Ep 150 How to write dialogue. And meet author and illustrator Tania McCartney.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 150 of So you want to be a writer: Discover tips for writing great dialogue, why learning about your craft is vital (even for writing veterans), and how whiteboard planning can help your creative writing. Shoutout to AWC graduate Penelope Janu who landed a two-book deal. Learn the meaning of meretricious and meet author and illustrator Tania McCartney. Plus, why sharing other people’s stuff is good for your author platform, and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Review of the Week
From tiri:

Such a great podcast – really enjoying the discussion between the hosts as well as the author interviews. I have learnt a great deal about a range of industries within the field of writing and I have come away with some excellent writing tips!

Thanks, tiri!

Show Notes

Penelope Janu: Meet the lawyer who landed a two-book deal on her romance novel

Ep 107 Do skinny pretty, writers get more book deals? And meet Sonya Voumard, author of “The Media and the Massacre”

How to Write Dialogue and Make It Sound Great

Why New Novelists Need On-going Training

Why a whiteboard can be your best friend as a creative writer

Writer in Residence

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is an award-winning author, illustrator and editor.

She was born on a little island called Tasmania where she developed a loving relationship with raspberries. She really likes to wander, and has lived in almost every Australian state as well as France, England and China (she will find any excuse to get on a plane).

A juvenile literacy champion, she is a past ambassador for the National Year of Reading and a current ambassador for the Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge (ACT).

Tania lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with a superhero husband, two little Aussie adventurers (who are not so little anymore), lots of kangaroos and a Himalayan mountain of books.

Visit Tania’s website

Follow Tania on Twitter

Platform Building Tip

Sharing other people’s stuff.

Competition

WIN: It’s raining cats and dogs!

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Tania McCartney is an award-winning author of 23 books for children and adults, an illustrator and editor, and founder of Kids Book Review, a 100% voluntary children’s literature and book review website. She also has more than ten years experience in book publishing, layout and design. Her latest books out this month are both picture books. One called This is Banjo Patterson, illustrated by Christina Booth. And one, a revised edition, called Australian Story, an Illustrated Timeline, which is written and illustrated by Tania. So she is a very busy lady. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today, Tania.

Tania

Thanks Allison. It’s lovely to be with you.

Allison

All right, so let’s start at the beginning. Where did your publishing career begin? How did this all happen?

Tania

Well, like so many of us authors, I started writing when I was probably in utero. And all through school, loved storytelling, loved writing short stories, loved illustrating. And English was my favourite subject. And I got into poetry in my late teens. And once I hit adulthood, I was really into contemporary fictions. You know, Tim Winton. So I loved writing magical adult stories. And yeah, I just kind of pottered along the way, and life got in the way, and children, and family, and travel, and all those kinds of things. And my actual launch into the publishing world was in 1995 with an adult book about names. That was with Hodder Headline. Back in 1995. It was called You Name It. And I’m quite obsessed with etymology and names and sources and origins. So I wrote this really unusual book about that.

Allison

What made you do that? What made you start that? What made you think, I’m going to write a book about this?

Tania

I’m a really non-fiction person. I read stacks of fiction, but I just love facts and figures and non-fiction and history. So I guess it was just something that came to me. I’m not sure. Maybe I was secretly baby-obsessed and was thinking about baby names at the time. Who knows? But I’d just been living overseas and I came home, and just had this idea. And it got two offers, two contract offers, from Hodder Headline, and I think the other was Simon Schuster, at the time. So that kind of made me think, wow! This is possible. I can become an author. So that was sort of my launching pad. And it wasn’t until we moved to Beijing in 2005 and I had young kids that I started writing for children, and didn’t look back.

Allison

Okay. So tell us a little about your new books. Because these are both books for children, and both non-fiction, essentially. Fact based stories, correct?

Tania

Yeah. I tend to write a lot of non-fiction. I’m starting to write more fiction. But back in, I think, 2010, I approached the National Library of Australia – because we’d moved to Canberra in 2009 – and I talked to them about all these ideas I had for non-fiction books. And obviously, they have an historical bent, and they have to have a correlation to their online collection of digital images and maps and all that kind of thing for their books. So I approached them about that with all these different ideas I had and they loved them. And we’ve been slowly unrolling them ever since, six years later. So I’ve written quite a few.

