It's with great pleasure I welcome today's author to the blog, whose background is colourful and their list of published picture books extensive!
Trained as a zoologist and zookeeper, I have been writing fiction and non-fiction books about the natural world for around two decades. My 19 picture books and information books have been published by Trade and Education publishers in Australia and internationally. Several books have won or been short-listed for major awards, including the Environment Award for Children’s Literature and the Whitley Awards.
I hope through my books to inspire young readers to become lifelong readers and conservation stewards. I aim to encourage kids to be curious about nature so they will want to go out and experience it for themselves – even a park or back yard will do!
Long snouts, bright-red lips, pointy heads . . . the animal kingdom is full of critters with unique features. Learn about the incredible adaptations that help these creatures―and their odd bods―survive and thrive all around the globe!
Did you always dream of being a writer/illustrator?
No, I didn’t really know that everyday people could be writers. I enjoyed writing, though, and received good feedback on my work in school, and while studying zoology at university.
Later, as a professional zoologist and zookeeper, I wrote scientific research papers, and the occasional article for magazines about pets and travel in my spare time. (I loved to travel back then.) But it wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mum that I seriously tried my hand at writing children’s picture books. I was reading a zillion a day to my daughter, which gave me a good grounding in what was being published, and I was learning what I thought worked and what didn’t.
When did you start pursuing publication of your work?
I started submitting picture book manuscripts to publishers around 2004.
How long did it take from that first thought to release day?
It took years. I was receiving quite positive feedback but no offers to publish. So around 2007, I was able to get a foot in the publishing door by doing work-for-hire for a packager (which is a company that makes books to sell on to publishers), using my science training as a selling point. This work involved writing non-fiction children’s books about animals and the environment to meet the packager’s specific brief. While the books weren’t my own original ideas, I researched and wrote them, and was the attributed author. It allowed me to start building a list of published books to mention in my own manuscript submissions.
What's been the hardest part of publishing a book so far?
Perhaps the waiting, but I think you gradually get used to it. There is waiting at every step in the process – after manuscript submission, if it goes to acquisitions, through contract negotiations and rounds of editing, finding out who will be the illustrator, and then finally holding the book in your hands. It’s a long process!
And the easiest, or most enjoyable?
The most enjoyable part is that exciting moment when I think I have a strong picture book emerging from my many manuscript drafts.
What's next for you?
I always have a few manuscripts on the go, at different stages of development. While I work on one, the others are “stewing” - waiting for me to return to them with fresh eyes. Most of my works in progress are non-fiction or informational fiction picture book manuscripts about animals or nature.
My next book to be released is ODD BODS: The World’s Unusual Animals (Millbrook Press, USA, March 2021). It is a non-fiction picture book (with photos, not illustrations) for children 4-8. It’s about how animals that look different from the norm are just as great at surviving as those animals with a more familiar appearance.
I've Got a Tail! (Amicus Ink, 2020)
What's one piece of advice you'd give to writers just started their pursuit of publication?
Can I sneak in two? Be prepared for the long haul, and be aware you aren’t “just” a writer or illustrator. You also need to learn to be an administrator, accountant, promoter, lawyer, and probably others that I can’t think of right now.
Last book you just read?
Boo Loves Books by Kaye Baillie and Tracie Grimwood. It’s a heart-warming picture book story that will appeal to anyone who loves doggos (like me) and a good story (also like me). It might also convince some reluctant readers that books are pretty good after all (because the book delicately deals with this issue).
What book are you reading now?
Legends II, which is an anthology of ”new works by the masters of modern fantasy”. This is like tucking into a sampler box of chocolates – I am discovering some wonderful writers I’ve never read before!
Best book you've ever read?
I love The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. The first time I read it, it was a revelation. It is a wild and beautiful YA story, written in prose that flows like poetry.
I have a few, but I’ve never read a book by Margaret Wild that I’ve not loved.
Best moment of your writing life?
Always the release of my next book.
Name of your newest WIP?
I’m working on a creative non-fiction book about birds’ nests with the working title, Home Tweet Home.
If not an author, what would be your dream job?
I’ve already worked in some pretty cool jobs, including wildlife scientist and zookeeper, and I currently work part-time as an Education Officer at an urban farm, which is also heaps of fun. That’s enough for me (along with my writing, of course!).
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!