Category Archives: Author Interviews

Author and illustrator interviews and profiles.

A Curious Tale: Interview with Longy Han

imageLongy Han loves a bit of adventure and travel, and with her natural curiosity and imagination, she aptly developed her new book series, ‘The Curious Travels of Gusto & Gecko’. Longy’s personal journey resulted in this wondrous quest between a pair of time-travelling dinosaurs, taking on the world one city at a time. The first book, bravely crowdfunded and self-published by Longy, is ‘Gusto and Gecko Travel to Kenya’.

Crafted by Elinor Hägg, the adorable, cartoonised illustrations with their bold and vibrant earth-tones sweep the pages, immediately hooking its readers in for the wild ride ahead. A naive prehistoric dinosaur pair jet off in their Rombom travel machine and enter an unknown land. Experiencing a real sense of urgency, the story takes off when a ferocious lion charges at their heels, and they dart through the plains of the serengeti. In each scene, upon encountering other African wildlife in their natural habitats, Gusto and Gecko attempt trickery to escape the jaws of the attacking lion. But no dust, hiding places, or blending in with the wildebeest crowd fool the roaring beast, until a fortuitous camouflage disguise saves their tails. A jolly celebration and a beautiful sunset conclude their extraordinary escapade on this present Sunday afternoon.

imageConnecting with themes including teamwork and courage, ‘Gusto and Gecko’ primarily aims to broaden the minds and awareness of its young readers to our fascinating world and cultures within it. This book is humorous and suspenseful with a plethora of details to explore, including the two concealed dinosaurs and their little mice companions. Flipping the ordinary and logic on its head, Longy Han has produced a wonderfully imaginative story that will have its early primary readers longing to take this tumultuous expedition again and again.

Han Creative, September 2015.

I spoke with Longy about how her ideas hatched and the plans set on her future horizon.

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Gusto & Gecko Travel to Kenya! Can you briefly explain your publishing process?

Gusto & Gecko was made possible through crowdfunding with the help of family, friends and the wider community. Elinor, my rockstar illustrator, was discovered through an online Facebook illustration competition that I ran.   From the get go, I wanted to challenge the traditional publishing process, bend rules and engage with the end consumers. I ran an interactive campaign so I could involve the public from the beginning to the end -people got to vote on the illustration designs which directly impacted on the creative process as well as the outcome of the book. This way, the book is not just mine – it’s all of ours.

‘Gusto and Gecko’ is a fun and lively story of discovery, friendship and shenanigans in the African wilderness. Who or what inspired you to write this story? What do you hope readers will gain from reading it?

I lived in remote Kenya for a month at an orphanage teaching kids mathematics and English (at least I tried)! At the end of my trip, I felt humbled and lucky to walk away with a really valuable life lesson: it doesn’t take much to be happy and kind to others. The animals I saw on my safari trip were also majestic. So I wanted to share my travel experiences and encourage readers to explore the world!

The illustrations by Elinor Hägg are gorgeously animated and humorous. How did the collaboration come about and what was it like to work with her?

Elinor is a graphic designer based in Sweden. I have never met her in my life but I feel incredibly lucky to join forces with her. During the brainstorming and sketching phase, we would Skype on a weekly basis and email several times a day. We brainstormed on our own first and then shared our ideas. Sometimes I come up with the most crazy ideas and Elli would have to put up with me. Overall, it went so well that she has agreed to work on the second book with me (surely that is a good sign)?!

imageWhat was your favourite part of the story to create?

The second page of the book is my favourite page – I love imagining what the travel machine (the Rombom) looks like, how it moves through space and the sounds it makes. The dotted lines actually signify the movements of the Rombom so I hope the little ones will trace those lines as they read the book.

If you could be any African animal which one would you choose? Why?

A giant hippo! How awesome would it be to lie or roll around in wet mud all day? I’m also pretty clumsy so being a hippo means no one can tell if I accidently slipped in the mud or if it were a planned maneuver!

What do you love most about Kenya?

Joie de vivre in the Kenyan people, especially the kids.

What do you love most about writing for children?

Every time I pen a story, I feel liberated – like a kid again where curiosity knows no bounds, imagination runs free and absurdity is accepted, treasured and enjoyed.

imageYou are currently planning another crowdfunding campaign for your second book, Gusto & Gecko Travel to New Orleans. What can you reveal about this next title in the series?

The next book will be set in New Orleans. This year is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and I want to, through storytelling, celebrate what a beautiful and truly fascinating city New Orleans is. After all, it is the birthplace of jazz, home to authentic Cajun and Creole cooking and breeding ground for dangerous alligators!

Gusto & Gecko’s first stop is none other than the quintessential Café du Monde, best known for its signature beignets. As Gusto devours the hot, crispy, sugar-dusted beignet, nothing will prepare them for what happens next! Will you travel with us?

