Posted in authors, interviews

Sharon Giltrow on Get Ready, Mama!

Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia and now lives in Western Australia with her husband, two children, a tom cat and a miniature dog. She works in Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education Support, working with Young Children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her debut picture book was Bedtime, Daddy!, illustrated by Katrin Dreiling. Today we’re chatting to her about her new picture book, Get Ready, Mama! illustrated by Arielle Li.

From the publisher:

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, or … wait, is Mama watching TV?! 


Your first picture book was Bedtime, Daddy! Did you have the idea for a series of books about family members when you wrote the first book or did the idea for a companion book come after the first book was out?

Bedtime, Daddy! is a role reversal book where the child (actually a bear) has to put the daddy to bed. The idea came from my own family. Once I signed the contract for Bedtime, Daddy! I thought writing a series of books using the same structure but different family members would be a great idea. I wanted one about a mum and about the other end of the day, getting up, so I wrote Get Ready, Mama! which was recently published 3 ½ years after the first book. I also wrote a story about taking a grandma shopping and a grandpa to the beach. Those two will be published in 2022 and 2023. So, my picture book family series is now complete. (Wait a minute – what about the aunty and uncle?)

Are you a morning person or a night owl? (Do you spring out of bed in the morning yourself?)

I am a morning person or as a like to call myself an early bird, although at times I am also an exhausted pigeon. I don’t spring out as bed as quickly as I use to, it’s more of a slide, but I do like to get up before everyone else in the house. Then I can have a few minutes of ‘me’ time.

Did you work with the illustrator (Arielle Li) during the book’s creation?

Anouska, the editor at EK Books, encouraged Arielle and I to work together from the beginning of the publishing process. She shared Arielle’s initial character sketches with me and as a team we decided whether the characters would be guinea pigs or humans. We chose humans! I’m glad we did after seeing the child and mama’s amazing facial expressions in Get Ready, Mama! Then Arielle started working on the storyboard and again shared it with me. Throughout the whole process I was able to suggest changes. There weren’t many as Arielle did such a fantastic job interpreting my text. Once the changes were made, I put my text onto the storyboard to check how the story flowed. Finally, as a team we decided on a cover.

Do you have a tip for kids about writing illustrated stories or picture books?

After you have your idea, spend some time brainstorming the idea and in particular the characters. I do this for about 20 minutes every day for a week before I start writing. Here are some questions I use when I am brainstorming.

  • What does your character love or hate?
  • What is their nickname?
  • What kind of being are they?
  • What is their age?
  • What is their physical appearance?
  • Who are their family members?
  • Do they have any pets?
  • Who is their best friend/s?
  • What items do they carry in their backpack?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What does your character want more than anything?
  • What are their fears?
  • What is their favourite food?

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?

I am currently writing my third book in my early middle grade series The Utility Belt. Books one and two release in 2022 and 2023. But I don’t want to give too much away.

I am also enrolled in a graphic novel course; I want to learn how to write (and possibly illustrate) a graphic novel. I already have a great idea, now to develop my characters – stay tuned!

Get Ready, Mama! is out now. Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a picture book: Get Ready, Mama! by Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li. The cover illustration shows a mother still in bed, cuddling her teddy. There's a child standing next to her bed in a school uniform and with neatly tied plaits. The child is holding a white button up blouse on a coat hanger. Next to the bed is a white dog with brown patches and a pink tongue lolling out. The mother in bed has tousled hair and doesn't look alert. The dog and the child look enthusiastic and full of energy.

Take a look at some pages inside the book

Make your own Get Ready, Mama! mini colouring book

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Visit the author’s website for more about Sharon Giltrow and her books

Posted in authors, interviews

HM Waugh on Mars Awakens

HM Waugh is the author of books for children and young adults. She’s also an environmental scientist, and educator with a love of wild places and high mountains. This has led to icy feet and sunburnt cheeks in magical countries like New Zealand, Nepal, Bolivia and Switzerland. She has studied dolphins in New Zealand and rare plants in the Wheatbelt, and worked in mining and construction projects across Western Australia. Her latest book is Mars Awakens, the unputdownable first book in a duology.

From the publisher:

Raised in two colonies on Mars each long ago abandoned by Earth, Dee and Holt have been brought up to hate even the idea of each other. But when a mysterious object crash-lands on a far-flung plain, they are both sent to investigate and their fates intertwine. Together they must battle epic storms and deadly bioclouds while unpicking the web of lies they have been told about their planet.


