Isolation Publicity with Candice Lemon-Scott

 

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.

EcoRangers1_email signature[3]

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.

 

In my final Isolation Publicity interview, wrapping up five months of work, I speak to Candice Lemon-Scott, author of the Eco-Rangers books, was lucky enough to release the third Eco-Rangers book pre-pandemic lockdown, but had other events and appearances cancelled or put on hold. Candice’s series focuses on eco themes for children in an accessible way. I first came to know her books through my job as a quiz writer and have planned to go back and read them all. Candice appears here to discuss her books, her writing and what she hopes Eco-Rangers teaches kids.

Hi Candice, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. The first time I heard of your books was when I was sent one of the Eco-Rangers books – Microbat Mayhem – to write a quiz on for work with Scholastic Australia – what is the basic premise of Eco-Rangers for those who don’t know it, and where did the idea come from?

How lovely, it’s always wonderful to hear how people get to know my books.  The Eco Rangers books are about two adventurous, nature-loving friends, Ebony and Jay, who help rescue and look after sick and injured wildlife, with a little help from the local wildlife hospital vets. They also get involved in solving environmental mysteries. The idea came from my own love of nature and wildlife, and the Eco Rangers are based on my own kids who love animals too. The idea of kids who help rescue wildlife stemmed from my own experience rescuing a koala from my backyard. I’ve always loved mystery stories, so it seemed only natural to tie it in with an environmental adventure.

  1. What do you hope Eco-Rangers teaches, or inspires readers to do?

I hope the Eco Rangers books teach kids about some of our amazing animals and inspires readers to care for and love nature and wildlife, as well as enjoy the adventures.

  1. Eco-Rangers is aimed at junior to middle grade readers – what is the appeal to this age group, and do any of your other books target this readership?

I love writing for this age group because it’s the age I was most connected with my own imagination as a child. It’s also a time of discovery, curiosity and learning to become more independent, which is a wonderful base for storytelling. Most of my books fit within this readership range, from my Little Rockets titles at the junior end to Eco Rangers and Jake in Space in the middle, and Stinky Ferret & the JJs at the upper end.

  1. Have any new books in the series, another series or stand-alone books been released in recent months, and what have they been?

The third in this series, ‘Eco Rangers: Wildfire Rescue’ was released in January this year.

  1. Have you had to cancel any appearances, events or launches due to the COVID-10 pandemic, and which of these were you most looking forward to?

Thankfully, I’d already launched my third Eco Rangers book, but a lot of my other appearances and events around the promotion of the series have been either cancelled or postponed, which is sad and disappointing when books have a short shelf life. I look forward to all events where I have the opportunity to connect with my readers, but I will really miss the school visits and Romancing the Stars event, as that one is usually held here in my home city at the Gold Coast.

  1. Following on from the last question, have you adapted any of these events or workshops to an online form for the time being?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve already done one online author visit with a school and there are other upcoming workshops and presentations that will also be conducted online. It’s not the same as being there in person, but the teachers and parents have been very grateful for the technology to keep their kids connected while at home, which is so rewarding.

  1. What genres and styles do you mostly like to combine and use in your writing for children?

I write in quite a range of genres including magic, science fiction, environmental and realistic fiction, but the commonality is a mystery element. I can’t help myself – I grew up on mysteries, so I just love including elements of surprise and adventure.

  1. Do you find that writing different styles and genres, and for different age groups keeps your writing process fresh?

For sure, I’m not someone who enjoys writing the same style and genre, or age group all the time because I like change and variety. To me, it’s also about the idea first, and the rest stems from that, so naturally the type of story varies.

  1. When it comes to research, how in-depth do you go, and how much never makes it into the books?

I always start out thinking not much research will be involved, but inevitably I need to do quite a lot to make the stories authentic and plausible, which is important in even the most magical tales. For example, in my Jake in Space series I went so far as to interview an astrophysicist about living on other planets. I had to learn soccer rules for Hubert and the Magic Glasses and about skateboarding moves for Stinky Ferret & the JJs. The most in-depth research has been for the Eco Rangers though, and I did my wildlife carer course to learn more about how sick and injured wildlife are rescued, rehabilitated and released. It was very hands on – I even held a python, eek!

  1. How many Eco-Rangers books do you have planned, and does the most recent one draw on the recent bushfire crisis that Australia faced?

Wildfire Rescue is the third book in the three-book series. Ironically, I’d written the story about a year and a half before the bushfire crisis, and the book’s release coincidentally tied in with the tragedy. It was a strange time, having my book come out then, but I hope it offers additional opportunity to help younger readers dealing with their feelings associated with the bushfires by reading an educative but positive story.

  1. Eco and environmental themes seem to be big in books at the moment – how does Eco-Rangers differ, for you, from all the other options out there?

I actually wrote the first Eco Rangers book about four years ago, so there wasn’t much else out there on these themes at the time. Again, it’s coincidental that the books have come out as these themes have begun to be explored more fully. From the others out there, I guess the Eco Rangers differs in that I first wrote them purely because of my love of animals, so they were mystery/adventures first. To me, it’s more of a bonus that kids can learn a little bit about taking care of the environment while being entertained. At least, that’s my hope.

  1. Do you think the Eco-Rangers would head overseas for a safari adventure?

That would be a lot of fun to write – the books are being published in the UK and US, so I can’t see why Ebony and Jay couldn’t go on their own overseas adventure.

  1. How long have you been writing for, and when did you decide to begin your writing career?

I’ve been writing professionally for about 12 years now. I decided to begin my writing career a few years before my first book was published when I began my Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing. I then went on and completed my Bachelor of Communication and the book was published around the same time.

  1. Knowing some of your books have been chosen as Lexile readers, and working with Books in Home which empowers childhood literacy, do you feel like you’re helping children with their literacy at home and at school?

I certainly hope that I do, especially because mine are mostly chapter books, which are aimed specifically at fostering a love of reading in children, and developing independent readers.

  1. You also run the Young Authors Academy – what is that about, and where did it start?

I run a lot of in-person writing workshops but they’re usually time limited to around an hour, so there’s only so much that can be achieved in that time. My goal with the Young Authors Academy was to create a more comprehensive course for young writers where they could create an entire story in their own time, in their own space, and at their own pace because that’s how I write as an author myself.

  1. Do you find the Young Authors Academy and Books in Homes have any overlap at all in terms of reading, writing and childhood literacy?

Though they’re quite different programs I think the overlap is that both are designed to give children access to resources and support to develop literacy, which also comes from developing a love of reading and writing.

  1. Working in the arts, and in childhood literacy, what do you find the most rewarding about these industries and sectors?

Seeing children express themselves and gain confidence during their literacy journey is the greatest reward of all for me.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you always head back to?

