Emma also runs the Writers' Web program along with her friend Jan. Together they promote emerging writers and offer a program of peer reviews. I have personally found WW an invaluable resource as a new writer, so well done you amazing ladies.
I have also reviewed her book 'Child Writes' and you can read my review here:
OK, enough about me, let's hear from Emma.
Kasper: Hi Emma, welcome to my couch. Make yourself comfy.
When did you start writing and why?
I got the sack! My husband fired me (third time lucky…) yet encouraged me to keep the baby-sitter (in case the new employee who was replacing me didn’t work out!) It was really a funny couple of weeks and I actually started a painting, having roughed out the portrait of David with our three daughters. It was too hard to cart around, so I abandoned it that same day (it still hangs in my office, the image all drafted ready to paint!).
At the same time, our middle daughter had been reticent about starting school and I had written her a little story to encourage her, reminding her ‘she was a big girl’. She was sick of it after a day or so (no pictures!) so I took photos of the girls and made a little ‘book’ for her. She loved it. I had time (still had that babysitter!) and I used those photos as reference for illustrations. So really, I started writing because I started painting!
I muddled through the process of setting up the book and finding a printer and launching it – I was too impatient to even try and find someone else to publish the book and I started Boogie Books, an independent small press in the same year!
I Can Do Anything was released in 1993.
It's a great story about being sacked by your husband, but maybe it was just karma telling you to write.
What other writing have you done?
I loved the experience of creating a picture book so much and it was so ‘doable’ I was determined to write and illustrate another the following year. Lily Fabourama Glamourama was released in 1994. I was determined to write a picture book each year, but my girls ‘had a meeting’ and informed me I wasn’t allowed to because ‘it took me away from them.’ I could have cried. I couldn’t see how consuming it was, and it took a delegation and a meeting and a statement like that to stop me and force me to take stock of my priorities.
By way of compromising – after this, when our children were still little, I wrote when they were asleep and gradually, one by one, they started school. I have folders of picture books busting to be finished … too many in fact for me at the moment – so I have just recently worked with an amazing illustrator, Ester de Boer and she has finished one book for me and ‘Imagine it’ will be released soon. (Ironically, the incredibly talented graphic designer I work with is in the same spot I was ten years ago – with a very very busy life!) I have learnt to drop deadlines and embrace finished projects when they are finished! Mind you, there were many many moments when I begrudged having to put ‘it on hold’ – so it shows you the advantages of writing about a ten-year career retrospectively!
I was lucky though, because I did get to work on lots of wonderful projects between my second picture book and my third! I have written a cookbook, and been the ghost-writer for a friend writing an homage to her children before she died. I had spent 5 years on an amazing committee with four other inspiring women, dedicating our energy to a working party for NAPCAN (National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) and this was formative to my drive today! In that time, a a paper called ‘Towards a Better Future’ demonstrated how a community that listens to its children support its children. All they needed then, was a voice. We just needed to provide the megaphone! We created calendars, anthologies, the ‘Hello Baby!’ campaign… it was empowering to say the least.
What made you choose children's books?
Children’s picture books are magical! They are so complete, so complex and so inexplicably beautiful and powerful, yet the youngest audience – demonstrating first hand our ability as humans to instinctively understand stories – can follow them.
Given we tell stories to enhance our connectivity to other, to maintain order to our potentially chaotic society and we have an innate ability to visualise that story, picture books bring these two elements together. A melodically worded and visually balanced picture book brings the story to a point where it is possible to experience true joy!
It is with a picture book that I actually feel a state of contentment and more often than not, the perfect ones are those written AND illustrated by the same person!
Kasper: I'd like to do a picture book one day, if I find a willing illustrator.
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I was so lucky after publishing my second book to be invited to be a literacy champion for a local school. I did a speech (everyone could see how terribly nervous I was!) and read the books to children in the lower primary. It was fun. The teacher who invited me asked if I would do a workshop with the children, going into more depth, sharing more about the process of creating a picture book. I did and the workshops simply grew and grew and we couldn’t believe that it worked… Here I was guiding those children through their own experience. I published the ‘collection’ for them at the end of the year.
