I met Benjamin Johnston this year at the Sydney SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference and at the Queensland launch for Engibear’s Bridge in Brisbane during the QLD Children’s Book Council Australia Book Dinner.
I'd looked forward to meeting Ben ever since I had read Engibear’s Dream (written by Andrew King) as I was impressed with his detailed, lively and precise illustrations.
During the launch Ben talked about his process of creating the new female character and Chief Engineer, Engilina. He talked about how he was able to work with anthropomorphic characters in an engineering and construction setting while keeping topics such as safety, care for the environment and a realistic construction site including real engineering principles and processes in mind.
Read on for an interview with Ben and take a step by step look at his illustrative process resulting in a double spread for Engibear's Bridge.
What is your background?
I am a trained architect and continue to work full time as an architect, but my interests have always been in the wider realm of drawing and illustrating.
I studied life-drawing and etching for a year prior to starting uni at Julian Ashton Art School, a wonderfully "old school" (literally and figuratively) art college in the Rocks, Sydney. It was a brilliant grounding in what I love to do.
How did you get into illustrating picture books?
Architecture, while a creative profession, isn't necessarily as creative as I might wish it to be. I felt that there was much more I could achieve and I looked for other outlets, initially I undertook a Commercial Illustration course and then a USYD adult education course on Children's Book Illustration, run by Donna Rawlins and Wayne Harris. This became the catapult to a new career (well OK….semi-career....well OK...let's call it a glorified hobby).
And then there were my children. Having children was a fantastic excuse for burying myself in kids books once again, via a weekly trip to the local library.
What is it that you love about illustration and what keeps you going?
Illustration has by nature a necessity of achievement. It is not enough just to paint or draw your own desires. In children's book illustration you are aiming to encompass the author's desires as well as the reader's delight. You have to strive to achieve that. It is a challenge and I love the challenge.
And then there is the feedback. Feedback is really important, especially if it is positive. I love to hear that the work I have done has meant something to a child and that they will pick it up over and over again. Goosebumps of satisfaction!
What is your favourite art medium?
I really haven't had a chance to apply my favorite medium to children's book illustration but I know what it is. I love the beauty of etching. Hard-ground, soft-ground, aquatint..... But it's not the easiest medium to whip something up.
I really hope one day I have a chance to create a whole story in etchings.
Conversely I also do a lot of my work digitally and still haven't had much of a chance to get to grips with Corel Painter...which is a fantastic program. Time, time....when will I ever have enough?
A whole story in etchings! I do hope some clever publisher will take you up on that idea.
What is it that keeps you inspired creatively?
Good projects and good briefs. I haven't had many bad projects but it is noticeable what they do to your motivation levels.
Who are some authors and/ or illustrators you admire?
How long a list would you like?
One of my favourite illustrators is Chris Riddle, a cartoonist for the Guardian in the UK but also a brilliant ink-scribe. His detailed and chiseled figures and faces are just perfect - full of expression and precise. Also in the UK you can't go past Oliver Jeffers...such a brilliant simple style that I so wish I could copy except for the fact that it would look obvious that I had. In the US there are some amazing illustrators like Adam Rex, James Jean and Brett Helquist.
Back home, I am constantly inspired by the likes of Shaun Tan, Bruce Whatley, Stephen Michael King, Freya Blackwood, Chris Nixon and Gus Gordon. While not an illustrator per se, possibly the most influential person for me has always been the late and great Jeffery Smart.
What does your dream project look like?
I probably will never do my dream project, but it is in fact the one that I began as part of the illustration course. I have always loved the musical story "Peter and the wolf". I envisaged that there could be a place for an Australian version of It...not a kangaroos and koalas "How-are-ya mate" Australia but a 1930's Great Depression in Australia version. All dusty faded colours.
Ah, what a wonderful dream, I do hope you can make it a reality one day.
It is not usual for authors and illustrators to work together on a book or even meet. However, I know you and author Andrew King get along really well and have a great working relationship. How did that evolve?
It's funny, but my experience seems to have been the complete opposite of most people and yet I never realised it. I had always assumed that the author and illustrator exchanged notes and worked together.
With the first two books I did - Angry Mangry by Barton Williams and Engibear's Dream by Andrew King - I immediately saw myself as part of the team working beside the author to achieve what they wanted for the book. I don't have what I would call a set style, so I'm always looking for feedback to determine which of the early options I'm exploring works best.
Andrew and I email or talk daily or weekly at least, throwing around ideas and options. I send regular updates from sketch through to the finished work. And Andrew, for his part (and very relevant for the type of books we are working on) gets feedback and advice from various experts - such as getting actual bridge engineers to check the structural capacity of my designs. Yes…we are a little crazy but it makes the process both fun and professional and the result is highly collaborative work that we are proud of. Andrew is an Engineer and I'm an Architect - so it make for a good relationship and we have a similar mindset.
Have you got any more books coming out soon, or other projects you would like to share?
Andrew and I are releasing book No. 2 of the Engibear series - Engibear's Bridge. But we have already begun working on book No.3 as - Engibear's Train which compares and contrasts old and new train technology in the Munnagong/Engibear world. It is going to be great.