What else can we look forward to from Longy Han and her adorable friends, Gusto and Gecko?

A lot more absurd and fun-filled stories about countries around the world!

Thanks so much for talking with me, Longy! 🙂

Longzhen Han also has a vision to invest in the future of our next generation by giving back to the community. She is running a ‘BOOK FOR BOOK’ promise where every purchase made via the current crowdfunding campaign will include a donated copy to a child in need. Please head to the Gusto and Gecko campaign to make a pledge. You can also find more information about Longy and her book series at her website and facebook pages.  

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The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 3

Today is the last interview with Shelly Unwin in which we look at some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of her steps to her publishing dream. They include practical advice for anyone who is interested in getting published.

The things that impress me loud and clear from your story, Shelly are:

  1. although these books are only a very recent thing for you to be working on, the process of having written other things over several years (despite rejections and setbacks) helped you bring these ideas together at the right time.
  2. Having good networks and an understanding of the industry also developed over time and brought you into contact with the right people at the right time.Shelly 1.3

You’ve mentioned a few key steps in this process about building up networks and putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Can you comment further on these?

Faber Academy and “Stack of courses”

From the moment I decided that I wanted to be a children’s author I have been on a steady stream of courses. I went into writing fairly ignorant to the level of craft involved in writing a great picture book or children’s book. My first course, Writing Picture Books, with Cathie Tasker at the AWC really set me off on the right track, but I was still thirsty for more and have taken courses with the ASA, the NSW Writers Centre, the Australian Writers Centre and the Faber Academy. All of which have proved invaluable.

You mention attending a SCWBI conference. What other associations do you belong to?

Most of them I think! The ASA (Australian Society of Authors), The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia), The NSW Writers’ Centre. I like to get to as many industry events as possible. I also follow a whole host of Facebook based writing groups.

Also something I found very useful early on was the 12X12 Picture Book challenge, run by Julie Headland in the US. I only signed up once but it made me commit to writing one new picture book draft every month- many of them were written on the 30th of the month! As a new writer I found this challenge helpful for getting the creative juices flowing and it also made me start thinking critically about which ideas might work in the market and which to leave at first draft. It also provided the opportunity to submit one picture book manuscript a month to a US agent and some, not all, provided feedback. I’d highly recommend it for writers starting out.

Editor consult Sutherland Writing Festival

Firstly I need to mention my amazing critique group here, because if it wasn’t for them I may well not have found out about the opportunities to have editor consultations at conferences. These are amazing one on one sessions, that you pay extra for, and generally an editor, or publisher gives you feedback on one or sometimes two of your manuscripts. These sessions not only give you insight into how the professionals are seeing your work, but it also opens the door to submissions into otherwise closed publishing houses. They also enable you to start to build all-important relationships with editors and publishers, and understand the different tastes of each publishing house.

Literary Speed dating

I gave this a miss the year before when I first heard about it, because I found the idea too daunting. Five minutes standing in front of a publisher trying to pitch an idea –gahhh! But then I attended the ASA Pitch Perfect course and it gave me the tools and the confidence to give it a go. And I’m SO glad I did. This is where I not only got my series in front of two other publishers, but I also met my agent. The event wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting either. All of the publishers were very warm and encouraging and all of the attendees were feeling the same nervous excitement, so there was quite a nice buzz to the event.

Have you ever ‘pitched’ at a conference – how did that go? What was it like?

I have! It was scary. I get nervous speaking in front of adults, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about. I had my name pulled out of the hat (I had put it in there) to pitch at the NSW Writers Festival. I had learnt my pitch so that I could deliver it with out reading, but when it came to it I chickened out and read from my notes. I was quite disappointed in myself. The feedback on my first page (it was for my Young Adult novel) was encouraging though, and I met quite a few new people afterwards who came to congratulate me, so it was well worth doing, and I worked the editors feedback into my next draft.

How have these things helped? Did they always go as planned?

Everything helps. I think even if things go awry there is always a valuable lesson. For example one of the publishers that I was hoping to see at the speed dating didn’t turn up, so I was only able to pitch my series to two publishers. I thought about going home, but I persuaded myself to pitch my YA novel, which I hadn’t worked on in a while. I thought I’d done such a bad job of pitching it the first time that I decided I had to try again. So I pitched it to Alex, my now Agent. She loved the premise and was so encouraging, that I then asked if she would consider representing a picture book author. She said she had one picture book author that she worked with, I told her about my series and left her with a hard copy of the whole series. She followed me on twitter that night, and I had an excited feeling in my gut that things were headed in the right direction. I could easily have gone home and missed out!  My take away from this experience; in an industry where chances to talk to the right people are few and far between, never pass up an opportunity.

