about it for years. Every year I’ve thought to myself ‘Is this the year I enter?’ and last year was it. I had an infant daughter, and I was so exhausted I was hallucinating. I’d be sitting up in bed, holding the baby, and getting annoyed with my husband that he wouldn’t take her so I could sleep. He’d say, ‘Darling, the baby you’re holding is imaginary. I’ve got our baby. You can sleep.’ I really needed something to do with my mind, so I googled the Vogel’s and saw that I had about eight months until the deadline. I felt the value for me in entering would be in the deadline and the wordcount: it would really compel me to complete something. So I did! I needed a bit of structure in my life.

 

  1. Your winning manuscript, A Treacherous Country, was published this year – can you tell my readers about your book, and the history and people behind the story?

 

A Treacherous Country is set in Van Diemen’s Land in 1842. The narrator is a young Englishman who has been sent to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn, who was transported there decades before. He’s very pliable, though, and easily led, and has won a distracting pair of newfangled harpoons in a card game. Through the harpoons, he gets caught up in the world of shore-based whaling. On his journey, he reflects on the situation he left behind at home – the young woman he proposed to, and his family of origin – and comes to the point where he realises he has to adjust his perception of things, and make a decision. I like an air of mystery, and keeping some facts back, so the young man’s motivations are revealed slowly.

The whaling industry was in decline around the time I set my novel, because the species was being hunted out. Nowadays, however, southern right whales are being seen with increasing frequency in Tasmanian waters. I remember standing on a friend’s verandah and watching a whale and her calf slowly swim north. It spurred me to think about how long their memories are. They almost became metaphorical for me.

  1. Tasmania seems to be getting a lot of attention lately – what do you think it is about Tasmania that is sparking so many different stories?

 

I feel like there are probably many elements to this! A significant aspect of it, I think, is that being from a small place has a kind of distinction to it, just because it’s something you share with relatively few other people. If you add to that the fact that we’re on an island, this becomes intensified. The isolation is both physical and conceptual. That tends to make its mark on your identity, for better or worse.

Another is that Tasmania, in many ways, feels like a microcosm of a larger place: we have big stories, and deep, dark histories, but it’s all condensed into a small place, so it feels more immediate.

As for why it’s getting more attention lately…I do think that people are increasingly drawn to the relative seclusion and safety Tasmania seems to offer. There is a kind of comfort in being on a little island off a bigger island, tucked away in the Tasman Sea.

 

  1. The Vogel’s announcement had to be made online due to the COVID-19 pandemic – what other events did you have to cancel or put on hold surrounding publicity for your book?

 

It’s hard to say, because the secret nature of my book meant that we didn’t have much publicity lined up. The party was definitely the big one!

 

  1. Prior to entering the Vogel’s, did you think about submitting to other prizes or publishers?

 

Not this manuscript, because I wrote it specifically for the Vogel’s. But I have certainly submitted other (shorter) works for consideration elsewhere.

 

  1. What drew you into the genre of historical fiction, and is the story in A Treacherous Country based on known facts and stories, or did you go searching for these facts to craft your story?

 

I’m drawn to strong stories, rather than a particular genre. I love a story with resonance. I love it when things clunk into place, and you think ‘Ah, of course!’. It’s just that this story was necessarily grounded in the past.

It really did unfold organically for me. It’s not based on known stories, but I tried to be as factual as possible. I allowed myself great scope for invention, but checked up on every invention so that it would be rooted in plausibility – was it possible? How would it have looked? How would it have been explained?

 

  1. How important is authenticity of the voice of your story and characters to you, and by extension, the reader?

 

It’s pretty important. I wanted to create a natural-feeling world, inhabited by real and likely people. I wanted my narrator to feel familiar: like a tangible person who happens to be living at a certain point in time.

 

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

 

I love walking, reading, and creative pursuits like knitting and drawing. I quite like cooking, but really only because I like eating and sharing food. I love a glass of wine, and movies. But listing all these things feels a bit like I’m pretending my life is this slow and elegant series of quiet pursuits. Mostly I’m playing froggies with my daughter – or horsies – or doggies…and enjoying the cognitive dissonance of eating golden syrup dumplings while wearing tummy trimmer jeans.