I am sure it will be, I can think of several children looking forward to that one!
I am pleased to include a series of images with this interview for the "August" page that shows the progression from the first Storyboard to the finished image.
One of the key elements in the story is obviously the bridge and it had to be right in each image. I had a friend, Scott Findlay, build me a 3D computer model that meant I could spin it around to any view I wanted in order to draw over.
This gave me confidence in drawing the final black and white image and that assisted with the speed of each drawing. Without the computer model I would have had to set up the perspective manually.
After the black and white illustrations were complete, all colour was done digitally, in either Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop. Adjustment to the lifework was also able to be done this way. Layering of the image meant I could place information and scale it to get it just right. As the end result is digital, it meant I was also able to undertake the text placement as well. This resulted in almost no post-production being required by the publisher.
Thank you for answering my questions, Ben and for giving us a fascinating insight into your illustrative process. I am looking forward to seeing more of your work in print and I hope one of your dream project will one day become a reality.
Andrew King and Benjamin Johnston are launching Engibear's Bridge on Thursday the 30th of October, 2014 at Strathfield North Public School at 9am.
Bio - Benjamin Johnston
Benjamin works full-time as a registered architect, however drawing and illustrating for children have always been his passion. .
Benjamin has illustrated the first books in the “Skool Rox” series, written by Barton Williams and the “Engibear” series, written by Engineer and Author Andrew King.
Benjamin is a regular illustrator for the “Little Rockets” series of early readers, published by New Frontier Publishing. “Ferret on the loose” has been released, and “Mike the Spike” will be following shortly.
Benjamin is a member of SCBWI (Society of children’s books writers and illustrators) and has had his work showcased in the Bologna Illustrators Gallery 2014.
I first met Karen Tyrrell during her book launch for Bailey Beats the Blah at my local library. Soon after I was thrilled to meet Karen again at Write Links, the Brisbane Children's Writers group.
I soon realized that here is a powerhouse in children's writing when it comes to stories with a mental health message.
Karen is a passionate mental health advocate and her stories have received strong support and recognition from schools and mental health professionals.
Karen works tirelessly and is a frequent speaker on the subjects of writing and building an author platform.
It has been wonderful having Karen as part of our group through her encouragement and support of other writers and in sharing information and her experiences.
Without further ado, I would like to present Karen's latest book, a Junior Novel, STOP the Bully:
SYNOPSIS: Eleven year old Brian is hiding something. His life is falling apart. Dad abandoned the family. Brian hates his new school. And now an aggressive bully attacks him every day. Can Brian STOP the Bully without revealing his shameful secret?
STOP the Bully is a riveting junior novel to empower girls and boys with assertive strategies. The mystery reveals the bullying dilemma from all perspectives.
STOP the Bully raises big issues: bullying, family break-ups, poverty, self-esteem, coping with change, friendship, forgiveness and reconciliation.
5% sales go to Kids Helpline to help Kids in Crisis, STOP the Bully is now available from Amazon.
How to Write a Junior Novel with Karen Tyrrell:
How did STOP the Bully develop?
First I pictured the ending with a twist, and then I wrote the story “backwards.”
I created STOP the Bully as a fast paced mystery incorporating positive messages and offering bullying solutions.
How did you know STOP the Bully was ready to publish?
When I could improve STOP the Bully no more, I sent it out to five Beta readers for critique. I listened to their feedback and suggestion continually upgrading and improving my story. I changed some of the action, dialogue, prose and even character’s descriptions until STOP the Bully became a much stronger version than the original idea.
Why did you publish STOP the Bully?
My dream was to create a junior novel to empower children to overcome bullying and become more resilient in future episodes. Prevention is FAR better than cure.
I wanted to empower children with anti-bullying strategies and boost their self-esteem at the same time be entertaining.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish their children’s book?
A. Immerse yourself into the genre of children’s chapter and junior books. Practice writing techniques such as dialogue, setting, character development, creating a character the reader can empathize with while crafting a strong story arc.
B. Create a junior novel on a theme you’re passionate about. Your energy will shine through in your writing.
C. Send out your to junior novel to experienced Beta readers for critique and advice.
D. Develop your junior novel over time by rewriting, redrafting and perfecting.
E. Contract the very best editor, illustrator, cover designer and formatter you can find to create a professional child-centred junior novel appealing to kids, parents and teachers alike.
STOP the Bully is aligned with Kids Matter, national education curriculum and supported by Kids Helpline.
ISBN: 9780987274069 Available on Amazon and independent bookshops (such as Black Cat Books in Paddington, Brisbane).
Download FREE children's activities and FREE teacher notes from www.karentyrrell.com
STOP the Bully Blog Tour & Book Give Away
WIN: Signed copies and eBooks of STOP the Bully.
Leave a comment on any of the 15 hops June 2- 11
The MORE comments you leave the MORE chances you WIN.
