Posted in authors, illustrator

Rebecca J Palmer on Monkey Mind

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

 

Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.

From the publisher:

Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey!  Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey. 

Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper? 

Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.

On with the questions!


Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerMonkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.

Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!

  • I start out with a copper plate.
  • Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
  • My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
  • Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
  • The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
  • Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
  • Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
  • The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
  • The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
  • Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.

How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.

Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!

But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.

Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!

  1. Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
  2. Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
  3. DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!

Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.

Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉

Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library. 


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerTake a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website. 

Watch a 1-minute YouTube video showing a drypoint etching print of a page in the book.

Watch a 35-second YouTube video showing the process of making Monkey Mind.

Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Kate Gordon on The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

Kate Gordon grew up in a very booky house, in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Now she’s the author of picture books, children’s novels, and novels for teenagers. We’re thrilled to have her visiting to chat to us about her writing and the setting of her new children’s novel The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn.

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon

From the publisher:

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart…

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is an enchanting tale celebrating friendship, bravery and the importance of staying true to yourself.

On with the questions!


Direleafe Hall is a spooky, gothic setting for the school in The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. Is it inspired by a real-world place?

It absolutely is inspired by a real place! The Midlands of Tasmania is a beautifully gothic landscape, just begging to be turned into (gently) dark and atmospheric stories. I travel along that stretch of road fairly frequently and my favourite thing to do on the trip is stare out the window at the historic buildings – some intact and some broken down by time – on the route. My favourite ones are the broken down ones and my favourite of all is an arched doorway that stands alone in a paddock, the rest of its structure vanished as if into the air. I finally researched the building and found it was a school, once. Of course, I had to set a story there!

How do you like to write: pen and paper, or typing straight into the computer?

A bit of both! I write notes on paper but I type the prose directly on the computer. I make too many mistakes to write my stories longhand. I’d need shares in Tipp-Ex.

How long did it take you to write The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn (from the first idea for the book, to publication)?

I looked up the first emails talking to my husband about my idea for this story. It was around six years ago! And I wrote a very rough first draft in 2015. The story came quickly but the process after that was slow. I’m not complaining at all – I feel like this was a book that needed time to breathe and to grow and the team at UQP had the wisdom to allow that. Sometimes things happen quickly and slowly at the same time and I think the best stories have a bit of both.

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?

I’m going to be that thousandth person telling you to read a lot – but it is so important. Apart from that … just love it. Pour all your love and all your heart and all your enthusiasm on to the page and your writing will sing with it. Write as if the world is ending. Write as if it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do. Write because you need to, and you love it. The reader will be able to see it and they will love the words you make as much as you do.

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?

Absolutely! At the moment I’m still deep in Direleafe territory, working on books two and three (and a sneaky extra story about a girl who runs away to the circus). I’m not ready to leave the world of Hollowbeak just yet!

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library, or order it from the publisher.


The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate GordonAWESOME EXTRAS:

Read a sample chapter!

Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.

Visit Kate Gordon’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Chickensaurus

MEET THE AUTHOR

James Foley. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography.
James Foley (photo by Jessica Wyld Photography)

Chickensaurus by James FoleyJames Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.

From the publisher:

Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.

On with the questions!


Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.

Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
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Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
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Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
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Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!

 

Chickensaurus is out now! You can buy it from the publisher’s website, find it at your favourite book store, or ask for it at your library. 

Chickensaurus by James FoleyAWESOME EXTRAS:
Click here to watch an interview with James Foley for Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)
Posted in authors, interviews

Bren MacDibble on Across the Risen Sea

MEET THE AUTHOR

Bren MacDibble photo

Bren MacDibble is an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. She grew up in New Zealand, and then heaved on a backpack and spent a couple of years exploring the world. Bren has lived in Whanganui, Hawkes Bay, Waikato, Tauranga, Frankfurt, London, Auckland and Sydney before finally stopping off in Melbourne for 20 years, where she raised two children. She now lives in Kalbarri on the insanely gorgeous mid west coast of Australia. Across the Risen Sea is her 2020 novel for children and hit the Aus, NZ and UK shelves in August.

Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble

From the publisher:

Neoma and Jag and their small community are ‘living gentle lives’ on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community. Soon daring, loyal Neoma must set off on a solo mission across the risen sea, determined to rescue her best friend and find the truth that will save her village.

Across the Risen Sea is an action-packed, compelling and heartfelt middle-fiction adventure, set in a post-climate change landscape, from the multi-award winning author of How to Bee and The Dog Runner.

 

On with the questions!