 

  1. Do you also read historical fiction, or do you prefer reading a different genre to the one you write in?

 

Yes, I love historical fiction! I don’t limit it to that, though. I love a compelling mystery. I love a good classic, or sci fi, or the kind of contemporary drama that inevitably gets described as ‘searing’ or ‘luminous’ or ‘searingly luminous’. Whatever’s good.

 

  1. Prior to entering this prize, had you written anything else, worked in the arts in another capacity, or is this novel completely different from what you had been doing previously?

 

Yes, I’ve had a couple of publications with the excellent Going Down Swinging, and a couple of other publications too long ago to mention. Both pieces I’ve published with GDS are set in the future, actually. One is set in a post-apocalyptic Hobart, and the other in an imagined sort of neo-noir neon city. This novel is different in genre, but similar in that I’m interested in the challenge of telling human stories within a context that creates a degree of remove – like the future or the past. I love anything with a sense of the strange.

 

  1. Do you have a preferred writing method?

 

I started typing ‘Half-drunk and at 3 am,’ but only out of habit. My twenties are over. I write on my laptop, and I’m good for short bursts. I might do forty-five minutes, go and make a cup of tea, and do another forty-five. Or an hour, and then a walk, and then another hour, and then binge-watch a whole season of Buffy. That kind of thing.

 

  1. How much research do you like to, or feel you need to do before putting the first words of the story onto paper?

 

I do it as I go. I tend to get the spark of inspiration from something, find the voice, and find the fabric of the story, and that leads me to the research I need to do. I love the different directions the research takes me. For instance, I did a lot of reading about language for this novel. There was a great deal of delving through quotations in the OED to check the use and age of various words and phrases. And then I found myself looking through old newspapers on Trove looking for advertisements to work out the prices of things, and what people found useful. Next I’d be looking at diagrams of rowing boats and sketches of different kinds of harpoons. And in between, always, writing.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite authors who have inspired you?

 

Oh god yes. For a while I was quite a derivative writer; I’d read something that got me so excited I’d race off and start writing in that style. That’s OK, that was just part of the process of finding my own voice. But writers like Hilary Mantel and Kazuo Ishiguro will always make me want to write like them!

 

  1. Now that you’re working in the arts, what is it like to be in this industry?

 

It’s wonderful, but I don’t think I can answer with any real depth because apart from small forays into publishing, this is new to me.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite bookseller and which books have they recommended to you that you have loved?

 

Hobart has some really great bookshops! There’s the Hobart Bookshop, Fullers, Cracked and Spineless, the State Bookstore…all favourites. I’m pretty self-directing when it comes to reading, so I can’t recall any specific recommendations, although I’m sure there have been!

 

  1. The cover of your book is amazing – what was it like the first time you saw it, and do you feel that it captures the essence of your story?

 

It was wonderful! I felt quite awestruck at the skill and style of Sandy Cull, the designer. It made the book feel more tangible. It was at a time when we were discussing changing the title, and seeing the new title in all its glory like that made me really feel like it was the right choice.

 

  1. You reference Greek mythology at the beginning of the novel – and Homer’s Odyssey – what bearing does this have on the novel?

 

There’s the obvious correlation of a person on a quest, and I’m sure other similarities could be drawn. But I’m not very fond of Odysseus! I don’t mean to downplay the importance of Homer (that would be silly), or the wonderfulness of the Odyssey and the Iliad, but I wouldn’t want to write about Odysseus. My narrator references the Odyssey because he has the scraps of classical knowledge that have come from being a well-brought-up but not particularly well-educated 19th century gent, and he doesn’t have much life experience of his own to rely on.

 

  1. Following on from the previous question, would you say this element suggests this is an Australian retelling of the Odyssey?

 

I wouldn’t say that, although I suppose any story of a journey might invite comparison to Homer. I suppose a key difference between my book and the Odyssey – apart from personality and stage of life – is that Odysseus is actively journeying home, and my narrator is journeying towards a less tangible end.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write this novel, from germination of the idea to the finished product?

 

About eight months, from when I googled the Vogel’s award to about twenty minutes before midnight on the final day it was open.