WINNERS announced on June 16 http:// www.karentyrrell.com
Blog Tour June 2-11
2 June STOP the Bully Release Party & Reviews http:// www.karentyrrell.com
Sally Odgers Interview http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com.au
3 June Jill Smith Review http://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com
Charmaine Clancy Interview http://clancytales.blogspot.com.au
4 June Sally Murphy QUICK Questions http://aussiereviews.com/2014/06/karen-tyrell-blog-tour
5 June Melissa Wray Interview http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
Yvonne Mes Interview http://www.yvonnemes.com
6 June Ali Stegert Interview http://ali-stegert.com
7 June Kids Book Review CURLY Questions http://www.kids-bookreview.com
9 June Bug in a Book Review http://buginabook.org/category/childrens-books
Jackie Hosking Interview http://jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine
10 June June Perkins Interview http://pearlz.wordpress.com
Robyn Parnell Interview http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com.au
11 June Nicky Johnson Review http://www.nickyjohnston.com.au/blog
Literati Radio Interview 9am AEST http://www.blogtalkradio.com/laliteraticarpelibrum
Karen Tyrrell is an award-winning Australian author and teacher. Karen presents interactive story telling sessions, creative writing workshops, seminars and author talks in schools, libraries, festivals and confer-ences. She speaks out on TV, radio and writes for magazines.
Bailey Beats the Blah (2013) empowers children with resilience skills. STOP the Bully (2014) junior novel empowers children with assertive anti-bullying strategies.
STOP the Bully is now available from Amazon.
Today I have the pleasure of reviewing Bedtime Stories for Busy Mothers and interviewing the author, Caylie Jeffery.
I identify more than a little with ‘being one of those mothers, the harassed looking ones that never carry enough band-aids, as Caylie describes herself in the introduction and it can be quite cathartic recognising yourself in someone else life; realizing you are not the only mother that loves her children enormously but worries about not living up to being the perfect mother, struggling with guilt and trying to find a balance between parenting and being a person in your own right.
Caylie urges us ‘to take some time each night to rest, reflect and regroup’ by reading her stories. As an emerging children’s writer and illustrator and a busy mum, I only have so much time to read stories that are not for children, so this book with its short stories for adults was perfect! The stories were just the right length and packed full of goodness. Like taking a multivitamin for busy mums.
This book does not describe the agonies of middle class motherly woe. These are stories that inspire, stories that overwhelm with emotion, stories that frighten and stories that make you laugh.
Caylie and her husband made some life changing decisions after close encounters with tragedy and Caylie chooses to live her life consciously, reflecting on anything from the extraordinaire to the mundane.
My favourites are too many to list, but the opening story particularly has stayed with me (you really need to read it and experience the goosebumps and snotty tissues for yourself). Topics range from puppies to politics, from following your dreams and relationships to ... warts. Midwives, teachers, The Baby Artist, being an imperfect parent, libraries and writing and many more. But what all these stories have in common are heart, soul, humanity, frailty, courage, passion and love, and they made me giggle.
The book left me wanting more; more stories and more insights from a fascinating lady whose words flows on the page like a salve for the weary busy motherly soul.
Caylie’s book is being launched at Black Cat Books on Saturday the 10th of May at 10am.
And if you can't make it to the launch, you can get your copy here.
Interview with Caylie Jeffery author of Bedtime Stories for Busy Mothers
Please tell me you have more books like this planned?!
Yes, at the end of each year, I'll publish another Bedtime Story book for grownups, using the best stories I've published from the year before, possibly in e-book format to start with, and maybe one for Dads!
What was your road to getting this book published?
I have always loved to write, and used letters, journals and diaries to debrief about my life experiences. Blogging became another outlet after a Picture Book author suggested I get an audience and a platform before I started to submit stories to publishers. So just over a year ago, I started Distractions of a Busy Mother and realised that debriefing about imperfect parenting and describing positive experiences and inspirational events connected with a lot of people (mainly women between 30 and 60). My stories were read out on the radio and picked up by a few online magazines, and hey presto, I had a platform, an audience and a reason for writing. Now I can't stop.
I see wonder, beauty, pain and choices everywhere I look, and can't wait to get my fingers typing about so many different topics that might resonate with my readers. Because I was frightened off traditional publishing by a publisher who said they received 1000 manuscripts a day, I decided that life is too short to wait for someone to 'discover' me. So, I took the initiative, started my own publishing house (Mindful Matter Publications), found a great editor, printer and started learning everything I could about marketing. And here I am!
Can you share some tips for busy mothers?
Ha! I can offer some but I'd love to receive some in return!
I'm always looking for smarter ways to live and parent! But for what it's worth:
1. Be your true, authentic self. Your kids will know if you're trying to practice a new technique on them that you've read about in a book. If it doesn't come naturally, ask yourself why and then perhaps change the technique to suit your own style and voice
2. Those books next to your bed that tell you how to be a better parent can also sap your self-esteem. Perhaps get a blank journal and keep a record of all the things you do well as a mother, rather than beating yourself up about not being perfect. Just being aware of your developmental areas is a good start, and if you make a mistake, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and do it better next time.
