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, 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 illustrator, interviews

Tom Jellett on Shoo You Crocodile!

MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Tom Jellett, illustrator
Tom Jellett at work (photo by Alexander James)

Tom Jellett is a Sydney based illustrator. For over twenty years he has illustrated a number of books for children including My Dad Thinks He’s Funny by Katrina Germein, Why I Love Footy by Michael Wagner, Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and the Besties series with Sporty Kids author Felice Arena. His latest picture book is Shoo You Crocodile! (with text by Katrina Germein).

Shoo You Crocodile! by Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett

From the publisher:

Shoo You Crocodile! is a fun, raucous tale for imaginative young readers and small, brave adventurers. The story offers space for play, real and imagined stories, and families can use the book to play their own make-believe monster games and learn about rhyming words. 

On with the questions!


What’s your favourite illustration tool when illustrating picture books?
It has to be pencil. Prismacolor ones are my favourites … I go through a lot of them, though I found sharpening them by hand slowed me down quite a bit. I only recently bought an electric pencil sharpener ($10 from Officeworks! Insane!). It has changed my life.

When you agreed to illustrate Shoo You Crocodile! what was your first step when you sat down to get to work?
The first step, after having read the manuscript a few hundred times is to start figuring out the story within the story, for example, where the story is set, who is being chased … is it a real crocodile or is it a game? Is it set in a zoo? In a jungle? I was pretty certain early on I wanted a ‘real’ crocodile in there so I started with that and ended up with museum … once these things are decided then I can start drawing.

Did you like to play monster games yourself as a child?
I’m not sure about games, but I used to like old scary movies when I was younger. When they were in black and white they were even scarier. I was probably a bit of a scaredy cat … even Doctor Who used to scare me … still does, actually …

Do you have a tip for children who would like to try drawing ‘monster-type characters?
SHARP TEETH BIG CLAWS. The other good tip I find helpful is to start with real animals, and take bits from here and there. I think I stole this tip from Sendak’s drawings in Where the Wild Things Are. If you look at the wild things they are all sorts of bits and pieces … I think one had a parrot’s head, another looked like a bull … all mixed up!
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
It’s not out for a little while yet, but I just finished a book which has no story at all, but is all about funny sounding words. (Some rude ones possibly … )

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Shoo You Crocodile is out now! Ask for it at your bookshop or order it from the publisher. 


Shoo You Crocodile! by Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett
AWESOME EXTRAS:
Read our 2017 interview with Tom Jellett (his comic-book style answers are fantastic!)
Visit Tom Jellett’s website for more about him and his books.
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gus Gordon

MEET THE AUTHOR

Gus GordonGus Gordon grew up on a farm in northern NSW Australia and, after leaving school, worked on cattle stations all over the country before deciding to pursue a drawing career. He has since illustrated and/or written nearly 80 books for children. His writing is always anthropomorphic (animals take the place of humans in his stories). Gus lives in NSW with his wife and three children. His latest book is Finding François.

From the publisher:

Alice wishes she had someone her own size to talk to. Then one day her wish comes true.
Through hope and chance, love and loss, two little ones who need each other find each other.
A heartwarming story from award-winning author and illustrator Gus Gordon about loneliness, saying goodbye and the value of life-affirming friendships.

Finding François by Gus Gordon


Alice Bonnet (the main character in Finding François) lives in Paris. Are the places where Alice lives and visits based on places you’ve visited in France yourself?
Yes. It’s no secret that I love France, particularly Paris. It is an incredibly inspiring city. I have spent a great deal of time there, wandering the streets aimlessly. Much of the story is based around the river that flows through Paris; the Seine river. In the background of many of the illustrations, you can see the historical buildings that sit beside the river, including the Institut de France and the Musée D’Orsay. The bridge Alice throws the bottle from is the famous Pont Des Arts pedestrian bridge.

Alice and her grandmother live up the hill in the 18th arrondissement village of Montmartre. It is where I always stay when I’m in Paris. It is well known for its artists community and many famous artists have lived and painted there.

