Ep 318 Meet AWC alumna Charlotte Barkla, author of ‘All Bodies Are Good Bodies’ and ‘Edie’s Experiments’.

In Episode 318 of So You Want To Be A Writer: You’ll meet Charlotte Barkla, author of All Bodies Are Good Bodies and Edie’s Experiments. We share 12 things we’ve learnt from judging Furious Fiction. You’ll learn how to market your book through guest posting. Plus, we have 3 copies of Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd to give away.

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Show Notes

Book Marketing: Reach More Readers Through Guest Posting

12 things we’ve learnt from judging Furious Fiction

Writer in Residence

Charlotte Barkla

Charlotte is an Adelaide-based writer who worked as a civil engineer and physics teacher before rediscovering her love for children’s literature. She now writes picture books, middle-grade fiction and feature articles.

​Charlotte’s debut picture book, All Bodies are Good Bodies was published by Hardie Grant Egmont in January 2020. The first novel in her middle-grade series, Edie’s Experiments, was published in February 2020 with Penguin Random House, with Book 2 to follow in July.

​As well as writing for children, Charlotte writes feature articles for a range of publications including Good Health magazine, MiNDFOOD magazine, the Australian Educator and Engineers Australia.

Follow Charlotte on Instagram

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Ep 318. Meet Charlotte Barkla, author of Edie's Experiments

Interview Transcript

Allison

Charlotte Barkla is an Adelaide-based writer who has worked as a civil engineer and physics teacher. She now writes children’s books and her first picture book, All Bodies are Good Bodies, was published by Hardie Grant Egmont in January this year. As well, the first book in her debut middle grade series, Edie’s Experiments, is out this month with Penguin Random House Australia, with book two to follow in July. Welcome to the program, Charlotte.

Charlotte

Thanks for having me.

Allison

Well, so you’re having quite a big year. Like, here you are with your three books out with two different publishers, all in the one year, debuts all over the place. Tell us about how it happened? What’s your journey to publication?

Charlotte

Yeah, sure. So I started writing as a hobby in about 2016 after I’d been taking maternity leave for my second child. And I suppose having two young kids, I’d been spending quite a lot of time in the children’s section of the local library, as you can probably imagine.

And I started to have ideas, I guess, for writing a picture book of my own, having read so many. And to be honest, one of the reasons was, obviously there’s a lot of wonderful fantastic picture books out there, but there’s also some that are not so great. And I kind of thought to myself, I can do better than this!

Allison

Right.

Charlotte

So I decided… Yeah. That was just one of the reasons, I suppose.

So anyway, I started putting pen to paper and experimenting with writing picture books. And it was actually probably only the second or so book that I experimented with that ended up being All Bodies are Good Bodies that was released this month. Sorry, last month, in January.

And yeah. So I suppose I started writing picture books as a hobby. It was a really kind project to be doing on the side as well as obviously looking after my kids.

And yeah, as I kind of went along, I was enjoying it more and I joined some writers groups. At that stage, I was living in Brisbane, joined some local writer’s groups up there, joined the Scwibi online ones. Just kept developing my skills. Did an AWC course, actually, at that stage, Picture Book Writing course.

Allison

Okay. So after you’d written the book you did the course?

Charlotte

Yes.

Allison

Okay. And had you done anything with the book at that stage? Or you had basically just drafted the manuscript and you had it sort of there and you were a bit like, what do I do now? Was that where you were up to?

Charlotte

Well, no. I think at that point… Whenever I wrote All Bodies are Good Bodies, I wrote it quite, I suppose, reasonably quickly. And got it kind of, I was happy with it. I hadn’t even joined a writers group, actually, at that stage. I just kind of… I really liked it. I was really passionate about the theme of it, which is body positivity and diversity for young kids. And I thought I’d really like to see this on the shelves. And I think a lot of kids would benefit from it.