What brought you to write a book set on Mars? Did you need to do much research before you began writing?

I love space and the idea of going to other planets, and we’re so close to being able to send people to Mars – kids reading my book could absolutely be a part of this – that one day the idea to write a book based on Mars just popped into my head. Mars is a real place, so I did have to do a lot of research. Not only about the Mars we know – like its gravity and size and moons and what it looks like from the surface – but also into the Mars we could create. The plants we would need to make wax and rope and clothing. To feed the population. To stabilise the planet. It was a lot of fun!

What’s your favourite unusual fact about Mars?

There are so many! I think one of my favourites is how rovers have been detecting strange levels of methane (like fart gas) on Mars. And recently they discovered rocks on Mars that contain substances that, on Earth, can be created by methane-producing bacteria. Did Mars once have life? Does it still?

Dee uses kites to travel long distances across Mars on her own. What gave you the idea? Did you test a prototype or put trust in your imagination?

The kites came from an epic brainstorming session. I knew Mars was too big to walk around, so I needed some low-tech way for Dee and her colony to travel long distances. And what did Mars have going for it? Much less gravity than Earth so you can leap higher and run faster, and some serious windstorms. And I thought about sailboats, and umbrellas in storms, and kite-surfers, and combined them all to create the Martian kites. I did not test this out! I’m not even sure they’d work on Earth? But I did use my experiences doing things like sailing, skydiving and ziplining to create the feel of kiting with the wind.

If there was a callout tomorrow for volunteers to move to Mars – would you be tempted to put your hand up?

Absolutely! Try out for all the things. What’s the worst that could happen? Either I don’t get selected and I’ve lost nothing, or I do get selected and get to decide whether to accept the place or not. If it was a one-way ticket I honestly think I’d find it very hard to say goodbye to my family. Maybe they could come with me?

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?

Well, obviously, my next project is Mars Book 2 and I’m not giving away any spoilers! Beyond that, I have ideas simmering away in my head for a new project and I’m just letting them develop. It can take a while for the right collection of ideas to come together, and then I suddenly know I’ve got the ingredients for a book.

Mars Awakens is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Mars Awakens by HM Waugh. The cover illustration shows the silhouettes of two children, standing face to face. Behind them is a greenish sky over the red ground on Mars.

Enter the author’s short story challenge! The winner will have a character named after them in the sequel to Mars Awakens. (Entries close 31 May 2022.)

Do you live in Perth? Book a ticket to the 8 May launch of Mars Awakens. Meet the author! Eat crickets, like Dee!

Read our 2019 interview with HM Waugh about her first children’s novel.

Visit HM Waugh’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Jeanette Stampone on Shadow and the Girl

Jeanette Stampone was born and raised in a spooky three-hundred-year-old English house. Jeanette now lives in a small country town in Western Australia with her husband and two boys. Shadow and the Girl is her debut picture book, illustrated by Demelsa Haughton.

From the publisher:

A giant girl towers over Shadow. Driven by fear, Shadow runs. And so does the girl. But can they really run from each other?


How long did it take to write Shadow and the Girl?

Nearly five years!

I first had the idea back in 2017. It was about a monster living under a child’s bed. I decided to change the monster to a shadow, but still had lots of trouble getting the story to flow.

So, I then completely changed the scene and took Shadow outside to a park. That’s when it really began to work. I sent the manuscript to a few publishers, but not many because I was worried the story was a bit too different. I eventually put it away and worked on new ideas.

But then in 2019, I saw Red Paper Kite were open for submissions. They were looking for quirky and unusual stories. I sent it in and … YAY! It got accepted. I feel like my story was just waiting for the right publisher.

Shortly after I signed the contract, coronavirus hit and the book release got delayed, which meant more waiting. But finally, in 2022, it was ready for print! It’s taken a long time but every stage has been exciting.

Did you have contact with the illustrator, Demelsa Haughton, while the book was being illustrated?

We really only made a few comments on each other’s social media posts. But other than that, no direct contact. My publisher worked closely with Demelsa and occasionally I was asked my opinion on her work, but that was very rare. I actually loved having no contact with her because it meant she was free to use her own creativity without me influencing it too much. She ended up making the book even better than I imagined!

