There’s a lovely interview with Four All At Sea author Sophie Masson on the international writing site, Writer Unboxed. Here’s a short extract:
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
SM: It’s a new adventure for four old friends who just happen to be machines: two cars (Maxie and Lady) a motorbike (Flash) and a tractor (Fergie). In the first book, Four on the Run, our friends took to the road after thinking they were going to be sold for scrap. They had many adventures, which ended in them being offered a part in a film. This book takes the story further: the four friends are on a luxury cruise, bound for the film set, when a big storm washes their container overboard and they land on a desert island. But it’s not quite deserted: there’s someone else there, someone not very friendly…Much fun and mayhem ensue as they try to think up a way to escape.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
SM: It’s sheer joyful fun for young readers and families, and it has fabulous illustrations by the wonderful Cheryl Orsini.
Following on from our interview with Jenny Blackford yesterday, we are very pleased to bring you today an interview with Kristin Devine, who created the fabulous cover and internal illustrations of Fil and Harry. As with Jenny’s interview, it was conducted by Sharnee Rawson.
The cover and illustrations for Fil and Harry are fantastic. What’s your creative process when you undertake a new project?
Thanks! While my individual artworks usually start with a very clear mental image, illustrations usually start with a combination of mind maps and sketches – lots of key words and very quick sketches. Illustrations have to stand well on their own as well as interact with both the text and other pictures within the book, so I generally like to spend some time working out the pacing and balance of the images, combining or separating ideas etc. before I start creating each illustration. I also like to spend some time sketching and developing the visual appearance of the main characters.
Fil and Harry is your first time illustrating a book. What techniques and resources did you use? Were they different from your usual routine?
A little different. The illustrations for Fil and Harry were created digitally, which means that I draw with a digital pencil on digital paper and with pixels instead of pigments. I have been creating an increasing number of illustrations this way over the past year as it is such a versatile medium and is well suited to the digital marketplace. I also use digital mannequins instead of the traditional little wooden ones – they are much more adaptable and hold their poses much better!
My more usual approach when beginning any new work is to start with graphite pencils on paper. The almost meditative process of rendering an image in graphite makes it one of my favourite mediums.
How did you get into art and illustration? Is it something you have always done?
Art is something I have always done, I remember getting up as a small child at the crack of dawn to start drawing! Illustration is a slightly newer endeavour for me but still one which I have been pursuing for several years now.
You have a website that showcases various styles, particularly black and white drawings. How would you describe your art in three words?
Inspired by nature. My inherent inclination is towards realism and I am intrigued by the natural world, predispositions which meet, well, naturally, in natural history illustration, something I really enjoy and would like to do more of. That being said, I also enjoy taking nature as a starting point and then stretching out the possibilities – examining familiar things from unexpected angles, creating anatomically plausible new creatures, blurring the boundaries between apparently disparate objects and concepts. Nature offers such diversity, so many starting points, so many essential truths that the possibilities for reworking, or reconsidering them, are endless. Even when I am doing something relatively stylised (such as the illustrations for Fil and Harry) I always start with nature, for example with basic human anatomy when designing characters.
What’s next for your career after Fil and Harry? Any new and exciting projects?
I am working on my first original picture book as an author-illustrator – a project which has been ongoing for several years now! It is a fantasy story but style-wise it again has its roots firmly planted in the natural world.
We’re delighted to be bringing you today an interesting interview with Jenny Blackford, author of our upcoming(May) title, Fil and Harry. The interview was conducted by our fantastic intern Sharnee Rawson.
Authors often report ‘lightning bolt’ moments of inspiration when developing their work. Was this your experience with Fil and Harry?
I often used to dream of my cat talking to me (in human English, not in Cat). One morning the cat was loudly demanding SOMETHING — maybe he wanted me to feed him, maybe to pick him up, or put him down RIGHT NOW, or…. (He was a very demanding cat.) I said, “Well, why don’t you just tell me what you want in English, like you did last night? I know you can do it when you really want to”.
It took a minute for me to go, Oops, cats don’t really talk. It was just a dream.
