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, interviews

Meet the author: Raewyn Caisley

MEET THE AUTHOR

Raewyn Caisley photoRaewyn Caisley was born in New Zealand but has lived in Western Australia for more than half her life. She’s the author of many, many books. You’ve probably read some of her books from the Aussie Bites and Nibbles titles, or perhaps her picture books Hello From Nowhere and Something Wonderful. Raewyn has two new books out in 2020 — Rocky and Louie (co-written with Phil Walleystack and illustrated by Dub Leffler), and Meet Eve in the Outback (illustrated by Karen Blair).

Today we’re chatting to Raewyn about Meet Eve in the Outback, part of  the new Aussie Kids junior fiction series.

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)

Hi! I’m Eve.
I live at a roadhouse in the Nullarbor. We don’t get many visitors. But today my cousin Will is coming. We’ll have so much fun!


Hello from Nowhere (cover)Eve is a character readers might remember from the picture book Hello from Nowhere. What was different writing about her for a junior fiction book?
Her personality had to change a tiny bit. Younger Eve wouldn’t have worried about Will not seeing the magic. She just assumed Nan would, (and of course she did), but older Eve knows a little bit more about the world. She knows Will has dolphins where he lives for example. Little Eve’s experience was only her own immediate surroundings.

Older Eve has had more experience of her own place too. She’s helped Doug with the chores on the sheep station and she is friends with Wally now. She knows about the space station and about telegraphs. It was important to include details bigger kids would be interested in.

Oh, and another thing! With junior fiction the words have to carry more of the story because there aren’t illustrations on every page but that meant I could really have fun describing all those new places, thoughts and people.

Were you in contact with the illustrator (Karen Blair) while you were writing Meet Eve in the Outback?
I wasn’t in contact with Karen while I was writing it and if she’d said ‘no’ or been too busy I would have been up the creek without a paddle. But I knew she’d love Wally …

Meet Eve in the Outback is part of a junior fiction series. Were you asked to write a particular story in the series, or did you come up with your own story ideas?
My publisher and I came up with the idea for the whole series together. I sent them this story. The original title was ‘Next to Nowhere’. They responded with, ‘What if we do a whole series of these set in all the different states and territories of Australia?’

It was a little bit of a bummer because I had five ideas for five books set out in the Nullarbor and starring Eve and Will, but being part of the Aussie Kids series has turned out really well. It’s the right series for the right time. When kids can’t get out and see Australia for themselves at least they can read about how other Aussie kids live and see our beautiful country on the pages of a book.

Do you have a tip for young writers about creating story characters?
My tip for creating characters is, decide what they’d have for breakfast! Would they cook? Would they grab a bowl of cereal? Would they spill the milk? Would there be any milk?! Would they gulp it down or would they set the table? Is there any cutlery? Has anyone done the washing up? Would they eat alone or with someone else? What time of day would they have it?

Once you know what your character would have for breakfast you probably know them well enough to start writing a story about them.

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?
My next writing project? I still want to do my own junior fiction series and I’ve got ideas for the first three. One is set in a doctor’s surgery, one is in a school, and one is set in an isolated community in the outback. More than that I cannot say … Watch this space …

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


AWESOME EXTRAS!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback (PDF)

Visit Raewyn Caisley’s website for more about her and her books.

Read an earlier blogpost about the settings in Raewyn’s books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Sharon Giltrow

Sharon GiltrowMEET THE AUTHOR

Sharon Giltrow writes humorous picture books and adventure-filled chapter books. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children, a tom cat and a miniature dog.

Sharon’s debut picture book is available in May 2020. Today we’re chatting to Sharon about Bedtime, Daddy!, which is illustrated by Katrin Dreiling.

From the publisher:

Bedtime Daddy by Sharon Giltrow and Katrin DreilingHave you ever tried to put Daddy to bed? It can be hard work! Full of heart and humour, Bedtime, Daddy! is for anyone who wants to try putting their grown-up to bed.