Thank you Shelly for your generosity in participating in these interviews over the past months and sharing your experiences with us. I have certainly found wisdom and encouragement for my writing journey.

https://justwriteforkids.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/the-rise-and-rise-of-shelly-unwin-newly-signed-author-part-1/https://justwriteforkids.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/the-rise-and-rise-of-shelly-unwin-part-2/

Find Shelly Unwin here: http://shellyunwin.com/

Find Debra Tidball here: http://www.debratidball.com/

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The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 2

shelly unwin jwfk                                                               zoo shelly unwin

Today is Part 2 of my interview with Shelly Unwin – newly signed author. For part 1 go here

(I’ve highlighted some themes to pick up on at a later date)

So Shelly, you had an editor interested from the Sutherland Shire Writer’s Festival editor consultation, and you had sent the manuscript to an editor you had met at a SCBWI conference. What happened then?

With an interested editor the pressure was on to really polish the other four first drafts. My critique group was fantastic, agreeing to give me email feedback as I worked, as well as face to face during our meetings. The other four manuscripts were also very compliant and came together very willingly. The publisher from the Southerland festival was excited by the two manuscripts and asked for the other three.

I was also booked in to the Literary Speed Dating event through the ASA on the 15th November and I wanted to have five polished manuscripts by then. I pitched the series to two publishers at this event and both were keen to see the full series. I also pitched it to (my now) agent Alex Adsett, who could see the commercial potential of the series and after some additional dialogue agreed to represent me. In the mean time I was also doing a course at the Faber Academy for my Young Adult novel, and I was asking my tutor for advice on signing with Alex. My tutor asked me about the series I was discussing with Alex and then asked if she would be able to pass the series on to the Children’s Publisher there at Allen & Unwin – of course I said yes. So it was now in the hands of five publishers, all of whom were showing an interest.

Wow! Five interested publishers how exciting! But with five interested publishers why did you feel you needed an agent?

Having it in the hands of five publishers was a dream come true, in fact it was beyond what I’d ever let myself dream. But I was suddenly dreading the phone ringing. What did I do when one of them made an offer? If more than one house made an offer how would I manage that process without upsetting anyone? The fear of the next stage was taking the shine off what was otherwise an incredibly exciting situation. So an agent really was the answer. Alex has great industry knowledge, and specializes in contract negotiations so she was the perfect agent to provide me with unbiased, commercial guidance.  So at this point I really handed the reigns over to Alex. Once the first offer came through, which was fantastic, Alex gave the other four publishers a week to respond. By the end of the week we had two publishers who had put offers on the table, and the exciting decision process started there.

How did you decide who to go with? That couldn’t have been easy?

It wasn’t! Both offers were from incredible publishing houses. I would have been happy to sign either contract the minute it arrived on the doorstep. That’s where Alex really helped. We discussed both of the offers in great detail and really worked through what was important to me. I then had a meeting with both publishers to get an understanding of what they were hoping to achieve with the books and how they envisaged them looking and feeling. Allen & Unwin were so aligned with my thoughts, but not only my thoughts, also with my enthusiasm and ambition for the books. I also met with the CEO there, who had read my blog!! And who told me how excited he was by my work, I walked away from the meeting buzzing! And slightly apprehensive about writing my next blog piece – the pressure was on! Alex then led the contract discussions, and walked me through the complexities of world rights, film rights, discount sales percentages etc – all of which were new to me. And from there it was done. Allen & Unwin was home to the series and it feels so right. Should I point out here that although my surname is Unwin, I am no relation!

You may not be a relation, but it’s a great fit with your name! Do you have an illustrator signed?

No illustrator signed just yet, but some very exciting conversations in progress. I’ll tell you as soon as I can!

So now you just twiddle your thumbs until the books come out?

Yes, I might head off to an exotic island and relax for a year or so 🙂

No. I have another picture book that is looking very promising and I am also working on a new manuscript that I am totally buzzing about. Plus I have a tonne of manuscripts that I have been working on over the last few years that I continue to tweak. I have also written a Young Adult novel that is currently going through the re-writing, re-writing, re-writing phase, and one day it might be ready to leave the nest. I will continue to take courses, network, critique and do all things writerly in the mean time – it’s all so much fun!

 

I appreciate Shelly’s willingness to be interviewed for this blog – we may still be able to squeeze another post out of her experiences next month!

For Shelly’s website: http://shellyunwin.com

For Debra’s website: http://www.debratidball.com

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Practice Makes Perfect

In my last post interview with Shelly Unwin, she said: If I’d had the same idea three years earlier though, my execution wouldn’t have been anywhere near where it was when this idea formed. I had taken time to learn the craft and really understand how to structure a picture book and really speak to the child. So I was in a prime position to take the idea and write it well.                            

The idea that the more you write, the better you get is an idea that has been intriguing me over the last little while, so much so that I wrote a post on it over on my website. I especially love the quote from a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, “You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good.” Not that I’m saying what Shelly wrote before wasn’t very good! In fact I know that some of it was very, very good! But we all sit on top of a bundle of not-so-good works that prop us up to do better and better.