3. Follow all the same advice you give your children!
4. Have your own hobbies that don't involve the kids or your partner and make time for them
5. Don't stop reading for pleasure... even if it's only 15 minutes a day... sit up in bed, don't lie down to read! Else, you're a goner!
6. Allow yourself down-time. Watch a DVD with the kids, or watch one of your own when they're watching theirs! No guilt!
7. My biggest tip: ask for help when you are snowed under. Start with your kids, then your partner, then your extended family, then your friends. They don't know what to do to help you. Be specific, give a time frame and then say thank you without the need to pay them back with gifts. Let them help you, as you will pay it forward when you can, I just know it.
What are you working on now?
Apart from the marketing and promotion planning for this book, I'm continuing to write weekly essays for various online publications. I am also doing the QWC's Year of the Edit to finish off my YA Manuscript, Salt.
This story is based on our real-life experiences in London during the 2005 terrorist attacks and the ensuing sailing adventure. The heroine is a 16 year old Australian teenager called Rosie who finds power at sea after the traumatic past she's had.
Thank you, Caylie. I am looking forward to more stories and hope to one day hold one of your picture books in my hands!
Caylie and I are both members of Write Links, the Brisbane children's writers group. For more information check out the website.
Meet Tracey Lennon: Brisbane writer, illustrator and visual artist.
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.
The book can be read as a whole, or dipped in and out of. There is information on what to feed your gnome, the magic power of gnomes, runes, a short history of gnomes and includes jokes, riddles, quizzes, recipes and even music through the clever use of a QR code.
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:
Your new book The True Book of Gnomes launched late last year.
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.
How does your book assist children that find reading more challenging, such as reluctant readers or ESL students?
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.
Do you consider yourself an author or illustrator first?
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.
Where can people buy The True Book of Gnomes?
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.
Who knew I was doing a series! This post marks the last in a series of three posts featuring the most amazing critique partners a children's writer could have!
Today I am featuring Sylvia Liu, writer, illustrator and winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award 2013.
I was lucky enough to meet up with Sylvia a year ago through Julie Hedlund's 12x12. We share a lot of the same passions and interests and I was very impressed with her knowledge of illustration and her willingness to share her experience with everyone. I am now honored to call Sylvia a friend and am excited to follow her journey towards the publication of her first picture book, A Morning with Gong Gong.
What is the New Voices Award?
Established in 2000, the New Voices Award encourages writers of color to submit their work to a publisher that takes pride in nurturing new talent. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and a standard publication contract, including the basic advance and royalties for a first time author with Lee & Low.
The Winning Story:
A Morning with Gong Gong portrays an energetic young girl named Mei Mei, as she spends time with her grandfather. When Mei Mei sees her grandfather, Gong Gong, practicing t’ai chi in the garden, she is eager to join in. He tries to teach her the slow and graceful moves, and Mei Mei, in turn, tries to teach Gong Gong some of the yoga poses she has learned in school. Although they both struggle with these new activities, Mei Mei and Gong Gong realize that it’s the time they spend together that is important. (From the Lee & Low website)
Please paint a picture, what was your reaction when you found out you had won the Award? I know you had to sit on the good news for a while before you were able to share it, it must have been sweet suspense.
When I got The Call, it was actually Call Waiting, because I was on the phone with my husband. I saw a New York number on caller ID. Not recognizing it, but not thinking much about it, I took the call. It was my editor, who introduced herself as being from Lee and Low. At that moment, my heart began to beat double time. My immediate thought was that I was one of the finalists, but then she told me that I had won. I am sure she thought I was a blithering idiot. After the call, I did a happy dance and called my husband. I did some more happy dances with my girls when they came home from school.
I heard on December 20, so it was a wonderful Christmas present. Lee and Low asked me not to share the news with anyone except close family until they officially announced the award in mid-January. I was dying to tell my critique members and other close friends, but I kept mum. The three and half weeks until the January 15 announcement were torture, but I learned that I can keep a secret.
Roughly how long did it take you to write A Morning with Gong Gong from idea to submission?
It was very short compared to most my stories, which go through months of resting and revisions. I came up with the idea in June 2013, wrote my first draft in July, and went through a couple rounds with my critique group in August and September. I had a professional critique done in mid-September and snail mailed the story to meet the contest deadline of September 30.
I know that you do not practice t’ai chi yourself, what inspired you to write this story?
My dad has practiced t’ai chi since I was a teenager. In the last decade or so, he has moved on to a different Chinese mind-body practice, qi gong. I wrote the story when I was on a family vacation in Vermont with my parents. Watching my dad practice qi gong and seeing my him interact with my girls and my sister’s three kids inspired the story. The story originally included qi gong as well, but I ended up paring it down.
Is there an underlying theme or an overarching philosophy that runs through your writing?
I guess my stories reflect a curiosity about the world. I try to remember what it’s like to be a child where everything is new and strange and mysterious. Some of my stories have environmental themes, a leftover from my years as a marine conservation attorney. Others are more idiosyncratic.
Can you describe your writing process?