Fil and Harry grew out of that Oops moment. In Fil and Harry, Fil’s cat Harry really CAN talk in human English. As I’m sure many of them could, if they really wanted to. Though probably not my current cat, who isn’t the most colourful kitten in the litter box.
You’ve written for young readers before, including the award-winning novel The Girl in the Mirror. How was the experience of writing Fil and Harry compared with your other works?
I was so delighted that The Girl in the Mirror won the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children’s Crime Novel!
Most of what I write is poems and short stories, many of which have been published in that grand literary institution The School Magazine. And two of those School Magazine short stories have grown into novels with Christmas Press!
The Girl in the Mirror started as “Bertie”, a short story published in The School Magazine in 2005. The situation of the characters in the story demanded to be deepened and widened into a novel. The new book, Fil and Harry, also grew from a story published in The School Magazine, that one in 2006. Fil, her grandmother, her talking cat and her treacherous “best friend” cried out to be expanded.
Fil struggles with friendship and ‘fitting in’ at school throughout the book. Do you have any advice for other kids struggling with this issue?
Fitting in at school and trying to make friends can be terrifying, especially for introverts like me and Fil, and for anyone who is different in some way. I changed schools often as a kid, four different primary schools and two different high schools, and I had to try to fit in and make friends every time. And some kids have a lot more changes than that.
Most grown-ups will tell you not to worry, that making friends and fitting in is easy and everyone can do it. I’d like to tell all the kids out there struggling with fitting in that it might be easy for some people, but it’s really difficult for others. And it can be worse than that. Just as some adults are difficult people, some kids are. Sometimes, people who you think are your friends really aren’t. They’re just using you, and it hurts terribly when you find that out. But a lot of kids are genuinely lovely, and sometimes friends you make at school are still great friends decades later. I dedicated Fil and Harry to one of them, my friend Amanda, who I first met at the start of High School when we were both 11.
Fil and Harry also explores the impact of divorce on children. Do you think the book has a good message for tackling such a difficult event?
We never find out why Fil’s mother left the family in the time before the story starts, though we learn that Fil was understandably miserable back then, but Fil and her brother visit her in Perth regularly, and the current situation seems generally amicable. Fil’s family issues as the novel starts are with her stepmother Elspeth, who tries much too hard about everything, including getting Fil and her brother to eat lovely healthy broccoli. It doesn’t help matters that Fil’s artist grandmother is holidaying with the family, and redecorating the kids’ rooms. Everyone is tense. But all of the adults are doing their best, and everyone benefits from that.
I know that some divorces are horrible, and many books deal with the fallout from that, but my aim was that Fil and Harry should be fun to read, even while it was dealing with some serious issues. I try to deal with divorce, the tightrope-walk of fitting in at school, and the perfidy of Mean Girls with a fairly light touch in Fil and Harry.
So far, no sequel has been planned, but it’s hard to imagine normalcy with a talking cat! What other wacky adventures do you think await the main characters?
Hmmm, this is a question I wasn’t expecting! Harry the clever cat could get Fil into and out of all sorts of trouble! He does have a habit of talking when he shouldn’t.
I’ll have to put my thinking cap on.
And finally—how would you react to discovering your cat could talk?
In a nutshell, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. It was always obvious that he thought he was at least as human as me.
My current cat is a very beautiful Ragdoll with stunning blue eyes, but he’s middle-aged now and he’s never shown any sign of wanting to talk 🙂
It’s the official release week for the new edition, in our Second Look imprint, of multi-award winning author Libby Gleeson’s wonderful first novel, Eleanor Elizabeth!
To celebrate, we spoke to the author about the novel and what’s it like seeing it back in print. (Interview cross-posted from the Second Look website)
First of all, Libby, congratulations on the release of the new edition of Eleanor Elizabeth in Second Look! We are so thrilled to be bringing this wonderful novel back to a new generation of readers. In your new introduction to the book, you wrote about how the book came about. How does it feel like, revisiting your first novel?
It’s a strange experience. I feel so proud to see it back in print. It was my first attempt at writing a novel, I didn’t know if it would ever be published and so revisiting it brings back all the pleasures of creating it while at the same time fearing it would never see the light of day.