There are so many wonderful booksellers who support authors and who are doing an amazing job providing a fantastic range of books for readers. I adore Under the Greenwood Tree at Mount Tamborine and a little further afield Where the Wild Things Are Bookshop, The Mad Hatters Bookshop, and Books@Stones.

  1. Do you have a favourite furry writing companion or are there many?

There have always been furry writing companions in my life, and also feathery and scaly ones. At the moment, my dog Tiny and bearded dragon Toffee (who belongs to my eldest daughter) keep me company while I write.

 

  1. Finally, what do you have planned next for your writing?

I’m currently doing my Masters, focusing on middle grade fantasy, so that’s what I’m writing at the moment. It’s heaps of fun!

Anything I may have missed?

For any teachers or librarians interested, I’m currently doing virtual author visits through Speakers Ink and ALIA.

Thanks Candice!

Thank you for the wonderful interview.

 

Isolation Publicity with Zana Fraillon

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.

Zana Fraillon is a middle grade author, best known for The Bone Sparrow, and has a new book – The Lost Soul Atlas coming out in July.  Like many authors, she has had events and launches cancelled due to the pandemic. Where other authors have had releases pushed to later in the year, or next year, Zana has not had this happen (at the time of writing this post). She has used her platform as an author for activism, and has explored themes in her books that might not always be spoken about, or seen in ways that are more complex, and more human than we see on the news. Zana appears below to discuss her books and writing with me.

 

Hi Zana, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. Where did your love for reading and writing come from?

 

I have always been an avid reader. I would – and still do – retreat into a book at any and every chance I got. I have very poor eyesight, and can’t focus on anything more than five centimetres away, however no one realised until I was seven. I suspect that one of the reasons I turned to books so readily was that they were the only part of my world that I could see! When you read a lot, it feels natural to write a lot as well. I had all those voices from all those books and stories in my head, and I guess they just had to come out. I also came from a family that loves and values books. My favourite place in my childhood home was an entire room filled with books and comfy chairs. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and there was a kind of silent awe that would come over you when you entered that room – as if all the books on the shelves were just waiting for you to pick them and enter their world.

 

  1. Prior to being a writer – you studied history, and primary school teaching – what made you take the leap into writing?

 

I never thought of myself as becoming a writer – I’m not sure why – my mother had written a book and my uncle is quite a prolific author. But it wasn’t until I was at home with my first born that I even thought about writing as a professional possibility. I would quite often write picture books with and for my son, and a friend of mine saw one of these and suggested that I send it in to a publisher. At that moment the world seemed to stop spinning for a moment – I remember the realisation dawning on me that I could possibly become an author and spend my days writing, and it was like everything was suddenly clear. I was very lucky that the picture book was picked up from the slush pile and published.

 

  1. Do these previous careers inform how you write and research?

 

Definitely. I suspect teaching is where my love of writing for young people comes from. I have such respect for young people and enthusiasm for the way they think about the world – when I am creating my own worlds, the world of a young person, the mind of a young person, is where I want to be spending time. I also really enjoy doing research, and my background in history is hugely helpful. I am quite at home trawling through databases and texts and analysing what small seemingly insignificant pieces of information might be able to tell us. The hardest part is actually in putting the facts aside to let the story take over.

 

  1. What books have you released, and what are they about?

 

I have released ten books so far, and my eleventh is coming out in July. They vary greatly from pre-school books about the secret lives of animals, to young adult fiction about modern day child slavery. Perhaps the best known of them all is The Bone Sparrow which is about a young boy born inside an immigration detention centre. Lots of schools have picked this up now, which is thrilling for me, because it means that more people are engaging with the issue of asylum seekers and talking about our role in the way refugees and asylum seekers are treated. Similarly, my picture book Wisp, which is also about refugees, is being used in a lot of primary schools, especially in the UK.

 

  1. The Lost Soul Atlas is coming out in July – have you had to cancel any events or launches around this book?

 

I’ve had to cancel everything! Of course, we are all very adaptable and are moving to online events, but it is always hard not to be with people to celebrate and discuss in person. There was a beautiful proof copy that had been planned and that I was going to hand deliver to as many bookshops as I could; there were launches and panels; and I had a book tour to the UK all locked in and ready to go.

 

  1. Are there any other literary events that were cancelled or postponed that you were excited about – either as a guest or an author?

 

The wonderful Danielle Binks and I had planned an author Q&A session to discuss our new books and I was really looking forward to this. I also had a number of school visits and workshops lined up – but hopefully these will move online as well.

I love going to all things literary – Clunes Book festival is one of my favourites – as well as all the other festivals and author events that happen throughout the year. Thankfully, some of these have moved online so we can still get our bookish fix!

 

  1. Have any of your events moved online since they were cancelled?

 

Most of them have. I am currently working with my publishers to work out just what we can do online, and how we can best live event things while in lockdown.

 

  1. Each book is a stand-alone novel – was this a conscious choice, and do you think you’d ever write a series?

 

My first novels for middle grade were part of a series called Monstrum House. There were four books in the series and it was great fun to write. I don’t really think about the choice of series or stand alone when I start writing a book – I tend to let the story set the audience, length, genre etc and go from there.

 

  1. Your books are primarily for upper middle grade to young adult readers – what made you choose this readership?

 

I love the way kids’ minds work. They see the world so differently from adults. I especially like writing for this readership because they are at that moment in their lives – which I remember so clearly – of trying to work out the kind of person they want to become, and the kind of world they want to live in. They question everything. They wonder about everything. The world is so full of possibility. They are standing right on the cusp. It’s an exciting time of life.

 

  1. When writing, what kind of research do you undertake, and how do you begin this research?

 

I do a lot of research before I start writing. Partly this helps me get inside the world of my characters, and partly because I am trying to work out exactly what my story is about and where it will take me. I write to find things out and explore, and research is all part of that. The majority of research is done online, but libraries are a gold mine of information and I often go to libraries to see what I can find. Also, if there is any hands on activity I can do that will help with some aspect of the story, then I will do that too. I am also very moved by other forms of creative expression, and quite often ideas are sparked by looking at a painting, or a sculpture, or – as was the case in The Lost Soul Atlas – street art. Almost all of the Afterlife scenes were inspired by street art.

 

  1. Can you explain a bit more about the themes in your books, and do you find that they appear in all books, or does each book explore different themes?

 

I guess the overriding theme in all of my books is the empowerment of young people. I want readers to go away and feel as though they can make a difference, whether this is to their own lives or other people’s. Young people have to be so courageous just to survive this world, and we too often forget that. I want young people to feel seen and heard and valued, no matter who they are, or what their circumstances.

 

  1. What authors made you feel like you could be an author when you were younger?

 

All of them. Anyone who ever set a story down on paper showed me what was possible. When I was a teenager, my favourite author was Isabelle Allende. I loved how she used magical realism to address serious political ideas and commentary. I also loved Cynthia Voigt and her Homecoming series. Her characters were so true and honest and really resonated with me.

