Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: November 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

3 Must-Read Books on Children's & Young Adult Literature

Here are three books that I recommend for everyone who cares about children's and Young Adult literature. I'd love to hear your recommendations for books that give insight into the world of kidlit.
The Wand in The Word – edited by Leonard S. Marcus.
The Wand in the Word is a book to curl up with and be inspired by. Interviews with the gods and goddesses of children's fantasy from Ursula K Leguin and Madeleine L'Engle to Phillip Pullman and Garth Nix. The 'Q and A' style creates a sense of sitting down for an intimate chat with the masters.
1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up
1001 Children's Books is a fantastic reference, separated into rough age-group recommendations. My copy sprouts thousands of scrap-paper bookmarks of titles I hope to get to in the near and distant future. Thankfully I'm not threatening to grow up any time soon.
A Family of Readers
A Family of Readers is my favourite of the three books, recently released in paperback. It is a collection of wide-ranging essays and lists of great-reads in many different genres. Contributors and interviewees include Maurice Sendak, Betsy Byars, Judy Blume and Jon Scieszka. Edited by Roger Sutton and Marth V. Parravano from The Horn Book Magazine, it's an ambitious, surprising and satisfying read for anyone who loves children's books. This book is an agitator of discussion, daring the reader to delve into serious issues and ideas around creativity, craft and what constitutes the best in children's literature.

STOP PRESS: Okay, I lied. I have four recommendations. The Paul Jennings biography by Matthew Ricketson is also a must-read and gives great insight into a fascinating man.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your favourite books on the subject of kids' and YA lit.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Illustrator Greg Holfeld : The Writer's Studio

Greg Holfeld is an illustrator, comic creator, animator... basically anything with '-ator' at the end. Apart from 'elevator'. He's obviously not an 'elevator'. Or an 'aligator'. He's human, but he does draw animals exceptionally well. Greg shows talent across a broad array of mediums from his illustration work on the wonderful Captain Congo series (written by Ruth Starke) to his comics, advertising and award-winning short films (see Sumo Lake below). Let's take a look inside his writing space and creative process...

Where did you create your latest book?
Not in this studio. We moved here early this year and Captain Congo and the Klondike Gold was drawn in the garden shed in our old house. New studio is a room at the front of the new house, and though it is cleaner, brighter and has significantly less spiders and mice, I've only just stopped missing the old place. Maybe because I've finally got this place messy enough. Sometimes my studio is nice and tidy. Or it looks like this. Don't show my mother these pictures.

Panoramic shot of Greg Holfeld's creating space. Click for larger version.
How important to you is the space in which you write?
I'm considered an illustrator rather than an author, but when I'm not drawing I'm figuring out what to draw which I guess amounts to writing. Certainly that's true for any of the comics I write myself. I always conceive the images and the text simultaneously.
The space for "drawing" is pretty specific - it has to be in my studio with all my tools and resources. For "figuring out what to draw" it's best if I'm away from all that otherwise I get distracted or find excuses to avoid something I find much harder than drawing. I keep the tools for this simple - paper, pencil, clipboard - and go somewhere far from my computer, comic book collection, etc. Perhaps a cafe, or a sunny picnic table in the back garden. The last thing I wrote was actually in front of the telly during a bad movie one night. You would think that would be distracting, but all the family were in bed, I was out of my studio, and the movie didn't really warrant much attention (the Dawn of the Dead remake, if you're interested - not recommended unless you happen to be writing a zombie short story and want examples of every cliché to avoid).

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
The pin-board gets covered with reference and the tables get covered with relevant books. The greatest mess in my studio occurs at the point of maximum involvement in a project (clearly I've been pretty pre-occupied lately).
While my physique is hardly that of a gorilla or penguin, I often use myself for a model, so I will most definitely be pulling faces and poses in the mirror to match the character I'm trying to get down on paper. When I'm doing an animation project it goes even further and I'll often act out a piece of action before I draw it. I'm glad I work alone.
Greg Holfeld. And a chicken.
How has the place that you create evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
This new studio has room for what a friend called "the thinking space" - and I bet you thought it was just a comfy couch for reading and napping!
An illustrator's work is never done.
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
I start work the minute the family is out the door around 8:15. I then go as hard as I can until about 3:30 - 4:00 when everyone starts coming back. What follows is a couple of hours where I'm too busy helping with homework and being the family IT expert and chief cook to get much drawing done. On a good day, this is when I'll go for a swim or a bike ride. In the evening I'll head back into the studio and see if I can manage to get to the stuff that I missed during the day. That's usually the time for e-mails, bookkeeping, or doing whatever it takes to meet a hard deadline. With a family, I can't work late like I used to. I have to get up with everyone else and a late night just means a tired, useless morning afterwards, so it's not worth it.
Captain Congo, Klondike Gold by Ruth Starke, illustrated by Greg Holfeld.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Other than taking a moment to enjoy the sudden quiet of the house and seeing if my wife has left any coffee, I just go straight into the studio. If I knew what settled my mind and got me focused on creative work, I'd put it in a jar and spread it on my toast every morning. Instead I just sit down and hope for the best. Sharpening pencils happens all day long.