The illustrations include snippets that look like they’re cut from the pages of French catalogues, magazines or books. Do you cut up real pages, or do you find these images online?
Most of the images I use are from actual old French Catalogues. Sometimes I source material online if I can’t find what I’m looking for in my collection. Very rarely do I actually cut or tear the pages out of the catalogues. They are far too old and precious (many are well over 100 years old). I also used old postcards, receipts, stamps, letters, labels and advertisements. I scan the image I need into my computer, essentially ‘cutting’ out the image (or paper) and ‘pasting’ it into the artwork. This is all done digitally. Aside from this, every element of each illustration is hand-drawn, painted and collected, then scanned-in, bit by bit, into my computer. I assemble the whole thing, like a glorious puzzle, on the screen. This is good and bad (but mostly good). It allows me to move things around and change my papers and tweak my colours if I need to. Unfortunately I’m not left with any originals so I do prints instead. Everything takes an awful long time but it seems to work out in the end so I’m happy.

Alice likes to write lists of what she plans to do each day. Are you a writer of lists? What’s on your list of plans for today?
Like Alice, I love writing lists. I have to really as I forget things otherwise. Today I am filling out questionnaires like this one, emailing my publisher and others, collecting a framed print and hopefully I’ll have time to do some writing later today.

Have you ever sent (or found) a message in a bottle yourself?
No, I haven’t but I’d love to find a message in a bottle on the beach one day.

Do you have a tip for young artists/illustrators?
My tip for young artists would simply be to keep doing what you’re doing. Do what feels right to YOU and no one else, no matter how unique or peculiar your art is. Stick at it and good things will come your way in time.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
My next book is about an anxious robot named, Gerald.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Finding François by Gus Gordon

See Gus Gordon working in his studio (YouTube – Paper Bird Home club video)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Finding François

Visit Gus Gordon’s website for more about him & his books

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gavin Aung Than

Gavin Aung Than with some of his charactersMEET THE AUTHOR

Gavin Aung Than is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist. His current project Super Sidekicks is a fun-filled action adventure series. Book 3 in the series, Trial of Heroes hit bookstores in April 2020.

From the publisher:

The Super Sidekicks just saved the world and now they’ve been invited to join H.E.R.O. – the Heroic Earth Righteousness Organisation – an exclusive club for the planet’s most famous superheroes. But before they can become members, the team must pass the hardest challenge in the universe, a test so scary and difficult only the truly heroic can survive.

The Super Sidekicks are back! Prepare for another amazing adventure from New York Times bestselling Australian author, Gavin Aung Than.


Did Super Sidekicks Book 1 start out as a standalone book or did you plan the series before you started?
I always planned it to be a series. So No Adults Allowed is all about how the sidekicks meet each other and become a team. Ocean’s Revenge (Book 2) is their first big adventure together, and Trial of Heroes (Book 3) is another big and exciting challenge for the heroes.

How do you create your comics? Do you draw by hand, or onto a computer?
I use both methods. So I draw all the pictures in black and white on paper first. Then I scan those drawings into my computer and add all the grey colour and words. You can see my full process on my website here: https://aungthan.com/ssprocess

Do you have a favourite sidekick to draw?
Wow that’s a hard question! I love drawing all of them, they’re like my kids. If I had to pick just one, then i’ll say Goo is my favourite. He’s so lovable and can literally be drawn into any shape or size which is always fun!

Trial of Heroes is the latest book in the series. How long did it take you from first draft to final draft?
Each book takes about 6–8 months to complete. It’s a lot of work but I absolutely love it!

Do you have a tip for young comic creators?
Practice, practice, practice! The only way to get good at drawing or making comics is to practice all the time. Start making your own mini-comics. It’s also okay to copy your favourite artists, even to trace their work when you’re just starting. The great cartoonist Chuck Jones said that every artist has 100,000 bad drawings in them, so the quicker you get those done and out of the way, the better!

Three books in the Super Side Kicks series are out now – ask at your bookshop or library.