How do you go about writing the first picture book draft?

So this is what normally happens:

  1. Random idea pops into my head.
  2. Idea swirls around my head, getting in the way of anything else I am trying to do!
  3. Get out my notepad and write a summary of the idea.
  4. If I am happy with the summary, I hop onto the computer and ‘grow’ the idea. I add more sentences and not worry too much about it being perfect. I just want to get the basic story down at this stage.
  5. Read through my story and chop, change, and polish until I’m reasonably happy.
  6. Finally, take the story to my critique group for feedback!

Do you have a tip for kids whod like to write their own picture book?

Imagine the illustrations as you write but try not to describe exactly what would be happening in the drawings. Let the illustrations tell one story and your writing tell another story.

So instead of saying something like, It was sunny and Ella smiled, you could describe her physical and emotional feelings like this: The sun warmed Ella’s face and her heart sang with joy.

Can you tell us a bit about what you!re working on next?

I have a book coming out with Wombat Books, The Dragon Guest Handbook. It’s a fun but meaningful story and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in print. I have been so busy with the release of Shadow and the Girl that I haven’t had a lot of time to work on new stories, but I do have a big list of ideas. Hopefully I can start working on a few of those soon because they’re all in the swirling around my head stage!

Shadow and the Girl is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Shadow and the Girl by Jeanette Stampone and Demelsa Haughton. The cover illustration shows a girl with plaits, wearing a white dress and a red cap, sitting back to back with a shadowy figure. They both have their feet in water. Behind them are alpine-looking mountains with snow on their peaks.

Peek inside the pages of Shadow and the Girl on the publisher’s website.

Watch an animation by Jana Kaminski (this is a video on the publisher’s Facebook page)

Visit Jeanette Stampone’s website for more about her and her writing.

Posted in authors, interviews, poetry

Kathryn Apel and What Snail Knows

Kathryn Apel lives among the gum trees, cattle and kangaroos on a Queensland grazing property, where she writes poetry, picture books and verse novels. Her previous books include Bully on the Bus, Too Many Friends, and The Bird in the Herd. Kathryn’s latest book is What Snail Knows, illustrated by Mandy Foot, and we’re thrilled to chat to her about the book today.

From the publisher:

Lucy’s glad she has Snail, the perfect pet for a lonely girl. If only she had her own shell to hide in every time she started at a new school. But this place is different. She likes her teacher, Miss Darling. She likes her classmates, especially Tahnee. She even likes Mei-hui’s van park, where she lives with Dad and Snail. This place feels like home. Can she convince her dad to stay?

You’re well-known for your verse novels, did you know you’d write this as a verse novel when the story idea first came to you?

I did not! I was talking with a friend about the ‘How Can I Help?’ unit I’d team-taught a number of years earlier, and my friend commented that it would make a great book. I was in the middle of prepping two picture books for print at the time (Up and Down on a Rainy Day and The Bird in the Herd) and I couldn’t imagine how to squeeze ‘How Can I Help?’ into a picture book. But 6 weeks later I realised it could be a verse novel. And I was very quickly excited about that idea!

How did you go about writing What Snail Knows? Did you write a plan before you begin working on the story?

My story plan unfolds as I’m writing. When I get some words on the page, I stop and think about the character more. Is the voice distinctive? What does s/he want? What could cause the problem? 

And that’s how this started … ‘It’s just you and me. We don’t need nobody else.’ I was thinking about my character and wondering how s/he could link in with ‘How Can I Help?’ when I realised I already knew her. And I didn’t need to create a whole class of characters for this story. I already had them! They were in my verse novel, Too Many Friends. The voice I had found was Lucy’s – the quiet girl who was always alone. I did wonder how I was going to fill a book when Lucy doesn’t say much … But she thinks. A lot. And she shares her thoughts with Snail.

I can tell you that there is a lot of stress when you’re 3/4 of the way through your first draft and you still don’t know what happened to your main character’s mum … or why they have to move a lot. Usually I know how a story will end … just not how it will get there. But this time I didn’t even know the ending. Would Lucy and her Dad have to move again? Why? How did things change and resolve? I had no idea, and I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish this book! So – I wouldn’t say I recommend not planning …

Did you talk with Mandy Foot about the illustrations? Do you consider illustrations at all when you’re writing?