 

  1. When you began writing, did you think it would take you on the adventures you’ve been on?

 

Absolutely! I knew the adventures that reading provided, and I equally knew that these same adventures could be taken by writing. The bonus is, that with writing, you have slightly more control over the adventure. Not a lot more, but a bit more…

 

  1. When you begin writing, how do you choose which character’s perspective to tell the story from?

 

I don’t really. I wait for the voice to come to me. All of my stories start with a character, so when that character emerges, I know it is their story I am telling. Very occasionally I have to make a deliberate change because the story isn’t working, but that has only happened once so far.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite writing or reading spot in your house?

 

I am fortunate enough to have a partner who knows how to build, and so I have a wonderful studio up the back of the garden where I go to write. It is perfectly set up to get me into the writing headspace. There are bits and pieces of collected inspiration and luck, there are cork boards and white boards and books to reference, and paper to doodle on, there is room for the dogs, and a wonderful outlook over our garden. Stepping through the door is like stepping inside my bookmind.

 

  1. When not writing, or reading, what do you enjoy doing when you have the time?

 

Spending time with my family – playing games, taking the dogs for long, long walks, going to museums. I have also become quite obsessed with making maps…

 

  1. Do you have a favourite writing companion?

 

I don’t just have one companion, I have a coven! The wonderful Penni Russon, Penny Harrison and Kate Mildenhall are wonderful friends and fantastic writing companions. We meet weekly and work our magic for each other. Writing is such a solitary experience, it is so helpful to have people in the industry who you trust to nut out ideas with, experiment with, discuss things and to support each other through all the ups and downs.

 

  1. Working in the arts is hard – how do you manage it, and for those who might not think the arts need support, what would you say to them?

 

I think people only work in the arts because they need to – it’s part of who they are. No one does it for the money, mostly because the money isn’t there. The average income for an Australian author is $12,500 a year. You can’t live on that. There are very few authors who are able to support themselves through writing alone. We find other ways to try and make money – school visits, author talks, other forms of writing – but it only takes a quick look at the ASA rates of pay to see how unsustainable that is. Without funding, people can’t create. And we will be a far poorer society because of it.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller that you frequent?

 

I have many favourite booksellers! The ones I tend to go to most though are Readings and Readings Kids, Eltham Bookshop, The Little Bookroom and Fairfield Books.

 

  1. Finally, what is in the works at the moment?

 

I am working on a couple of things at the moment. I have another picture book and a middle-grade verse novel I am trying to find a home for, I’m playing around with a junior fiction novel, and I am currently co-writing a middle-grade book with the amazing Bren MacDibble. On top of that, I have also just started a PhD in Creative Writing at LaTrobe University.

 

Anything I may have missed?

 

Thanks Zana!

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Caz Goodwin

 

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.
Caz Goodwin writes picture books, short stories, poetry and junior fiction. Her latest book, part of a picture book series,Daisy Goes Wild, came out in the midst of the pandemic and lockdown. Whilst her physical events were cancelled, like other authors, she has moved to online launches and publicity to connect with readers and get the word about her books out there. She discusses all of this and her writing process below.

DAISY RUNS WILD front cover for on screen_RGB

Hi Caz, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. To begin, can you tell my readers about what kind of books you write?

I write picture books, short stories, poetry and junior fiction.

2. The second book in your picture book series, Daisy Runs Wild, came out in March 2020. Did you have to cancel any events, launches or festival appearances linked to this book, or general appearances due to the pandemic?

Yes, I had to cancel over 10 events, including launches, festival appearances, bookshop events, school visits, library talks and so on. It was bad timing, but I’ve moved my focus to online events and opportunities.

3. Which events or appearances are the most fun for you, and why these ones in particular?

I love connecting with the audience I write for – children. I get a buzz from going to schools and getting kids excited about books and reading. It’s why I do what I do.

4. The Lazy Daisy books are rhyming picture books – what made you choose this style to tell the story?

I’ve always loved rhyming stories. As a child I devoured Dr Seuss, AA Milne and Roald Dahl’s work and was particularly drawn to their rhyming books. I still enjoy a good rollicking rhyming tale. I initially wrote Lazy Daisy and Daisy Runs Wild in prose, but felt the characters and the story were more appealing in rhyming form. The publisher agreed.

5. How did the idea of someone confusing a koala for a dog come to fruition?

The idea for Lazy Daisy came from my very lazy dog. He was always enthusiastic about going to the park, but once he got there, he never wanted to walk home. I’d often have to carry him home, which everyone thought was very amusing. I decided to write a book about my lazy dog, the title of which because Lazy Daisy. After discussing the concept with the publisher, we decided it would be funny if Jasper, who was desperate for his own puppy, confused a koala for a dog.

6. Animals seem to be one of the popular characteristics of children’s literature – as an author, why do you think this is?

Animals have always been popular subjects in children’s books. They have universal appeal, are delightful to illustrate and children often relate and respond well to animals.

7. Are koalas your favourite animal, and why?

Koalas, along with dogs, are my favourite animals. There are three dogs living in our house at the moment, but unfortunately no recent koala visitors. Koalas are cute, cuddly-looking creatures who, like me, enjoy eating and snoozing. There is something about their fluffy ears, soft fur and sweet faces that make them endearing and lovable.

8. One of your illustrators is also the illustrator of one of the Nim’s Island books – Kerry Millard. How were you paired with Kerry, and what process did the two of you go through when pairing the illustrations with the text?

Kerry Millard was chosen by the publisher to illustrate one of my rhyming stories. Although I didn’t have any say in the illustrator’s selection, I was delighted that Kerry was happy to illustrate my text and her illustrations still bring a smile to my face. (Check out my website to see some of Kerry’s illustrations of my story Running Away. http://www.cazgoodwin.com)

9. Your first book was Curse of the Viking Sword. What made you change from middle grade to picture books?

I enjoy writing in different genres and for different age groups. Several of my short stories and poems had been published before my first stand-alone book, Curse of the Viking Sword was published. Writing in a variety of styles helps to keep my work fresh and interesting.

10. You head SCWBI in Victoria, and also work with the YABBAs – what do each of these organisations do for children’s literature and books?

I love my role as head of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Victoria. SCBWI is an international professional organisation that supports the creation and availability of quality children’s books in every region of the world. It provides opportunities for writers and illustrators to network, develop their craft and learn about the children’s book publishing industry.

I am also on the council of the Young Australian Best Book Awards (YABBA) as the Creator Support Director. YABBA is a not-for-profit volunteer run organisation working to bring Australian books alive for children. Our ultimate goal is to have children Recommend, Read, Rate and Reward their favourite Australian books. We also deliver a series of virtual author visits to Victorian Schools throughout the year, partnering with the Victorian Department of Education.

