Leanne Davidson wrote her first book, Quizzical, and decided to publish it herself. After it won joint first prize in the 2006 Australian Best Self-Published Book Award for Fiction, it was picked up by The Five Mile Press, and re-released in 2008. The sequel, Money Bags, followed in 2009, and The Five Mile Press also published chapter book, Alby and the Cat. We asked Leanne to visit us today to talk about her success story!
What do you like most about being a writer?
There are so many things I like about being a writer, it’s hard to choose the one I like most! I really enjoy visiting schools, though, and meeting the children who read my books. I find that really rewarding.
Are there any downsides to being a writer?
Not for me. I would happily write for the rest of my life if people continued to enjoy my books. I just wish I had more time to write, and that I was better known so that I could write full-time instead of having to work as well!
What brought you to write your first book?
I have always loved to write, ever since I was a young child. As I grew older, it became a hobby I loved to do in my spare time. I have a very bad habit of starting stories and not finishing them, so one day I decided to write a story from an idea that had formed in my head, and finish it.
My mum and dad had a racehorse, and whenever it raced we would go and watch it. My dad is blind, so I used to read the paper to him and tell him the names of the other horses in the race. I noticed that a horse called ROYGBIV often raced at the same races our horse raced at and I thought, ‘What a strange name for a racehorse! I wonder how it got that name?’ Only a couple of weeks later a story appeared in a Melbourne paper about that very horse and how it was named after the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. I thought to myself: ‘What a great way to remember the colours of the rainbow’ and thought what a good idea it would be to write a story using similar methods that might help children remember things in their everyday lives. That’s how ‘Quizzical’ was born.
At the moment I prefer to write for children, possibly because I have three of my own, but one day I might consider an adult novel.
Why did you decide to self-publish your first book?
It was always a secret ambition of mine to actually have a book published so that people could read it, but as a young girl I lacked confidence, and I didn’t think that could ever happen, although I continued to write for the mere enjoyment of it. Then, I married and had children, and when they became involved in their various sporting pursuits I became involved in committees and generally helped out on a voluntary basis, which helped my confidence.
By the time I reached the age of 40 I had the ‘Quizzical’ idea in my head and one weekend I sat down and wrote it as a short story. I sent it off to a major publisher – I don’t know what I was thinking! – and although they wouldn’t accept the manuscript for publication, they did send back a very nice letter saying the story was very well written and they had enjoyed it very much. I refused to give up, and instead put it aside for a bit, trying to think of a way to make it better. I decided to expand it into a novel, with the characters and story expanded.
I also decided to do a writing course, the Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing, by correspondence, not only to learn more about writing for children, but also to have an unbiased tutor look at my writing. The course was brilliant. I used some of the chapters of my book as assignments, and when my tutor told me I was very talented, that was all the inspiration I needed to finish my book. I thought about sending it in to publishers, but it can be such a long process waiting to hear back from them, usually with a rejection, and I didn’t want my confidence dented. So, I spoke to my husband, who was very supportive, and we decided to self-publish it.
Although ‘putting myself out there’ was a very scary prospect for me, I felt very confident that things would turn out okay. I can’t explain it, really. I am a very motivated person, and I’m not afraid of hard work, so I was prepared to do whatever it took to get the book out there for kids to read.
Fortunately, we have a book distribution company in the next town on from us, and I initially made some enquiries there. I was put on to someone who ‘might be interested’ in helping me, and that someone was Allan Cornwell, who lived in Melbourne at the time. He was a small member publisher with the Australian Book Group, and had self-published his own books as well as those by other authors, including Michael Salmon. He read my manuscript and wanted to help me publish it. He also suggested I have it edited, and forwarded it onto a lady named Nan McNab who, as well as editing some of Allan’s work, also edited for Penguin, Pan McMillan and The Five Mile Press. She now edits all of Bryce Courtenay’s books, so I feel very privileged that she wanted to edit my work, too! The result was Quizzical, a book I’m very proud of.
In 2006, Quizzical won the ‘Best Australian Self-Published Book Award for Fiction’, a competition run through the NSW Writers’ Centre. Subsequently, Five Mile Press contacted me and offered me a contract to re-release it with a new cover, along with the sequels, Money Bags and Puzzle Palace. They also published a short chapter book I wrote called Alby and the Cat as part of their Ripper Reads series.
Where do you get your ideas?
As any author would tell you, you can get your ideas from anywhere. Some ideas are inspired by events that happen in your life, but things happen all around us every day that would make great stories.
Of your own books, which is your favourite?
Hmmm. That’s a tricky one. Quizzical would rate highly because I never thought in a million years I’d put myself out there by self-publishing a book and be prepared to be ridiculed if the book was a failure. Thankfully it wasn’t, and I’m surprised at the number of people who’ve come up to me since and told me how much they admire my courage. Then there’s Alby and the Cat. That was written from the heart. My dad was blinded in an industrial accident many years ago and had a beautiful black Labrador as a guide dog for 13 years. Ever since, I’ve wanted to write a story about guide dogs so that people were more informed about what they do, how important they are in society, and what a difference they make in the life of a visually impaired person.
I spent most of last year writing, with two upcoming books being released in April/May: Puzzle Palace, the third in my Quizzical series, and Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness, the second of my books about Alby the guide dog.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
Keep writing, about anything and everything. Enter competitions, and subscribe to groups such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers or the NSW Writers’ Centre, both of which have writing competitions aimed at all age groups. Last, but definitely not least, don’t give up and never be afraid to dream, because dreams do come true – I am the perfect example of that!
You can find out more about Leanne Davidson and her books at her website, www.quizzicalbook.com.