And so then I just kind of started researching how do you actually get published because I had no idea. And then I found out that some publishers are open to submissions, unsolicited submissions. So I drafted cover letters and just sent it out without really knowing too much what I was doing.

So concurrently with that, I guess I’d kind of sent them all out and I sent the manuscript out to a bunch of places and was just kind of… Yeah, I had no idea if anything was going to come of it or not. That was fine. And then in the meantime I kind of was developing my skills more and joining writers groups. And then I thought, oh, I’ll do, I’ll actually do a proper picture book course.

Allison

Okay. So you had completed the manuscript and sent it out and then came to the course?

Charlotte

Yeah, that’s right.

Allison

What did you discover, like, from doing that course, from doing the Writing Picture Books course, were there any major revelations in that for you? Given that you’d already completed the book and sent it off? What did you discover, what did you learn from that course that you kind of didn’t know?

Charlotte

Yeah. So I guess it was really good with giving you the basics of, you know, the 32-page structure and the format and how to… Just kind of all the know-how that goes behind it. So definitely it really helped with the other… Like, I mean, since then, I’ve written a lot of other picture book manuscripts which haven’t gone anywhere, unfortunately, yet. But they definitely helped hone… Sorry, the course itself helped hone my skills for developing those other manuscripts.

But in terms of All Bodies are Good Bodies, because it isn’t a narrative exactly, it’s kind of non-fiction, essentially, so I guess it kind of didn’t necessarily fit the traditional 32-page structure anyway.

Allison

Yeah.

Charlotte

Definitely doing the course, it kind of gives you all the basics and all the tips and techniques and how to approach publishers. Which I mean, I ended up, I kind of researched it a few months earlier, so that was all fine. But yeah, it’s always good to develop your skills in that way.

Allison

So as far as your science background and that particular book, the Bodies picture book, did you, like, I guess, there’s a vast amount of science in bodies, what we know about bodies, what bodies do, why bodies are good, why they’re not, whatever. Did you find that when you were writing your picture book manuscript, like, as you said, it’s more of a non-fiction, was the challenge of it actually just trying to bring that down, all that information? Concentrate that information, simplify it enough for the audience that you were trying to get to? Or did you have, like with your own children in the house, etc, and all the books that you had read, did you have a fairly clear idea of what it was that you wanted to do with that?

Charlotte

Yeah, I did. I had a pretty clear idea. It wasn’t… All Bodies are Good Bodies isn’t really, I don’t know… It’s not actually really scientific. Like it’s not talking about how the body works or anything. It’s more how great our bodies are, I suppose.

Allison

Yep.

Charlotte

I just, I wanted kids to be able to pick it up and to see themselves reflected in the pages. So it’s more to do with multiculturalism, diversity, body shapes, body types. Everyone has different colour hair, everyone has different heights, you know. All that kind of thing. As opposed to the… It would be really fun to write a book which kind of, I don’t know, taught kids about the, I don’t know, the way that you breathe and how your lungs work and all that sort of thing. But no, this one is kind of a bit higher level, I suppose.

I was actually a bit inspired by two things that happened, actually. One was my… Just things that I’ve heard kids say. Young kids. So my three-year-old at the time said something about not liking the way she looked in a certain photo or something. She was actually mimicking something I had said. So I noticed, because kids don’t come out with that stuff by themselves, so she’s mimicked something that I’ve said about myself. You know, being a critical adult, as sometimes we all are. And I realised, oh, she’s copying, you know, that’s not something that I want her to grow up feeling and everything.

And then another friend’s daughter had come back from her first day of school and said, oh, why am I the only one who doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes?

And yeah, just things like that. I kind of thought, oh, there’s something I can do about this. And yeah, I suppose that’s where it came from.

Allison

Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. So did you, so you’ve sent that manuscript out, you didn’t have an agent or anything at that stage? It was just a matter of submitting an unsolicited manuscript? Did you have any idea about… Did you just send the basic manuscript? You didn’t put illustrator notes? You had nothing on it to say, this is what I’ve got in my mind? Or you just sent the manuscript?