11. Are you involved in any other industry organisations?

I am also a member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), Writers Victoria and the Australian Society of Authors (ASA).

12. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing or reading?

In no particular order, I enjoy reading, movies, extended family get-togethers, walking my dogs, eating chocolate, drinking green tea, robust debates and laughing.

13. Have you found your background in psychology has helped your writing career?

I have always been interested in people and the motivations which drive their behaviour. I’m also intrigued by individual’s stories, and the stories behind the stories. I think having studied psychology and worked in organisational settings has only strengthened my interest human behaviour. Writing for young people enables me to explore issues and themes I find important through story. Themes that recur in my writing include acceptance and diversity, but no matter what I’m writing, humour always makes its way in.

14. What has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the arts industry?

That’s easy. The most rewarding aspect of working in the children’s book industry is the people I’ve met along the way. I have found creative people, including writers and illustrators, to be fun, inspirational, resourceful and generous. Those who succeed are also hard-working, resilient and dedicated. I also love engaging with children when I visit schools and libraries. To see their eyes shining with joy after finding a book they love is wonderful.

15. How can the arts help us in these trying times, and in your case, what do you hope your books bring to children during the pandemic?

Books are like magic. They can transport you to different worlds, provide moments of joy and laughter when times are bleak, and give you hope, even when those around you are anxious and fearful. I love reading books to escape, and I hope that at the moment, children have opportunities to develop a love of reading and experience the thrill of recognising themselves in the pages of a book.

16. What local bookstores do you support, and how are you hoping to do that during the pandemic?

I love specialty children’s bookshops and two of my favourites are The Little Bookroom in Nicholson Street, Carlton and the new Escape Hatch Books in Kew East. Both Leesa and Fran are knowledgeable and passionate about children’s books and can provide recommendations to inspire a love of reading in children and young adults.
Many bookstores are now holding online author events, story times and book clubs, and being involved in these or helping to promote them is a great way to support authors and local booksellers during this difficult time.

17. Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a video reading of my latest picture book, Daisy Runs Wild to use for virtual school visits and story times. It’s been fun to make and Daisy the giant koala makes an appearance to entertain the kids.

(See below a photo of Daisy and social media links.)

Picture 1 daISY

Website: www.cazgoodwin.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carolyn.goodwin.338
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazgoodwin0/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Cazgoodwin

Isolation Publicity with Tanya Heaslip

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.

an alice girl

Tanya Heaslip grew up in the Northern Territory and has lived in Prague during eighties and nineties following the fall of the Berlin Wall before coming back to Australia. Last year she released Alice to Prague, and this year, she has released the prequel in the midst of a pandemic – and like many authors, has had her publicity opportunities diminished due to the implications of lockdown and social distancing restrictions. One way she is getting word about her book out is through blogs and interviews such as this one.

Hi Tanya, and welcome to the Book Muse

  1. To begin, can you tell my readers who may not have read An Alice Girl or Alice to Prague a bit about each book?

 

Both books are memoirs. An Alice Girl is the prequel to Alice to Prague. An Alice Girl is set during the 1960s and 70s and explores my life as a young girl growing up in Central Australia on an isolated cattle station. Alice to Prague chronicles my journey to the Czech Republic in 1994, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

 

 

 

  1. You grew up in the remote Northern Territory – when you weren’t studying, or mustering cattle with your dad, what sort of games did you play with your siblings?

We played a game called “cattle duffers” on horseback. It was the most fun game, with goodies and baddies; the baddies were always trying to steal the cattle and the goodies trying to get the cattle back. We never actually had real cattle to play with – Dad would have hung us upside down if we’d messed with his precious cattle – but we didn’t need them as our imaginations were so vivid that we could gallop around on horseback and chase them in our mind’s eye.

 

 

 

  1. Do you all still live in Alice, and what is it about the area that drew you back there after exploring the world?

 

I’ve lived in many places but I now live back in Alice Springs. I think it’s mostly the land that’s drawn me back – the raw power of the red outback, the space, the huge blue skies and the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges that fill my heart with joy – it’s a place where I feel most centred, strengthened, grounded, and where I feel I most belong. Of course, I have family here as well so it’s a double calling.

 

 

 

  1. Many of my readers will have never experienced School of the Air or Correspondence School – how did these differ from your experiences at boarding school, and did you find they complemented each other in any way?

 

Correspondence School was done remotely, using written sets of lessons, overseen by a governess, and School of the Air was half an hour each day on the wireless with a real live teacher in the Alice Springs studio. We couldn’t see her or the other students but we could hear them all and put faces to their names. Every day we wore jeans and riding boots and relished the freedom and independence of the way we studied. If Dad needed cattle work done, he would pull us out and work would come first; we have to make up for it on the weekend.

This was incredibly different from boarding school, where I found myself locked away in an all girl’s school of 700 students, studying in traditional classrooms, wearing uniforms, and trying to learn the niceties of being one of many students, instead of one of three (the other two having been my younger siblings). There was certainly no getting out of school there!

It is difficult to see how I different types of education complemented one another as they were so different but there is no doubt my early studies set me up for “real school” as I was academically equivalent in almost every way once I got to boarding school. However what I lacked were art skills, sports skills and the capacity to ‘navigate’ a classroom with other students. That took a long (and often painful) time to learn.

 

 

  1. An Alice Girl is going to be/was released on the 19th of May. Did you have to cancel any events or festival appearances due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and what were they?

I had to cancel everything! I was launching at the NT writers festival in Darwin and the Margaret River readers and writers Festival in Margaret River and I had book events lined up in every state. Within three days, my four months worth of hard work in setting up these events and appearances vanished before my eyes. It was initially a very tough time. I had to learn to “pivot” as they say in Silicon Valley and find new ways to publicise my book!

 

 

  1. While growing up, you loved to read – which authors and books did you gravitate towards during the sixties and seventies, and what was so special about them for you?

 

The books I gravitated towards were the ones that were held by the Alice Springs School of the Air. Mum would go into Alice Springs once a month to get supplies and return with a box of books. They were mostly Enid Blyton with a dash of Heidi and Swallows and Amazons. I adored them all. They were all about children having adventures without parents, and set in incredibly beautiful places – green, soft, cool with lots of water. Every chapter was short and ended with a cliffhanger. They took me to other places and told me about other worlds “overseas”. I was a naturally curious child and this style of mystery book, filled with beautiful landscapes, drew me in. I couldn’t get enough of these books. I was an insatiable reader. It filled my imagination so that I felt like I was truly there when I read them. And of course, then we had our own stories – the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell, which we adored, and Colin Thiele, whose best book for me was February Dragon, because it was all about bushfires, which we understood from personal experience on the land.

 

 

 

  1. You grew up in isolation – a state that many of us are finding ourselves in at the moment – have the skills you learned as a child helped you cope with the current isolation, or is it too different to the isolation of the cattle station?