And This is Banjo Patterson has just been released, that’s actually a follow on from This is Captain Cook. And I came up with this idea – gosh, it would have been at least five or six years ago – to do a biographical series of historical people but for very young children. So I’m not talking, I know Random House has the Meet… series, and have done amazingly with it for slightly older mid to upper-primary and even young high school. But I wanted to do something for very early childhood. So we came up with this idea, Christina Booth and I, to do a story about Captain Cook’s life but in a way that was very, very young, and with narratives and had really gorgeous childlike illustrations and humour. And that did very well, so we thought let’s do another. So we did Banjo. And it’s just out. It came out on the 1st of February, and we’re already getting some great reviews in. Because it’s hard sometimes to follow up from a past book.

Allison

Yes. Yes.

Tania

In terms of will it be the same? And we were quite nervous, but people are saying that it’s just as good a concept as Cook, which is such a relief. Because Cook was so unique.

Allison

That’s great.

Tania

Yeah. So that’s just come out. And Australian Story was released in 2011, I believe. And that was… It’s fundamentally a timeline of Australian history. It actually wasn’t illustrated by me. Well, technically it was in terms of I chose the imagery. But it only has my name on the book because they had a designer do a little bit of illustration compilation, but it was more just graphic design. So that’s why only my name is there. But effectively I chose all the imagery for it. So in a way, I guess I illustrated it in that way. And that’s a timeline of Australian history, and it’s being used a lot by schools. So they’ve reissued it to update to 2016.

Allison

Fantastic.

Tania

Yeah. So that’s just released on the 1st of February, too.

Allison

So just going back slightly there. You said you and Christina came up with the idea for This is Captain Cook together, and now This is Banjo Patterson. Did you pitch that as an author-illustrator story right from the start? Because often the story is the – what’s the word? – the rhetoric is that you, a writer will just go with the story, you don’t take the illustrator or the illustrations with you. The publisher likes to choose the illustrator. Is that not what happened here?

Tania

Well, what happened was, as I said, I’d come up with the idea quite a long time ago. And the library has so many provisions that it needs to fill. Because it’s books are, they’re quite intensely done, and they have to be done in a certain way, and have that lovely historical bent. So I came up with the idea a long time ago, and they liked it. So it developed, I actually created the text myself on my own, and worked with an editor. And then I recommended Christina, because she’s a friend and I love her work. And I thought her style suited the book. And of course it does. So I approached her and she said great. So we got on board.

And the great thing that we were able to do, which as you said doesn’t often happen, often a publisher will appoint an illustrator to text and the author might not even see anything other than the odd rough until the end result. I think that’s slowly shifting, particularly as authors do more of their own illustrating, which is happening more and more. But it’s slowly shifting.

And so Christina and I were able to work directly with each other. And this was an enormous benefit. Because by talking to each other about how we could do this visually, we came up with this idea that I wanted to have children playing the roles of Captain Cook’s life. So I didn’t want any adults. I just wanted kids playing the roles of Cook and his wife and his sailors and everyone else. So when we talked about children playing the role, Christina said “what about a school play?” And I went oh my goodness!

So I came up with the idea of having them play the roles, and she came up with the school play. And that just went on from there. Collaborating together, chatting. And I think when two creators are able to come together and work directly, I think a third entity comes in. It’s almost like a creative presence that’s like the third layer that adds so much nuance and creativity and cleverness to a story and a seamlessness that I’m not sure you can get when the collaborators can’t work at all together.

Allison

Interesting. As an author-illustrator, you have created several books on your own, and you’ve also done several with other illustrators. How do you know when a project needs a co-creator? Like it needs that creative third presence, so to speak?

Tania

Well, I think in terms of whether I illustrate something or not, it depends on how confident I’m feeling and how inspired I am. So there’s certain books, I’m working on some books with Jess Racklyeft at the moment, who did Smile Cry with me for EK Books. And she’s a phenomenal illustrator. And there are certain texts that I’ve written that I don’t want to illustrate. Whether it’s that I don’t feel I can, whether I’m not… I just envisage her illustrations. Same with Christina, I envisage hers. Same with Andrew Joiner when we did the book for the National Library, Australian Kids Through the Years. I could see his illustrations for the text. So mine don’t necessarily suit the text. And of course that’s what publishers do, don’t they?

Allison

Yeah.