I’m a pantser when it comes to picture book stories, and an outliner for my middle grade work. I usually have an idea of a character or a story in mind, and I start writing and see what develops. The problem is that my resulting story often lacks an important element, like a narrative arc or a motivation for the main character. That’s where my awesome critique group comes in and points out that I need to include a plot or an ending. It usually works itself out after a few rounds of critiquing, which is why I am such a fan of critique groups in general and my critique group specifically.
If you are a children’s writer or illustrator, Kidlit411.com is one of the best resources on the web and it is totally free!
Kidlit411.com was launched recently and I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder of the site, Elaine Kiely Kearns. Luckily she was able to snatch away a few precious minutes from her hectic schedule, because not only is she a children’s writer, but she is also a teacher, married (to a fireman no less) with two beautiful daughters.
I ‘met’ Elaine last year through Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 picture book writing challenge. When a call came up for people wanting to join an online critique group we both accepted the challenge. It has been amazing year of writing, creativity and friendship.
Here is the interview:
Who is Kidlit411 for?
KIDLIT411 is for everyone who is trying to write a children's book, whether they are just starting out on the journey or are already published. It is a place for everyone!
The site has topics from Challenges, Contests & Awards, to Diversity in Kidlit, Query Letters and Social Media. This is only a short list, you really need to have a look at yourself to get an idea of the scope of the site. The topics link you to the latest, quality and useful websites and resources.
How did you come up with the idea for Kidlit411?
KidLit411 came about from my need to pool resources from the internet. There are so many great sites out there and the kid lit community LOVES to share information! The amount of resources shared in Julie Hedlund's 12x12 was so fantastic that I couldn't keep up and needed a place to put it. So, I started making a list of the sites that I loved the most and would return to again and again to share with my online critique group. Then I started thinking that perhaps other friends would enjoy the information too , and eventually the idea just morphed into an entire online site.
Some of my critique partners, Teresa Robeson, Yvonne Mes, and Alayne Kay Christian also work on the KidLit411 site, Sarah Maynard updates the site regularly with the latest contest dates. Sylvia Liu is also my partner, keeping the site running, adding links, and overseeing the illustrations.
What are some of Kidlit411 features?
KL411 features a weekly ILLUSTRATORS SPOTLIGHT, where Sylvia Liu, interviews an illustrator about their craft and showcases their art and a weekly AUTHOR'S SPOTLIGHT where I interview an author and find out what helps them be successful in the industry.
We also send a WEEKLY 411 email (sign up here! http://www.kidlit411.com )where you get a condensed version of all of the new links and information that has been posted for that week. This is also the ONLY place where we include 'NEW AGENT information, so be sure to sign up!
How is Kidlit411 different from other websites for children’s writers and illustrators?
KL411 is different because it is more of an online link library than a blog. We aren't talking about kid lit or the industry, but rather we are a hub, a gathering place for all the really great online information that we find.
We've weeded out the bad stuff, and only left you with the best. You can pretty much bet that if it's listed on our site, it's worth a look.
How can people get involved with Kidlit411?
We welcome suggestions for quality links that are relevant to children's writing and illustrating, you can email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in being featured in any of our main pages or would like to be featured in the Illustrator or Author Spotlights you can email the above address as well.
To the right is a screen shot taken from Kidlit411, I love how all the topics are grouped and displayed. Each topic features art from children's illustrators and are changed on a weekly basis to showcase as many illustrators as possible.
If you are an illustrator you can send your own art in for consideration.
Not only is Kidlit411 an amazing resources it also supports upcoming and established writers and illustrators.
What is next for Kidlit411?
We have so many awesome ideas for KIDLIT411! Time will bring more great things to the site, that's for sure. Stay tuned!
(As I write this, Elaine has just added a classified/ wanted topic where writers and illustrators can look for critique partners, illustrators etc.)
Who do you look for for inspiration?
That is a really hard question to answer, I try to surround myself with people who inspire me! I guess those that I admire the most are all of those who don't give up or give in, those who are kind and helpful, those who help, even when the "helping" is hard. True people with a good heart and soul. Oh, and anyone who makes me laugh. I love to laugh. (But not in a creepy unnatural way) :-)
And one final question:
Which children's writer, past and/or present do you admire?
I have way to many favorites to choose just one!
Elaine Kiely Kearns is a picture book writer from NY, a second grade elementary school teacher and a mother of two, who lives on coffee, chocolate and humor.
You can find out more about Elaine, by checking out her website.
One of my fabulous critique partners, Elaine Kiely Kearns, has tagged me in a blog hop. I never hopped a blog before, I feel I should wear some bunny ears, or at least eat some chocolate while hopping. Hmm, yep, that works! Luckily, there is not too much actual hopping, instead, blog hopping involves answering a few author related question.
And when you have read them you can hop along to some other fabulous blogs.
Why is Elaine so fabulous? She loves picture books as much as I do, for one. Then there is the fact that she is a grade two teacher and has a Masters education on top of a creative spirit means that she has great insights when critiquing stories. On top of all that she has a wicked sense of humour and knows how to buoy you up from frazzled low downtown to the energized part of uptown.