I didn’t know there were going to be illustrations – so I didn’t consider them when I wrote. And I didn’t talk to Mandy about them. But I loved them. That tangle of hair, the dirty smudges, and that sweet little face. Finding the right place for them in the story was a bit like a jigsaw – but when the puzzle was complete,  those little line drawings surprised me with the emotions they squeezed from the poetry. They captured the aloneness … And the moments of connection between Lucy and Snail, Lucy and Dad and finally Lucy and Tahnee.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to write a verse novel or a verse short story?

  • Say less, best. There are lots of small words we need in sentences that we don’t need in poetry. Cut them out.
  • Play with your words and where they sit on the page. 
  • Try line breaks instead of punctuation.
  • Read your writing aloud. Or better still – get someone to read it aloud to you.
  • Focus on individual poems. Write one poem. Then the next. Forget you’re writing a book and just write lots of small poems that fit together to tell a story. 

Could you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m rather excited to have a picture book that has also just gone to print. Miss Understood, illustrated by Beau Wylie, will be released in May 2022 with Scholastic. It’s a romp of a rhyming picture book, as told by the wolf, Miss Understood. She is such a sweetie, and if you have never heard her side of things, you really must read this book, because truly, she has been … misunderstood.

I have a couple of other picture books and verse novels in various stages. And I’m a wee-bit excited about the possibility of another companion title to Too Many Friends and What Snail Knows. I’m still mulling it over in my head – and then I need to do some research. And that may involve me stepping waaaay out of my comfort zone.😬 So it may be a while, yet …

What Snail Knows is out now! Look for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a children's verse novel: What Snail Knows by Kathryn Apel and illustrations by Mandy Foot. The cover illustration shows a small girl in a blue pinafore dress over a yellow tshirt. She's sitting on a swing, holding up a tiny snail in her left hand. She has messy hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. There's a flowerbed underneath the swing.

See some Snail poetry by Kathryn Apel on her blog

Read an earlier interview with Kathryn Apel about another verse novel

Download the Teachers Notes from the publisher’s website

Visit Kathryn Apel’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Kim Doherty on Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist: 2016–2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kim Doherty is an editor, storyteller, teacher, and a mum to two young children, who she hopes will be inspired by the amazing world of science and Alan’s story. Today we’re thrilled to chat to her about her new book, a biography in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Alan Finkel.

From the publisher:

As Australia’s Chief Scientest, our country turned to Alan Finkel for advice on everything from climate change to artificial intelligence, to the pandemic. But at a time when scientists have never been so important, Alan nearly didn’t become one at all!


How did you go about your research for writing about Alan Finkel? 

I did a LOT of reading. It’s lucky that I love reading as well as writing, as there is so much to read about Alan – he’s always busy doing something interesting. I read all the speeches he’s ever given (and that is no small feat – there are hundreds) and a lot of his scientific papers. I confess, some of the papers were a bit too complicated for me to understand, but I did my best. I spent a lot of time interviewing Alan of course, but I also chatted to his colleagues, his friends and his family (his sister had lots of funny stories to tell. It’s a good reason to always be nice to your sister – you never know who she’ll talk to about you in the future!)

Did you meet Alan Finkel while you were writing the book?

Alan and I had grand plans to have lunch together in Melbourne, where we both grew up. Then he was so busy that we changed it to Canberra, where his office was as Chief Scientist of Australia. Then he was due to give a speech in Sydney, where I now live … but then something got in the way: Covid-19. There was no way of travelling or meeting face to face during the pandemic, so we did all our chatting on zoom. Which I have to say was fun! It was like being teleported straight into his living room in Melbourne, without ever having to walk out my own front door in Sydney. (And once, I was still secretly wearing my slippers. Ssshh!).

As Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel worked in many different areas of science – technology, biology, science education, the pandemic, climate change – and in the book we learn that perhaps his greatest passion is taking care of our planet. Which area of STEM do you find most interesting?

Oh I love all of it, I wish I’d studied more science at school. Alan is always fascinating to talk to, but perhaps my favourite of the many STEM topics we chatted about was how science can help look after our planet. For example, Alan believes that clean hydrogen can power our vehicles instead of dirty fossil fuels, and it turns out that Australia is a great place to produce hydrogen. You can make hydrogen from water, and instead of emitting nasty greenhouse gases, its only byproduct is water vapour! It’s exciting to think that, thanks to our scientists, Australia could play an important role in looking after our beautiful planet.