 

There is a difference in the two types of isolation, in that the Covid isolation is enforced and panic driven, whereas the isolation of my childhood meant freedom and space and endless opportunities for daydreaming and escapism. However that isolation trained me well so that I’m very self-disciplined and able to work on my own – after all that’s how I did my schooling – and so I guess in some ways it has helped me manage this time. Resilience, independence and discipline are woven deeply into my DNA and for that, at any time, I feel very thankful.

 

 

  1. Do you still have those first stories you wrote on your typewriter as a child, and what do you think they taught you about writing and storytelling?

 

Oh my goodness yes I do but I wouldn’t let anybody read them! They really are atrocious! They are all about children having adventures in English lands or English children having adventures in the bush and demand a great stretch of imagination! But I wrote so many stories that I think I became a writer and storyteller without realising it.

 

  1. You studied to be a lawyer after boarding school – what made you decide to go down this path, and has writing been a welcome break from this career?

 

I became a lawyer because I had the marks is to get into law school at University and the teachers therefore said I should do law. I didn’t know anything about law, what it was or what it meant. I fell into it and spent much of my life trying to escape it! Writing is a joy as it lets me go back into that space of imagination. However I’ve had to keep working to pay for that privilege of writing! So it’s not really a break from my career – I write and work simultaneously.

 

 

  1. What area of law did you/do you work in, and where did you practise law after graduating university?

 

I’ve worked in almost all areas of law but specialised in property and civil litigation. I’ve practised law in almost every part of Australia, except for Victoria, and even appeared in front of the High Court, which is the pinnacle of success for a young lawyer! I felt like I’d really made it that day!

 

 

  1. You’re living in Alice now, and you’re currently the Regional Vice President of the Northern Territory Writer’s Centre – first, what do you do in this role, and second, do you do it as well as practising law?

 

I was the regional Vice President for two years and now I am the President. It is a busy role as numerous issues constantly arise that require strategic management, plus I work closely with the executive to ensure that the NTWC delivers programs and benefits to writers as planned. It is not a paid role so I definitely do it as well as practising law! Work goes on, whether I’m in the President’s role or writing or doing anything else.

 

  1. How has the NT Writer’s Centre helped and supported you during your career as a writer?

 

There is nothing more fabulous than having a group of people to connect with when you’re writing, both for support and encouragement, and to bounce ideas around. I’ve also done a number of courses through the NTWC which helped me hone my skills and learn to become a better writer.

 

  1. Has the NT Writer’s Centre had to cancel or adapt any of its program’s due to the pandemic?

 

The NTWC had to cancel its Festival which was devastating but cross fingers it will be resurrected in October this year. The NTWC has also “pivoted” and put a lot of the events online, which has been marvellous, so that people haven’t missed out on everything that was planned. And the NTWC has just finalised and seamlessly delivered its Chief Minister’s Book Awards online, so it’s doing a fantastic job despite all the pressures it is under.

 

  1. What sort of support has the NT Writer’s Centre offered local authors at this time?

 

It offers courses that encourage and support, and the current NTWC online focus gives more people to engage when they are isolated.

 

  1. When buying books, which local booksellers do you frequently use?

 

I am passionate about supporting local book sellers, especially as we only have one indie bookshop in Alice “Red Kangaroo” and one in Darwin “the Bookshop Darwin”, so they are the only bookshops I use. I’ve launched both my books at them both and done events there and I have a wonderful cooperative relationship with both. To be honest, I can’t sing the praises of Red Kangaroo and the Bookshop Darwin enough, and feel so lucky that we have them. Despite the pandemic, both of them have also “pivoted” and done their best to provide books and opportunities to their customers, and are still keeping the doors open, which is a blessing, and in large part thanks to their hard work which has created its own loyal following. My mantra of late has been “Go indie bookshops!”

 

  1. What can people do during these hard times to support authors and their work?

 

Buy books. Buy books. Buy books. And buy them from your local bookshop. Or support your library. Do whatever you can to encourage authors to keep going!

 

  1. You’ve lived in Alice, Adelaide and Prague – have you lived anywhere else, and how did each of these places shape who you are?

 

I lived in so many places in addition to Alice, Adelaide and Prague – Darwin, Perth, Margaret River, Sydney, a short stint in Brisbane – and lots of short stints in different parts of WA. They have all shaped me in different ways but the best part has been the arts and writing groups that I found along the way so I’ve been able to do music, singing, acting and writing where ever I’ve lived, and I’ve learned so much more about life by living through the eyes of other places. I think each placement people I’ve met there have broadened my thinking and made me braver and more courageous, not to mention more grateful and optimistic. Travel is the best thing you can do in life, I think.

 

  1. Do you prefer to write by hand, typing on a computer or with a typewriter, or do you use a combination?

 

I write by hand and a computer – sadly I no longer have my typewriter – and I also use Dragon NaturallySpeaking from time to time, because nearly 20 years ago I gave myself carpal tunnel in both wrists from writing, and so have to juggle the way I write on a daily basis, so that I don’t overuse my hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and back.

 

  1. If you weren’t a writer or lawyer, what career do you think you would have embarked on?

 

I would have been a journalist. That was what I wanted to do before the teachers at school talked me into doing law. Being a travelling foreign correspondent was my dream. So I guess throughout my life I’ve been frustrated journalist and reluctant lawyer, combining both wherever I go – doing enough law to support my travels and the chance to write about other people places!

 

  1. Do you think you’d ever write a fiction book, and what age group do you think you’d write for?

 

That’s such a good question! I used to write mountains of fiction when I was a kid but law stripped that creative side from me, and really took my imagination, and I have struggled for years to get it back. I think it’s a process. First, memoir and non-fiction to try and recover my creativity and imagination. Once I’ve done that, hopefully I’ll be ready for fiction! I always thought I’d write children’s adventure stories, like the ones I loved growing up, but now – who knows – my main goal is just to unearth and bring back that sense of creativity and freedom I had when I was a child and could write unfettered. That’s my dream!

 

Anything I may have missed?

 

A wonderful chance to chat – thank you so much, Ashleigh!

 

Thank you Tanya

 

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Angela Savage

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

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Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

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

Hi Angela and welcome to The Book Muse

Hi Ashleigh – thanks for inviting me along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Do you have a favourite furry writing companion?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Angela!

 

Isolation Publicity with Jacqueline Harvey

 

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.

 

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Jacqueline Harvey is the best-selling author of three wonderful series of books for children and readers of all ages – Clementine-Rose, Alice-Miranda and Kensy and Max. Jacqueline also has a background in teaching and works with several reading charities and is an Australia Reads ambassador for 2020, which has had its major events moved to November. Much like other authors, Jacqueline has had events and launches cancelled – and below, she discusses Clemmie, Alice-Miranda and the wonderful spy twins, Kensy and Max, as well as the reading and writing industry and how her educational career has complemented her writing career.