If you want to know more about Elaine, check out her website:
1. What are you working on right now?
I work on several things at once. At the moment I am working on a creative non-fiction picture book with an Australian focus. Two picture book dummies (slow process) and revising several picture book stories.
2. How does your writing process work?
I get my ideas, brainstorm, think, and think so more. Lots of day dreaming involved. Then when I start writing usually the first draft takes around 15 minutes. At this stage I have fallen in love with the story and think it is my best ever. I look at it again every few days, still in love and make a change here and there. Then over to my critique groups. I have a fabulous international critique group of picture book writers on Facebook and a most supportive small community of picture book writers on Scribophile as well as a very motivated face to face critique group that meets once a month. I might ask for feedback on my latest story from one or all of these critique groups.
Then I hit a wall. I fall out of love. I make changes to the story. I can only see its faults and then I leave it and move on to the next story, ready to fall in love again. After a while I have another peek at the previous story and decide that, yep, leave that one alone or, wow, that story is pretty good and I rekindle the flame, make some change if needed and send it out to one or more of my groups again. And if at this stage our love has grown stronger, I will submit it to an agent or publishing house that I have researched and think might be a good fit.
3. Who are the authors you most admire?
Aagh, really?! It changes but some of my favourite PB writers and illustrators are Maurice Sendak, Peter Brown, Mem Fox, Mo Willems, Shaun Tan, Tomi Ungerer, Oliver Jeffers, Margaret Wild and for MG I really like Jacky French’s book and in particular her non-fiction books. I grew up in the Netherlands and I have always loved Annie M. G. Schmidt's stories and poems and illustrator Fiep Westendorp. In picture books I love the quirky and slightly dark or downright silly. I really could go on for much longer, but that will have to do for now. I might have to devote a whole blog post to this instead.
Now, you know a little about my writing and if you would like to read a more about other authors, why not tag along and check out the fabulous blogs of the following talented children’s writers and/ or illustrators:
I met Andrew King a few months ago when he was giving a presentation to Write Links, a newly formed children’s writers group in Brisbane. He talked about his experience in getting his first picture book Engibear's Dream published. And even though it sounded like an epic journey, his enthusiasm and drive were catching and inspiring.
Of course, I rushed out and bought Engibear's Dream as soon as possible.
Being the mother of sons and being married to an engineer, it seemed that Andrew must have written the book with my family in mind. The story is fun and engaging. In the story Engibear designs and makes various prototypes of 'bearbots', and in the process introduces children to basic engineering ideas. And if that wasn't enough, the story has also been beautifully illustrated.
Since that first meeting, I have had the pleasure of sharing the same critique group with Andrew, and I couldn’t resist asking him a few more questions about his writing and the creation of Engibear's Dream.
Engibear's Dream written by Andrew King and illustrated by Benjamin Johnston was published in partnership with Little Steps.
So let’s get into it:
How was Engibear born?
Engibear was created while playing with my kids. We spent a lot of time in sandpits and playgrounds and drawing. As an engineer I always seemed to put a bit of an engineering spin on the games we played or the things we drew. However, at the time there did not seem to be an engineering character in children’s literature that we could involve in our games. Therefore, one of our teddy bears became the character Engibear who did things like drive trucks and operate cranes in the backyard sandpit. From there Engibear developed into a consulting Engineer in the fictitious city of Munnagong and we shared lots of stories about his work. Over time Engibear spread outside my family and friends and we have developed him to become a “friendly face” of engineering - a way to introduce engineering to young children.
From start to finish how long did it take you to complete the finished manuscript, and from there how long did it take until Engibear's Dream was released?
We had early stories many years ago – the stories we used to share as a family. However, it was not until early 2010 that we started to write a proper picture book. It took just over a year to get the story into the right format and then another 18 months for the book to be edited, illustrated and published.
Where are some of the places Engibear has travelled to as part of the publishing journey?
Engibear is starting to get familiar with parts of Australia; he has visited Sydney, Canberra and a range of places in South-East Queensland. He has also had some international travel; trips have included the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair (thanks to Little Steps) and engineering conferences in Slovenia and Singapore (thanks to Engineers Australia). In early 2013 Engibear’s Dream was also published in Korea.
Have you got any good tips for beginning picture book writers?
I am pretty new to this game so I think all of my tips are borrowed from others. There are far too many to include here; however, I have included a few that have been helpful for me on my journey so far:
· read and write every day
· look for inspiration everywhere and allow it to come from anywhere
· become part of the writing community – workshops, festivals, conferences, writing groups, reading groups
· continually educate yourself - learn and understand the structures and rules that apply to your craft
· be yourself and tell your stories your way
Any golden tips on self-publishing or partnership publishing?
I think it is a great way to get your product out there and achieve a great milestone - publication. However:
· There is a lot more to publication than just writing the book. Be prepared to do all of the follow up work in the post publication phase; presentations, marketing and sales and distribution.
· Don’t try self-publishing for the money. Work out a marketing plan and make sure you really understand the economics and the associated risks before you decide how many books you want to publish.
