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, Pass the Book Baton

Pass the Book Baton: Paula Hayes


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 Perth author Paula Hayes takes the baton. Paula has one husband, four children, three dogs and five rabbits. She is the author of a YA novel and also a recent children’s novel, Lily in the Mirror, which one of our regular reviewers (Matilda, 10) described as ‘creepy but good’.

Last week Joshua Button and Robyn Wells posed a question for Paula. They ask:

Q. Your character Lily loves all things dark and mysterious. Were you inspired by any real life mysteries, strange events or unusual people?

A. Lily loves all things dark and mysterious and so do I. I like fantasy that is almost scary but not too scary.  The book was inspired by a room in my grandmother’s house full of vintage family treasures. The door would shut behind you but that was because the house really did need restumping and not due to supernatural events. But add a little imagination … and I was in the Rosy Room.

And now Paula Hayes passes the book baton to the next Friday visitor — AL Tait. AL Tait is the author of the bestselling series, The Mapmaker Chronicles. The Mapmaker Chronicles

My question(s) for AL Tait:
Which book in your Mapmaker Chronicles series have you enjoyed writing the most? Does creating a series get easier or harder?

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

Visit Paula’s website for more about her and her books. You can read Matilda’s review of Lily in the Mirror on Alphabet Soup’s site.