In Across the Risen Sea your main character, Neoma bravely sails off on her own to rescue her best friend. Had you done much sailing yourself before writing the novel?
Have I done much sailing? A little. Not enough to feel completely safe on the water, but enough to understand how the sails and rigging work. When I was in my 20s I went out a couple of times on hire yachts in the Bay of Islands NZ with friends. The last time I did that I got hit by a swinging boom and went flying across the deck and landed on a stanchion and I still have a scar on my spine! My advice: when someone yells tack, duck! This person didn’t yell tack. I’m still angry at them. I sometimes go out when I’m in Auckland, the city of the sails. Last time I went out on Auckland harbour, the skipper went to take a phone call and left me in charge and a ship was coming in. So I was whispering, I have to tack! I have to tack! And he was waving his hand for me to wait. And then the ship sounded its fog horn! Those things are so loud! We had plenty of room to tack, but it was still terrifying! That noise goes right into your chest and stops your heart!

Your characters’ names all seem to match their characters perfectly. How do you come up with names for characters?
I love how the fashion for names change constantly. Names in Western Australia are fun and modern, names in Melbourne are traditional, and so I try to think about future people. What might they name their children? What’s important to them? It was easy in How to Bee, fruit and flowers. In Across the Risen Sea it was a little harder. Fish and boats are important but they are everyday so I thought about what was exotic, big cats may well become extinct if people are forced up into high country so Jaguar was easy. The moon and tides are important and so is new beginnings in this story. Neoma means new moon. Sometimes I just use names I grew up with. Saleesi was one of those.

The consequences of climate change is a recurring element in all three of your recent children’s novels. Can you tell us why you write climate change into your fiction?
I mainly write about post climate changed worlds to keep the conversation about climate change going. I realise it’s scary and when humans are scared we turn away from the thing that scares us, so by writing about children surviving in these worlds, I’m hoping to keep people looking at climate change instead of looking away. We can only solve problems we face. I’m hoping it also gives a safe fictional space for people to talk about these issues. ‘What would I do if I were Neoma?’ is easier to talk about than, ‘What would I do if my family was threatened?’. Fictional problem-solving is always easier than real life problem-solving but it uses the same brain muscles and I think everyone needs to develop more problem-solving muscles.

Do you have a tip for young writers who might like to write their own dystopian adventure stories?
Leap a little bit into the future. Change something and then write a list of all the things affected. You’ll be surprised how much everything is connected. As we’ve seen, warming temperatures lead to sea level rise, leads to coastal erosion, relocation of cities, building of dykes and sea walls, and fresh water issues. Felling forests leads to invading wild animals habitats, their extinction, excess fresh water runoff, new deserts, new diseases. You decide which ones you want to use in your story, it’ll be too hard to use them all. In truth our planet is small and EVERYTHING is connected, but as humans we can only examine a few ideas at a time, and this is a story not a text book. Ask yourself, how do people live now? What’s important to them? It will always still be family, friends, water, food, shelter, peace and safety. Can they find these things in this ruined world? Make sure they do, at least by the end, or your story may be too scary!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I am working on two projects right now. One with Zana Fraillon, so that’s like half a project because she is a very good team member and has made it so easy. We are writing a children’s novel together which combines an ancient myth with the present and brings a boy (Zana’s character) to the future, where he meets a girl (my character) living in a sparse kind of Utopia, where humans care for the planet. I’m also working on a story alone set in the desert where strange new humans are being born and the main character is fiercely protective of their little toddler sibling who is one of these strange new humans. I like writing this one, now I practically live in the desert! Red sand will be pouring out every time readers turn a page!

Across the Risen Sea is out now. Look for it at your favourite bookstores and libraries!


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibbleClick here to download Teachers’ Notes for Across the Risen Sea (scroll to the end of the page that opens)

Read our 2017 interview with Bren MacDibble

Visit Bren MacDibble’s website for more about her and her books. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Claire Saxby on Georgia Ward-Fear: Reptile biologist and explorer

Claire Saxby MEET THE AUTHOR

Claire Saxby writes novels, picture books, nonfiction and poetry for children. Her books are published all around the world. This month she launches a new nonfiction book Georgia Ward-Fear: Reptile biologist and explorer, which is Book 2 in the new Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

 Georgia Ward-Fear’s conservation journey has seen her travel the world, empower young girls to become environmental leaders, and carry out trailblazing work to save native animals from the threat of cane toads.

An inspiring story of an adventurous spirit whose love of the natural world has made her a STEM superstar.   