One of the striking things about this novel is the sense the reader gets of the natural environment, which has a real role to play in the story. How did you build up that vivid background?
I wrote the book while I was living in Europe so I was missing my homeland at the same time as wanting to place my characters there. I spent a lot of time focusing on my own memories of landscape and the difference between where the story starts and where the family moves and lives. The new environment helps shape the main character. It’s almost a character in the story.
Elizabeth’s diary is almost like a kind of time-travel device, plunging Eleanor back into the past. How did you recreate Elizabeth’s world?
I knew enough about rural life in the late nineteenth century – that’s the story of my mother’s family. I had to spend time looking at the kind of language Elizabeth would use. Diaries were a great help – especially Ethel Turner’s, despite it being about twenty years later.
You have gone on to become one of Australia’s most acclaimed and popular authors. What role do you think Eleanor, Elizabeth played in that?
The success of Eleanor, Elizabeth gave me confidence to keep going. I had written it while I was a member of a writing group in London and that group was very demanding in terms of finding the right image and language and sentiment. It encouraged experimentation. I still have that in my head as I write. I think I have also been lucky.
The Second Look edition of Eleanor Elizabeth is available in all good bookshops. ISBN: 9780994234070, RRp $18.99.
Over at the fabulous site Creative Kids Tales, there’s a great new series of interviews, Publishers in Focus, which aims at giving authors and illustrators an insight into publishing houses around the country and how manuscripts get selected for publication. And we’re honoured to be featured on it this week, as one of our directors, Sophie Masson, talks to CKT.
In this great interview, author Duncan Ball talks about his fabulous book, This School is Driving Me Nuts and Other Funny Plays for Kids, launch title for our Second Look imprint, which was published this month.
First of all, Duncan, congratulations on the publication of This School is Driving Me Nuts! We are delighted that it’s the launch title of our Second Look imprint. Can you tell us something about the process you went through, updating and revising the original plays from Comedies for Kids?
Authors rarely get to re-write their work after it’s published. It’s all set in stone once it’s a book. After Comedies for Kids was published I read and re-read the shorter plays out loud in schools. I could see that some of the jokes needed changing because either the kids didn’t get them or they just needed little changes to get bigger laughs. And when I saw some of the plays performed I could see how they could be improved. When Second Look agreed to re-publish the plays I had lots of notes about how to make the plays better and that’s exactly what I did.
You wrote a new play, “The Teeth of a Vampire”, for the new edition. What was that like, going back into the spirit and atmosphere of the collection to create something new?
I really enjoyed it. All I had to do was to re-read the other plays and I was back in the groove again. Writing comedy is very challenging but, when it works, it’s the best.
Plays suitable for children to perform–especially funny plays!–are not easy to find. Why do you think that is?
Kids love to read plays. I discovered this when I was working at the School Magazine at the NSW Department of Education. I think the reason for this is because plays don’t have all the (sometimes boring) description that other writing has. They also like the novelty of having the story all in dialogue. I think that many publishers avoid publishing plays for kids is that they’re afraid that parents won’t buy them. They’re wrong, of course.
What are your top tips for writing plays kids will enjoy?
It’s important to write what you enjoy reading. If you enjoy it there’s a good chance that others will too. When it comes to writing for kids an adult (like me) has to try to become a kid again. When I sit down to write I become the
twelve year old I was many many years ago.
Tell us about some of your favourite anecdotes regarding these plays.
There are so many things that have happened regarding these plays. Here are a couple of them that spring to mind:
Three of these plays were performed by First Nations kids (Cree Indian high school students) in Northern Saskatchewan in Canada. They took their productions to provincial and national competitions and won themselves a number of prizes. I was sent videos of the plays but I wish I could have been there to see the actual performances.
Recently, a woman contacted me to say that when she was in primary school she and her cousin acted out one of the plays, “Yak Attack” for their grandmother. Last month her grandmother was having her 90th birthday and said that she loved the play so much she wanted the women to act it out again—which they did.