In addition to this biography about Alan Finkel you’ve also written a book for children about Mt Everest. Do you have a tip for children who’d like to write nonfiction?

Hmm, I’m sure your clever readers would think of this themselves but my advice is this: find a topic you’re really interested in, because it’s a lot more fun to read and write about a subject you love. It doesn’t mean you have to know a lot about it when you start, but you need to be ready to read a lot first, and then talk to people who know a lot, before you even start to write yourself. If you’ve really worked hard on the research, the writing bit is easy and fun. Go on, give it a try!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

To be honest, I am still trying to work it out. I love writing about amazing people, and there are so many of them in Australia – scientists of course, but also people from all walks of life who are doing wonderful, brave things. It’s an honour to tell those stories, so thank you for reading them. I hope they inspire you too.


Alan Finkel is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Image shows the cover of a biography about Alan Finkel written for children. The title is Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist: 2016 - 2020. Story told by Kim Doherty. Text at the top of the book's cover says Aussie STEM Stars. The cover is predominantly dark blue and shows an illustration of Alan Finkel. Alan has short grey hair and is wearing a pale blue collared-shirt with a maroon tie and a dark grey suit jacket. He has fair skin and dark blue eyes. Other symbols on the cover include sketches of a human brain, a computer chip, and a lightbulb (the last of which is shining brightly, yellow).
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Stellarphant

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

James Foley makes picture books, middle grade novels and comics for kids. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we are thrilled to chat to James about his latest book, Stellarphant.

From the publisher:

Stella wants to be an astronaut. There is only one problem – Stella is an elephant. Every time she applies to Space Command, they come with a new reason she can’t join. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Stella is determined to reach for the stars.


What sparked the idea for this story?

I was at our annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Rottnest Retreat, June 2014. Sitting around in the cottage with my friends and we were all sketching and scribing away. I made this random pen and watercolour sketch of an elephant and penguin as astronauts. Elephants had turned up in my sketchbooks regularly over the years, but never as an astronaut. The story that became Stellarphant grew from there. 

I’m also a massive nerd who loves learning things, and I was reading about all the species that have been to space. The back endpapers of the book were another early image I couldn’t get out of my head. 

The endpapers showcase the huge number of animals sent to space since 1947. Was there a particular animal you were surprised to discover had been to space? 

I was most surprised that the first earthlings to circumnavigate the moon were not humans; it was some tortoises, mealworms and wineflies, sent by the Soviets! I also loved that there was an experiment that sent fertilised chicken eggs to space – it was called ‘Chix in Space’ and was sponsored by KFC. 

The endpapers in Stellarphant aren’t even the full number of animals that have been to space, they were just a bunch of the most fascinating ones. 

Stella shows resilience, persistence and creative problem solving skills in the face of repeated ‘no’s. Have you ever been told it’s not possible to do something and persisted anyway?

I was really lucky that when I was younger, and being a writer/illustrator was still just a dream, I didn’t have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. My parents and siblings and friends were all very supportive of my creativity. Though I can be incredibly stubborn, so maybe they knew that they couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to try.

Sometimes it’s your own head that is telling you no; that often happens to me when I’m in the earliest stages of a new project, or even just starting a new page. The little doubting voice flares up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish the task ahead. When that happens, I find that my fear of not meeting my deadline usually trumps the fear of failure, haha! I know that I just have to get the work done. 

The book is definitely about determination, but for me it’s also about discrimination, and diversity, and equity, and feminism. And it’s also about learning to let go of what other people think of you; to stop looking for approval from others, and to realise that you are good enough the way you are. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you went about creating the book? Words or illustrations first?

The whole story grew from that image of the elephant and penguin spacewalking. 

That’s how it goes with my stories, most of the time; they start with an image (either in a sketchbook or in my head), then the plot grows from there. 

When I first started trying to write the text for Stellarphant I was pretty inexperienced at writing. The manuscript was, uh, not great, haha! It took me a while, and it took writing a bunch of other stories, to figure out how to make Stellarphant click.

