Posted in authors, illustrator, Pass the Book Baton

Pass the Book Baton: James Foley


James Foley photoIt’s Friday! And that means it’s time for Pass the Book Baton. Alphabet Soup features a book creator every Friday 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 author-illustrator James Foley takes the baton. James Foley is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. He likes working with pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, watercolour, and digital tools. He has illustrated books by other people, and written and illustrated his own books.

He has quite a stack of books behind him now.

Check them out:

His most recent book is the graphic novel Brobot.

Last week AL Tait posed two questions for James. AL asks:

Q. You started out as an illustrator — what made you decide to write In The Lion and Brobot yourself?

A. I’ve always written and illustrated my own stories; it just worked out that my first book was only as the illustrator. It’s easier to break into the industry by working with someone more established, as Norman Jorgensen was. Then I got the opportunity to make In The Lion on my own, which was great. It’s a different experience writing AND illustrating a book yourself, as opposed to illustrating a text written by someone else (as I did with Sigi Cohen for My Dead Bunny) or collaborating with a writer quite closely through the initial process (as I did with Norman Jorgensen for The Last Viking and The Last Viking Returns). Also, when you do the book yourself you get the full royalty … 😉

Q. As an author-illustrator, do you start with the words for a story or start with the pictures?
I usually start with a bit of both — some loose images and a few phrases. I may have a few key scenes playing in my head, but they’re fragments of what the overall story will eventually become. Then I nut out the character designs and the overall storyline at the same time; these two processes feed off each other. A character design may give you a plot idea, and vice versa. Then when the characters and the storyline seem to have settled, I can get started on thumbnails and storyboards, and then final artwork.

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling BeeAnd now James Foley passes the baton to the next Friday visitor — Deborah Abela. Deborah is the author of many books. Her most recent title is The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee.

James asks:
Do you find that your characters reflect different aspects of your personality? So the heroic characters might reflect your good side, the villains might reflect your naughty side, the protagonists might share your strengths and weaknesses, etc?

Check in every Friday for questions and answers from children’s authors and illustrators. See you next week!

Visit James Foley’s website for more information about him and his books. You can also read earlier Alphabet Soup interviews with James here and here.




Posted in authors, illustrator

Tania McCartney on creating a picture book

Tania McCartney is the author of fiction and nonfiction picture books. Now she is launching the first book she has written and illustrated. Today one of our regular book reviewers — Matilda, aged 10 — asks Tania some questions about her new book Australia, illustrated.


Matilda: Why did you think of illustrating this book yourself when your other books are illustrated by other people?

Tania: Just like you, I’m sure, I absolutely loved to draw when I was a kid. Writing and drawing was my thing. I did it right through school and into high school but then something terrible happened. I became an adult.

Well, actually — it’s not terrible to become an adult! But what IS terrible is that so many adults stop doing the things they love, and instead do the things they ‘should’. So I lost my ability to draw, and I really, honestly believed I could no longer do it.

I began writing children’s books around 10 years ago (around when you were born! spooky!), and I had a secret dream to illustrate my own books. I never, ever thought that would happen because I still believed I could no longer draw.

Then, in 2014, I started the 52-Week Illustration Challenge [a group of illustrators where the members each create their own illustration in response to a weekly prompt] and over two years I learned that I could still draw! I couldn’t believe it! At first, my drawings were pretty horrid, but over that time, they quickly improved — and that goes to show that practice does make ‘better’!

I was stunned and delighted when my publisher said they’d be happy for me to illustrate my new book idea — Australia Illustrated. I was also a bit scared. Could I do it??? Well, I did. And I still have to pinch myself!

Here is a picture of my first drawing for the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, and then after that you’ll see a page from Australia Illustrated. Do you think I’ve improved?

Eggs illustration
Tania’s first illustration in the 52-week illustration challenge.


A page from the first book Tania illustrated.
A page from Tania’s new book.