Georgia Ward-Fear Reptile Biologist and Explorer

On with the questions!


You’ve written fiction and nonfiction books and poetry on a variety of subjects. Do you have a favourite nonfiction subject to write about?
It seems impossible to have a favourite when there is so many interesting things to explore. Sometimes I write what I’m in the mood to write (and I’m just the same when reading … sometimes serious, sometimes curious, sometimes silly), but mostly the idea dictates the form. I had a story I really wanted to write as a picture book but it JUST WOULDN’T FIT! So eventually I gave in and wrote it as a novel (and it took forever!), but it was right. I’ve learned to follow where the idea leads.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths. Had you met Dr Georgia Ward-Fear before you began writing the book?
Georgia and I were paired by the publisher at Wild Dingo Press. We’d not met before. I’d never heard of her before. But she’s just fabulous, and was so generous with her time and her … life! I had to ask all sorts of questions and she trusted that I would know which bits to put in, which bits belonged just to our chats.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
Firstly, I scoured the internet for information about Georgia. Fortunately, she’s done some things that make her interesting to newspapers and television so I could get to know her a little bit through them. Then I read many of her papers and articles. By then she was already my hero for teaching goannas NOT to eat cane toads. Then I emailed her and we started chatting. Every answer she gave me led to more questions. We met once in person and had some phone conversations. Once I started writing I had more questions! Curiosity was my friend.

What’s different about sitting down to write a fiction and sitting down to write nonfiction?
Georgia is a real person living a real life. She has real family and real friends. I have to be sure that I’m being true to her story. I can make up some things, for example I invented an encounter with a mob of wallabies behind her house, but although I couldn’t 100% be sure it DID happen, I knew enough about Georgia to know it COULD have happened. In a fiction story, I can follow any direction my imagination takes me, as long as I can convince my readers. But both need structure, clear language, and lots of rewrites!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
Next year is going to be a busy one. I have three picture books coming out early in the year and there could be another longer work, but I don’t have a firm date on that. The picture books are all related to the ocean. One is funny (Treasure), one is really cool (Iceberg), and the third is thrilling (Great White Shark). I love the ocean, can you tell?


Georgia Ward-Fear Reptile Biologist and ExplorerAWESOME EXTRAS

Visit Claire Saxby’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Cristy Burne and Fiona Wood: Inventor of Spray-on Skin

Cristy BurneMEET THE AUTHOR

Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Cristy’s latest book is the first book in the new Aussie STEM Stars series – Fiona Wood: Inventor of spray-on skin. 

Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy Burne

From the publisher:

With her invention of the revolutionary spray-on skin, Fiona Wood changed the way burns were treated forever. 

Fiona’s story is one of hard work and hope, of vision and direction, of stepping up, not giving in, and helping people rebuild their bodies and their lives.

Now – on with some questions about the book!


You’re a science writer, children’s author and presenter. Do you have a favourite subject area when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM)?
My favourite part of STEM is creativity. Every single scientific breakthrough or invention or innovation ever in the whole history of the planet is the direct result of creativity. Our world is a better place because someone imagined a solution to a problem, because someone dared to dream of a new way. So being a scientist is all about being creative.

And science is all about making a difference in our world… solving mysteries, discovering knowledge, inventing fresh ways of doing things. It’s EXCITING, and we can all be part of it.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths. How did you come to write about Fiona Wood?
I was very lucky to be asked to write this book about Fiona Wood, which is just an incredible honour.

I’d interacted with Fiona twice before: I’d seen her speak at a conference and LOVED her energy and passion immediately. Years later, I contacted her for an article I was writing for Double Helix magazine about The Great Unknown … I wanted to know what Fiona’s ‘Great Unknown’ was. I didn’t expect someone as busy as Fiona to answer, but she did, and once again I was overwhelmed by how generous she is, and how much good she does for the world. (She said she had many ‘Great Unknowns’ and finding answers to her questions is what drives her every day.)

So the chance to work with Fiona, to learn more about her, to share her incredible story with the world … it was one I just couldn’t pass up. I’m still pinching myself.

If I could have chosen any living scientist to write about, I would have chosen Fiona Wood. It’s such a huge responsibility to write someone else’s life. I totally recommend that you read this book … and your parents too. And your grandparents. And your teacher. I want to shout FIONA IS AMAZING to the rooftops.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
I started by trawling the internet for all the pre-existing interviews, videos, articles and book chapters that featured Fiona. I listened to hours of radio, watched loads of YouTube, ordered books featuring great Australians, and read everything I could get my hands on.

