It wasn’t so long ago that Sydney mum Penny Morrison would have laughed off suggestions that she could be a published picture book author. She never thought of herself ever writing books. However, now with half a dozen books to her name, including an industry recognition, she has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Like many mums, Penny had been ‘drawn’ to the idea of writing picture books – however, a lack of knowledge had held her back. “I assumed that you would need to illustrate it and I can’t draw and i didn’t know any illustrators personally so it didn’t cross my mind to write my own books,” she recalls.
It wasn’t until a friend recommended the Writing Picture Books course at the Australian Writers’ Centre that things began to take shape. It was during the course that Penny discovered that needing to have your story illustrated upfront was a myth. She also learnt at the same time that her eldest child had been diagnosed with Aspergers – and writing became a welcome relief to the distress she was feeling.
“The course came at a good time because I could express all my emotions through what I was writing. I wrote a lot of stories about mums and young children and going through different struggles, and I found that really helped me.”
Writing and publishing
Something Penny realised almost immediately was that she didn’t really know the basics to writing picture books. Sure, she was familiar with some of the concepts but didn’t know how to apply that to her own stories. The course helped illuminate this.
“I learned a lot more about point of view, how to create a compelling character and how to improve the language in the story. I also learnt about how to give feedback and look at my own text critically and think about how it needed to improve.”
The course touched on publishing and approaching publishers, but Penny decided to learn this important step a little deeper by completing a separate short publishing course with the Australian Writers’ Centre. “I did my courses in Sydney, but there are online courses which would be great, especially if you can’t get babysitting, can’t make it at that time or live too far away.”
And with everything she learnt, her first book – Captain Sneer the Buccaneer, was accepted by Walker Books. “It was very exciting!”
Good things take time
Captain Sneer was the perfect example of the pace of the picture book industry. It took over three years for the book to be illustrated and finally published in September 2016, with beautiful illustrations by Gabriel Evans. “It just does take a long time for picture books to be made.”
That said, she’s been on a roll in recent times, with her Hey! series of books published prior to the release of Captain Sneer – including one of them being shortlisted for the Caleb Prize for faith inspired writing in Australia. She has also released a Christmas book called The Mighty Mighty King.
Penny readily admits that all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the knowledge and skills she gained from her writing courses. “Writing is a big part of my life now … it seems to fit in everywhere. It’s something I really enjoy doing, so I do it because I enjoy being creative.”
Once she started writing, she found it addictive, and didn’t want to stop – even though she had never expected that. “I definitely recommend doing a course at the Australian Writers’ Centre, I just found it so inspiring.”