Matilda: How did you have the idea for a book like this about Australia?

Tania: There are so many books about Australia, but I wanted to do something really different. I don’t know of any other book like this one.

For a start, it’s a whopping 96 pages! (Picture books are generally 24 to 32 pages.) And it’s also unusual in that it’s mostly pictures, with only a handful of words.

It also covers parts of Australia that are really well known (like our animals and icons like the Sydney Opera House) but it covers things people don’t know much about, too — like quokka selfies or Tasmanian chocolate factories.

The other thing I’ve done with Australia Illustrated is that I’ve included lots and lots and lots of kids of all different cultures and races. I think it’s important to celebrate the multicultural country we live in!

Matilda: How many of the places in your book have you also been to?

Tania: What a great question. I’m going to look through the book and tell you exactly!

Okay, I’m back. So, out of all the places I cover in the book (towns, sites, states) I’ve been to around 70 out of around 100. This doesn’t include the maps I’ve done for each state which have hundreds of place names — though I have been to a lot of those places, too. I like to travel!

My big dream is to go to Uluru. I used to be a flight attendant and I used to fly over it all the time! If they’d given me a parachute, I could have jumped out and gone to see it! I’m hoping next year I can go.

Matilda: What was different about illustrating your own book instead of having someone else illustrate it?

Tania: Oh, it was SO different. It was the first time I’d ever illustrated an actual book so I wasn’t really sure how to do things. In fact, I did the cover first … and books are hardly ever done that way! But it worked out really well for me.

It was fantastic being able to have control over how the book looked visually. And it was also fantastic to get to draw whatever I wanted — it was such a creative process and I loved it so much. I could mix things up and change things and dream up kooky things. It was just SO much fun.

When you have an illustrator doing pictures for you, it’s a whole different experience because the illustrator reads your words and has their own thoughts about how the pictures should look. When my illustrators send me their pictures, it’s like Christmas! Opening the email to get a wonderful surprise — a beautiful picture. It’s really exciting — and you can never guess what they might have created.

You may have heard of that saying ‘two heads are better than one’ and when I work with an illustrator, I find they bring so many great ideas and thoughts to the text. They might read my words and see things completely differently from me — and they could add some wonderful things to the story with their illustrations … extra things that I may not have thought of.

I love both ways — illustrating my own books and having illustrators create the pictures, too. They are totally different but both are a lot of fun.

Oh, and also — when you illustrate your own book, it’s twice the work!

Matilda: Are you planning to illustrate more books?

Tania: I am. I’ve already started on three illustrated books and each one of them is going to be digitally illustrated. In December, I’m starting work on a big book for the National Library of Australia. I’m doing the illustrating but someone else is compiling the book — someone quite famous! I can’t say more yet but I’m really excited about that one.

I also have some ideas for more picture books I want to illustrate but I want to try a different style — perhaps just watercolour. And a few people have asked me to illustrate their books, too. I might be doing one for a friend, not sure yet — we’ll see! The thing about publishing is that we so often say ‘we’ll see!’

Thanks for the wonderful questions, Matilda. I just loved them.

Australia Illustrated launch poster


Visit Tania McCartney’s website for more information about her books and to join in the celebrations for the launch of Australia Illustrated. 








Posted in authors, illustrator, Pass the Book Baton

Pass the Book Baton: Joshua Button and Robyn Wells


It’s Friday! And that means it’s time for Pass the Book Baton. Alphabet Soup features a book creator every Friday 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 we are lucky to have two visitors at once! Joshua Button and Robyn Wells collaborated over ten years to create their recently published picture book Steve Goes to Carnival.

Joshua Button and Robyn Wells.
Joshua Button and Robyn Wells.

Joshua Button is an Indigenous artist from Broome. He is descended from the Walmajarri people of the East Kimberley in Western Australia. He first worked with Robyn in a literacy program at primary school that resulted in the picture book Joshua and the Two Crabs. Robyn has a degree in Fine Arts and has lived in the Kimberley for many years. She is passionate about enabling young people to express themselves through language and art.