When you write a picture book and have it published through a publishing house, generally the author and illustrator have minimal or no contact, but if you self-publish/ partnership publish you have the great benefit of being able to work closely with an illustrator. Engibear’s Dream talented illustrator is Benjamin Johnston, how did you collaborate on Engibear's Dream? What was the process like to work with the illustrator?
I really enjoyed working closely with Ben (during the course of the book development we exchanged over a hundred emails). From my perspective, it really helped with Engibear’s Dream – especially as it was our first book together and we needed to do things like establish the style and the characters. However, once we had established initial ideas for the illustrations Ben took them way beyond what I ever imagined they would be and I am really glad he did. Working with Ben also helped me with the final versions of the text. In some cases the text changed to suit the illustrations, for example including “Tiger Grip Tyres” in the text to match the billboard sign. In other cases we modified both the text and the illustrations for a better story – we even changed one entire page after it had been completed to better fit the story line.
As children’s writers we are often told not to write in rhyme. You chose to write in rhyme, what went into that decision?
Engibear's stories started off as short poems / rhymes with accompanying pictures (see attached example by Douglas). When doing these it just seemed natural to write in rhyming verse. The book really became an extension of this style and the rhyming stayed. I must admit I was not sure whether to stick with it or not for the second book but I have been encouraged by people who have said they enjoyed the rhyme. Perhaps there is also an element of my own personality in it; I am an engineer and an amateur musician and from both perspectives the structure of rhyming verse is appealing.
Would you like to share anything about your next book/ project?
Engibear’s Bridge is a story about building a dinosaur shaped pedestrian bridge across Munnagong River outside Munnagong State School. The kid’s at the school thought of the bridge, council agreed to it and asked Engilina, Munnagong’s Chief Engineer, to manage the project. The kids get to learn about bridge building while following the bridge’s design and construction, month by month, through a whole year. The book also includes a subtle sustainable transport message.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Keep on writing, drawing and reading and encourage your relatives and friends to do it as well…
Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time to do this interview. I am am looking forward to the release of Engibear's Bridge.
You can get your own copy of Engibear right here.
Beck Fyfe - Copyright Slimming World/ Paul Bueler
I was introduced to the world of superheroes at an early age by my favourite uncle Paul Moedt who was subscribed to various comics, including Spiderman, X-man and the Fantastic Four. I loved absorbing myself in these worlds of superheroes, my favourite superhero was Storm. She could fly, control the weather, AND she was a woman and I really loved that flowing black cape!
Many years later I found out that my uncle had done away with most of his comics. I was quietly devastated, and looking back I am sure he wishes he had held onto them as well because since then comics certainly have made a comeback.
Superheroes are BIG on the big screen, Spiderman, X-men, Fantastic Four, Thor, The Avengers, and more, but I have been quit disappointed by the portrayal of Storm, she always seems to fly in the background. I am sure she needs a whole movie to herself to do her justice.
How does this relate to writing? Read on!
At the start of the year I joined the Kidlit online community, it is full of wonderful, supportive, and inspiring people. And it wasn’t long before I discovered a real life Kidlit Superheroine, Becky Fyfe.
She writes, she draws, she runs several writing challenges, writes a couple of blogs, and is a mother to 7 children. Hello, superheroine!
I joined Becky’s Chapter Book Challenge this year. For a month I focused on writing my chapter book spurred on by Becky and her group of writing enthusiasts. Then I got involved with the Anthology of Fractured Fairytales, yep, another great idea instigated by Wonder Woman. The Anthology features contributions from Chapter Book Challenge participants and it is due to come out later this year, so keep your eye out for that one.
I was pretty impressed already, but then Becky came up with another awesome idea, the Creating a Female Superhero Challenge #CAFSC. This challenge will also culminate in an anthology and the proceeds will go to a charity for girls.
The Challenge runs the month of June. Write a short story 300 – 1000 words featuring your own female superhero. Who know it might even spark a bigger story. Find more details of the Female Superhero Challenge here.
I just had to ask Becky some questions on all things Superheroine related:
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Becky, lets get right into them.
So, Becky-Kidlit-Superheroine, what IS your alter ego’s name?
I hadn’t thought about it before, but when I asked my husband, he told me it has to be something along the lines of “Blaze” to go with my red hair, which made me grin. My 10 year old daughter focused more on my achievements though, so she said it has to be “Diet Woman.” (I used to be classified as morbidly obese but lost all of the excess weight, reached a healthy BMI and have maintained it for almost three years now.) I think I’ll have to come up with something on my own. ;)
And, I have to ask, who is your favourite superhero/ine and why?
I always liked Rogue, not the one in the X-Men movies but the one in the cartoons and comics. (The X-Men movies kind of ruined her for me.) In the comics and cartoons, she’s a feisty redhead with attitude, and although her powers are somewhat tragic (she can’t touch anyone without sapping their life force or superpowers), she doesn’t let it stop her from doing whatever good she can with them. She never needs rescuing from any of the males around her.
How did you come up with the idea for this challenge?