Tania

They look at a text. Right, this would be perfect. This is why publishers generally don’t like people to send in illustrations with their text. Because they want to have that creative process, deciding what the look should be. And they’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. So I look at certain text and think, nope, that’s not mine. That’s definitely whimsical Jess. Or that’s definitely painterly Christina, or cartoony Andy Joiner. You know?

Allison

Okay. So you have to know your own… I guess it’s as much about knowing your strengths and weaknesses as anything else, yeah?

Tania

Oh, absolutely! And also your inspiration. When you approach an illustrator with a text and you say, “here’s this book, do you want to illustrate it?” You don’t want them coming back thinking, “yep, I need some money, I’ll do this.” You want them coming back going, oh my god, this made me cry. Or this is so inspirational, I’m already seeing full page spreads, what about if we did this? You want someone on board who injects nuance and passion and creativity into the story. You want them to want to do it. Not just as a job, you know what I mean? Because it doesn’t work that way. If an illustrator takes a text and just draws what’s in the text, that’s when picture books lose their magic. You need an illustrator that comes on and goes, oh my goodness, I see this. And indeed, the illustrators I’ve worked with, I’ve changed text to suit their illustration, it’s so good.

Allison

There you go.

Tania

And you can’t do that, otherwise, unless you collaborate.

Allison

When did you start out illustrating? You talked about the fact that you’ve been a writer since in utero, but at what point did you start doing illustrations? And think I can illustrate well enough to do one of my own books here?

Tania

Well, I had always illustrated through my childhood. And in my teens, I was prolific. I wanted to be a fashion designer. So I used to basically draw, go through Vogue, and just draw pictures of women and beautiful clothing. And I would do it every day. I was so prolific. And through my early twenties, when I travelled, I would do a lot of sketching as I travelled. And then, yeah, life got in the way. And I kept writing, but I lost my illustration.

And I used to do – it’s so funny – I used to do school visits with kids and I’d talk about illustrating and writing. And I would actually have, as one of my presentations, I would say, because kids would say, “why don’t you illustrate your own books?” And I would say, “because I can’t draw.” And I honestly, Allison, I honestly believed I could no longer draw. Because I hadn’t picked up a pen for 25 years. So I thought I’d lost it. And I would do this, I had this little stick figure of myself, like a self-portrait, and I’d say to the kids “I’m so bad, I’m so bad at drawing. Do you want to see my latest self-portrait? You’re not allowed to laugh. You’re not allowed to laugh.” And of course they’d burst out laughing and I’d pretend to cry.

And I would literally, I literally believed I could no longer draw. And then when I hit my 40s, a couple of my illustrator author friends, I was so inspired by them, and I’ve always been obsessed with illustration, massive picture book collection and illustration collection. And I’d say to them, something’s missing, I want to create again. So a couple of my friends encouraged me, I started painting, and then I started the 52-week illustration challenge.

Allison

Oh yes.

Tania

As a personal challenge to create to a theme one image per week for a year.

Allison

Wow.

Tania

And I committed to it, and I told a couple of friends about it, and they said they wanted to do it. And then Dee White said to me “you need to put this on Facebook. Create a group.” I said, “oh, no one will join.” She said, “go on, just try it.” I set it up. Within two weeks we had something like 350 members from around the world. Within a month, we had over a thousand. We now have nearly 5,500 – 6,000 people.

Allison

Wow.

Tania

After, we’re in our third year. But we vet very carefully. We’d probably have 40,000 people if we didn’t vet. Because it’s a secure safe place to practice art. It’s non-promotional, it’s fully creative, it’s non-critical. And kids, grandparents, people from all walks of life create. And I was one of them, Al, I was someone that committed. And after two and a half years, I was drawing to a level where I thought I could approach a publisher. And I did. And I got a contract a week later. And that was Australia Illustrated.

Allison

Wow.

Tania

Yeah. You know, it just goes to show, if you commit and have passion and practice, practice, practice and put those hours in. I could not even tell you how shocked I am that I’m an illustrator now. It’s bizarre to me! It’s like, what? It’s like the Donald Trump thing. I’ve woken up and gone, huh? When am I going to wake up? Is it a dream? Is it a nightmare? But it’s not. It’s real. And it’s just because I committed and I honed my skills. So there you go, for all the kids out there.

Allison

I was going to say, so if there’s an author illustrators out there, where do they find the group? Is it “52-week illustration challenge”? Is that what it’s called?