The whole process was formalised a little more each year and Child Writes was born! Child Writes is now a ‘proper’ program for guiding children (or your own inner child!) through the process of creating a picture book. The book ‘Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play’ was released in 2012 and underpins the program. To date, over 270 titles are now available because of Child Writes and the children’s stories ‘fly’ on Jetstar as part of their inflight entertainment, giving them a very big megaphone indeed! We have just gone ‘international’ by having all the books loaded onto AMAZON, making Boogie Books (the publisher) the largest publisher of children’s book written by children in the world. I am still pinching myself! Now you know exactly what I have been doing – slogging away – for the last month particularly! Did you know it takes at least 6 minutes to load a picture book to Amazon… now multiply that by 270! Eeek!
Kasper: Amazing! You have made so many children's dreams come true through Child Writes.
What are you working on now?
Aside from Imagine it? I am right in the pre-program negotiations with schools for the Child Writes program in different schools in Queensland (the whole thing kicks off again in Term Two with a tutor who trained and ran her first class last year). I also have one school in Victoria this year in Melbourne’s northern suburbs who have already started the program as part of their ‘reality program’ and it is already proving to be heaps of fun!
As a co-founder of www.writersweb.com.au, where we bring writers and readers together and create authors, I have to find a couple of hours a week to dedicate to it.
As to writing… the YA Baker’s Dozen is desperately needing an overhaul, Felt hasn’t even progressed the first chapter, and remember I mentioned that folder with picture book outlines? Well, I added another idea to it yesterday! Not exactly a pin-up for authors am I?
I write everyday. It may be a blog, program notes, a synopsis for a children’s book, a proposal for a workshop. It might be a ‘thank you’ card, a tweet or a facebook post, or a letter to one of my children. It might be an article for a magazine or a suggestion for a school function or something so banal as an email.
And the whole process always begins with a walk! The earlier I can get out the door the better! My kids tell me I look so silly when I walk because I look as though I am overstriding, my feet splay outwards and my arms swing like I am in marching band… Of course, I am oblivious, because idea after idea pops into my head and I have to hang onto the good ones, repeating them, editing, perfecting the line, so when I get home, I can pour those thoughts onto paper.
Kasper: Ah, I'm glad I'm not the only absent-minded professor type.
What do you do when you have writers’ block?
Am having a love affair with the mantra ‘words beget words’ – so I simply let rip with whatever ‘word’ comes next. It can produce some absolutely diabolical rubbish, but hey, every writer needs to spend a great deal of time with their inner-editor! By the time I get back to a piece of writing, months, even years could have passed and I am ruthless with a red pen.
What type of books do you like to read?
My day finishes with reading. I climb into my bed, ignore my husband, shuffle the pillows and settle in for an hour (or so) of reading. I honestly look forward to the end of the day as much as I do the beginning! When I think about ‘what type’ of books I like reading, well, now it makes sense that my writing is all over the place… I love books in most genres! Murakami for a dose of science fiction, Malcolm Bladwell for a dose of reality – and anything in between!
Who’s your favourite indie author and why?
My two pin-ups at the moment are Australian Matthew Reilly and American Amelia Picklewiggle (which I believe is the pen name for husband and wife team, Patti and Andrew Miller!) Determined passionate self-published authors who have successfully worked with mainstream publishing as well.
Really though, my favourite indie writer in the world is Yvonne Winer. She started writing children’s books in the sixties and found favour with the major publishing houses of the day. She still lives off her writing! She is a passionate educator and recently has written a series of books - whilst accepted by a major traditional publisher, she believed the process would take too long - and she is determined to see them published in her lifetime, not posthumously. Now we talk ‘self-publishing’! We met in an art class 14 years ago, and now she is illustrating her own picture book! She genuinely is what is oft described as an ‘amplified author’!
Do you have a blog?
Eek – yes, but I do all the wrong things – I write it when I have something to say (which whilst I have been described as having the ability to talk under water… is not as often as is recommended! I am not sure there even is an audience for it! My blog roll of ideas sits beside the children’ picture book folder!
What do you write about in your blog?
If I apply some strategic planning, I am supposed to write about writing for children as well as tips and challenges for children writing for children. That’s for Child Writes.