 

words mountain

 

Sandy Fussell extended my thinking on this with a recent blog post where she says that writing in other areas, not just her major work in progress is “ Like sharpening pencils, it sharpens my creative awareness. If my tools are in excellent condition, it lifts my writing.”  (http://www.sandyfussell.com/you-cant-write-with-a-blunt-pencil/)

Last week I came across a website that graphically illustrates the concept, and draws on another ‘pet’ issue of mine – writing is play (also blogged about on my website) Because if we don’t love what we do, what sustains us through all the practice and ‘failures’ of the writing life?

The way Stephen McCranie over at doodle alley http://doodlealley.com/  demonstrates both these elements in an engaging comic about a pig has inspired me over the last week. Although about visual art, the truths can be generalised to most creative endeavours. If you pop on over to his website and sign up for his newsletters, you will be rewarded with “The secret of being a great artist”– so much wisdom packaged in an engaging way – well worth it! And while you are there, check out his ‘Brick by Brick’ comic blog for fantastic insights on the creative process.

Disclaimer: I am in no way related to, or have anything to gain by promoting doodle alley – I stumbled across it from a facebook post and thought it worth sharing!

Debra’s website is at www.debratidball.com

Shelly Unwin is at www.shellyunwin.com

Sandy Fussell is at www.sandyfussell.com

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The rise and rise of Shelly Unwin – newly signed author – Part 1

I first met Shelly Unwin at a CBCA event a few years ago, and gradually got to know her as we bumped into each other at regular meetings and events.  She is warm, open and encouraging with an English accent I could listen to all day. I’ve heard Shelly talk about a manuscript that came ‘so close’ to being picked up, only to be let down; I’ve thrown around ideas with her about a young adult novel; I’ve chatted with her at book launches celebrating colleagues’ success when it has seemed to allude her. And now here she is having signed the Holy Grail – a contract for 5 picture books, with a major publisher, to be released as a package hopefully next year. It is such a pleasure to be able to now celebrate her achievements and hear her story. There is so much in Shelly’s story to offer wisdom and hope for those of us who write for kids. I’ve highlighted some themes to pick up on at a later date.

This is the first of a few installments  – so stay tuned…                           shelly unwin jwfk

Described as a concept book, I know you contractually can’t tell us much about it – what can you tell us about it and when did the idea come to you? Hum, what can I tell you? The series is aimed at 1-5 year olds and has a strong education focus, wrapped inside a warm and cuddly bedtime story. Its subject matter is one that all kids fixate on in these early years and beyond. It has minimal text, between 120-150 words per book, leaving room for some really wonderful illustrations. The narrative speaks directly to the child and is written in verse.

Not unusually for us creative types, the idea hit me in the night. I sat bolt upright in a hot sweat, reached over to wake my husband up and said “Oh My God! I’ve got it!” I have been writing seriously for the last three and a half years. I’ve been on a stack of courses, and written lots of lovely ‘quiet’ stories, and I recognized immediately that what I had stumbled upon was not a quiet story. It was the illusive ‘commercial’ story that we are all hoping to write. Needless to say I couldn’t go back to sleep.

How long did it take you to write it?

I wrote the first one in a couple of hours. It wanted to be written and flew from my subconscious. Then it went through the critiquing and re-writing process.

Who did you discuss it with or get advice from?

Firstly my husband, which is unusual, I normally don’t mention my ideas to him until they have evolved fully. His excitement mirrored mine, which was very encouraging. Then I took it to my critique group. I wanted to see if they thought it was as commercial an idea as I thought it was. I also wanted to check that they didn’t know of any similar books out there. I’d done internet research and couldn’t find anything – the idea seems so obvious it was crazy that it hadn’t been done already. But I guess every so often a new gem of an idea emerges and someone gets to grab it with both hands and run with it. If I’d had the same idea three years earlier though, my execution wouldn’t have been anywhere near where it was when this idea formed. I had taken time to learn the craft and really understand how to structure a picture book and really speak to the child. So I was in a prime position to take the idea and write it well.

How did you decide it was ready to take to a publisher/agent?

I wrote the first draft on the 19th October and I was booked in for an editor consultation at the Sutherland Shire Writing Festival on the 1st November, so I worked to the deadline. But more than that I’d also realized fairly quickly that I had stumbled across a series possibility, so I had written the first drafts of all five books and had one of them fairly well polished by the 1st of November. The editor I met with was very excited by the idea and asked for me to send two of the manuscripts through to her. I had also submitted one manuscript by email to an editor I had met with at the SCBWI conference that I felt may be interested.

You can find Shelly Unwin on her website: http://shellyunwin.com and on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ShellyUnwinAuthorPage

 

 

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