When I first started working on something to submit, I looked at a manuscript I’ve been working on for years. For my state of mind at the time, I actually found it too difficult – just not the thing that was really working for me. I found a little, unimportant side character I’d written about in that original manuscript, and expanded and developed his story into A Treacherous Country. So while it was new, the idea did grow from an older idea.

 

  1. Do you have more novels planned for the future?

 

I do! I’m working on that older manuscript I mentioned in the previous question. It means a lot to me, and I think about it a great deal. I just wasn’t in the right headspace for it last year. And there are other things on the go – it would never do to have everything finished and be able to get a good night’s sleep, after all.

 

Any comments about anything I may have missed?

 

 

Thank you Katherine, and best of luck with future writing,

 

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Maya Linnell

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.

 

low res Maya Linnell headshot LouiseAgnewPhotography

Maya Linnell is the author of several books about family dramas set in rural areas and writes what is referred to as rural romances – stories of romance that take place in rural settings, like farms and farming communities. Like many authors, Maya released a book in the midst of the pandemic, and as a result, lost out on all her appearances and launch events. Maya was still able to see her book released on the 2nd of June – some releases have been pushed back to later in the year, or even next year. Maya appears below to promote her book during these hard times.

Bottlebrush Creek front cover image

 Book: Bottlebrush creek

Release date: June 2 2020

Publisher: Allen &Unwin

 

Hi Maya, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

Lovely to be your guest Ashleigh, thanks for having me!

 

  1. First, can you tell my readers about your latest book, Bottlebrush Creek, and when it will be released?

 

Bottlebrush Creek hits the book stores on June 2 in paperback, eBook and audiobook. It’s pure escapism with plenty of on-farm family drama, troublesome tradies and a meddling mother-in-law. Angie McIntyre and her partner Rob embark on an ambitious owner build project in south west Victoria, but their dream build soon becomes the very thing that threatens to drives them apart. Bestselling author Victoria Purman described it as ‘A heart-warming, funny and poignant story about the joys and heartbreaks of country living. A winner!’

 

 

  1. When your book was released, what events did you have planned that had to be cancelled when COVID-19 hit?

Yes! I had events lined up from May to September, including panel events at Clunes BookTown Festival (Vic), The Romance Writers Australia conference (WA), Koorliny Arts Centre (WA) and Success Library (WA), the Northern Beaches Readers Festival (NSW) plus extensive events in bookstores and libraries across Victoria, SA, NSW, Queensland and WA.

  1. Both of your books are rural romances – what is it about this genre, where there seem to be many authors, that appeals to you, and that you think is so popular with authors and readers?

 

RuRo is such a great fit for me. I’ve always been a country girl, keen on telling the stories of rural people. My job as a journalist at a small twice-weekly newspaper provided a wealth of inspiration for conflicts and characters, so I’ll never be short of stories to tell. From a reader’s perspective, I think our city population has a nostalgia for country living, while those who are already enjoying the rural lifestyle can relate. What’s not to love about escaping into a book where days are spent in wide open paddocks, driving down quiet country roads, handling animals, producing food for the nation, and working with the seasons? And I think there’s something so special about guaranteeing readers a happily ever after, especially when there’s so much uncertainty in these everchanging times.

 

  1. When did you begin writing, and what made you decide to submit a novel for publication?

 

I’ve been writing stories since primary school, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to have a crack at writing a novel. I enrolled in a ‘Write your First Draft course’ with Writers Studio Australia in 2016 and pitched the manuscript to publishing houses in 2018. It’s been my lifelong dream to be an author, so I was always writing my manuscript with the sole purpose of becoming published.

 

  1. What kind of research, if any, do you do for your books, or do you draw on your own experiences to build your characters?

I do a mixture of both to make sure my books are as authentic as possible. I find it easiest to write what I know, so I added in an owner-builder storyline to Bottlebrush Creek, called on childhood memories of helping at a friend’s dairy, and added in a few vintage bikes from my Dad’s beloved motorcycle collection. Research-wise, I ran the dairy scenes past a local dairy farmer to check for accuracy and updated technology, had my Dad read all the bike scenes, sought advice on small-scale cropping from a hobby-farmer, checked medical-related scenes with a nurse and called an expert from Ballarat Uni with questions about a feral animal sub-plot.

