Tag Archives: interviews

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



Filed under Author Interviews, Debra Tidball

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




Filed under Author Interviews, Debra Tidball

Welcome from the Founder of Just Write For Kids



The Just Write For Kids (JWFK) community of emerging and established Australian writers and illustrators are thrilled to present our new blog for bringing participants in the children’s literature world up-to-date information, writing and publishing tips, education, news, reviews and interviews.

JWFK has a strong commitment to engaging and supporting others in the Australian children’s literature community.

We aim to promote passion and the value of quality books and education for young people around the world. This blog also hopes to raise the profile of book creators and their important role in advocating literacy for children and young Australians.

In doing so, JWFK strives to facilitate an encouraging community for writers, illustrators, teachers and parents to come together to learn and share knowledge.

We look forward to having you join us as a part of our creative team!


Romi Sharp – Founder and director, Just Write For Kids.


Filed under Romi Sharp, Uncategorized