Charlotte

I just sent the manuscript. And like a pretty generic sort of cover letter. I didn’t break it up into spreads or anything, which is something I learnt through the AWC course and the writers groups and things that I was part of. But it was just broken into stanzas, because that’s… Essentially it’s a poem.

And yes, it was just kind of set out in stanzas. And surprisingly, I actually got a couple of bites of interest from… Considering I had just sent it off into the universe without too much know-how. I did get, because at that stage I didn’t… I didn’t know that much about traditional versus vanity publishers and self-publishing and all that stuff. And yeah, in the end, I had a couple of nibbles of interest but the main was Hardie Grant. And they actually picked it up off the slush pile, which was extremely…

Allison

A miracle.

Charlotte

I was very lucky. I was very lucky with that. And I’m trying to remember when that was exactly. I think it was, I don’t know, maybe within a few months of submitting to them. And the editor there said, we’re interested in this but would you be open to working on it? And of course I said, yes!

So then over a period of a few months, maybe even up to six months, just kind of back and forth, the editor would suggest different things and I’d work on it super quickly and get it back to her straight away, because I was just really keen.

And yeah, so eventually, once it was up to, all polished and she was happy with it, she took it to acquisitions and it got through, which was really, really exciting. Signed the contract. And then the process between signing the contract and actually it being published in January this year was actually two years. So it was quite a long… My role was pretty much done by that stage, because I’d, yeah, I’d kind of essentially done everything I needed to do and it was in the hands of the editor and the illustrator and the designers and everyone else who gets involved at that point.

But now that it’s actually out, I just couldn’t be happier with how it looks.

Allison

With how it turned out.

Charlotte

And I’m just super happy. Yeah.

Allison

Did it surprise you, how long it took? And the fact that you’re, like, essentially, you’d done all the editing process before it even went to acquisitions by the sounds of things. So was there anything about that publishing process that kind of surprised you?

Charlotte

Yeah, I guess probably the fact that I didn’t really have to do too much once it was signed.

Allison

Except wait.

Charlotte

I thought they would be more… What’s that?

Allison

Except wait.

Charlotte

Yes, just wait! Yes. Yes, definitely. I kind of thought there would be a bit more that I needed to do. And there was, like at one stage I think initially we were planning for it to be 32 pages. And so it had a certain number of stanzas. And then I think now it’s 26 pages. And so yeah anyway, an extra stanza had to go, or I had to do something along the way.

But yeah, that was just a small thing. Aside from that, I really didn’t, yeah, didn’t have to do too much.

Allison

All right, so while that was all going on and underway, you were also working on this middle grade fiction series, which is out, so the first book, Edie’s Experiments… What’s it called? How to…?

Charlotte

How to Make Friends.

Allison

How to Make Friends, that’s right, is out this month. And then you’ve got another one coming out in July.

Charlotte

Yes.

Allison

July this year. So tell us about this series, because this is a different kettle of fish. There is illustration involved in this as well, which I am going to ask you about in a minute. But it’s a whole different ballgame. Obviously much longer manuscript. And what set you off on this particular course? What made you think I’m going to try middle grade fiction?

Charlotte

Yeah, sure. So I guess after getting the contract signed for the picture book, I can’t remember the exact timeline of events, but I’d been kind of working on picture books and that was my aspect of writing that I was pursuing. And then once I’d joined these different writers groups and things and talked to different people, I decided I’d try to work on something a little bit longer. So middle grade.

And yeah, I wrote one manuscript, which, yeah, I worked on that for a while. And got it critiqued by my writers group and everything like that. And I think I did do the… I think I did submit that to some publishers too, but it didn’t go anywhere.

And then I started working on this other idea which was the science-themed idea, which has now become Edie’s Experiments. So I started drafting that, I did actually look up my old drafts so I could have the exact figure.