What I really want to write about is the rubbish on the beach this morning … the amazing feeling that comes from seeing the sun to the east and the moon to the west, both from own peripheral vision … how if you actually touch the tip of your nose to another person’s nose, with your eyes open, you will ‘see’ exactly what inspired Picasso … How children loose their ability to draw perspective because we dismiss the image they draw of a ‘circle with arms coming out of it’ – yet if we looked up at someone standing over us, this is exactly what they see… Agghhhh. Maybe I need a nom de plume like Amelia Picklewiggle and liberate my inner writer!
Kasper: You create such vivid images when you write. Maybe that's what you ought to blog about too.
What book would you take if your house was on fire and you could only carry one?
Murakami’s 1Q84 – I am right in the middle of it! If you ask me the same question in a couple of day’s time, it will be a book by Virginia Hamilton’s ‘Bluish’. (You can see how fickle I truly am!)
What’s your dream job and do you think you’ll do it one day?
I had this incredible opportunity to see inside a house that I have walked past for ten years, and coveted! On the second floor, there is a small office, which has two windows. One looks to the garden in the north, and the other to to the valley floor spread below in the east. I picture myself sitting there, without a sound in the world, writing… (Wistful sigh!)
Where do you like to travel to?
I love love love airports and travel delays and itineraries and plans. When I am on holidays, I find it really challenging to read. I can’t think. It is as though my brain winds back too far and I just sit there, with an oafish look on my face! So for me, the joys of travel come from the food, the scenery and the food, the people and the incidental experience and the food!
Kasper: I'm with you there on travel. It keeps our imaginations alive and maybe it's good to soak up the atmosphere and just chill.
What’s your favourite pet?
Ugh! We have a cat that is neurotic and when we start packing suitcases to travel (see above) she has been known to leave a message expressing her distain! We have a dachshund who thinks she is a cat and spends her waking hours jumping up and lolling around on the top of the sofa. We have a ‘lotsa’ who we inherited from a cousin – a divine kelpie/cattle dog/terrier/what-ever-else cross who has a preposterously deep bark, a passionate dislike for the postman and who sits at my feet, regardless of the task at hand or the hours involved!
Depends on what I am reading! If it is a series, love the kindle because you can down-load the next book if you happen to have finished the previous, regardless of time of day or night. Paperback airport weight versions are my favourite, because I can hold them with one hand! The print version I avoid… the first edition hardback oversized ‘look at me’ heavy paper with dust-jacket! Looks good on my shelf, but hard to wrangle! So, my book purchasing strategy – read a book on kindle, love it, buy the paperback. Read a book on kindle or paperback, love, love, love it – seek out first edition! My bookcase is beautiful.
Are there any writing styles or genres you dislike?
Whilst I deeply admire anyone who has worked so hard to finish a book and share it with the world, I do struggle with books that aren’t kind to the reader! I need to be hooked in the first couple of pages, engaged with the character quickly, understand the context of the issues, and I really love an ending that is satisfying.
I have worked out I read too quickly and not deeply, so I skim a book in a race of excited anticipation to get to the end. When my eldest daughter and I talk about a book we have read, she is distraught that I can’t remember scenes or that I can’t discuss the nuances of a character. She has read very few book, I have read hundreds if not thousands! This ‘skimming’ style of reading combined with the overwhelming feeling the real world is alluding me most days, then it makes sense to me that I need to work harder with literary fiction than any other genre.
You can be any fictional character for one day. Who would you be?
George from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series! Irreverent, courageous, loyal and fearless…
Kasper: Great answer. She was my favourite growing up too.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story with us today, Emma. Congratulations and best wishes to you and the Child Writes program for the future.
Emma: I thoroughly enjoyed doing the interview! Thank you so much for asking me to do this.
Your interview has blown out some cobwebs and given me the opportunity to ‘see’ what has been achieved in the last ten years! I am really chuffed!
Here are Emma's links to connect with her and her book online.
Been down the traditional publishing road with its submissions and rejections and still no further to being read or selling your book?
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Whether your unpublished book is available in printed or electronic format, our writers’ webreview panel wants to read it.
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