 

Hi Jacqueline and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. I first came to your books through Kensy and Max two years ago – but you got started in the writing industry elsewhere – what was the very first thing that you had published?

 

I’ve been writing for quite a while now. The first book I had published was Code Name Mr Right with Lothian Books in Melbourne. There were three books in that series and I also had a picture book called The Sound of the Sea. They were all published between 2003 and 2005 then nothing for five years until the first Alice-Miranda book was released in 2010.

 

  1. Where did the idea for Clemmie (Clementine -Rose) come from, and how many books do you have planned for that series?

 

I wanted to write a shorter book than Alice-Miranda and loved the idea of a little girl who lives in a rather ramshackle country house hotel. The first line came to me quite out of the blue and was the start of the Clemmie back story (she was a foundling delivered to her adoptive mother in the back of the local baker’s van). Her full story is revealed throughout the series. She also had to have an interesting pet and Lavender the teacup pig was perfect. I’ve written 15 books in the series with the final book, Clementine Rose and the Best News Yet published in November 2019 (I think the title is a tad ironic given it’s the last book so it’s not the best news in some ways but it is for Clemmie).

 

  1. Similarly, where did the idea for Alice-Miranda come from – and after she heads to the outback later this year – where will she head next?

 

I originally thought Alice-Miranda would be a picture book – how wrong I was about that! In the beginning she was based on three little girls I used to teach but over time she grew to have the best characteristics of many children I’ve worked with over the years (boys and girls). Having worked in schools for a long time it just seemed natural that I would write a school story. I love the outback adventure – there are some really funny new characters and lots of challenges for Alice-Miranda and her friends. At this point I’m not sure where I’ll take her next but the second animated film is currently in production so I’m excited to see that towards the end of the year. It’s called Alice-Miranda: A Royal Christmas Ball and follows on from last year’s film, Alice-Miranda Friends Forever, which is now airing on STAN and Nine Now. You can also download it from iTunes.

  1. Onto my absolute favourite of your series – Kensy and Max – where did this idea come from, and how many other places do you think you’ll take the twins?

 

Kensy and Max grew out of my curiosity about all things spies. I also wanted to create a series to make the reader think – hence the chapter headings are written in code and the whole name of the spy organisation, Pharos is linked to the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria (also the name of Granny Cordelia’s country estate). A beacon is a light in a lighthouse and also the name of the newspaper which provides the ‘front’ for the spies. We had been doing a lot of travelling in the UK and on several occasions visited a pub called The Morpeth Arms which is right on The Thames opposite the Mi6 building. Upstairs the pub had a restaurant called The Spying Room and when you sat at the tables with a view, there were binoculars available and a sign that said, ‘Can you spy on the spies?’ I had a conversation with the publican about whether he’d seen anything interesting over there and he told me (and he could have been pulling my leg but that didn’t matter) that he’d worked in the pub for 16 years and in that time he’d seen the lights go on and off, computer screens flicker and occasionally someone on the balcony but that he’d never seen a person in the building. True or not it got me thinking – what if Mi6 was more like a publicity company and the real spies were somewhere close by that you’d never think to find them. Hence Kensy and Max was born. We have also visited some interesting places like Scotland’s Secret Bunker – a war time hideout just south of St Andrew’s and another hotel north of London which had been used for spy activities during the war.

I’m currently signed to write 8 books in the series though hopefully if children love them I’ll be able to write more. Kensy and Max have been on adventures in London, Rome, Sydney, Paris, New York and I’m in the middle of writing Kensy and Max: Full Speed which begins in London but will head to the Swiss Alps. I have plenty of ideas for more stories and had actually been planning a trip to Russia later this year – that’s currently off the agenda for me but definitely not for them!

 

  1. What 2020 releases, launches and author events have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

I had a huge tour planned for March and April but we only managed to get three days of bookshop and school visits and our Sydney High Tea Celebration for 10 years of Alice-Miranda before everything went pear shaped. My Melbourne and Perth tours were cancelled and I’ve had lots of festivals cancelled too including one in Tasmania in September and touring in New Zealand in June. So far pretty much all of my school events have been postponed or are in state of flux although I do have some online bookings that are set to go ahead. I’m still writing and none of my release dates have been impacted as yet.

 

  1. When it comes to Kensy and Max, what sort of research have you had to do into spies, ciphers and codes, and all the locations they visit across the world?

 

Kensy and Max requires a considerable amount of research from all angles. Just this week I’ve been taking virtual tours of the Palace of Westminster and the British Houses of Parliament and I also wrote to the London Fire Brigade to ask them some specific questions on their uniforms. It was lovely to receive a very comprehensive reply on Friday morning. I have to research all the codes and ciphers and my husband loves that sort of thing (and is something of a maths genius) so his help has been invaluable. Location wise, I’ve been to all of the places they’ve been so far but some, not for a while, so Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Street View are always on my other screen when I’m in a city that I need extra reminders of. For example in Italy I took myself on loads of walking tours of Rome on Street View and it jogged my memory for the small details like the fabulous door knockers and the cobbled streets.

 

  1. Is there a favourite place in the world you haven’t taken any of your characters in any series yet, but that you would love to send them to?

 

Well I’m not sure if it’s going to be a favourite place as I haven’t been there yet but I am desperate to send them to Russia and I am very keen to go there. I could also set a full story in New Zealand as we spend a lot of time in Queenstown.

 

  1. Does Ballypuss help with your writing, or hinder it?

 

He’s a great help most of the time because he’s the world’s best sleeper. Although when he’s out roaming in the garden he often demands that I let him back inside (he sits on the wall outside my office and meows to tell me he’s ready to come home). Lately that has turned into a game of ‘follow me around the garden’ and he has this bizarre habit of needing someone to watch him while he eats.

 

  1. Did your teaching career help you when it came to writing?

 

Absolutely as I spent a lot of time testing early material on a captive audience. I have always loved visiting schools and talking to children and teachers. It also helps when it comes to classroom management and being able to speak to groups of all sizes. My raised left eyebrow has an excellent effect on a rowdy audience 😊.

 

  1. You are one of Australia’s most popular authors – what kind of reception do you get from readers – and do you find that some of your books might be read more by a certain readership than another?

 

I am so grateful to my readers. I get lots of beautiful messages from children and adults about my books. I think it’s tricky when you write books with girls as the central characters to convince some boys that they too, can read the stories – they seem to cop a bit of pressure at times not to. Both Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose have plenty of boys in the stories and I am a strong proponent of the idea that there are no books for girls or books for boys – just books. Kensy and Max has definitely opened the market to a lot more boys (though thankfully I get plenty of parents telling me their boys love Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose too).

 

  1. Your books are not aimed at boys or girls specifically – how have you managed to capture readers across the board with all your series?