Allison

Well done.

Charlotte

At the end of 2017, I think that’s when I started doing that one. At that stage, oh, I was back at work, I think, around that time, as a teacher. And yes, so again, I was kind of writing as a hobby and everything like that in the weekends and at nights or whenever I could.

It probably took me about a year to get that one, Edie’s Experiments book one, kind of polished up. And yeah, I mean, I went through all the writers groups again for that. Got it critiqued and was part of all that feedback process.

I did also do the AWC Writing for Children and Young Adults I think it was called.

Allison

Oh yeah. Yep.

Charlotte

Yeah. So I did that course around the same time as I was developing these skills.

So eventually had it all kind of polished up and everything by about mid-2018. And then decided, I guess, knowing a bit more about publishing by that point, I decided I’d try an agent rather than approaching the publishers directly. And yeah, ended up signing with Sarah Mackenzie down in Melbourne.

So she sent the manuscript to a bunch of publishers around, I think, October or November 2018. And in December, just before Christmas, I had a nice little Christmas present of two publishers actually offered me a two-book deal, which was really exciting.

Allison

That is exciting.

Charlotte

Yeah. Then I had the difficult but wonderful decision of having to choose between two publishers. And yeah, went down with Penguin Random House. And yeah.

Allison

Here we are.

Charlotte

Yeah.

Allison

So this one is obviously, like there is definitely… Like there are experiments and there’s slime and there’s all sorts of fun things going on in this particular series. This is obviously drawing on your knowledge of science. Was that something that you came to… Like, to me it seems like a no-brainer that that’s what you would do, given your background. But did you actually have to work your way into that? In a sense that sometimes the no-brainer is actually… I mean, I know I found that with myself with The Mapmaker Chronicles, I ignored it for months and months and months because it wasn’t what I was thinking I was going to do. Did you have that? Or have you been working on other ideas that also drew on science?

Charlotte

It was really the first one that drew on science. And yeah, I guess it’s interesting, isn’t it? Like it does seem, I suppose it does seem obvious that I should write something to do with science. But sometimes you kind of want to experiment with other creative stuff as well. So the first manuscript, the middle grade one that I wrote, even though it hasn’t, it’s not going anywhere, but it was to do with princesses. Just a funny story about princesses.

So yeah, I guess the science idea, I just thought I hadn’t really seen too many books that kind of exposed kids to science but in a fictional fun way, without actually being educational.

So yeah, I had this idea for this funny character who would be trying to make friends and things are going wrong and there’s slime and there’s this and there’s that. Yeah, I guess that’s where the character came from.

And it’s interesting because my initial idea, I actually wrote a blog post for Penguin about this, my first thought when I came up with the idea was that it would be a boy character.

Allison

Right.

Charlotte

Yeah. I think just because… You know, a lot of the humorous kids books often feature boy characters and that kind of thing. And so, I don’t know, in my mind it just automatically was going to be a boy. And then I kind of had to have a bit of a think and challenge that subconscious bias. And actually I thought, no, it needs to be a girl, actually. I want this to be a really strong, funny, determined girl. And that’s where Edie came from. Yeah.

Allison

Well, that’s cool. So you have gone… And then that’s often the case too, is that you will go to your first thought and then it’s actually once you’re halfway writing it or you’ve sometimes finished it and you go back and you think, wait a minute, I actually need to cast this differently and it will be stronger.

Charlotte

Yeah.

Allison

So was that a challenge for you, though, then to kind of… Because as you say, that area of the bookshelf, if you go into a bookshop, that age group, that sort of 8 plus, when you think of funny illustrated books, it is often boy characters and they are often male authors. And I would say, good on you. Because I feel like these kinds of books for girls, for kids who are, for girls who are not necessarily, who might be reluctant readers, just like boys are reluctant readers, you know, girls also can be reluctant readers, they also like funny illustrations, they also like crazy characters and crazy things going on. So it’s great to see that, you slotting into that spot. Because it is a very competitive section of the bookshelf as well. Like, you’ve really got to do something a little bit interesting to stand out there. So do you feel all that stuff? Or did you just go, oh look, I’ve come up with Edie and she’s brilliant and I’m just going to write this?

