Late last year Tracey latest children's book, The True Book of Gnomes, was launched at Avid Reader in Brisbane. I was proud to be there supporting this local and talented author/ illustrator.
The True Book of Gnomes is written for young independent readers from 7 years and up. The story is written from 11 year old Sam’s perspective. Tracey really gets the voice right and the humour is sustained throughout. The story starts off with an exciting chase scene which plunges the reader into a tale of gnome kidnapping by terrible gnomers. After the gnomes, Tomte and his brother Binky, find safety with Sam and his family the story turns into an informative text with delicious titbits of knowledge about the lives of Gnomes.
Though this book will be enjoyed by confident readers, it would also be a great asset to school libraries and specifically for reluctant readers, dyslexic readers and ESL students.
I was so fascinated by this book that I really wanted to learn a little more about Tracey and her background in writing and illustrating. So I went ahead and asked her some questions:
What is your background? How did you become a children’s writer.
I never set out to be a children’s writer, or a writer at all. I’ve always been a compulsive reader and drawer and I studied an Arts degree and design when I left school. I also studied set design and illustration but I didn’t begin writing until I enrolled in a course at the College of Adult Education in Melbourne in 2000. I had a fantastic mentor and teacher called Rachel Flynn who inspired me. I wrote 4 educational fiction books for a local publishers in Melbourne and poems and plays for Australian school magazines.
But what I really want to know is, how did you become such a Gnome expert?
I read the Book of Gnomes by Rien Poortvliet when I was 15 and became fascinated with this world and all the different creatures and fairies in the fantasy realm. I was amazed at the variety and wealth of magic creatures in every culture and I wondered how they would fit into Australian life. I began noticing articles in the local paper about gnome owners and kidnapped gnomes. When I researched the topic on the Internet I discovered a number of organisations that “relocated” gnomes. As I wrote the book a number of gnomes found their way into my garden and my life and it was through them I became an “expert.”
There are quite a few facts within your story, I loved how you entwined Gnome and Human history and even made up your own language. Did you base much of the language of Runes on fact?
Yes. I researched the first types of writing and discovered they were called glyphs which means symbols. Then I found the Nordic runes from The Elder Futhark. I was amazed they were so similar to some English letters but I also thought it was wonderful that each rune has it’s own ancient story and meaning. The meaning of runes are open to interpretation and I was intrigued by the warning, “ Don’t use runes for magical spells until you are completely sure of what it is you’re doing and what (the runes) mean”! Perfect for a gnome’s secret language and spells.
It’s written with a lower reading age and a high interest level. It has diagrams and pictures to help the reader understand the words. It is a ‘handbook” so it can be read in small sections to avoid reading fatigue. The font is larger and the pages have coloured backgrounds to help dyslexic readers.
What age group would your book appeal to?
7-12 and some adults.
Could you describe your writing process?
Pretty chaotic. I began writing this book on an envelope. Then in a notebook. As I started to write the book I began to do drawings with it - probably like a picture book. I had a specific goal which was to use the pictures to create meaning for the words. I wrote the book over two years but I had the gnome story for ages and I’d written lots of different versions of it. I decided on the chapters, did the research and then cut and pasted all the info into groups/chapters. Most of my writing is like collage- bits of info put together. Then I wove all the info into a story and joined the chapters with a narrative thread. I had a publishing contract on the book at that time so I was working with an editor to bash it into shape. I rewrote it many times. When I got the rights to the book back- I changed it again- included many more illustrations and redesigned it for my audience- dyslexic kids.
You did the illustrations yourself as well. Can you share a little more about your process as an illustrator?
I developed a series of gnome characters and then I went through the book and decided on the number and type of illustrations. I did them in black and white. For every illustration I’d do some sketches and when I was happy I’d use a light box to trace them onto watercolour paper. I used an old fashioned quill pen and ink because it kept the drawings loose- inkblots remind you not to get too uptight! and I like the effect of soft ink wash. I used a program called Comic Life to do the comics and collage for the chapter title pages. I’m dodgy with computers so I like to stick to pen, paint and paper and use computers to clean up the pictures. I got a graphic designer to help me put colour and labels on the drawings and design the book.
Not sure- probably a writer- I started writing and was published as a writer first. I guess that gives you a “professional” title. I’ve had two books published with my illustrations but mostly I just feel like someone who loves writing and drawing.
What advice would you give to yourself when you first started writing and/ or illustrating (imagine you have a time machine).
Warning : Don’t read this if you are easily scared. (I wouldn’t read it.)
Advice to myself: Try not to write everything on little bits of paper, Tracey, because you always lose them. Try to start with a plot and a narrative thread. Try not to have too many ideas. Punctuation and editing are good tools for writers like you to use. This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done and will take an insane number of rewrites and redesigns to produce a book. Writing the book was the easy part- selling it is the hard part.
Which writer(s) inspires you?
Roald Dahl, Hilaire Belloc, Ogden Nash, Isabelle Carmody, Susan Cooper , Tolkien, C. S Lewis, Catherine Jinks.
Which illustrator(s) do you admire?
Quentin Blake, Ronald Searle, Lizbeth Zwerger, Oliver Jeffers, Julia Friese (Schnipselgestrüpp).
What writing resources do you recommend?
Writing Hannah by Libby Gleeson. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. Screenplay by Syd Field. The Writing Book by Kate Grenville. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary by Frances Stillman. And online www.kidlit411.com.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
A series of three chapter books. They are narratives based on the “handbook” of gnomes. Written for 8-12 year olds and at 18, 000 words. I’d like my reluctant readers to have a go at reading shorter chapter books.
You can buy my book via my website, www.traceylennon.com, at Amazon or Booktopia and from local bookshops in Australia including : Avid Reader. Riverbend Books, Speld QLD.
TRACEY LENNON is a writer, designer, illustrator and tutor.
She has completed a Bachelor of Arts (UQ), Bachelor of Applied Science Interior Design (QUT), Cert IV Professional Writing and Editing (CAE Melb) and Cert IV TESOL (BNIT TAFE) and studied illustration and literacy. Her articles have been published in local and regional newspapers : Indian Link, trade magazine Multihull World and kid’s magazine, Scientriffic. She worked in communications at RMIT and is currently tutoring in English Grades K-12. She has had 4 novels for children published, Bad Hair Days, Fish Tales, The Fish Files and The Great Island Adventure. Her poems for children: Glimmer, P’s and Q’s and The Need for Speed, articles: King of the World, Freaky Creatures, Pirates at School and play The Secret Club have been published in The NSW School Magazine and Pearson School magazines.
In 2013 she participated in Two Locals, Brisbane Grammar and Clayfield College Art Shows. The True Book of Gnomes for middle readers was launched in December 2013.