You wrote the text for Bedtime, Daddy! and Katrin Dreiling is the illustrator. Do the illustrations match the story you had in your head when you were writing the book?
Katrin Dreiling has done a fantastic job. I was very happy and excited when I saw her first sketches.
EK Books (the publisher) asked her to do sketches of people and bears. When I first wrote Bedtime, Daddy! I pictured the characters as people, so I was very surprised when the publisher suggested bears. However, when Anouska – the editor – explained that bears would make a more universal family, I agreed. The rest of the illustrations match the story perfectly. Placing Daddy Bear in the office for the first page spread was Katrin’s idea. 😊 I only had one illustration note which was for the last page … but I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Favourite pyjamas to wear today vs favourite pyjamas to wear when you were a kid?
My favourite pyjamas as a kid were actually nighties and I used to keep them in a zippered pyjama bag which was a bit like this one. Puppy pyjama caseNow as Mummy Bear (aka: Bedtime Mummy!), my favourite pyjamas are my new dinosaur pyjamas. They are also Daddy Bear’s favourite pyjamas and my children have dinosaur pyjamas too.

Sharon and her two kids in pyjamas
Did you like to try to delay bedtime when you were a kid?
Most definitely! I was the youngest of eight children so my parents were a little more relaxed about bedtime. So, I used to fall asleep on the couch and my dad would carry me to bed. SShhhh!!! Don’t tell my children.

Can you tell us a bit about the book you’re working on next?
Well, my next book, which I hope will be published soon is called … Get Ready, Mummy! A sequel to Bedtime, Daddy! and you guessed it, it’s about how to get a mummy ready for the day. It starts with the line: ‘When you see your mummy roll over and open her eyes, announce, ‘Get Ready, Mummy!’

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to try writing a picture book themselves?
Be open to ideas. Ideas are all around you. Keep a notebook to write your ideas in. Once you have an idea, brainstorm it and then start writing. Don’t try and get it perfect the first time. Writing is like any skill it just takes practice. You can do it! Also, read lots of books!


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Bedtime Daddy a picture book by Sharon Giltrow with illustrations by Katrin Dreiling

Watch the book trailer for Bedtime, Daddy!

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Click here for a sneak peek inside the book

Visit Sharon Giltrow’s website to learn more about her and her books.

***WIN a copy of Bedtime, Daddy! ***

This competition has now closed and the winner has been contacted by email. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Elaine Forrestal

MEET THE AUTHOR

Elaine Forrestal is a Western Australian author who grew up in Australian country towns and now travels all over the world. Her award-winning books have been published internationally and translated into other languages.

Elaine Forrestal
Elaine Forrestal, author of Goldfields Girl

Elaine’s latest book is Goldfields Girl, set during the Gold Rush in Coolgardie, Western Australia.

From the publisher:

Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal (book cover)It’s 1892. Amid a fevered gold rush, 14-year-old Clara Saunders is in search of adventure in the new outback town of Coolgardie.

A friendship with cheeky young water carter Jack is a promising start, but the goldfields are a harsh place, where water is scarce, disease is common and where many men will never find the fortune they’ve come to seek.

With unforeseen tragedies on the horizon, Clara’s time in the dusty town will truly test the limits of her fierceness and determination.

How did you first hear of Clara Saunders and decide to write a story based on her life? Was Clara a relative?
We were almost at the end of the editing stage of the book before I knew that my sister-in-law’s husband is Clara Saunder’s grandson! So that’s obviously not why I chose to write about her. I was researching ‘children on the goldfields’ because I wanted to write a goldfields story, but felt that so many stories had already been written about it that I needed a new angle. Clara was the only child I found. Because of the harsh conditions —like lack of water and food, only tents to live in, heat, dust and flies — the women and children mostly stayed at home.

How did you go about your research for Goldfields Girl?
I tried Google first. Then I went to the Battye Library (on the 3rd floor of the State Library of WA). I felt like a detective because she wasn’t easy to find. And when I found the transcript of her ‘Memories’ I was so excited I virtually danced around the Library Reading Room. The librarian was a bit shocked.

How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about two years to write the book, then another two years to find the right publisher and go through all the usual editing and rewriting stages.

Did you have to leave anything out of the book?
I have only told the story of Clara’s life from 1892 to 1894, so I have left a lot out. but I didn’t change any of the facts — just added some dialogue to make the story more interesting to read.