Super Side Kicks Book 3AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to peek inside Book 1

Click here to peek inside Book 2

Click here to peek inside Book 3

Click here to watch Gavin at work in his studio as part of Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Karen Blair

Karen BlairMEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Karen Blair is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books. She loves to draw characters that are young, old and in between, as well as Australian wildlife – in the bush, the sea, the outback, or at home. She has a background in painting landscapes and loves incorporating this into her illustrations. You might recognise her work from Baby Animal FarmWhen Billy was a Dog (written by Kirsty Murrray), the Lemonade Jones books (by Davina Bell), Hello from Nowhere (by Raewyn Ciasley), and many more. Her latest book is Meet Eve in the Outback (text by Raewyn Caisley), which is part of the new Aussie Kids series. Raewyn visited Alphabet Soup recently to talk about writing the text. And now it’s time to hear from Karen about the illustrations!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)


You illustrated Meet Eve in the Outback, written by Raewyn Caisley. How is illustrating a junior fiction book different from illustrating a picture book?
This was my first junior fiction book, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. In a picture book, I have almost unlimited space on the page to do my visual story-telling, and the words usually fit in around the images. In a junior fiction book, it’s the opposite, with a higher word count, smaller pages and much less space. It makes you really crystallise what you want to add with the illustrations, and it comes down to how can I show an interesting part of the story – the action, the emotion, or even some visual information. That might be showing some of the Nullarbor setting, and the characters’ reaction to being in that part of the story. The shape of the illustration is also more limited, and needs to be varied throughout. It was an interesting process.

What are your favourite art tools/mediums?
I love illustrating with line, and I felt brave enough to try the very traditional dip pen and ink for this book for the first time. It’s slightly unpredictable and does some great things with a big brush and just a little water. I also love drawing with charcoal, it has a life of its own, I think because it used to be twigs it is not a uniform material and can also be a bit unpredictable. I like how you can get a line that will move from delicate to strong with the slightest change in pressure.

How long did it take you to do the illustrations for Meet Eve in the Outback?
I think it was about 3 months, but I work part time. It was a 2 part process – I had to do ‘spot colour’ digitally, which I had never done before. Also nerve-wracking and I was very grateful that my friend, and brilliant author-illustrator James Foley, helped me. His knowledge of digital illustration is phenomenal. Mine is not!

Do you have a tip for budding illustrators?
So much of illustrating is about process. Find a process that you enjoy. In the beginning I would do every part of the process – character sketches (hundreds), visual research (how DO you draw a car graveyard, or a truck, a camel etc), storyboard, dummy, roughs, colour roughs, and final artwork. I still do most of those for each book. You really have to love the process, which also includes getting feedback from the publisher, or it all might be torture. It’s a bit of torture, here and there but worth it. I would also recommend playing a lot with style and materials.

Can you tell us a bit about your next creative project?
I have started writing again, which I haven’t done properly since I had children. I’m working on a book called Train Party which will be published with Penguin next year. It’s set at the miniature railway, and is a rhyming text. It was inspired by some toddler birthday parties I went to last year, including the son of my friend Briony Stewart, another incredible author-illustrator, and incredible train-cake maker! It’s such a fun experience that I think many generations of Australians have enjoyed, and I love the community aspect of the train-drivers sharing their trains with children. There’s heaps of visual research for this one, I am realising that I don’t know much about trains …

Meet Eve in the Outback is out now! Available from book stores and libraries. 


Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback.

Read our Q&A with Raewyn Caisley, the author of Meet Eve in the Outback

Watch Karen sketching & talking about her book creation (YouTube)

Visit Karen Blair’s website for more about her and her books. 

Posted in illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Mel Pearce

Mel PearceMEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Mel Pearce is a Western Australian artist and illustrator. She takes inspiration from games, Japanese animation, machinery, childhood nostalgia, elephants, fish and teeth, to name a few things. Today we’re talking to Mel about illustrating her new picture book No! Never! written by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman.

No! Never! cover

From the publisher:

A cautionary tale about a little girl who drives her parents up the wall when she starts answering ‘No! Never!’ to all their requests — and what happens when the tables are turned on her.

There was a child,
The sweetest ever,
Until she learned these words:
‘NO! NEVER!’


Can you tell us about the art materials/tools you used for illustrating No! Never!?
I use a variety of media in my drawings, but Suzanne, a publisher from Hachette Australia, really enjoyed a particular style I’d used in some pictures, so I used that very scribbly hand-drawn style for No! Never!. I drew most of the main drawings on slightly roughened paper with a Blackwing pencil, which is a really beautiful drawing tool and a favourite for a lot of artists, illustrators and designers because the very soft graphite allows you to draw very expressively with whatever pressure you want to use. I then scanned the images into my computer and coloured them on Photoshop using my drawing tablet.