I had 15,000 words of research before I started writing a thing. Fiona is SO busy doing incredibly vital research and life-changing work, I didn’t want to waste a minute of her time by asking questions she’d already answered in a zillion other interviews.

Also, because I had prepared, when it came time to chat with Fiona, I could focus on more personal questions, or ask about details I needed to bring a particular story to life. I then divided and ordered all that research chronologically and thematically to see if any story structure naturally appeared.

Do you have one tip for kids who’d like to write nonfiction?
Writing non-fiction is incredibly fun! Find something you’re interested in, and learn as much as you can about it. What a great job! My big tip is: don’t be afraid to ring or email someone to ask them for information or an interview. Getting your facts directly from an expert adds so much to your work. And most people, even busy people, are happy to help. (And most scientists, even busy scientists, are passionate about their work, so they love to share it!)

What’s your next writing project? 
I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapter book adventure called Beneath The Trees, which is based on the true story of an epically awful hike my family and I did in the Queensland rainforest … it was an incredible adventure, complete with blood and tears and mud and really cute platypus. Perfect for reading while cuddled in bed!

Fiona Stanley: Inventor of spray-on skin is out now! Ask for it at your nearest bookshop or library. 


Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy BurneAWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download Teacher’s Notes for the book. 

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her, her books and presentations.

Hear Cristy Burne read an excerpt from the book.

Read an earlier interview with Cristy Burne 

Posted in authors, interviews

AL Tait on writing The Fire Star

MEET THE AUTHOR

AL Tait is the bestselling author of the middle-grade adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. Her latest novel is The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery).

From the publisher:

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

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


The Fire Star is book 1 in an adventure mystery series set in Medieval times. How much research did you need to do before you began writing?

I have a strong interest in the Medieval period and I describe my novels as ’not quite history’ because they draw from that time but are then pivoted to create a whole new world. So I have a solid grounding in the flavour of the period, which allowed me to start writing The Fire Star, and then I research particular details as I go.

Sometimes, when I’m working on my first draft, I might even just put a note that says something like [insert description of Medieval kitchen here] and then go back later. That allows me to keep the story flowing. Story always comes first.

This is probably not the most efficient way to write a novel, but it works for me.

Characters’ names are an important part of their identity/personality. How do you choose the names of the main characters in your books?
Names are very important, particularly for the main characters, so I take my time to get them right. I look for names that are meaningful to the main traits of the character in question. So, as an example, I chose Reeve because it’s a Medieval word meaning ’sheriff’, which works really well for a mystery story! Maven, on the other hand, is a Hebrew name meaning ‘one who understands’, which describes Maven as a character perfectly.

If you found yourself living in Medieval times, what would your occupation/role in society be?
I like to imagine I’d be Queen of the land, but in reality I’d probably end up a peasant, running a small-holding with my husband and kids. That was the reality for most women, and it’s one of the reasons The Beech Circle exists in Cartreff, the world of my novel.

Do you have a tip (or a challenge) for kids who’d like to try writing an adventure mystery?
Writing a mystery story is a major challenge in itself. But I think my best tip is just to keep asking yourself ‘why?’. If this happens, why? If that happens, why? If you can get to the ‘why?’ of a mystery story it helps you to plot out the who, what, when and where of the crime.

So, in my novel, The Fire Star, a fabulously valuable and dazzling jewel goes missing. Instead of asking myself who took it, I looked at why someone might do it – and there were lots of reasons. So I chose the LEAST OBVIOUS answer and the story flowed from there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
I am writing a new Maven & Reeve Mystery and I am so thrilled to be back in Cartreff. The ‘why?’ of this one is a doozy!

The Fire Star is out now – ask for it at your local bookshop or library!


The Fire Star by AL TaitEXTRAS:

Click here to visit AL Tait’s resources page on kings, castles & secret societies.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Read our 2015 interview with AL Tait.

Find out more about AL Tait and her books at her website.

Posted in authors, interviews

Kitty Black on writing A Crocodile in the Family

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kitty Black

Kitty Black is a Western Australian author of picture books and children’s novels. Kitty currently lives in Perth with her husband, two children, two cats and a puppy, but she has also lived in Melbourne, Hong Kong and Mt Isa. Kitty’s first picture book was Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? (illustrated by Laura Wood), and her latest picture book is A Crocodile in the Family, illustrated by Daron Parton.

From the publisher:

A family of birds stumble across an egg in the bush and take it home with them. The family are thrilled when a little crocodile hatches from the egg, but the other animals are a little confused.