Tania

Yeah. Just on Facebook. We have a blog, too. But if you just Facebook it we’ve got a regular group page that you have to ask to join. And then we have a community page where people can interact and post things and actually self-promote or post links.

Allison

Terrific.

Tania

So yeah, anyone can post there. But in the group, you have to ask to join. It’s a closed group, so you have to be approved, because we don’t want spammers or crooks or anything in there. And they’ve been plenty. And it’s a wonderful environment. People have, honest to goodness, it’s stunning what’s occurred. We exhibited for Arts Brookfield in Perth, which is a leading exhibitor of public art in the world. We’ve had people completely change careers. We’ve lost count of the book contracts and artistic contracts, and job changes, and life changes people have made.

Allison

How exciting.

Tania

Yeah. I encourage anyone who is drawing to get in and have a look and join up because it’s a great group.

Allison

Okay. So you’ve written for both adults and children, but you’ve definitely skewed towards children’s books over the past nine or ten years. How and why did that… Do you still write for adults at all? Or is it all about kids now?

Tania

I actually, I think I’ve done about four or five adult books, and I really do love doing that kind of thing. But the children’s stuff overwhelmed me, because it’s an amazing industry with incredible people. And the creative scope is phenomenal. And writing for children really pushes you because it’s not easy. I would argue that it’s harder than writing for adults. Because children are so open and honest and critical. And you have gatekeepers, and you have word counts, and you have so many limitations that you need to work around while providing magic and comprehension and educational properties. It’s a real balancing act. So I find the challenge phenomenal. And I started in kids’ books because, as an eleven year old, I don’t know if you remember Al, but remember the glory box when you were eleven and you’d put all your tea sets and… I don’t know if you’re too young for this. And tea towels…

Allison

No, I’m just thinking, I remember my gran talking about a glory box, and my mum. But I never actually had one. But I remember my grandma gave me a doll that was all dressed up as a bride and told me to put in my glory box.

Tania

Oh my goodness. That’s hysterical.

Allison

I know. It was amazing.

Tania

Well, I’m showing my age here. But I had one. So I ended up filling it with picture books. So that was a sign of things to come. So I’ve had a picture book obsession for a really, really long time. And have a massive collection now. And I just dreamt of doing my own. So when we were in Beijing, my kids were two and four when we arrived. And I had a lot of extra time. I was working as a magazine editor freelance and I decided to write a children’s book because I just adore them and had dreamed of doing it. And that was Riley and the Sleeping Dragon. And that was a book about Beijing. And that just took off and became a best-seller around Shanghai and Beijing amongst the expat community, because it was in English, obviously. And then when I came home, it did well. And things just went on from there. And I fell headlong into this industry, and it is just the most incredible ride. I absolutely love it. I think I can, as my kids get older, we were chatting before we started recording about this, I think you write for who you’ve got in your life at the time. So I started with younger picture books, and I’m gradually going up to junior fiction. My goal now is middle fiction. And then maybe YA, and then maybe back to adult eventually. We’ll see.

Allison

The life cycle of the writer.

Tania

We’ll see. When I grow up.

Allison

So, a lot of people do start out writing picture books because they think that they’re easy, because they’re short. You see this a lot. So how long does it actually take you to create the text for a book? And then what happens after that?

Tania

Well, I think writing the text for a picture book can take 20 minutes or 20 years. I know Dallas Clayton wrote an amazing book. He has been touted as the American Dr Seuss. And he wrote this wonderful book for his son. I think it was called Everything is Awesome, or something. I should know, because it’s been huge. He’s gone on to write others. And he wrote that in 20 minutes. I’ve written texts in 20 minutes as well. Of course, they don’t end up, you end up working on them. You edit them and hone them and whatever, of course, later.

So you can, once you’re in the mode and you understand the rhythm and the way a picture book works, you can write them quite quickly, but then there’s a lot of honing. Some people take 20 years or more to write a picture book. For me, I would say, creating a new picture book text, and then liaising with an illustrator, to final, can take anywhere from around nine months to about eighteen months. And then from there, of course, then you have printing and publication and all the rest of it. Which, I know, especially overseas distributors need really long lead times. So we might have something, I think we’ve got books coming out in June, Tina and I, that are going to be overseas as well, and we had to get those covers out last August.

Allison

Oh.