How long did it take you to illustrate this picture book from first draft to finish?
I think I started the rough storyboard in September 2018, and handed over the final illustrations (after fixing all the bits and pieces Hachette asked me to!) in May or June 2019. So maybe 9-10 months?

What’s your favourite art medium to illustrate/create with?
Besides drawing with dark pencils, I really love using ink in my work – either with a brush or with a drawing nib. I love how you can get such a variety of tone and marks out of one medium – you can get a sharp, dark line if you use a nib, or you can water it right down and use a brush to make a soft sky. When I was in Art School I really loved doing printmaking with big metal plates, using a process called Intaglio. Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities to be able to do that kind of printing anymore. Hopefully in the future!

Do you have a tip for budding artists?
I think it’s important to stop looking around and comparing yourself to all the other artists out there all the time. We are constantly bombarded by posts about awesome things people did and made and how clever they are, that sometimes it can make you feel like you’re never going to be as good as them, to the point where you get scared to try in case of not doing well. I am also very guilty of this! I spend so long stressing about how I can’t do what someone else can, or how I take days to do something that someone else did in a couple of hours. I went through a stage where I could not even do a simple sketch or scribble on a page because I was afraid that it wasn’t going to look good at the end. I don’t think I did a proper drawing for a good part of a year!
Just keep observing from life and drawing at least once a day, and you will definitely improve your skill.

Can you tell us something about your next project or something you’d like to work on?
I would very much like to write my own story to illustrate, and since I didn’t get to use ink in No! Never!, that’s definitely what I want to use next! However, if I get approached by a publisher with a new project, it will depend on the feel of the story for what I end up using to draw it. At the moment I’m just trying to get back into drawing for fun … usually good ideas come when you’re not trying. Or so I’ve heard!

Mel Pearce (R) holding one of her ink drawings, and Mel's sister Erin holding up a copy of No! Never!
Mel Pearce (R) and her sister Erin (L) with No! Never! & artwork created during a livestream tour of Mel’s studio for Paper Bird Books Home Club.

AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Have a look inside Mel’s studio & see her create with ink (YouTube)

No! Never! is available at book shops and libraries from 28 April 2020.

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle Wang, photo by Daniel Mahon
Gabrielle Wang

MEET THE AUTHOR

Gabrielle Wang writes and illustrates picture books and novels. Her award-winning novel A Ghost in My Suitcase was adapted as a play. Gabrielle’s latest novel is the sequel Ting Ting the Ghosthunter. From the publisher:

Thirteen-year-old Ting Ting has learned the ancient skills and art of ghost hunting from her adopted grandmother, Por Por, a famous ghost hunter. But Ting Ting is sick of capturing harmless ‘fat belly’ ghosts, and when a desperate plea for help comes for Por Por, Ting Ting decides to take matters into her own hands and prove that she is a true ghost hunter. But what Ting Ting discovers is much more dangerous than she had thought. Can Ting Ting conquer her own pride to save Por Por and the villagers before it’s too late?

Ting Ting the Ghosthunter is the sequel to A Ghost in my Suitcase. Do you find anything different about writing a sequel than a standalone story?
I found it much easier and quicker to write the sequel as I already knew my characters and the world they inhabited. However Ting Ting the Ghosthunter did differ from most traditional sequels because I used a different protagonist. Instead of following the adventures of Celeste, the main character from A Ghost in My Suitcase, I used Ting Ting who was the antagonist in that first novel.

A Ghost in my Suitcase has been adapted for the stage and performed around Australia. Did seeing those performances influence how you wrote the character of Ting Ting in the sequel?
I wrote Ting Ting the Ghosthunter before I saw the play. But the inspiration to write this sequel did come out of the very first meeting I had with Barking Gecko, the Western Australian theatre company who adapted the novel for the stage. It was during these two days of creative development with the creative directors, the playwright and the set designer that I realised how strong a character Ting Ting was. She had a lot of issues to work through which is, as you probably know, perfect for any main character.