Charlotte

No, I definitely all of those things.

Allison

Yeah, okay.

Charlotte

I guess, so, it pretty quickly, I very quickly decided it would be a girl. I hadn’t written it or anything like that. Just when I was kind of thinking about, oh, this would be a cool story, I can just imagine with this character who does all these things and all these things go wrong, it’ll be hilarious and it’ll have science and blah blah blah.

And when, automatically I thought, like in my head, I just kind of, it was going to be a boy. And then once I kind of thought about it and thought, no, no, no, it should be a girl, because we don’t see that enough.

So yeah, once I’d had that thought and resolved it in my mind, from then on, as soon as I started writing, it was a girl and it was, yeah, and that was all good. But I guess as it’s come kind of closer, as it came closer to publication and obviously once the cover was determined and everything, I started to… Yeah, definitely there is still kind of that doubt of would have been, would it be successful if it was Eddie’s Experiments instead of Edie’s Experiments? Like have I narrowed my market too much?

That’s just a little bit of a niggling thought but not… I’m not interested, you know, I don’t, I wouldn’t want to change it. I wouldn’t want to go back and for it to be a boy instead. I’m really happy it’s a girl. But I just, yeah, it’s just a bit of, one of those challenges, I suppose.

Allison

Well, you know, it’s partly writer self-doubt, too. I mean, I can tell you that your book never, ever looks worse to you than the day it comes out on the shelves and you just look at it and go, oh my god. And you look at it surrounded by everything else that’s out there that’s amazing and you just think, how is this ever going to happen?

But I think with the science, like there’s such fertile, such fertile ground for comedy in science. I know for a fact that, you know, I’ve got a couple of songs and we’ve had several science experiment kits. And I came home one day and my fourteen-year-old was in the garage with his friend hosing out the garage, which was highly unusual behaviour. And I was like, what are you doing? And he said, oh, we were trying some science experiments. And I’m like, okay, what happened? And my son goes, of course throwing his friend under the bus, oh, you know, my friend decided to see what would happen if we put all the chemicals in at once.

Charlotte

Oh dear.

Allison

It wasn’t pretty. Anyway. Yeah, so there’s a lot of fertile ground there!

Charlotte

Yeah. For sure. Definitely.

Allison

Did you find working with an illustrator, like, Sandy Flett is the illustrator on Edie’s Experiments, was it different to working with the illustrator for the picture book? Like did you have to do… Was there more or less? Did you have to leave more space or less space in the manuscript for the illustrations? Like, how does that work? Because they are quite the different style of illustration.

Charlotte

Yeah, definitely. So yeah, it was really interesting, I suppose because it’s the first time I’d gone through the process, so I didn’t know what to expect. So for the picture book, essentially I didn’t see any illustrations until it was pretty much, you know, ready to print almost! I mean, I did see some, but it was fairly… Yeah, I was kind of not really part of the process.

I did, I think, I’m pretty sure I found out quite early on who the illustrator was going to be and I was super happy. Erica is awesome. And yeah, it was just all in the hands of the publisher and it has turned out wonderfully, so it’s all fine, all good.

And then it was a slightly different process for the middle grade one. So ah, yeah… I think they brought on Sandy, I’m trying to remember when she came on board. I can’t exactly remember. But once she’d kind of done illustrator roughs, I think it’s called, character roughs, I got to see those and give a little bit of feedback and that kind of thing. Because you know how it’s a bit, it’s a bit strange when you have imagined your character and then someone is bringing it to life. I mean, but she did an amazing job. I’m really super happy with her illustrations. I love her style and I love the comedy that she’s brought in through those illustrations.