 

  1. You’re also a journalist – what publications and general areas do you write for?

 

I trained as a cadet at the South Eastern Times Newspaper in SA, and spent many happy years doing the rounds as a country journo, photographer and radio host. After the newspaper I moved into PR and now I spend my days writing for Allen & Unwin and blogging each month for Romance Writers Australia, but occasionally contribute to publications like The Owner Builder Magazine and The Victorian Writer, and take on contract communications jobs.

 

  1. Did your own experiences of motherhood and home ownership inform how you wrote Angie, Rob, Claudia and their overarching story?

 

Absolutely. Having spent three years building our own home (handmade bricks and all), I knew a renovation would add the perfect amount of action, drama and conflict. During the build, and the three years since, many people assumed my husband built the house and I simply watched from the sidelines, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This was one of the themes I explored in the novel, with a mix of ‘helpful’ locals, feuding family members and misbehaving animals adding an extra layer of strain to Angie and Rob’s new relationship. And I think as a mum, I think it’s impossible to write without drawing on my own experiences. There’s so many facets of everyday life to work with; the trouble with sleep patterns, the messes and mishaps and of course the joys.

  1. What other themes did you explore in Bottlebrush Creek and why?

As well as shining a spotlight on women in the workplace, I wanted to examine the dynamics of motherhood, changing relationships, community volunteerism, and the challenge of living next door to a very well-intended mother-in-law.

 

  1. When you’re not writing articles and rural romance, do you dabble in any other styles and genres?

 

After I’ve worked on my manuscript, finished any pending book reviews and author interviews for my blog (Kiss and Tell for Romance Writers Australia) and monthly newsletter, and updated my socials, I’m all tuckered out!

 

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors, or favourite books?

 

There are so many fantastic Aussie authors, it’s hard to choose but I love Natasha Lester, Fleur McDonald, Barbara Hannay, Fiona Lowe, Alli Sinclair, Victoria Purman and Rachael Johns. For overseas authors, I can never go past Marian Keyes, she writes with such humour and razor-sharp wit.

 

  1. Do you re-read these favourites?

 

I’m not a fan of rereading and rarely do so. Up until recently, I used to give books away as soon as I’d finished reading them, except for really, really special ones. Now that I’ve had two published, I’m more of a book hoarder – perhaps it’s because I now understand how much work goes into every novel!

 

  1. If you can, name the top five books you will always go back to in any genre.

 

Anne of Green Gables is one I’ve returned to several times – I read it as a child, listened to it on audiobook when breastfeeding my daughter, and then read it to my daughter when she was seven. Such a beautiful story.

 

  1. What does working in the arts industry mean to you?

It means putting my heart and soul into my writing, and hoping I create something that reaches out and touches people, makes them smile or makes them think. The messages I’ve received from happy readers has been the most unexpected and uplifting side of being a published author.

 

 

  1. Going forward, the arts – books, television, music and many other things – are going to be what gets us through these trying times. What would you say to people who think the arts don’t matter much or who want their art for free?

 

I read an excellent piece by Natasha Lester recently, and fully agree that now, more than ever, these are the times for stories. I think people wanting their arts for free should consider whether they’d expect a free bus trip, a free trolley of groceries delivered to their doorstep every week, free entry to the swimming pool/gym/football stadium, free fridges and freezers. Art is a unique product that requires a lot of time and dedication, and I’d hope people could put an appropriate value on that.

 

  1. What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

 

 

I’ve got three little bookworms and acreage, but when I’m not hanging with my family or writing, you’ll usually find me reading, baking (sweet things are my favourite, especially self-saucing pudding), sewing bright, colourful skirts for myself and my girls, learning piano or gardening (dahlias and roses are my favourite).

 

 

  1. Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring writers or journalists?

There are so many book launches online during the pandemic, which means aspiring writers can tune into a different book launch almost every day of the week. It’s the perfect way to understand more about the process of writing a novel, different writing routines and if they don’t share their publication story, you can simply ask! I’ve watched loads of launches and author events in the last three months, and it’s quite fun learning the different career highlights, inspirations, and the story behind the story.

Thank you Maya, and good luck with your writing!