How do you come up with the titles for your books?
I am hopeless with titles. I’ve lost count of how many Goldfields Girl had. I usually change them myself a couple of times, then the marketing team doesn’t like the one I have come up with so we work on it together. They know a whole lot more about what works for readers and bookshops, so I’m usually happy to go with what they suggest in the end.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to write stories based on real-life events?
You do need to do a lot of careful research when you base your story on real events. But I love doing the research. It’s fascinating to read about how people lived back then. I usually find out a lot more than I need to know, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get to use some of it in another book down the track.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to read a sample chapter Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal (book cover)(thanks to Fremantle Press)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Click here for a Goldfield’s Girl crossword activity

Click here to see two 1894 photos of Clara Saunders (in a blog post by Elaine Forrestal)

Visit Elaine Forrestal’s website to find out more about her and her books: www.elaineforrestal.com.au/

Goldfields Girl is out now in bookstores and libraries!

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Cristy Burne

Cristy Burne disguisedMEET THE AUTHOR

Cristy Burne is a science writer and children’s author. You might have read her adventure novels To the Lighthouse and Off the Track. If you love reading nonfiction keep an eye out for Zeroes and Ones: The geeks, heroes and hackers who changed history.

Cristy Burne’s brilliant award-winning Takeshita Demons series has recently been re-released as a series of e-books with new covers and a new series title: Hashimoto Monsters. Today we’re chatting with Cristy about the series! 


Your Hashimoto Monsters series is quite different in style from your other junior fiction novels. What sort of readers will love this series?
These books are full of supernatural monsters, creepy chills and Japanese culture. They are scary, but they’re also funny and a little bit strange. They’re popular with kids who love fantasy adventure stories.  I’d say if you’re aged between eight and twelve and you like the Goosebumps series, you’ll like to read these.

Hashimoto Monsters series by Cristy Burne

Why Japanese monsters? Did you read a lot of horror/scary books as a child?
I get scared VERY easily and I can’t watch scary movies, but I love action and adventure. And I *love* Japanese monsters. I lived for three years in Japan and studied Japanese monsters for even longer after that.

Japanese monsters aren’t always monstrous. Some are kind, some are sad, some are strange (like the one that sneaks up behind you to invisibly touch the back of your neck), some are insanely happy (like the Laughing Woman who just doesn’t stop laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing … which is a bit creepy, now that I think of it.)

Which is your favourite monster/demon? Why?
I love the aka-na-me, which translates directly to “Filth Licker”. This is the monster you really want for a friend. He’s loves to clean, so you don’t have to. In Japanese mythology, he comes out at night to lick dirty bathrooms till they sparkle … Seriously, could there be any better creature?

In my books, he also cleans laundries, kitchens, dirty faces, you name it. Plus his super-sensitive tongue can taste out clues. He’s like a detective in a frog’s skin.

I also love Betobeto-san, or “Mr Footsteps”. He’s Japan’s answer to that spooky feeling you sometimes get that you’re being followed. Because … drumroll … you ARE being followed. By Betobeto-san. The good news is Betobeto-san is a sort of oversized, invisible marshmallow on legs. He eats the sound of your footsteps (and then spits it out again), but he’s quite shy and not at all dangerous.

Cristy ... and headDo you have any tips for kids who want to write horror/scary stories?
Scary stories are scariest when you don’t let the reader know what’s coming next. So if there’s a zombie in the next room, don’t give away that information too early. Instead, drop little clues … Slow the action right down. Describe little details, so every creak and every moan, every scent and every sensation invades your reader’s mind. And let your character’s imagination run wild too… What we worry about and imagine might happen is often worse than what actually happens.

And most of all … have fun! Scary stories are so much fun to write because it’s fun to scare ourselves. Ghost story, anyone?

What is your current writing project (or what you might like to tackle next)? Can you tell us a bit about it?
I’m working on an authorised biography of Dr Fiona Wood, who is an incredibly inspiring person. She’s a doctor, a burns surgeon, the inventor of ‘spray-on skin’, and was Australian of the Year in 2005.

It is such an honour to work with Fiona on this book, and to learn about her life when she was a kid. Why did she decide to become a doctor? What was she like at school? What was it like to grow up on the coal mines of England and go on to become a famous Australian hero?

I’m also working on another adventure story for Fremantle Press (and this one’s going to have platypus, flash floods and lots and lots of LEECHES!), plus a fantasy-meets-science series I’m co-authoring with Denis Knight, called Wednesday Weeks.

So I’m super busy, but I try not to get overwhelmed. I just try to do little bits on each project each day.

Cristy Burne
Cristy Burne

AWESOME EXTRAS: