Allison Tait navigates questions about The Mapmaker Chronicles

photoAllison Tait is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, magazine features, blog posts and is also a co-host on our top-rating podcast, So you want to be a writer. Usually she's the one asking the questions, but today – following last month’s launch of the first book in her new series, The Mapmaker Chronicles – we thought we’d turn the tables…

(However, after a few minutes of having to reach down to the floor to pick up our coffees, we turned the tables back again. It was just easier that way…)

So Allison, or “A.L.”… tell us about The Mapmaker Chronicles in fewer than 1000 words.

The Mapmaker Chronicles is an adventure series for kids aged 9+ about a race to map the world ­– and a boy who'd really much rather stay home.”

Wow, barely 25 words – impressive ‘elevator pitch'! So, an adventure in maps…when did the idea for the series come to you?

The Mapmaker Chronicles was inspired by two conversations I had with my oldest son, now 10. One night we were standing out in our backyard, looking up at a big, velvety night sky strewn with a million stars, and he turned to me and asked: ‘Mum, how far does space go?’

“I fudged my way through an answer (basically, ‘nobody knows, but a really long way') and suggested that we go back inside and Google it…”

Gotta love Google. Helping parents out of tricky spots since 1998…

“The next night we were reading a Horrible Histories book about explorers and he asked me how they mapped the world (I've always had a strong interest in old maps). ‘They had to go,’ I said. ‘They couldn't just look it up on the internet – they had to get in their ships and go out there.’

“He thought that sounded a bit scary. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Particularly when you consider that they thought the world was flat and that they might sail off the edge. For them, it would have felt exactly as we feel staring out into space, wondering…’

“And in that instant, I had the idea for a race to map the world – and Quinn, who is certain he's going to sail over the edge any minute.”

Buy now!

Brilliant – and a dash of ‘intrepidipity’. So how long, from idea through research to finished product, did this first book take you? And while we’re at it, the other two in the series?

“The first book took me about six weeks to draft. I started it in November 2012 (as part of NaNoWriMo). Once I'd written the first draft, I read it to Mr10 (who told me where the boring bits were) and then rewrote it (taking the boring bits out). The whole process took about three months, and the others have followed a similar pattern. Once they went to my publisher, Suzanne O'Sullivan at Hachette Australia, there was also the structural edit, copy edit, first typeset pages edit and then proofread as well…”

And how did your book deal come about?

“I was fortunate in that I already had an agent in place, due to my non-fiction books and also because I'd been writing adult fiction and had one novel close to publication. I wrote The Mapmaker Chronicles, sent it to my agent and then… waited. As one always does with publishing. Never, ever underestimate the amount of time it might take to even have your manuscript read. Once Suzanne read the book, however, things moved very quickly and I had a three-book deal in place – with two books to write in 2014. It's been a very busy year.”

Clearly! That’s brilliant news – and we’re giving away two copies of Book 1 at the end of this post. So, let’s change gears. You do a teetering stack of writing things – from teaching it, to various genres of fiction, feature writing, blogging and non-fiction … So, did you always want to be a writer?

“I have always loved writing – and, in particular, always loved reading. At school, I was pretty convinced I wanted to be a newspaper journalist (or an actor, but that's a whole different story), but work experience in Year 11 made me realise that news was not for me. Slightly derailed, I did a business course after high school (thinking I could use it as a ‘back up' until I became a movie star), but fell into a job at Federal Publishing, then a special interest magazine publishing company. I won a cadetship soon after I started, and worked my way up through magazines from there – including a stint in London for a few years.”

Okay, so that’s all magazine writing so far…

“For a long time, feature writing fulfilled my writing urges and it wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I began to think about writing fiction. It had always seemed to me to be something that other, very clever, people did. I knew I could write great sentences, but I wasn't entirely convinced until then that I had anything to say…”

So what kind of fiction did you start with?

“I started out trying to write romance novels, because they ‘made sense' to me – I had read a billion of them as a teenager, I understood target markets and ‘voice' due to my work in magazines and I thought I could make it work. I was wrong. That emotional investment in romance is incredibly difficult to write and I kept losing focus on the romance and trying to bring in all these other things. I won a mentor in a competition once who worked with me for six weeks before saying, very politely, that she felt I needed a ‘bigger canvas'. So I turned to women's fiction, and I've now written two full novels in that area – the aforementioned ‘almost published' one, and a new one, which I'm redrafting as we speak.

“I have to say, though, that The Mapmaker Chronicles is the MOST fun I've ever had writing anything. I have loved everything about that experience.”

High praise indeed. So what's your typical day like – namely, do you have a writing routine?

“I have two sons aged seven and 10 and I have always wedged my writing – both my day job of freelance writing and my ‘hobby' of writing fiction – around them. This is much easier now that they’re both at school, but I still end up doing a lot of late nights at times. I write every day, but not always on the same projects. I work on whatever is on deadline, whilst also keeping everything else afloat (organising interviews for next week's stories, writing my blog, social media and so on). If I'm working on a novel – either writing or editing – I try to do something every day, even if it's just 30 minutes or so. It's easy to let a big project slide away, particularly if nobody's actively waiting for it, so you have to keep one finger on the reins at all times.”

And what are you working on now?

“I'm redrafting an adult novel, which I'm really excited about. I'm also working on a picture book – this is the third one I've written, and I have to say that these 500 words are giving me more grief than the 80,000 in my current novel manuscript. I've got an outline for three more Mapmaker books, so we'll see what happens there, and I've got an inkling of a new idea for another adult novel, so I might start that come January. I like to have something on the go all the time, just to keep life interesting.”

Now a question you've asked many other writers. Your turn now. What's your advice for others who would love to be a full-time writer like yourself one day?

“I think my main advice is to focus on one thing at a time, but not to put all your eggs in one basket. I began with features writing, and then went freelance with that. These days, my freelance work entails not only feature articles, but corporate writing, content writing, social media work, tutoring, speaking and more. I've added all these things in, one step at a time. Fiction has been my ‘hobby' for a very long time, and remains part of my writing mix, not my sole focus (much as I would like it to be!). I don't think you wake up one morning and decide you're going to write full-time – it's a gradual process and I like it that way. It keeps things varied and interesting!”

And finally, what’s your writing superpower? (Cape optional.)

“I think I have three:
I write fast – not as fast as a speeding bullet, but I'm pretty speedy.
I'm focussed – when I sit down at my computer, it's like a switch goes on and the words pour out.
I'm fearless (but only when it comes to writing) – I'll give anything a go, even if I've never tried it before.“

Thanks Al!

And we have two super copies of Book 1 of The Mapmaker Chronicles to give away. All you need to do is read the 20 November issue of our awesome weekly newsletter to answer a simple question! If you're not currently subscribed, go sign up!
Good luck!

Missed the boat? Don't worry, you can buy the book it here!

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