Kathryn Apel posed a question for Joshua and Robyn. Kathryn asks:

Q. I read that you collaborate for hours over the kitchen table. Can you describe your process — and how you came to form this wonderful working partnership?

Joshua answers:
Robyn and I help each other a lot with the artwork. Robyn often cuts out stencils and does the background textures with sponges. Then I usually use black drawing ink to paint the characters or animals over the background textures.

Robyn and I research the animals and characters together. We look at the size and shape of the animals, the structure of their bones and the texture of their fur. Sometimes we take photos of people we know in Broome to base the drawings on — we study the colour of people’s skin, how they are standing, the expressions on their faces and what clothes they are wearing.

Robyn and I work really well together. We don’t have any arguments — working with someone else means it takes half the time to finish the work!

[Here are some photos of Joshua Button and Robyn Wells working together. Thank you to Magabala Books for permission to use these photos.]

Joshua and Robyn creating a picture book together.
Joshua and Robyn creating a picture book together.
Joshua working with ink.
Joshua working with ink.



LILY IN THE MIRROR by Paula Hayes.

And now Joshua and Robyn pass the book baton to next Friday’s visitor — Paula Hayes. Paula is the author of the novel Lily in the Mirror.

Our question for Paula Hayes is:
Your character Lily loves all things dark and mysterious. Were you inspired by any real life mysteries, strange events or unusual people?

Check in every Friday for questions and answers from children’s authors and illustrators. See you next week!

Visit Magabala Books for more information about Joshua Button and Robyn Wells and their books. You can read a recent review of Steve Goes to Carnival here on Alphabet Soup.











Posted in authors, illustrator, Pass the Book Baton, poetry

A new Friday feature: Pass the Book Baton


Every Friday Alphabet Soup will feature an interview with a children’s book creator — writers, illustrators and writer-illustrators. Our Friday guest will answer a question and then ask one question of the next writer or illustrator. (It’s a bit like running a book relay in slow motion.)

We’re calling it:


Be sure to check in on Fridays. Our first writer will be setting off with the baton tomorrow morning.  See you then!


Posted in authors, illustrator

Q&A with Author-Illustrator Frané Lessac

Today we welcome Frané Lessac to Alphabet Soup. Frané is an illustrator and author — she’s the illustrator behind Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, Midnight, and The Greatest Liar on Earth (and many, many more books!).

We asked Frané if we could talk to her about A is for Australia: A factastic tour — her latest book. Here it is in all its glory:


a is for australia
What is the Fremantle Doctor? Where is Qui Qui? And why are some islands named after days of the week? You’ll uncover these exciting facts when you explore the A to Z of Australia — from Bondi to Kakadu and all the way to Taronga Zoo. Discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world …



Frané Lessac

Can you tell us a bit about where you live?
I live in the port city of Fremantle in West Australia. From my front porch, I can see a sliver of the Indian Ocean and Rottnest Island. Our house is over 120 years old and we’ve built an art studio in the back garden where I paint.

When you were working on A is for Australia, what came first — the artwork or the text?
Location came first. We had to decide what locations would be depicted for each letter of the alphabet. There were incredible alternatives and that made it hard to choose, but what made it easier was the need to represent all states narrowing down the locations. Next came the text, then art.

How long did it take you to create the book?
I first approached Walker Books with the idea over seven years ago! They were familiar with my other alphabet books based on New York, Washington D.C., Texas and the Caribbean. They knew the format and the market. I wasn’t sure if I was going to write the book myself initially, but with a twist of the arm, I did it!

What do you like to do when you are not illustrating (or writing-after-your-arm-has-been-twisted)?
Over the years I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and the Caribbean before settling in Australia twenty-five years ago. My closest friends and my family are spread right across the globe and l love to visit them as much as I can. When I’m home in Fremantle, I like to walk along Dog Beach.