Tania

So the long lead time to getting book covers out and blurb out and that kind of thing. So yeah, the actual process, I’d say roughly a year. But that’s only because I’ve worked with a lot of smaller publishers. I think bigger publishers, it can take longer sometimes. It depends on their schedules, it depends on how fast the illustrator is as well. Some illustrators are very fast. Christina is super-fast. Others are not so fast. I won’t mention who, but if he’s listening he might know.

Allison

Right. There’s a little secret for us.

Tania

Yes. It’s all dependant, I guess, on what you’re creating, how much detail, that kind of thing. And with the National Library books, of course, not only do you have editing and liaising with the illustrator, but you have fact-checking to your eyeballs. I mean, Australian Story, the first version of Australian Story back in 2011 took eighteen months of fact-checking.

Allison

Wow.

Tania

Yeah. It took forever. And it had to. Because it was a slew of small facts. So we had to make sure they were absolutely accurate. So yeah, it really varies.

Allison

Do you think that time factor is a part of the publishing process for books, children’s or adult, that takes new authors by surprise sometimes? Do you think that that’s something that… I mean, I know that when I first started writing novels and books instead of freelance writing, I couldn’t believe how long everything took. I still can’t believe, I cannot believe how much waiting around is involved. Still. Still! Look at me, like years later. I’m still rolling my eyes. Do you think that that’s something that new authors are often surprised by?

Tania

Absolutely. And I think the lead up, as well, the lead up to publication. It’s probably what they misstep on the most. Because every week I have someone contact me and say, “how do I get my book published? I’ve just written it last night. Got this great idea. Never written in my life. I know it’s going to be a best seller.” And I will go back now – I used to be a little kinder, now I’m a little rougher – with kindness, rough with kindness, tell it like it is.

Allison

Tough love.

Tania

And I’ll go back and I’ll say to them, “what you do is you go back to your computer and you spend the next year writing. And you write a new picture book every week. And you study and you hone your craft and you redo and you rewrite and you write new stuff and you take courses in creative writing and you read picture books until your eyes bleed. And you get to understand rhythm and cadence and the layout and design of the book, and how we need pauses and action and pauses and calm.”

And they just, they don’t like to hear that. They like to hear that it’s going to go straight to a publisher and be on the shelves within a week. I think that lead up to even being published, people are stunned by. I think it was Jackie French who said that it takes ten years to get anywhere in this industry. Particularly kids’ industry. Because everyone wants to write a kids’ book, of course. Literally, everyone.

So it takes a good, it takes three years to even think about – if you’re good, if you actually have talent and dedication – it takes three years to be even thought about being published, even have interest from a publisher. And then up to ten years to make an impact. I know Andy Griffiths’ first book took him ten years to publish. He’s actually said that. He’s actually said, “it took me ten years to get Just Kidding published.” And now look at him.

Allison

Look at him go.

Tania

So it’s real. We have to be patient. And you’re right – once you’re in there, it can be really maddening. And the way I’ve dealt with it, and other people – and I’m sure you do Allison – is that you just focus on the next thing. So you send it in or you get the draft in, or you do an edit, and then you get on to the next project and you just let it go. Because otherwise I think you’d just jump off a bridge.

Allison

Yes. So true. So, so true. Let’s not talk about jumping, we would never jump off a bridge. That’s not how we roll.

Tania

No. We love what we do.

Allison

We do. So let’s talk about Kids Book Review. Which is a kids’ book review site that you founded. When did you found it, and why did you found it?

Tania

Right. Well, you already know about my picture book obsession. And just, I think it was just after I got back to Australia – yeah, it was, because we got back in early ’09 and I started I think in April. And I wanted to do a blog about picture books, and I would actually start reviewing my collection of picture books. So that’s how it started; it was just a blog.

And then, as you do, you know people online, you interact with people with similar interests, and I started getting a few people come on board with me, they would start reviewing, too. And then we approached published, they were like, yep. We’d start getting free books to review. And it just steadily grew from there. And we now have, I think we’ve had about a dozen, ten to twelve people at any one time contributing. And I think the team now is about eight or nine. And it’s become the number one kids book review site on the web. I’ve had booksellers tell me it’s the one website they consult to help them decide on book buying. Which was just, that made me cry. I thought that was just incredible to hear that.

