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?
Children's Writer and Illustrator