‘Why do you keep him?’ they ask. ‘Is it because he’s helpful?’

‘He is helpful,’ replies the family, ‘but that’s not why we keep him.’

A crocodile in the Family by Kitty Black and Daron Parton


When you’re writing a new story – pen & paper? or computer?
Always pen and paper for a picture book. I have a few writing books and while they’re meant to be used for different things if a story shows up then I grab whichever one is closest. My last picture book idea was written in the margins of a middle grade novel writing book. Never underestimate the audacity of ideas, they don’t care what you’re meant to be working on!

I swap between laptop and paper for the novel, just because typing is faster and there’s a lot of words. But if I get stuck on what happens next I always swap to paper. Paper just feels friendlier. Plus it doesn’t run out of battery and if you leave it in the garden overnight it’s probably okay.

Both of your picture books include animal characters who don’t seem to fit in – at first glance. Is this a theme that’s common in your writing?
Definitely. Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD meant that at school I always felt a bit different and I couldn’t figure out why. I have an affinity for the different kids, the ones who don’t pay attention to the ‘right’ things or get rowdy or spend loads of time day-dreaming. I want them to know there’s a place for them, just as they are. I’ve realised in hindsight that I also chose tough/creepy animals? Wolves and crocodiles! My next picture book in 2021 is about a bat. I guess I like different animals too!

Did you communicate with the illustrator of A Crocodile in the Family? Or did you each work separately?
We worked separately. I’ve never spoken directly to him! However, my commissioning editor at Hachette would tell me nice things he said, and also pass on nice things I said to him. So we knew we liked each other’s work. Despite the not talking directly we were both involved in all the choices and I think we worked really well together.

Do you have a tip for kids who love to write?
A tip that I’m using at the moment is to think about what my main character doesn’t want to happen – and then do that.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
I was lucky enough to receive an Arts Grant to develop a middle grade novel, so I am deep in a fantasy world with witches and magic and talking bears and monsters. It’s fun! Although not for my main character at the moment because that thing they didn’t want to happen, just happened.

I’m also working with the illustrator from Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? on our next book – Mr Bat Wants A Hat. She likes creepy animals too.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Posted in authors, interviews

Katrina Germein: Tell ‘Em!

Katrina GermeinToday’s visitor is Katrina Germein: an award-winning picture book author. Her books have been published all around the world and even read during story-time on television for Play School. You might have read some of her books already, like Big Rain Coming, My Dad Thinks He’s Funny, or Thunderstorm Dancing. Today we’re talking to Katrina about a new picture book called Tell ‘Em!, a collaboration with the children of Manyallaluk School, Rosemary Sullivan, and illustrator Karen Briggs.

Tell 'Em by Katrina Germein, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen Briggs

From the publisher:

A joyous and exuberant picture book about life in a remote community Tell ’em how us kids like to play. We got bikes and give each other rides. Tell ’em about the dancing and singing, and all the stories the old people know. In this book, written in conjunction with children from Manyallaluk School in the Roper River region in the NT, the voices of Indigenous children sing out across the land to tell us about their life in a remote community.

Time for some questions!


You wrote Tell ‘Em! in collaboration with Rosemary Sullivan, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen Briggs. How did the collaboration come about?
I met co-author Rosemary Sullivan when I was living in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. I was working as a teacher and Rosemary was also teaching at a nearby school. We quickly became friends. After returning to my hometown of Adelaide I drafted an early version of Tell ’em! So when Rosemary mentioned an idea to create a book with the children of Manyallaluk School we decided to work together.

How did everyone communicate with each other during the book’s creation?
Rosemary used the early draft of Tell ’em! to workshop story ideas with the children of Manyallaluk. The students shared their ideas with Rosemary while they were at school and then they emailed the ideas to me. The story went back and forth like this for several months until it felt finished. The children held the final say on what was included in the text. The book is their story. It’s about them and 100% of author royalties go directly to Manyallaluk School.

A sneak peek inside Tell 'Em
A sneak peek inside Tell ‘Em

From initial idea to published book, how long did the process take?
Once the story was accepted by a publisher, Indigenous artist Karen Briggs joined the team and completed the stunning artwork for the illustrations. The whole project took over five years, and it’s exciting to now see the book in libraries, shops, schools and homes. (Picture books often take a long time!)

