Australian Writers' Centre graduate Tamsin Janu completed the Writing Books for Children and Young Adults course in 2012 and immediately afterwards started work on her book Figgy in the World – published by Scholastic Omnibus.
Despite feeling she was ‘too young' to write for children, Tamsin undertook her Australian Writers' Centre course while also studying law. She had spent some time in Ghana on a volunteer program and it was that experience that inspired her to write for children. She now works in a remote community in the Northern Territory as a youth worker.
1. Tell us about your book.
My first children’s novel, aimed at the 8-12 age group, is entitled Figgy in the World. It follows a little girl named Figgy, who lives in Ghana, West Africa, on her journey to America to find the medicine that will make her Grandma Ama well again. Figgy and her goat Kwame visit interesting places and meet many quirky characters along the way.
2. What inspired this story for kids?
In 2009 I volunteered in Ghana for three months and fell in love with the country. It’s a part of the world most people haven’t seen and know little about, so I thought it would be a fun and interesting setting for a story. While in Ghana I worked with kids who had never been more than a couple of hours away from their village, so the concept of ‘overseas’ was baffling to them. I remember pointing out Australia on a world map, and a little boy in my class considered it very seriously before asking, ‘is Australia in the sky?’ I wanted to write about the wonder these kids have for far-off places and encapsulate their spirit despite living in tough circumstances.
3. What role did your course in Writing Books for Children and Young Adults with Judith Ridge have in your writing and publishing this book?
I was a bit shy coming into the course – I was considerably younger than the other students and wasn’t very confident in my writing. But the experience and knowledge shared by the class and Judith, in relation to both technical and creative aspects of writing, was incredibly valuable. Discussions have stuck with me such as those surrounding our ‘writing age’ (I’m 8-10 years old), on how to get parents out of the picture when writing children’s fiction, and on the importance of having a strong writing voice. The course also introduced me to the business side of writing, which has assisted me on my journey to getting published.
4. Tell us what happened after you finished the course. What was the publishing process like?
I began writing Figgy in The World immediately after I finished the course – the idea came to me in the midst of it. I wrote a draft quickly, revised it, then sent the first chapter to a couple of big publishers and sent the whole manuscript to Scholastic Omnibus. After a few months, Scholastic got back to me with positive things to say but also noting things that needed work. So I took a few months, revised the manuscript fully, then sent it back to Scholastic. And they accepted it! The publishing process has been a huge learning experience and very exciting. I have particularly enjoyed doing edits, choosing cover art and seeing the manuscript in book form.
5. What's your daily writing routine? Do you aim for a certain number of words or hours?
I don’t have a routine. I only finished my law degree at the end of last year, and it was difficult for me to write during semester when I had essays to complete and a part time job. So I did most of my writing during holiday breaks. Now I’m in full time work and try to get in as much writing as possible on weekends. But while some weekends I’ll write 5000 words, other weekends I’ll write none. I still think of writing as a hobby – I only write when I feel like it, but because I enjoy it I seem to get a good amount done. We’ll have to see whether I become more pedantic about routine and structure in the future.
6. What's next for you?
My book comes out in June, so I’m looking forward to that. Otherwise, I’m continuing to write, and have a couple of other children’s books in the works. I’m currently employed as a Youth Worker in a community in remote Northern Territory, and the kids I work with give me inspiration every day.
7. What's your advice to new authors writing for kids?
I feel strange giving out advice, as I’m a ‘new author’ myself! But I would say… write what you want to write, even if it’s a bit different. The uniqueness of your book may be what makes it stand out from the crowd.
Update: Tamsin has been listed in the 2018 Prime Minister's Literary Awards shortlist for her third book, Figgy Takes the City.
If you're interested in writing for children and teenagers check out the Writing Books for Children and Young Adults course, in Sydney or Online.