If you have time, watch Greg's stunning short film Sumo Lake which has had around 150,000 plays on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And the Winner is...

Huge thanks to all who participated in the competition on my new Facebook author page. So good to connect with lots of new people and others I haven't seen in aeons.

The winner of the prizepack containing:

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (My new book of weird, funny, gross short stories for ages 7+)
Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space (My new, explosive action-adventure book for ages 9+)
Mac Slater Hunts the Cool (US hardback edition, 9+)
Mac Slater Vs. the City (New US hardback edition, 9+)  
Galactic Adventures A2 Poster and Bookmarks Lauren Mazzeo! Congratulations.
I will put this up on Twitter and Facebook and wait for you to drop me a line, Lauren. You can put up a comment on FB and email me the address to send the prize to via the Contact page on my site.

I quite like giving things away. Will run another competition soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Illustrator Heath McKenzie : The Writer's Studio

Heath McKenzie with The Little Bookroom's resident Schnauzer.
I like illustrators. They seem like happy characters, in general – amusing themselves while giving stories a visual life. Heath McKenzie is one of my faves. I worked with him on the Nit Boy books. I love his edginess and the way he makes static images feel as though they are moving. Heath loves monster and zombie movies and suggests reading lots of comics if you want to become an illustrator. Come look inside his toy-riddled creative space.

Where do you currently create? How important to you is the space that you work in?
I currently create in what the real estate agent may have referred to as the 'master bedroom' but I took it over straight away and turned it into my studio/office (the other bedrooms are much smaller but really, all I'd be doing is sleeping in there so no need for all that space just for that!). It's very important to have this space, mainly because of the large amount of stuff I seem to have amassed over time!
Heath McKenzie's creative space
Do you transform your space in any way for each book?
On the odd occasion I'll tidy it up as the desk area around me tends to become very cluttered and starts to overcrowd me during a project (largely because I'm busy concentrating on the work I'm doing and am not bothering to put things away properly).

How has the space that you create evolved or changed since you first began illustrating?
It's mainly just filled up with more stuff!
I think Heath likes toys.
Do you keep regular hours? If not, when do you work?
I try as best I can to keep regular hours, largely because everyone else around me does. So while I am free to work whenever I fancy, keeping regular hours helps me maintain a social and family life. I do find working late into the evening good, though, when necessary. It's always much, much quieter and there's this sense of 'no pressure' from the outside world as everyone's gone to bed... no emails or phone calls to break my concentration.
Heath McKenzie's cover illustrations for my book, Nit Boy Liftoff
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for work?
Roaming aimlessly online seems to have become my morning ritual... I have a set little roster of websites I pop into one by one and then (if that hasn't lead me on some path of distraction, chasing links and more links) I'll get my head around to the idea of starting proper work! This is, of course, after the breakfast, dog walk and shower ritual!
Heath McKenzie's illustrations for Evil Genius and Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks.
Thanks Heath. Next week the awesome Greg Holfeld (Captain Congo books) is in the Writer's Studio.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Children's Author Felice Arena : The Writer's Studio

 I have shared the writing space of 22 Australian and international authors in my regular blog series, 'The Writer's Studio'. Today is the first to be delivered on video. Felice Arena (popular author of Specky Magee, Boyz Rule, Whippersnapper), like me, started out telling stories as an actor before becoming an author. Here, he invited me to join him on a mission to reveal his writing haunts around Melbourne's State Library of Victoria. It was fun hanging out with 'Fleech' and I hope it gives you insight into the man, his space and his process.