What sort of books did you like to read when you were growing up?
My mother was an avid reader and placed an importance on reading and books. She took me to the library at an early age to pick out my own books. I started with Beatrix Potter and moved onto The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew mysteries.

What led you to create A is for Australia?
A is for Australia is a celebration of Australian people, places and culture. I wanted to create a book for children so they could discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world. I hope that visitors from overseas also grab a copy and share it back home.

Do you have a preferred medium?
I use gouache paint on watercolour paper. There’s an enormous range of colours and they are also easy to mix. The paint dries fast and I can paint in layers, which allow me to make any changes easily.

Do you have any advice for young artists? 
Believe in your art and don’t compare what you create to anyone else’s. Everyone draws differently. Be confident. If I worried about what other people created, I never would have created one single book. I never went to art school and I was never the best artist in the class, but I always loved to draw and paint.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I recently received a folktale from my UK publisher that’s set in India. It’s called Pattan’s Pumpkins and it’s right up my alley. Jungles and animals and bright pumpkins!  Exciting to work with this publisher again — I met the editor over thirty years ago and we created three folktales together set in West Africa, Papua New Guinea and Polynesia.

For a peek inside the pages of A is for Australia, visit Frané’s blog. And you can hear Frané talking about making the book on the book trailer:

 You can find out even more about Frané Lessac and her books by visiting her website:

(And teachers will be interested in these A is For Australia Classroom Ideas.)





Posted in illustrator

Meet the illustrator: Tina Snerling

Tottie and Dot cover

Tina Snerling is an Australian illustrator with a brand new picture book — Tottie and Dot. Today Tina is visiting us to talk about how she starts illustrating a new book project.

When the publisher gives you a picture book text, what’s the very first thing you do?

I start to think about the colour palette, style of drawing, characters and the actual scenes to be illustrated. This can take days, weeks or months, depending of the depth of the book. For Tottie and Dot, the colour palette was very important to the storyline given the intensity of the scenes. They needed to be completely contrasting in every way.

Once you had the story text for Tottie and Dot, how long did it take you to complete all the illustrations?

This is a little difficult to answer as the process is quite long! I usually start developing the characters first, like this:

Tina's sketches for Tottie and Dot


Tina snerling sketches 2

I created around 10 different ideas and ‘girls’ in this case before I came up with the ‘final’ Tottie and Dot! Then once the girls are drawn, I work on different poses and facial expressions I might need. Then comes the fun part of illustrating each page! This took around 6 months full-time illustrating to complete the book ready for printing. Some days I can work 15+ hours illustrating — it depends how creative I am feeling!

Can you draw whatever you like?

I get given an illustration guideline from the author. They usually have a general idea of what image will be illustrated, then I get to the fun part and add my own personality and humour to the illustrations! Working with Tania is amazing, as I get to go crazy with my imagination, and add my own quirky details. In Tottie and Dot I loved the incorporation of the cats — it was so enjoyable creating crazy things for them to do in each scene.

Did Tania (the author) see any of your illustrations before the whole book was finished?

Tania and I work very closely on our books. We are a little bit different to most illustrator/authors where we work as a team. We are in constant daily contact (sometimes until all hours of the night) and bounce ideas off each other.

Do you decide where and how much text goes on each page, or does the publisher decide that?

The text is already set out on each page when I receive the manuscript. This was part of the author’s role and is important especially in picture books as we are usually limited to 32 pages. As the book designer, I do get to decide the font, size and position of the words though!

Did you do the cover first, or last, or somewhere in the middle of all the illustrating?