So it just started out, again, as a passion. And like anything, the amount of hours and time and energy and love you put into something it’s going to grow. And we’ve had some phenomenal people work on the site and build it over time. And I’m very proud of it. It has all sorts of reportage and resources and interviews, and it’s just chock-a-block with kid lit. It’s heaven. Very proud.

Allison

It is a fantastic site. But is it difficult to be a reviewer of children’s books when you’re also a creator of children’s books?

Tania

Yeah. Well, first there’s this conflict of interest thing with reviewing each other’s books. And as a few of us on the site started to get well-known in the children’s book industry and started publishing books and getting more books published, we had to be very careful about publishing each other’s books. So we’d have some people that were just new to the site maybe review our own. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us having our own books on the site.

Allison

No.

Tania

We are, it’s a small reward for the work we put in. So I have no shame about doing that. My books are reviewed. The other team members’ books are reviewed, of course. But we support and cover so many, mostly Australian, and of course around the world. So yeah, it is difficult.

And also because you reach a point in your career where you want to create, and you don’t want to necessarily do so much else. I’ll never stop helping, mentoring and helping people. You do it. So many people do it within the industry. And I think that’s so vital to give back and support others. It does have a flow on effect. It’s a feel-good thing, and it’s so important to do. There comes a time, though, when you need to change gears. And that’s what I’ve recently done. And I’ve changed gears.

Allison

I was going to say that. Because you’ve actually recently stepped back from it, haven’t you?

Tania

I have. Yeah, I have. It was really hard. It was about three years coming. I’ve been talking about it for a really long time. And because KBR is my baby, and I love it so, so much, and I love the people that write for the site. I’m going to have a drink of water, Al, sorry. I love the people that write for the site, and it’s really, really hard to give up on something that you put so much time and energy into and that you love. But I knew that I needed to stop so that I could focus in another direction and focus on my own work. And like anything, the more time you put into something, the greater success you have. So it was just my time.

And the other reason I stepped away is because I really believe that other people need to be running sites like this. Because it’s been of such incredible benefit to me to found and run KBR. It’s just been a phenomenal ride, and I know that it’s directly benefited my work. And it’s time for someone else to benefit from that. And the amazing Dimity Powell, who is a children’s author in Brisbane, has taken on the managing editor role and she’s just flying with it. And she deserves it. It’s perfect for her and where she is in her career. And she has brand new books coming out, her first picture book is coming out, so it’s ideal for her. And she has a passion for supporting others, so she’s perfect for the role. It’s her time.

Allison

Fantastic.

Tania

Mine’s over.

Allison

All right. But you still have a blog, which is full of helpful advice for new authors. And your website shows off your illustrative skills. It’s quite a deep, comprehensive website. Has that online platform developed organically over time? Or is it something you’ve recently put conscious effort into?

Tania

It has developed organically. It’s shifted and changed. When I first did the blog, it was more about life. So I’d do lots of gardening, and travel, and cooking, and crafting, and all that kind of thing. And then over time it has become more about children’s books and being the author and illustrator. So now it’s more of a resource for creatives, for emerging creatives, which I feel really passionately about, sharing knowledge and being there for other people. Because that’s how, when we help others we help ourselves. And it’s just a wonderful thing to do. We need to do it more. And there’s always enough to go around. So more and more, it’s become more about industry rather than about my own personal life. Although, I do a little bit every now and then if we travel or something like that.

Allison

Okay. So how many projects do you actually work on at any one time? Because you do have a lot of books out, and I know that you have a lot in the pipeline. So how do you juggle that schedule? How do you keep track of what’s where, and getting the writing done within the timeframes that you have?

Tania

It’s all up here. I’m tapping my forehead.

Allison

Are you pointing to your head?

Tania

I am. I’m tapping my forehead. It’s all up here for now. I think it’s, like I was saying about how there’s so much vacant time in an author’s life while you’re doing all the waiting. Whether it’s waiting to hear back about a contract, whether it’s waiting for production, for the illustrator, or to be published, or whatever. So I tend to fill that time quite well. So I do tend to have a lot going on at once. I’ve just finished two books in the Kids Year series with Tina Snerling. So they’re going to print shortly. I think on Monday. So I’m still doing lots of tiny last minute oh-my-goodness-we-found-an-error things. So that’s sort of going on now.