Felice Arena's latest book, Whippersnapper.
Thanks Fleech. Next week, another author in The Writer's Studio.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Win! on My New Facebook Author Page

I have finally published my Facebook Author Page where I will be sharing links, tweets, new blog posts, book trailers, learning resources and interviews relating to Children's Books, Publishing, Creativity, Competitions, Writing and new possibilities in storytelling.
WIN! To launch the page I am giving away signed books, posters and bookmarks. The prize pack  contains:
* My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (My new book of weird, funny, gross short stories for ages 7+)
* Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space (My new, explosive action-adventure book for ages 9+)
* Mac Slater Hunts the Cool (US hardback edition, 9+)
* Mac Slater Vs. the City (New US hardback edition, 9+)  
* Galactic Adventures A2 Poster and Bookmarks

To win, just hit 'Like' on the page before 21 November 2011 and you will go in the draw. Winner will be published here and on Facebook on 22 November.
Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space A2 poster.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Children's Author Briony Stewart: The Writer's Studio

Children's author / illustrator Briony Stewart seems to live an idyllic life, surrounded by stories, art, nature and animals. She says 'All my creative work as a writer is done in short, excited bursts between making tea and pottering around in the garden.' Briony is the author of the Kumiko books, the first of which won the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children's Short Fiction. Here, she takes us inside her organic space and process.
Briony Stewart's Writing Studio
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
My last book was written mostly from my studio at home, but I also took it with me to a small bush cottage about 3 hours south of Perth. My writing space is important, but it doesn't have to be constant. I can write in a lot of different places as long as I'm alone. I used to write on trains and busy public places, but I've trained myself to use my studio more, and when I am editing I like to be able to read aloud and not be overheard.
Briony Stewart's art space.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I never change my studio space, I feel it is set up completely in a way that gives me ideas. It is full of books and toys, old photographs and old journals. It is crowded and cluttered, but I can rummage through things for ideas. I usually hang art which has been given to me by other artists and by children. I don't hang my own work in there because its a space for new creation and I like to be surrounded by things that either remind me what its like to be a kid, or which inspire me to be a better artist. I can't listen to music when I write, but I can when I'm painting and often I will put on music to suit the mood of illustrations I am working on. Often there will be a little side project of drawings going on even if I am writing a novel, so sometimes I will start the day drawing and listening to music to get me into the right frame of mind for writing.
Briony Stewart at work.
How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
The spaces haven't changed, but the way I use them has. When you start getting publishing deadlines, you need to teach yourself how to work more on demand. Writing on trains is fun, but it's a bit more like courting a whim, than actually getting down and doing some work. I still do both things, but having a studio or office does remind me that I am 'at work', not just entertaining myself on the way to town.
Do you keep regular writing hours?
I find it hard to keep regular writing hours, especially with a split writing/illustrating practice like mine, and I am not nearly as disciplined, as I'd like to be! I'm still learning how to manage my time as an artist, between the demands of general business things, festivals and all my diverse and changing projects. However... I have found that I am more of an after lunch person when it comes to writing. Afternoons and evenings seem to produce the best work. All my creative work as a writer is done in short, excited bursts between making tea and pottering around in the garden, but I can spend many hours editing and tweaking, without having to get up once. On an ideal day I will do business/admin and drawing in the morning, writing in the afternoon. I nearly always have a "reward" project I'm allowed to work on if I finish a good amount of writing. Either I can go back to my drawing or I can work on a fun story I'm not supposed to be working on. I have to be my own parent!
The latest Kumiko book, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Drawing settles me - it's very meditative I think. Sometimes I tidy my studio. My space is always a direct indicator of what state I'm in. If it looks like a bomb's hit it then I've been busy and frantic - I can't control my mess making. Resetting the space back to being clear and tidy puts me in a clearer state of mind. Also, I have a pet rabbit called Winston who plays in the garden and naps in the doorway of my studio. I start most mornings with a cup of tea on the back doorstep, surveying the garden and giving Winston less pats than she'd like (she can never have enough). This always settles me too, and I find a lot of inspiration from nature and animals. I think they bring me back to a childlike state of wonder and amazement. I like to get in touch with this whenever I'm writing, not because I write for children, but because children see the world with fresh eyes everyday, and I think the best writing comes from this kind of openness and wonder.

Thanks Briony. In coming weeks, Felice Arena stars in the first video Writer's Studio post, sharing his haunts at the State Library of Victoria.
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