Can you tell us something about your next book?
My latest book (illustrated by Tom Jellett) is called Shoo, You Crocodile! It’s for young children and is a zany story about a crocodile on the loose in a museum! I’m always working on new stories. One I’m writing at the moment is about some little piggies who have the job of washing dishes in a busy restaurant. The fourth book in the My Dad Thinks He’s Funny series, My Dad Thinks He’s Super Funny, is coming out in 2021.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to collaborate with other creators on creative projects?
Hmm. Good questions. Every book I make is a collaboration. I can’t illustrate my own stories so I’m used to working with people. I think  it’s fun seeing what ideas other creators have but some people might find it difficult not to be in control the whole time. My advice is to remember that the project is ‘shared’; it’s not ‘yours’. The people you’re working with deserve the chance to make decisions about how the project will turn out. I think it helps if you really appreciate their talents. Think about how they’re making the project better.


Tell 'Em by Katrina Germein, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen BriggsAWESOME EXTRAS:

Check out previous interviews with Katrina Germein.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Visit Katrina Germein’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Kaye Baillie on writing The Friendly Games

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kaye Baillie holding her book THE FRIENDLY GAMES

Kaye Baillie writes picture books, novels and short stories. Her latest book is a nonfiction picture book The Friendly Games (illustrated by Fiona Burrows.)

From the publisher:

John Ian Wing couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming Melbourne Olympic Games. It’s 1956 and from his parents’ Bourke Street restaurant, John swells with pride watching the hive of activity as the city prepares to welcome its guests. But when world tensions threaten to overshadow the good nature of the Games, John knows he must do something to remind everyone of the meaning of friendship and peace.

Based on a true story, The Friendly Games is a fascinating tale of one boy’s role  in one of Australia’s most significant sporting events.

The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows


How did you first hear about John Wing?
I was researching the introduction of television in Australia. My idea was to write a story about a fictional family getting their first TV. I found out that television was introduced to Australia in 1956 in time to televise the  Melbourne Olympic Games. And of course the internet brings up stories related to what you’re searching for, so John Wing’s story came up. I read about a boy who wrote a letter to the Melbourne Organising Committee suggesting how the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games should break with tradition and allow all athletes to march as a mixed group behind one Olympic flag — as a kind of peace march. I was amazed by what he did and that his letter worked — all within three days of the closing ceremony. I gave up on the introduction-of-television story and began working on John’s story instead.

How did you go about gathering research for writing the book?
I researched old newspaper clippings on the government website called Trove. I also trawled through microfilms at the State Library in Melbourne.

I watched the official Olympic promotional video made for the 1956 games.

I read sections of the official Olympic report which detailed every part of the Games from its preparation to its final moments.

I purchased a CD from the National Library in Canberra containing an interview with John. This was great because I could hear his voice and listen to how he spoke.

On the City of Kingston’s website there was information and photos detailing John’s early years at a Children’s home.

I tried to find John by emailing his last known email address and I also wrote a letter to his last known home address but I didn’t receive any response.

I visited John’s address where much of the story took place. His bedroom window in Bourke Street, Melbourne is still the same today as it was in 1956. It’s important to get a feel for your subject and their surroundings through first-hand experience.

Did you have any interaction with the illustrator (Fiona Burrows) while the book was being created?
Not in the beginning. Fiona was chosen by the publisher as Fiona had already illustrated one book with MidnightSun. When Fiona was about to begin work on the illustrations, the publisher put us in touch so if we had any questions, we were free to talk to each other. We often emailed each other and Fiona invited feedback from me. Because the story is non-fiction we had to make sure the illustrations were a true reflection of the era, 1956 and the location, Melbourne. Usually illustrators and authors do not have any contact with each other during the book’s process. This is because the illustrator must have freedom to interpret the text how they see it.

Do you have any tips for children who would like to write about real events from history?
Make sure your subject is something you are really interested in. Research can take a long time so it’s important to enjoy the process.

Gather as much research as you can. The more information you have, the more interesting facts you will have to choose from.

Your story will be much better if you can show that you have a good understanding of the facts.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
I’m currently researching another non-fiction story. This one is set in America so it’s a little less familiar than researching in Australia. But I have found lots of information and the best part is that I am regularly talking to the daughter of the woman I am writing about. This makes the project very special. I am planning to finish the story within 2-3 months. It takes a long time to do the research and then to write the best story possible.

The Friendly Games is out in bookstores and libraries now!


AWESOME EXTRAS:

The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows

Look inside some of the pages from The Friendly Games

Read a review of the book (review by Anishka, age 10)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Visit Kaye Baillie’s website for more about her and her books