 

Thanks so much Ashleigh!

 

BLURB:

 

Bottlebrush Creek is a sparkling rural romance of changing relationships and family ties from bestselling author Maya Linnell.

 

Between managing a bustling beauty salon, hectic volunteer commitments and the lion’s share of parenting two-year-old Claudia, Angie McIntyre barely has time to turn around. And with each passing month, she feels her relationship with fly-in, fly-out boyfriend Rob Jones slipping through her fingers.

When Rob faces retrenchment, and the most fabulous fixer-upper comes onto the market, Angie knows this derelict weatherboard cottage will be the perfect project to draw their little family together.

There’s just one catch: the 200-acre property is right next door to Rob’s parents in south-west Victoria.

It doesn’t take long for rising tensions to set a wedge between the hard-working couple. Angie and Rob have to find out the hard way whether their grand design will draw them closer together or be the very thing that tears them apart.

 

 

 

BIO:

 

Maya Linnell
Maya Linnell was recently shortlisted as the ARRA 2019 Favourite Australian Romance Author for her bestselling rural romance debut Wildflower Ridge. Her second novel Bottlebrush Creek is out June 2, with both stories gathering inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved.

A former country journalist and PR writer, Maya now prefers the world of fiction over fact and blogs for Romance Writers Australia. She loves baking up a storm, tending to her rambling garden, and raising three little bookworms. Maya lives on a small property in country Victoria with her family, her menagerie of farm animals and the odd snake or two.

Follow Maya on Instagram and Facebook @maya.linnell.writes

Purchase her new novel Bottlebrush Creek here

Or sign up to her monthly newsletter at www.mayalinnell.com/newsletter

 

Isolation Publicity with Oliver Phommavanh 

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.

brain freeze

Oliver writes funny books for middle grade readers, drawing on his comedic and Thai background. Like many authors, he has had many launches and events cancelled in the wake of the pandemic, and his new book – Brain Freeze – is a collection of short stories and is out in September with Penguin. Many of the events surrounding this book have been cancelled, so Oliver agreed to answer my questions, and hopefully, people will pick up this book and enjoy it and his other work.

Hi Oliver, and welcome to The Book Muse! Thanks!

  1. Your website says you’re both and author and a comedian – which career came first, and do you find that they complement each other?

I was a comedian first! I started doing stand-up comedy during my uni and teacher days. As a funny writer, the two jobs go hand-in-hand. I only became a comedian to test out my comedy writing, and there’s no better feedback than a live audience. Even when I do school visits, a few of my ‘routines’ have become stories.

  1. Your books feature multicultural Australia and many Thai characters – which is awesome – how much of your own experiences, your family, your friends and yourself do you find seep into these stories and characters?

I would say about 80.6 percent of my stories are based on my life haha. Especially in my first few titles, Thai-riffic! covered my Thai heritage, Con-nerd was a reflection on my parents’ pressure to succeed academically and Punchlines was a snapshot of me in high school, cracking jokes and trying to be a comedian.

  1. You call your fans Chewy Gum Gums – which sounds like fun – where did this originate?

Before Thai-riffic! came out, I was already hand-writing books, cards and stories, giving them to my friends as presents. I had a fake publishing company called cHEwY creations, which was a logo that I put on all my things.

cHEwY gum gums comes from the thought that imagination is like bubble gum, which you chew and chew on, and when you blow out a bubble, a story pops out!

  1. Your first book in 2010 was Thai-riffic, and it was shortlisted for a YABBA and a KOALA – what was it like hearing about these shortlists that your novel appeared on?

It was surreal, not only because it was my first book, but also because YABBA/KOALAs are kid-choice awards. I felt validated knowing that kids were enjoying my stories.

  1. Your next release – The Odd Bunch – is out in September – what will that be about?

OOPS I DIDN’T UPDATE MY WEBPAGE HAHA

The new title is called Brain Freeze! It’s my first collection of short stories where I get to delve into all kind of weird and what-if scenarios such as a kid with a 1000 names, two kids daring each other to drink slurpees until someone gets a brain freeze and more!

  1. Following on, have you had to cancel or postpone any events, appearances or launches of any kind – general or book related – due to the pandemic?