And I’ve started, I think I’ve got three, I’m sort of mid-production with one book with Christina for the National Library. I’m just about to start a major illustration commission for the Library; I’ve just met with them yesterday about the content. I’ve got two junior fiction that I’m pottering with that I’m waiting to hear back on. So there’s a lot of different things. A couple of more books with Jess Racklyeft, we’re in production with now.

So I tend to just do, I’ll dedicate just one day to getting that section done, and then I’ll start something else the next day. I’m also self-illustrating an uncontracted book which is kind of really an intense thing to do, when you dedicate that much time and don’t have a contract. So if I have a free day open and I think, right, that can wait, I’ll focus on that one thing and then the next day something will come in and I’ll have to deal with that. So it’s just a balancing act, I think. And so far, so good. I seem to be coping okay. But I try to carve things out so that I’m not desperate to get something finished. So I leave myself plenty of padding and plenty of time.

Allison

Do you have set working hours in your day? Do you write, are there certain, what’s the rhythm of your working day?

Tania

Well, I try to – sorry, I must have a frog in my throat this morning. I try to get all of my admin done first thing. So I’ll catch up on emails, reply, pay bills, do all that kind of stuff, put receipts away. Try to get all that boring stuff done first. And then from there, it’s whatever brings itself to me that day. And oftentimes, as you will know, suddenly the editor has sent through, oh I got to fix this, or whatever. So obviously, I would deal with anything urgent. But I tend to have full days.

I’m so lucky I’m able to work fulltime from home. So I probably work at least five or six days a week, and that depends again on whether or not I’m in production or deadline or whatever. But I do work very hard. So I’ll probably work from maybe eight through to eight. So I probably do ten to twelve hour days.

Allison

Wow.

Tania

But interspersed! Broken up with a trip to the kitchen, and the Tim Tam packet, and that kind of thing. Or a quick walk or a yoga workout or something. So it’s not solid, but it’s getting there. But it’s not work to me. Like you, it’s not work. This is my passion. And I see it as play. I get to play all day. The work is when I have to publicise and do all that kind of stuff. That’s the work.

Allison

The promo. The dreaded promo.

Tania

Yeah. The dreaded promo.

Allison

All right. Well, let’s finish up for today with our final question, which of course is our three top tips for aspiring authors and/or illustrators, I guess. So what have you got for us, Tania?

Tania

Well, the first one is to hone your craft. So spend a lot of time writing, a lot of time illustrating. I know it’s so boring and basic, and people go grrrr. But it’s so, so true. If I can reconnect with my art after 25 years of not drawing – well, one stick figure for a presentation at school – and suddenly have a book published with full illustration, then anyone can do this. So just dedicate the time to crafting and honing your work, whether you write or illustrate.

The other one which we’ve touched on is to really give back to your industry. So a lot of people focus on their audience. So they write for their audience, they think about their audience, how are they going to get into their audience’s ears, into their market’s ears and eyes. I reckon flip the switch a little, and think about getting involved in industry rather than worrying about your market. Because industry is your support. If you’ve got a brand-new book that you’ve written and you throw it into an ocean it’s going to go plip and sink. If you have a 10,000-strong industry behind you that you’ve developed genuine relationships with over ten years, who rub your back when you rub theirs, who love and support your work, you throw that book in that ocean it’s going to make a splash. So just opportunities, support, networking, collaboration – all of these things come with focusing on industry, sharing what you know, sharing your knowledge with others. They will share it with you. You will grow so rapidly and you will have incredible opportunity, outstanding opportunities if you can do that. So focus on industry.

And I guess the last one would be to stop worrying about filling a market niche or a gap or this amazing idea you’ve had that’s going to blow everyone out of the water that you’re going to make millions from – and instead, listen to your heart. And write from your heart. Yes, learn how writing is done, learn about plot, learn about character development, all that technical stuff, yes. But then, write from your heart, and write what you love and what you’re passionate about. Because that provides authenticity. Publishers want authenticity. And my god, your reader whether they’re two or 102 want authenticity in what they’re reading so that they can feel connected, emotionally secured in the book, and want to read more from you. So just write your passion and what you love.

Allison

Fantastic advice. Thank you so much for your time today Tania McCartney. And of course if people want to have a look at Tania’s fantastic website, you can go to taniamccartney.com. If you want to check out Kids Book Review you can go to kids-bookreview.com. But we’ll put all the links in the show notes. And best of luck with that crazy schedule of yours.

Tania

Thanks Al, it’s so lovely to chat with you.

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