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.
Here is my first ever post as part of Poetry Friday.
A few short weeks ago I never thought I would be able to write any poetry, or least not something I’d show without severe embarrassment.
Last year I was totally tongue and brain tied in a workshop by the lovely Meredith Costain. During her workshop each participant came up with gorgeous poem after poem, made up one the spot, while I hid my piece of paper and tried to look invisible.
My friend Renee LaTulippe changed all that. Our love of writing picture books brought us together in the same online critique group. Late last year she asked us to be beta testers/ students for her course The Lyrical Language Lab.
This is some of what her course offers:
Though I already held Renee in high regard as a poetry expert, and like many others subscribe to her inspiring blog No Water River I was a little skeptical that I would be able to learn anything at all about poetry.
But she did it!
Renee took a bunch of uncultivated, uncultured, unpolished, poetry deprived, rhythmically challenged and lyrical lowbrows and whipped them into shape!
When I say whip, I mean softly coaxed, giving us the honest truth when we needed it but packaged in such sincerity and good will and with a firm belief that we could grasp the concepts of poetical language that even we started believing in it.
Poetry seemed so vague, uncontrollable and unidentifiable to me. And though I have read poetry, and many of my favorite picture books are in rhyme or have that sense of lyricism and rhythm, I never thought I could use that in my picture book texts.
Even after just a few lessons I was able to come up with a double dactyl and a short poem in trochee. These two poems here were just done as part of the daily homework assignments during the first five lessons.
For me one of the exciting things about this course is that all our assignments receive personal feedback from Renee as well as plenty of interaction with the other students.
Renee is launching her course .... today! As part of the launch she is giving away a scholarship to one lucky reader, so go over to her blog and check out the details. And here is the link to the course page itself.
About double dactyls (taken from the course):
The double dactyl is a form of light verse invented by Paul Pascal, Anthony Hecht, and John Hollander
Here is my child friendly double dactyl:
sniffled and snaffled for
something to munch.
Finding a truffle he
gobbled it down with a
And here is my child loving trochaic poem:
on the floor tiles
make me shake my head.
Dirty hand prints
on the fridge door
make me sigh instead.
Broken pot plants
on the table
make my eyes see red.
when I watch him
sleeping in his bed.
And here are those links again:
Renee LaTulippe Launch post and GIVEAWAY
The Lyrical Language Lab Course information
About Poetry Friday: (from Kidlitosphere Central) At the end of the week many children’s book aficionados and bloggers use their sites to contribute favorite poems or chat about something poetical in an event called Poetry Friday. The features can be for children or adults, can be original poems, reviews of poetry books, reviews of poetic picture books, links to poems at copyright protected sites, thoughts about poetry, and more.
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Children's Writer and Illustrator