Yes, every school visit and festival since mid-March has been cancelled or postponed until October onwards. Fingers crossed for Term 4 (or even Term 3)

  1. What is the one thing you would absolutely love to write about that you haven’t written about yet?

I’ve been toying around with fantasy for the last few years, but just haven’t nailed the idea yet. Watch this space!

  1. Where did your interest in dinosaurs come from, and have you written a story about the Oliversaurus yet?

 

When I was a kid, Jurassic Park came out and it took a plate-size bite out of me. I became a walking dinopedia. I wrote plenty of Oliversaurus stories as a kid but haven’t published a story about Oliversaurus…you never know, someday one day.

  1. What kind of dinosaur would the Oliversaurus be?

A T-Rex for sure, King of all the Dinosaurs!

  1. You love burgers – have burgers featured in any of your books in a significant way, and where did your love of burgers come from?

As a kid, I remember going to McDonalds and getting a Happy Meal. I was more excited for the cheeseburger than the toy haha. I guess you always want what you don’t have, and after a daily diet of Thai-food, burgers and fries always stood out for me hehe.

So since then, I always try burgers wherever I go, and then Instagram came along and I haven’t looked back as a part time Burger Grammer.

 

  1. Favourite burger (other than Maccas)?

Best burger in the world is Fergburgers in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Closer to home, BL Burgers in Parramatta (and there’s also stores in Newtown and City too) are pretty awesome.

  1. You say you loved Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Roald Dahl – if you could choose any of their books to turn into a movie, which ones would they be and why?

I think Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak combined would be an excellent movie, they were my favourite Gleitzman books and showed his skills as a masterful situation comedy writer. The backdrop of the country town, and all the social issues that it could touch upon, it would be a well-rounded Aussie story.

  1. Do you have any other favourite books and authors, either current or from your childhood, and what drew you to these books and authors?

R.A Spratt’s Nanny Piggins is my favourite modern comedy series. There is so much satire and tongue-in-cheek humour in those irrelevant books, and I wish I would have written them haha.

I am also a huge fan of Nova Weetman, from the Secrets We Share/Keep and more recently with Sick Bay, she nails Grade 6/7 girls and their friendships. A huge inspiration for Don’t Follow Vee’s voice.

  1. You’ve been writing in the arts industry since Growing Up Asian in Australia appeared in 2008 – what do you enjoy about working in the arts industry?

 

A humble and helpful community. You get a sense that nobody is in it for the fame or money, but for a genuine desire for voices and stories to be heard.

  1. The arts are becoming more important in these times, and always will be – what would you like to see done to support local Australian artists in all areas of the arts?

A more sustainable income-stream and support for artists. While artists and the arts get recognition during festivals and awards, outside of those, it can be an everyday struggle to make ends meet. Artists’ livelihood is so fragile, and the pandemic has exposed this.

 

  1. What kind of research have you done for your books in the past?

Most of it is through Google and own life experiences like holidays. For example, when I was writing The Other Christy, I went to Cambodia to the war memorial and various muesums to gain a deeper understanding for Christy’s Grandpa who survived the Pol Pot regime.

  1. Diversity is becoming big in literature – in terms of authors, stories and characters. What do you think is still missing in terms of diversity in literature, especially literature for children?

I’d like to read more about characters with disabilities of all kinds. YA has come a long way in addressing this, but I’d like the other genres to follow suit.

  1. If you weren’t an author, what do you think you would be doing?

I would have been content being a teacher or stand-up comedian, but I’d love to give YouTube a go, with a slant on gaming and plush toys 😊

  1. Do you have any pets or writing companions, and do they make the job harder or easier?

Speaking of plush toys, I have my favourite teddies and toys around me when I write in my writers studio. I’m staring at Grumpy Bear on my desk as I write this haha.

  1. Finally, what is your next project that is in the works?

I’m working on my next novel, What About Thao, which is about an Asian kid moving a country town. I’ve also been inspired by recent events and have started to write some ideas down for a short-story collection about kids during this pandemic.

Anything I may have missed?

Not that I can think of haha

Thanks for participating Oliver!

No probs, thanks for invite, as well as spreading the joy of books and reading across the social waves