There’s a strong sense of place in these two books. Do you visit a place before you set a book there?
Setting is the first thing I consider when I begin a novel. I’m a highly visual person so as I write, I imagine the landscape my characters are living in. In fact for me, setting is a major character in all of my books. A place can be dark and brooding, angry, joyful or sad. It can be a perfect vehicle to reflect your character’s mood. One of my favourite series as a child was My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead written by Mary O’Hara. I loved reading books about horses. The setting in these novels was so strong to me, evoking in my young mind wide-open grasslands and endless summer days. The Silver Brumby has that same sense of place evoking the Australian mountains.

Now that you have me thinking on the subject of setting, listed below is where my novels take place.

The Garden of Empress Cassia in a suburban city. I had Melbourne in the forefront of my mind with this one. Even though I don’t name the city, trams rattle up and down the streets.

The Pearl of Tiger Bay in a seaside town. I pictured the coastal towns along the Great Ocean Road while I wrote it.

The Hidden Monastery in the rainforests of Queensland.

The Lion Drummer in Little Bourke Street Chinatown.

A Ghost in My Suitcase in Shanghai and in a watertown like Wuzhen, China.

The Poppy Stories in Wahgunyah, Beechworth and surrounding areas.

The Pearlie Stories in Darwin, Adelaide and Perth.

The Wishbird in the far northwest China.

The Beast of Hushing Wood in the woods of North America.

Ting Ting the Ghosthunter in Shanghai, and the countryside.

I need to visit these places so that I can get a sense of them. When I wrote the first draft of The Beast of Hushing Wood, my publisher Jane Godwin said that she didn’t get a true sense of the woods. That was because I had never been to the woods in North America. I knew then that I had to go. I needed to walk them, to listen and smell and look. I had to let them show me what to write.

Pen and paper? Or straight onto the computer?
I do a combination of both. Each novel dictates to me how it wants to be written.

Can you tell us something about your next project?
My current work in progress has the working title of The Story Magician. It is set in Melbourne during the 1950s and is about a 12-year-old girl called Sparrow and a dog called Jupiter. This will be part graphic novel, part fairytale, part first person narrative.

In writing and illustrating The Story Magician, I want to explore this post-war era of Australian history. It was an important time for Australia when people were finally looking towards a brighter future. All wars leave scars. What are the legacies of war? Is everything war leaves behind bad? What is the power of stories to help heal wounds? I also want to explore the different types of love — the love between parent and child, child and grandparent, between a dog and its human, between siblings, between best friends. And the unfulfilled love of a birth mother to her child.

I was lucky enough to receive an Australia Council Literature Grant to write The Story Magician. I have a long way to go and need to do a lot of experimenting, as this novel is more challenging than any of my other books. Still, I am enjoying the challenge. That’s what writing (and illustrating) is all about — breaking through our own self imposed boundaries and stretching our creativity.


Ting Ting the Ghost Hunter by Gabrielle WangAWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to read a sample chapter of Ting Ting the Ghosthunter

Click here for Teachers’ Notes (PDF)

Read about the journey of A Ghost in My Suitcase from book to play

Our earlier interviews with Gabrielle Wang:

Find out more about Gabrielle Wang and her books on her website: gabriellewang.com

You’ll find Gabrielle Wang’s books in bookstores and libraries!

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

I Would Dangle the Moon: an interview with Amber Moffat

Amber MoffattMEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

Amber Moffatt is a writer and visual artist based in Perth, Western Australia. If you live in WA and you’ve been to the AH Bracks library in Melville you might have been lucky enough to see her illustrations decorating the windows for Book Week 2019! Amber recently launched her first picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon, in Western Australia and in New Zealand. She regularly runs art workshops for children inspired by the artwork from the book.

What would you do if you could pluck the moon from the sky? Would you scoop it up in an ice cream cone, or ride it like a snail shell across the night sky? This picture book will spark your imagination. 

Today Amber Moffat stops by to chat to Alphabet Soup about creating I Would Dangle the Moon.


I would dangle the moon by Amber MoffatYou’re an author AND an illustrator. When you were creating I Would Dangle the Moon, which came first – the words or the illustrations?
The words came first, but I did have a sense of the images in my mind too. The idea of a snail taking the moon for its shell and slithering across the night sky was the seed the story grew from.

How long did it take you to go from the story idea to the published book?
It took a really long time – three years! The initial text was developed quite quickly but it took a much longer time to develop the storyboard and find the right style of illutstration. I was really lucky to have author and illustrator Briony Stewart as my mentor for a year, and that helped me get the concept ready to submit to publishers. From when my publisher, MidnightSun Publishing, contracted me, it took nine months to complete the final artwork for the illustrations.