Our publisher usually likes to see the cover fairly close to the beginning of the book. Once the characters have been decided and the scene is set, the cover then usually comes next! I still tweak a few things later on once the book is coming to an end though! With Tottie and Dot, we actually had another cover:

Alternative Cover for Tottie and Dot

… which we stuck with for some time, but at the final hour I changed it to be the current cover you see today:

Tottie and Dot cover

Tottie and Dot is published by EK Books. You can find out more about the book (and the author and illustrator) on the Tottie and Dot website. This blog post is part of a Blog Blast — for more interviews, giveaways, book reviews and news on Tottie and Dot, check out the participating blogs

Posted in authors, illustrator

Writing and illustrating a junior novel – Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle WangToday we are thrilled to have Gabrielle Wang visiting Alphabet Soup again — we’ve talked to her before about her Poppy books (in the ‘Our Australian Girl’ series). Her latest ‘Our Australian Girl’ series is about a girl called Pearlie who lives in Darwin in the 1940s.

Our editor Rebecca was enchanted by one of Gabrielle’s books published in 2013 — The Wishbird. And Gabrielle was kind enough to take time away from her writing to talk to Rebecca about writing and illustrating the book.

The Wishbird is woven like a fairytale or folktale. As a child did you have any favourite fairytales, folktales or fables? 

My favourite fairytale was The Little Green Road to Fairyland by the Australian sisters, Annie R Rentoul and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. They were born in the late 1800s. I loved and still do love Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s illustrations. As a child I was forever copying them.

The pen-and-ink illustrations in The Wishbird are intricate — how long would it take you to do one of these drawings for the book?    

The Wishbird cover

At first I didn’t know what style to use. But then I saw some Indian folk art and I loved it.

I did many roughs in pencil on layout paper.

When I was happy with a drawing I traced it onto lunchwrap. This is much cheaper than buying tracing paper.


For the final illustration I used water colour paper, a rapidograph, which is a pen with a fine nib, and a lightbox.

The lightbox has a light inside it.


Mine is very old. I had it made when I lived in Taiwan many years ago.

I placed a sheet of water colour paper on top of the traced drawing and used a rapidograph to make the linework.

Because The Wishbird illustrations are so fine I had to look through a sewing magnifying glass.

Some illustrations took longer than others because when I made a mistake, I’d have to start all over again. Probably on an average, from concept to finished product, each one took about a week to complete.

the domed room
© Gabrielle Wang

Was it your own idea to include illustrations in The Wishbird or did the publisher suggest it?

I wanted to include illustrations not only because I like to draw, but also because these were the types of books I used to love reading as a child, especially books like The Magic Faraway Tree.

Do you sing or play an instrument yourself? What led you to write a book where music features so strongly?

I learnt the piano and took piano exams up to Grade 5. I began to love classical music then especially the works of JS Bach. In high school I took classical guitar lessons. I still play the guitar and used to compose my own pieces. When I was living in China, I also learnt the Chinese bamboo flute but I’m not very good at it.

Imagine if all the singers and musicians disappeared, never to be seen again. Music is outlawed. Even birds are killed because they sing. And because birds live in forests then the forests all around are burnt to stumps.

Music is an integral part of human existence. Every culture in the world makes music. Without it, the soul dies. This is at the heart of The Wishbird.

Did you write a plan before you began writing The Wishbird, or did you just start writing and see where it led you?

I hardly ever write plans for my novels. I like my story to grow organically. The only books I have written plans for were the Our Australian Girl books. Because they are historical fiction and in a series of four books I had to know where each story was going and how it fed into the next before I even sat down to write them.

Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?

I’ve just finished the final edit for Pearlie’s Ghost, which is the fourth and final book in the Pearlie series.


I’m glad to have finished the series because they are hard work. But I’m also sad to leave Pearlie. Now she will have a life of her own out in bookshops and libraries.

I have started a new novel with another author. This is a new experience for me. It’s a very exciting way to write and we’re having lots of fun together. I can’t reveal much about it yet except to say that the working title is The Map of Tiny Coincidences and it will be filled with maps and drawings.

Find out more about Gabrielle Wang and her books at her website and her blog.

And LOOK! LOOK! You can even LISTEN to Gabrielle Wang reading the first two chapters of The Wishbird here