Now I’ve learned from experience that it’s best for me to hold off on writing down a new idea until I’ve thought about it for a really long time; I need to let the ideas percolate and simmer in my head until I’ve got all the plot beats. I’m definitely a planner; I need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. I won’t start writing unless I know where it’s going. 

As I’m brainstorming and writing, I’ll get pictures in my head. So once I have the story completely written out, it doesn’t usually take too long to scribble out a sketchy little storyboard for the whole thing. From there I can edit, improve, rearrange, until the words and pictures are fitting together just so. 

That’s how it worked with Stellarphant. I did one scribbly little version of the storyboard; then maybe two full-size black and white rough versions of the book. Then I figured out the colour scheme and did a colour rough for the book. Then I did the finals. It was a fairly straightforward process compared to my first book, where I made 13 different storyboards! 

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve got two projects on the go – the first is a comic short story which will be published in 2022.

The other is a MASSIVE project that I’d love to talk about, but it’s still super secret! It’ll come out in early 2023. 

Stellarphant is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Meet James Foley: Come to a free book signing + drawing workshop! 13 November 2021 [WA event]

Take a peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Download fantastic Stellarphant activities and templates [click & then scroll down the page]

Posted in illustrator, interviews

Cindy Lane and Great White Shark

MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Cindy Lane is an award-winning artist and illustrator who loves the ocean. She was born and grew up by the sea in Sydney, lived by the Great Barrier Reef in FNQ, and now has her studio by the Indian Ocean in Perth. Cindy loves to make her own paints with materials she finds in nature, and collects waters from all over the world to use in her paintings. Seawaters from across Australia were used in Great White Shark, her first picture book, written by Claire Saxby.

From the publisher:

In Great White Shark we follow a female shark on her way to warmer waters to give her pups the best chance of survival. Set in a stunning underwater world, Claire Saxby’s signature poetic prose and Cindy Lane’s sublime illustrations showcase the grace, majesty and power of one of the ocean’s top predators.


Can you tell us a bit about how you created the illustrations for Great White Shark?

It all starts with a sketch – pencil on paper. I like the scratchy feel of graphite on a surface, with sound and feel for feedback as you create. I do also draw digitally, but it can be quite a clinical process, not what I want at this stage. It can be all too easy to erase the less-than-perfect lines when drawing on a tablet­­­­­­­­­ – a double tap of your fingers and it’s gone! I like seeing the messy, roundabout road maps of initial sketches, the sparks of ideas, and where they led.

From pencils sketches to a pencil thumbnail sheet! Once this was approved by the art director I went on to do some sample colour illustrations from the text, just to determine a style that the publisher, author and I were all happy with. This was a combination of pastel on sanded paper and watercolours on cotton paper, both with digital sketching over the top.

Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for her picture book Great White Shark
Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for the picture book Great White Shark

Once these were approved, I was let loose on the double page spreads, cover, title, index pages and the endpapers. There was still lots of research to be done, and luckily the PLANET SHARK exhibition was visiting Fremantle. I got to see so many sharks, including multiple Great White models up close, the preserved body of the massive Megamouth shark, plus the HUGE Megalodon jaws!

Using sea waters from my collection, I started watercolour painting the backgrounds and creatures that feature in the book. They were then photographed or scanned individually, then collaged together digitally to create the scenes.

Did you discuss the story/illustrations with the author (Claire Saxby) while illustrating the book?

No, I had no direct contact with the author during the illustration process. Claire Saxby’s feedback was always via the editor and art director.

How long did it take you (from signing the contract to going to print) to illustrate Great White Shark?

14 months.

Were you already interested in sharks before you were asked to illustrate the book?

Definitely! I’ve always had a love for the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Even those that get bad press. Especially those ones!

Great White Shark is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.

Back and front covers of Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane

AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Claire Saxby & Cindy Lane talking about Great White sharks. [YouTube]

Watch Cindy Lane painting pages from the book here and here. [Instagram videos]

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

Learn more about Cindy Lane’s art & illustrations on her Instagram account.

Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Peter Carnavas and My Brother Ben

MEET THE AUTHOR

Peter Carnavas is an award-winning author-illustrator. You might have read some of his many picture books, such as The Children Who Loved BooksLast Tree in the City and A Quiet Girl. His novel The Elephant won a Queensland Literary Award and was shortlisted in four other national awards. Peter lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, two daughters, a dog and a cat. Today we’re thrilled to have Peter Carnavas visiting to talk about his latest children’s novel, My Brother Ben.