The idea for this challenge has been on my mind for a while. I’ve loved all of the new superhero movies, especially the latest Avengers movie, but I didn’t think the women in the movie were given enough screen time. Joss Whedon is wonderful at creating strong female characters, but the rest of the media just isn’t following suit as quickly as I would like. I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there hasn’t been any truly strong heroines to take her place since the series ended.
One thing that really brought the idea for the challenge into my mind as something I had to do was when I was looking online for some gifts for my children. I have sons and daughters, and they all love superheroes. While it was easy to find male superhero stuff for the boys, from Thor t-shirts to Spiderman underwear and Iron Man (shooting) toy gloves, I couldn’t seem to find any products featuring female superheroes for my daughters. There were some Wonder Woman t-shirts in adult sizes and that was it. (Although, admittedly, my seven year old daughter is quite happy to play with her toy Thor’s hammer. I just have to keep her from bashing her brothers’ heads in with the plastic toy.)
Overall, I basically just got tired of waiting on the media to create superheroines that I could relate to and decided that one way to solve the problem was to create my own. And I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
There seems to be quite an impressive list of superheroines why is it that superheroines are not as recognisable or feature as strongly in our culture as male superheroes? Is there a glass ceiling for female superheroes perhaps?
We are lucky, as women growing up in modern society that we have a lot of freedoms that women in the past didn’t. We can inherit. We can enjoy career success. We can vote. These are things we now take for granted, but women, at some point in our history, had to fight for these rights and others. I think women’s roles in society have been underestimated for a long time and that has been reflected in the movies and other popular media, but I believe that this is changing. It is a long process and one that we all need to be aware of. I think women are more vocal about their needs now and that is why we are now seeing a movement towards women wanting to see more strong female heroines in the movies and in the media as a whole. The Creating a Female Superhero Challenge is just my way of trying to contribute to the movement.
I think there may have been a glass ceiling for female superheroes in the media at one point, but that is changing now. As more women are asking for a change, little by little, the change is beginning to happen. Women are a powerful force when it comes to our buying power in this economy, so it won’t take long for writers and producers to take notice.
Any tips for creating a strong female superhero?
The main tip I can give is to think of what strength means to you and write it into your character. It will be different for everyone who is creating a character.
For instance, in one story I wrote, my character chose to become a superhero because of a violent attack on her in her past. But then I thought about her some more and decided that I didn’t want to start the story with her being a victim, so I changed it to someone else in her life being attacked and her being frustrated about not being able to help. There is nothing inherently wrong with making her get her start from being a victim and evolving into something stronger, as other superheroes have started out that way, but, to me personally, I didn’t want her to be cast as a victim before gaining her powers.
What do you think are important features of a female superhero? Do you think there are certain characteristics or powers that are more specific to female superheroes, other than being female of course?
You know, I don’t really think there are any powers that would be specifically female or male. Although my husband tells me that I’m wrong. He says that women are better at multitasking! (In our house, that may be true, but I’m sure there are women out there who aren’t very good at multitasking just as there will be some men who are very good at it.) Some of the traits that I think are recognized as more female than male (such as multitasking) are really just a result of the culture we live in being more encouraging of one thing over another based on our genders.
Now, this question is purely self-interested: I know you are a very busy writer and mom. Have you got any tips on how you balance the two?
I am not very organized, so I don’t know if anyone would actually want some tips from me on this topic, but I can give one piece of advice. Forget having a clean and tidy house. My house is a complete and utter mess. I blame the clutter on not having time for housework between my writing and raising my kids, but I also really hate housework.
It’s really just a matter of prioritizing. Writing is an important aspect of my life, so I make time for it. I am not a morning person, so I am not one of those people who wakes up early in the morning to fit in writing time, but I do stay up late in order to write while it is quiet in my house. (This probably explains why I am tired so often.) When my kids are in school, I have more time to write. I spend a lot of time on the bus traveling to and from my children’s schools, so I bring a notebook with me and write while on the bus. On the weekends, if I am coming up to a deadline and desperately need some quiet time to write, I will let my husband know and he will take the kids out for a couple of hours at the park or to the movies to give me a bit of extra time to myself. I think too many people are afraid to ask for help or to ask for what they want.
Is there anything else you want add?
Many of the stories written for this challenge, with the permission of the authors, will be included in an anthology with the proceeds going to a charity that benefits girls.
I am hopeful that there will be a lot of entries into the challenge because I am really looking forward to reading about lots of powerful female superheroes.
Thanks so much for interviewing me and for helping spread the word about the Creating a Female Superhero Challenge.
Rebecca Fyfe is a mother of seven children, a writer and a blogger. She writes middle grade, YA, non-fiction and picture books and has several short fiction pieces published in anthologies and spent a year writing regular featured articles for a parenting magazine. She runs the Chapter Book Challenge (ChaBooCha), which runs every March. She has a BA in English Literature and an AA in Child Development. She has lost over 145 lbs. in a quest for healthy living and has been featured in magazines and on TV a few times because of it.
So who is your favourite Superheroine and what would be your Superheroine name?
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Children's Writer and Illustrator