And yeah, so I guess, I didn’t have any direct contact with Sandy or anything like that. It all went through the publisher, the editor. And yeah, I’d get to see them along the way, though, as opposed to the picture book, I didn’t really see any of the draft illustrations or anything until it was pretty well set. But I did get to kind of see Sandy’s illustrations a little bit more often, I suppose.

I hardly ever had much feedback as I just loved what she did. But if there were little things I was able to make little comments or whatever. And that was fine.

Within the manuscript, I think I did put a couple of illustration suggestions of things that, as I’d written it, I’d kind of thought, oh that’d be funny if there was a picture of this going on. And some of them were incorporated, some of them weren’t, or some different ones were sometimes incorporated instead.

So yeah, it’s been really interesting being part of the different processes.

Allison

With the middle grade one, do you have to remove text to allow room for the… Like do the illustrations more reflect what’s happening in the text? Or do they also take the place of text in certain spaces? You know the way they do in a picture book? Like picture book illustrations are a whole nother level of text in a way.

Charlotte

Yes.

Allison

They’re not just reflecting what’s written. Whereas sometimes with middle grade or older, junior fiction it’s almost like you’re seeing the character doing what’s happening in the text. So did you find that? Or did you have to remove text to make room for the illustrations sometimes?

Charlotte

No, I didn’t have to remove text at all. They mainly reflect what’s going on. And there’s also, you mentioned, I think, there’s also kind of experiments at the end of some of the chapters or little notes that Edie has written as well. And sometimes they’ve got little illustrations surrounding them as well. And yeah, no, it’s really, it’s lovely how it’s done.

Allison

Excellent. So what are the… You know, you’ve had a fairly steep learning curve here across the children’s end of publishing and the picture book end and also middle grade, what would you say are some of the main things that you’ve learned about the industry? As you’ve gone through the process of getting these books ready for publication?

Charlotte

That’s a really good question. The main things I’ve learnt? It is… It’s just a whole other world. And there’s so much that goes into a book. I suppose that’s probably one of the main things. Like a book isn’t just an author writing something and an illustrator slapping some illustrations together and there’s a book. There’s just so many people involved. The cover designers and obviously the editors and the publishers and the marketing people and the publicists and just everything that goes into these books. And all the people who make their mark on it as well is really quite amazing. Like it’s a big thing. And then when you walk into a bookshop and you see hundreds of books and you realise there’s hundreds, thousands of people involved in producing these things we have. It’s just quite amazing.

And also I suppose having gone through for the first time the editing process on Edie’s Experiments book one, so it was quite… It was probably more involved than I imagined. Like just, um… In terms of even once you get through the structural edit and then the… Now I’ve lost the name of it. The next editing process.

Allison

Copy edit.

Charlotte

Copy edit, that’s the one. And then the proof reading at the end and different people have proofread it and have different queries about different parts. There’s just a lot of, yeah… Like a lot of small things that are picked up even towards the end.

But it’s good because it kind of, it shows you that they really care about producing a high quality product and that so many people will take the time to look through it and pick out small repetitions or small this, small that. But it all makes it a really excellent product at the end, I suppose.

Allison

Excellent. So you’ve had a busy few years. You’ve still got a young family. How do you find balancing the work, the family life, the other commitments, and then also you said you were continuing to work on other manuscripts, on other picture book manuscripts, on other middle grade manuscripts? How are you managing to make all of that work?

Charlotte

Yes. With difficulty. Haha. So I guess when I first started, that was when I was on maternity leave. Along the way then I was back at work as a teacher part time and just doing it in the gaps. And that was actually very difficult, especially once I had signed the contract for Penguin because then I actually had deadlines and had things to work towards. And it’s not very much fun, the hobby that you had initially which was kind of your fun release time, me time sort of thing, but then when you actually have deadlines and you’re just trying to fit it in in the evenings after you get back from work and either get the kids to sleep or on the weekends. Or, you know, it’s not… It becomes a bit of a different thing.