From the publisher:

Luke and his big brother Ben spend the summer on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. Quiet Luke sketches birds, while Ben leaps off the Jumping Tree. The boys couldn’t be more different but they share the same dream: winning a boat so they can explore the creek properly. Then Ben starts high school and the boys drift apart. When Luke catches Ben sneaking out at night, he knows his brother’s up to something, but what?


When you were growing up did you have a big brother or sister?

I have two big brothers and one big sister. One of my brothers is just a few years older than me so we grew up doing everything together: playing backyard cricket and soccer, playing computer games and drawing silly pictures of each other.

In the book, Luke chooses soul birds for himself and considers soul birds for his various family members too. Which bird would you say was your soul bird?

I tend to do things slowly so I think I’d be a slow-moving water bird, like a white-faced heron.  I’m not a very good swimmer so it suits me that these herons only go ankle-deep into the water.

How long did it take you to write My Brother Ben – from the start of the first draft to the final draft?

It probably took me about year from start to finish.  Every time I thought I’d finished it, my editors pointed out ways to make the story even better, so I did many drafts. That’s the great thing about editors – it’s similar to the way teachers show you how to improve your stories. The illustrations didn’t take too long – probably only a few days to draw all the birds – because they are black and white pen drawings, and I didn’t have to paint them.

Do you have a tip for kids who might be interested in watching birds?

The main character, Luke, has an aunt who teaches him all about birdwatching.  She tells him to keep still and let the birds come to him, and this is something I’ve discovered when birdwatching myself.  I’ve found that if you walk through a bush track or a forest, you probably won’t see many birds straight away. But if you slow down and keep quiet for a while, you’ll notice small movements and sounds, and then you’ll notice more birds. Also, when you keep still, birds will be less afraid. Another tip is to start by looking for water birds in lagoons or ponds, as these birds keep quite still themselves, so they’re easier to watch and identify.

Could you nominate a children’s book you’ve recently read that you would recommend?

I have loved reading Sara Pennypacker’s books this year, particularly Pax and Here in the Real World. Pax is a wonderful story about a boy trying to reunite with the fox he once raised – great for upper primary students.

My Brother Ben is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Peter Carnavas talking about the book (YouTube)

Download the Teachers’ Notes for My Brother Ben

Read two more interviews with Peter Carnavas here and here

Visit Peter Carnavas’s website for more about him and his books

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas

Posted in authors, interviews

Julia Lawrinson on Mel and Shell

MEET THE AUTHOR

Julia Lawrinson is an award-winning writer of more than a dozen books for children and young adults. Her books are about friendship, family and the occasional Jack Russell. We’re very pleased to be chatting to Julia today about her latest book Mel and Shell.

From the publisher:

It’s 1979. Swedish pop group ABBA rules the airwaves, rollerskating is cool, and Mel and Shell are best friends. There’s nothing they like more than making up dances to ABBA songs, and there’s nothing they like less than Scary Sharon and Stinky Simon. But things are changing, fast. Confiding in her pen pal from 1829, Shell discovers she has a lot to learn about loyalty, honesty and rollerskating.


How did you come to write a book set in 1979?

In 1979 I was in year five, and it was a hugely exciting year to be a kid. ABBA was at its most popular, rollerskating was huge, Doctor Who with Tom Baker was my favourite show, and BMX was just taking off. It was also the 150th anniversary of English settlement in Western Australia, so everyone was given a diary with lots of olden day pictures, which fascinated me.

You incorporate two timeframes from history in the book – 1979, when the book is set, and 1829, which the main character is learning about in year 5. How much did you need to research before you began writing the novel?

A lot! I went to the State Library and looked at all the old newspapers on clunky old machines called microfiche, to see what was happening in the first half of 1979, and also to remember what television shows were on when. I also had to make sure I had the right information about who was on what ships coming from England, and what happened to them on the way.

OK, we have to ask – are you an ABBA fan yourself?

ABBAsolutely! I still have an ABBA calendar every year, sent to me by my best friend who lives in England. When we see each other we still dress up and pretend to be Anna and Frida.

If you found a way to time-slip back to 1979, what would be the first thing you’d do when you arrived?