 

I have a lot of loyal boy readers who have loved Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose but I still struggle with adults who will sometimes steer boys away from those stories. I’ve heard horrible comments at times – one story that was heartbreaking when a boy whose school I had visited that week saw me signing books outside a shop and he ran up and was very enthusiastically telling his dad, ‘That’s her – the lady who came to our school. I really want that book.’ He pointed at Alice-Miranda to the Rescue – which has a green cover and a picture of Alice-Miranda holding a puppy. It’s not especially feminine or overly ‘girly’. The father growled at the boy, ‘Maaaate, you don’t want that book – it’s got a girl on the cover.’ I was mortified and asked the fellow if he’d heard what had just come out of his mouth. He muttered some choice words and quickly ushered his son away. The little boy was upset and I was too. I find it hard to believe that in 2020 attitudes are still quite archaic at times. Only last year I visited a school where the librarian told me I was talking to the Year 3 and 4 girls. I asked what the boys were doing because unless it was flying on a rocket to the moon I didn’t imagine it was anything more exciting than listening to my talk. She told me that the ‘powers that be’ had decided ‘you only write books for girls.’ I was aghast and said (politely) that if the powers that be didn’t let the boys come I was not planning to stay. Suffice to say the boys arrived and that afternoon I had an email from a mum whose son had begged to go into town and get some of my books. She said that he never read but he couldn’t stop talking about all the stories I had told them. She was so grateful and I was really pleased that I made a fuss and the boys were allowed to come to the talk.

 

  1. You’ve worked in the arts and teaching – like a few other participants – how do you think these two roles complement each other?

 

Quite a few authors and illustrators have backgrounds in education – and I think the two occupations are very complementary. I spent year’s trialling stories on my captive audiences and I also read so many books to the children – it was wonderful training to see what worked well. I’ve had quite a diverse school career from classroom teacher to deputy head to director of development and find that many of the skills I needed back then have stood me in good stead now – presenting, organising events, communicating with children and adults, writing – both creatively and non-fiction.

 

  1. As a writer with an education background, how do you think both industries will be affected by the pandemic?

 

Education has been turned on its head. Teaching remotely has created a huge additional workload for teachers, many of whom are just getting to grips with the technology they are required to use. One of my sisters is a high school teacher and she has been overwhelmed with extra work as well as trying to monitor her own four children who are studying from home. I guess the one good thing is that most teachers have secure incomes (casuals aside) and that’s an area where the arts have been hugely impacted. For me personally almost all of my festival gigs have been cancelled for the year and while schools are beginning to book authors for online events, it’s very different to being there in person and interacting with the students. Obviously the rates of pay are much lower too. Royalties for book sales are paid twice a year so it’s difficult to know how they will be impacted in the long term. Some of my author friends have been tutoring to help make up the shortfall in income while others have been creating online content – though there is some concern about ongoing intellectual property issues particularly ensuring that once we do come out of lockdown schools will once again book authors and illustrators to do ‘in person’ gigs.

 

  1. You’re also an ambassador for Dymocks Children’s Charities – what sort of programs does the charity support, and what work do you do for them?

 

Dymocks Children’s Charities have wonderful programs including Book Bank and Library Regeneration, and have recently run a fantastic fundraiser for bushfire affected schools. They have introduced ‘Books for Homes’ to ensure that disadvantaged children who have been isolated by the pandemic are still getting books to read. I’ve recorded some short videos for their new You Tube channel which we hope will be viewed and used by schools and in homes. Under normal circumstances I would do a couple of Library Regen or Book Bank presentations a year and I also promote their campaigns via social media and an awareness page in all of my books. The past couple of years, Ambassadors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have edited a fabulous book called Total Quack Up and Total Quack Up Again and I’ve contributed to both of those as well.

 

  1. Has any of this work been affected by the pandemic or can you do it remotely?

 

Unfortunately a lot of the charity’s work has been impacted by Covid 19. The first thing to go was the annual Great Debate which is a huge charity fundraising event – and their largest source of income. Initially it was postponed until later in the year but with things so up in the air they have decided to move it to 2021. Obviously they have had to adapt so the Books for Homes program was born and the You Tube channel was developed to help spread awareness.

 

  1. Favourite writing snack?

 

A cup of white tea and a handful of raw cashews.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite place to write?

 

Anywhere with a view – especially of water or mountains.

 

  1. What would you like to see in terms of support for the arts, and how can people support the arts and authors in these difficult times?

 

I wrote an article for Reading Time –  http://readingtime.com.au/supporting-childrens-authors-during-the-corona-crisis/ about ways people can support authors and illustrators during this time. Certainly buying books (if you can afford to) but also giving recommendations – there are some wonderful sites like Your Kids’ Next Read on Facebook where parents can comment and support authors. It has been good to see some additional grants offered by organisations like the Copyright Agency and the City of Sydney, though I know not everyone is able to access these.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you’ll be trying to support during the pandemic?

 

So far I have ordered books online from Dymocks and when I get through that reading pile I will definitely be supporting my local shops including Novella at Wahroonga and Book Review St Ives. My second last public event before we went into lockdown was at Book Review and I can’t wait to get back out and do more events once it’s safe to do so.

 

  1. Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

 

I’m writing the sixth book in the Kensy and Max series. It’s called Kensy and Max: Full Speed and will be out in October. I’ve just finished writing a short book, Kensy and Max: Spy Games for the Australia Reads Campaign which will be out in November and I’m also working on some other exciting secret projects.

 

Anything further?

 

 

I think that just about covers everything – well except I’d love to give a big shoutout to all of the school and municipal librarians across Australia who have been working hard to keep kids supplied with books and resources. They’ve had to adapt in record time and I know they’re doing a brilliant job. So a huge thanks from me!

 

Thank you Jacqueline!

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Karen Turner

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

StormbirdCover

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

 

 

Hi Karen, and welcome to The Book Muse

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Any comments about anything I may have missed?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm…Is that it?

Oh yeah, I see dead people.

I think that’s it now.

Thank You Karen

  Isolation Publicity with George Ivanoff

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

 

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

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

Hi George and welcome to The Book Muse

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What might readers have seen you acting in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Chocolate! Always… chocolate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Any further comments?

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

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

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

Thank you George, and best of luck with everything,

 

Isolation Publicity with Deb Abela

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Deb Abela is the author of many books including the spelling bee books and the Grimsden trilogy, both of which she discusses below., as well as her new book out in August, Bear in Space, the loss of school visits and the difficulties in connecting with those she works with through the Room to Read charity.

Hi Deb, and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer, and where did you get your start in writing content for children?

Yes. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 7. I LOVE disappearing into a book. My first job writing for kids was as producer/writer for a show called, Cheez TV on Network TEN. It was a cartoon hosting show, which meant I was PAID to watch cartoons! Yes, paid!

  1. What was it like working with Cheez TV – and what was the weirdest thing, or the most interesting thing you had to write a segment about?