What have you been reading recently?
I’ve been enjoying Trouble in the Surf, written by Stephanie Owen Reeder and illustrated by Briony Stewart. The way Briony has used colour in the illustrations is really beautiful, and I keep going back to it to admire her technique.

When you’re doing illustration work, what’s your favourite medium?
Acrylic paint is definitely my preferred medium. I like the way it dries fast and you can paint over it easily. I also like to be able to scan images and alter them digitally. I often use computer editing to piece different paintings together and play with scale and composition.

Are you able to tell us something about your next writing project?
The picture book I’m currently working on explores the science of light, and it’s been a new experience for me to convey scientific ideas in the form of a picture book. I am also working on a novel for young adults, in which medical science is important to the story, so that seems to be a theme for me at the moment.

Amber reading with some helpers at the book launch
Amber Moffat (with some helpers) at the book launch.

I would dangle the moon by Amber MoffatAwesome extras:

Click here to WIN a copy of the book

Click here for a little peek at some of the illustrations from the book.

Click here to read a review of I Would Dangle the Moon (review by Anishka, age 9)

Click here to visit Amber Moffat’s website.

I Would Dangle the Moon is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in illustrator, Pass the Book Baton

Pass the Book Baton: Aśka

PASS THE BOOK BATON logo

It’s Friday! And that means it’s time for Pass the Book Baton. Every week Alphabet Soup features a book creator who will answer one question before throwing a new question to the next Friday visitor. (It’s kind of like a book relay in slow motion.)

Today the book baton is passed to Aśka.

Aśka in a purple shirt pressing a big red NO button

Aśka is an illustrator and science communicator. She has a degree in Arts and Quantum Physics and works at Scitech in Perth — as well as working with kids’ product design, graphic novels, animation, graphic design and e-publishing. Phew!

Last week Sian Turner asked:

Wow! You have travelled to some amazingly diverse and interesting places, Aśka.

I understand that these experiences have been a rich source of inspiration for your art. Can you elaborate on some of your favourite travel destinations? How have you found that these places have influenced your creativity?


Aśka answers:

I’ve never really thought about how different places I’ve travelled to and lived in have influenced my work. It is an interesting thing to ponder.

I have had a go at studying different forms of art in different places. For example, when I was staying in Thailand I learned Chinese painting. It is an art form where no pencils are allowed, and there is no erasing or undoing what you have done. You make marks with a chunky paintbrush on the thin rice paper to create an image and if you make a mistake you need to start all over again! Even though I don’t paint so much anymore, I still find this practice very useful as it requires commitment and confidence when drawing, which I believe shows up in your work as an illustrator, no matter what technique you use.

But it’s not just learning local techniques which can change the way you draw. It’s also observation. Certainly every location looks different and this isn’t just in art, but in the most everyday situations. For example, the way a yoghurt aisle looks in the supermarket, or the image of the green and red person for pedestrians at traffic lights. It quickly becomes apparent that each place in the world uses images in a slightly different way. Like the cute and perfectly made mascots of uniformed woman and man in front of a Tokyo police station, to the playful and roughly hand painted shopfronts of Accra.

So through travel and seeing so many different ways in which people live, I started to think about how important these visual elements are when creating my own characters and settings.

After all, every new adventure we have, big or small, expands our way of seeing the details in our world a little more. And the details are where I believe the true magic of the world lies.

Check out Aśka’s website where you can find artwork, mini comics, download free ebooks, teachers’ notes and more! www.askaillustration.com/


Swimming on the lawn by Yasmin HamidAnd now Aśka passes the book baton to the next Friday visitor — Yasmin Hamid. Yasmin grew up in East Africa and now lives in Western Australia. Her book — Swimming on the Lawn — was published in 2017.

Aśka asks:

To someone like me, who grew up among grey blocks of flats in Eastern Europe, your childhood sounds absolutely fearless. Was there ever anything that you were afraid of? How did you overcome that fear?

Check in every Friday for mini interviews with children’s authors and illustrators. (While you’re waiting you can catch up on all the interviews in the Pass the Book Baton series so far!)

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