Go rollerskating, buy a yo-yo, and watch Young Talent Time.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

My next project is my first picture book, set in 1962 in Perth, and features an astronaut. It will be out in June 2022 with Wild Dog Books.

Mel and Shell is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from Mel and Shell

Download Teachers’ Notes for this book

Read our 2019 interview with Julia Lawrinson about another of her books, Maddie in the Middle

Visit Julia Lawrinson’s website for more about her and her books

Posted in authors, interviews

Meg McKinlay on Bella and the Voyaging House

MEET THE AUTHOR

Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet based near Fremantle, Western Australia. She has published eighteen books for young people from picture books through to young adult fiction. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Meg about her latest book Bella and the Voyaging House, a sequel to Bella and the Wandering House, both illustrated by Nicholas Schafer.

From the publisher:

Bella’s house likes to travel, setting sail across the ocean while everyone sleeps. Bella’s parents don’t mind as long as the house is home by daylight. One night, Bella has a wonderful idea for her grandfather’s birthday. She wants to find a figurine he made of her grandmother, lost overboard in an accident. Bella and the house go in search, but things don’t quite go according to plan . . .


Bella’s house is drawn to the sea. Is sailing something you like/have liked to do? Did you go sailing for the writing of Bella and the Voyaging House?

I have no interest in sailing myself but I do love watching sailboats, which is what I was doing when I got the idea for Bella and the Voyaging House. I didn’t need to go sailing as research for the book because the descriptions of the house sailing aren’t technical at all. I just needed to know enough to get the feeling right, and I’ve been on boats enough to have that covered.

I do have a deep love of the ocean though – I love swimming and wave-staring and just generally floating about. Actually, it was after finishing this second Bella book that I realised that in many ways, the house is me. As a child growing up in a carless family in Central Victoria, the ocean was a kind of mythical place to me. On rare visits, my father, who grew up on the coast in WA, taught us to bodysurf, and my older brother and I made a quiet pact – that whenever we were near the ocean, we would hurl ourselves into it, regardless of the weather, conditions, or whether or not we had bathers. These days, I live a 10-minute bike ride from the beach and have vowed never to move away from it. I may not be made from the wood of an old boat, but I think I’m made from my father’s love of the ocean, and long to be near it, just as the house does.

If your own house could wander/sail off to somewhere, where would you hope it would take you?

Hmmm. I think I’d quite like a trip to Antarctica. I love the idea of the white and the silence and the solitude. I generally find that the further I am away from the noise and clutter of life, the happier I am. I’d also love to see a penguin sliding on its belly!

This book is the sequel to Bella and the Wandering House. Did you find it a quicker (or slower) project to write a sequel?

Well, the first book took about 12 years from first draft to final manuscript* so I can confidently say the sequel was quicker. It still took about 18 months though; no matter what I do, I just can’t seem to write quickly. In writing the sequel, it did help that I already knew the characters and the world of the story so I didn’t have to build everything from scratch. On the other hand, my love for the characters may have slowed me down a bit; I really wanted to make sure I wrote a story that would do them justice and give them room to shine.

(*This includes 10 years when the manuscript sat in a drawer, abandoned. I’d written it as a picture book but it wasn’t working and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I eventually gave up. Ten years later, I realised it needed to be a chapter book and rewrote the whole thing; it was published about two years later.)

Will there be any more books in this series?

I have no plans to write any more. Then again, when I wrote Bella and the Wandering House, I wrote it as a standalone book, with no intention of ever writing a sequel. Then again again, I love the way Bella and the Voyaging House ended – that final image feels very satisfying to me – and I think I’d be very happy leaving Grandad, Bella, and the house right there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

I’m working on an odd sort of picture book at the moment. I say ‘odd’ because it’s not really a story but more like a series of instructions or guidelines. It’s hard to explain but I think it’s going to be great. It’s called Always Never Always, at least for now, and will be illustrated by Leila Rudge, who I’m very excited to be working with again.

I’m also in the home-ish stretch of the sequel to A Single Stone, and once that’s finished, I’m pretty keen to jump into some shorter novels that have been percolating for a while. They’re both fun and whimsical and I think I’m going to really enjoy writing them.

Bella and the Voyaging House is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter of the book

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Read a 2015 review of Bella and the Wandering House (Book 1 in this series) by Matilda, age 9.

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay illust. Nicholas Schafer