In between cartoons, I had to write segments for the hosts…sometimes they acted out skits, interviewed people or we went on location. The best location we went to was New York City and one of the most interesting things I wrote about was interviewing an astronaut about her time in space. We had to ask her, of course, how astronauts go to the toilet in outer space.

  1. You have written a variety of novels for children – are they all aimed at middle grade readers, or are some aimed at a different age group?

I loved being 11 and so most of my characters are the same age. I’ve written about 11 year olds who are spies, brilliant spellers, trapped in a flooded city, flying machine inventors, escapees from WW2, soccer players and owners of amusement parks. I have two picture books for younger readers called Wolfie An Unlikely Hero and Bear in Space, which is about a bear in space.

  1. I got started with your books with The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee – and as a quiz writer, started writing a quiz in my mind even though it was a review book – what is it about spelling bees that inspired you to write the India Wimple books?

When I was in grade 4, I had this stupendous teacher called Miss Gray. Every Monday she would hand out a list of words for us to study and on Friday she would hold Spelling Olympics. She’d pit the boys against the girls in a running race to the board to spell the word. We LOVED it and became really good spellers.

  1. Do you think there’d be more India Wimple books, or has she gone as far as possible with spelling bees?

There are two spelling bees, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery. In the first, shy, nervous India Wimple is encouraged by her gorgeous family to enter the national competition and in the second India is invited to compete in the international comp in London.

 

  1. The Grimsdon trilogy is one I’m yet to read – what is the premise of that, and what made you decide to write three books?

About 15 years ago I got really angry that governments around the world weren’t addressing the issue of climate change…so I thought, I wonder what would happen if we keep ignoring the science and something big goes wrong. So I flooded a city and added sea monsters, flying machines and girls who are good with swords. I was harassed by kids to write more, so followed New City and Final Storm, with just as much action, wild weather, robots and courageous kids. They are essentially action adventure stories where the kids rule!

  1. Have you had any new releases come out this year so far, and what are they?

I have a new picture book coming out in August called Bear in Space. It began with a sketch of a bear by illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, floating in space. The story is about a bear who is different who loves space and when he builds a rocket to fly into space, it’s there he makes his first real friend when he meets a panda in her rocket who also loves space. It’s about being different and the importance of being yourself and having friends who love you just the way you are.

Bear in Space Final cover front

  1. Have you had to cancel, postpone or change the way you participate in any events, appearances or launches?

Like so many people, 2020 for me has been completely turned upside down. I’d been invited to festivals all over Australia, including the Byron Bay and Sydney Writers Festivals, two festivals overseas and was invited to be writer-in-residence at schools across the country. I LOVE working with kids, so it has been so disappointing to have all those visits be cancelled, and I feel so bad for the festival organisers who put so much work into creating such brilliant events that couldn’t safely go ahead. So I am now doing my school visits and workshops and teaching online, which is fun for now but I’m really looking forward to going into the classes again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up5I7OfVuaI&feature=emb_logo

  1. Have you won any awards for your books, and which ones are they?

I’ve been very fortunate to have won awards and been shortlisted for many of my books. Here’s a link to the awards: https://www.deborahabela.com/debs-awards

  1. You’ve also written across several genres – have any had more challenges than another, or do they all present their own writing or research based challenges?

All writing presents its own challenges and after 26 books, one thing I do know is that they are all different. Even books from the same series can have their own personality and difficulties. I wrote my first book, Max Remy In Search of the Time and Space Machine in 6 weeks, but others have taken much longer. The Grimsdon series is more complicated and really pushed the way my brain works, but it is one of my favourite series. For my WW2 novel, Teresa A New Australian, I spent 3 months researching before I even began writing the novel, which I needed for the novel to ring true.

 

  1. You’re also an ambassador for Room to Read ­– what does Room to Read do, and what specific work do you do for them?

Room to Read is a charity that has changed the lives of 16.8 million children in 16 countries. They believe that real world change begins with education and they do this by working with local communities, partner organisations, and governments to develop literacy skills in primary kids and help girls complete secondary school. www.roomtoread.org.

  1. Has any of Room to Read’s work been affected by COVID-19?

Yes, it is harder to reach some communities now and our fundraising efforts this year have been hampered and some put on hold. The founder, John Wood, is still optimistic, and they held an online event on May 1 led by Julia Roberts and over 200 artists and leaders to bring the joy of reading into homes worldwide.

  1. What do you do as a role model for Books in Homes?

Books in Homes works with schools and communities to deliver free books of choice to kids who may not have their own, setting them up for a love of reading and literacy skills which will form the foundation for lifelong achievement. My role is helping select the books and go into classrooms to hand out the free books….you should see those happy faces when they hear they can keep the books forever!

  1. As an author and artist, how are you managing the changes in how the arts industry is working during these hard times?

It’s very tough out there. The entertainment and publishing industries have been some of the hardest hit during this time. Booksellers, festivals and publishers are looking at ways to survive with the cancellation of festivals, book launches, readings and tours. Ironically, isolation has given me more time to write than I’ve had in years. I don’t know what the industry will look like when we come out of this, but I do know for now I need to buy books from my local store and keep finding solace and fun in writing.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you like to frequent?

I am lucky because I have two bookshops just a walk away, The Children’s Bookshop and Gleebooks. There is also a Dymocks not far as well but the great thing is, bookshops are still operating online and would LOVE to take orders from readers, which is going to be so important in supporting them and ensuring they survive.

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors to read?

Ahhh….there are so many…but I do have a few who make me feel as if I’m sitting in front of a warm fire. For kids I love Kate DiCamilo and Katherine Rundell and adults Elizabeth Strout. I’ll stop there because this list is huge.

  1. Many artists and authors are affected by what is going on right now – what advice do you have for people who might not think the arts are suffering, or who take it the industry for granted?

Please buy books. For you, as presents, for later…your bookshop needs you now. A lot of us have more time and the libraries are closed, so visiting a bookshop online is the perfect solution!

Keep creating – do whatever it is that is calling you, it is great for your soul, your heart and your mental health.

  1. Do you have a furry writing companion who keeps you company during writing sessions?

No furry friends, but the trees all around us are full of cockatoos, lorikeets, kookaburras and few seasonal birds that I love like the koel.

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Tea. That’s it really. Tea.

  1. What do you have planned next for your writing?

I have a few smaller series ideas I’ve been developing and two middle grade novels I’ve ben really enjoying. I’ve also written a poem for an environmental anthology. It’s been fun playing with ideas and disappearing into these stories as the characters slowly come to life and let me escape.

Anything further?

Here are ways to find me.

Thanks Deb!

 

Isolation Publicity with Andrew McDonald

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Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

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

Hi Andrew, and welcome to The Book Muse!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Any further comments?

 

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

Thanks Andrew, and good luck with Real Pigeons!