But I… Basically I took advantage of a situation that came up, which was we relocated from Brisbane to Adelaide in April last year. So that was… Until then I had been working again and my… I’d been fitting in the editing and everything for book one in the gaps, and that was okay. But I hadn’t been able to work too much on book two, which was due around middle of the year.

Allison

Right.

Charlotte

So anyway, once we relocated for my husband’s work, we decided that I’d kind of take a break from teaching or from other work and just focus on writing and getting that manuscript out and finishing the editing process of book one and just having a bit more time to actually devote to it.

So that’s why I did. And that was really good, to be able to focus on it during the day as my work, as opposed to trying to just fit it in the gaps of here, there and everywhere. And yeah…

Along the way, or at the time, I then thought… So I’m a bit of an AWC geek maybe.

Allison

Welcome to our family!

Charlotte

Yeah! I then saw the freelance writing course, and so this was while I was writing book two. But you can’t write it every single day, either, because then you kind of get a bit bogged down. And you kind of need a bit of variety. So I thought, oh, I’ll do one of those, the freelance writing course and just see what happens with that.

So I did that course, learned about pitching and had a million ideas for different articles I wanted to write about a million different topics. And so got into freelance feature writing as well around the middle of last year as well.

Allison

Cool. And how’s that going for you? Are you finding that that’s… Are you constantly pitching and constantly putting ideas out there and sort of getting work along the way? Is that how you find… Like, because you have to pitch a lot as a freelance writer, you are constantly pitching out ideas. And then what generally happens is that all the editors say yes at once and you’ve got 50 million stories to do. And then you’re sitting there going, oh, I’ve got no work, I better send out another 50 million ideas. So I fully get that.

Is that where you find yourself now?

Charlotte

Yeah, that’s right. So I guess the past six or so months has essentially been finishing the editing for book one and getting it ready for publishing, writing book one, and now we’re kind of almost at the end of the editing stage of book two. And yeah, focusing on my feature writing as well. So yeah, I’ve been doing, I started off by just pitching to a million publications, getting a million rejections. But a few snatches of success, which was great. And so yeah, I’ve written for places like The Australian Education Union magazine, with my background in teaching. The Engineers Australia magazine, MindFood, Good Health, just a bunch of different publications. Mainly on… It’s interesting, because it’s mainly been STEM kind of topics, STEM and environment. Which, yeah… I mean, it is kind of, again, a no brainer.

Allison

Makes perfect sense!

Charlotte

Yeah, it makes perfect sense. So yeah, these days, I’m actually doing some ongoing work for the Engineers Australia website, so I write two or three articles a week for them, as well as writing for other publications whenever I have time. And yeah, doing the editing that I’m doing for book two and working on a few other little fiction projects that might take off, hopefully, one day. Yeah, so I’m living the writer’s life at the moment.

Allison

Living the writer’s dream. So speaking of living the writer’s dream, one thing that I have picked up in our conversation here today is you’re actually remarkably resilient. Because you mentioned you had some picture books that didn’t go anywhere and then you wrote this and it didn’t happen. But you kind of like just keep on keeping on and you send out your 50 million pitches and you get a whole bunch of rejections. And yet, here you are. Which is, you know, it’s a great, I mean, it’s the only way forward in this game, really. But do you have any tips for other writers when it comes to that dealing with rejection and working your way through that? Do you just go, oh whatever, put it aside and move on? Or do you have moments of, I’m devastated.

Charlotte

Definitely. I definitely have moments of, I’m devastated. But you do have to be a little bit stubborn, I think.

Allison

Yep. That’s a good word for it. There are other terms, but stubborn’s good!

Charlotte

Yeah. Like I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself very resilient. But I suppose maybe I am. I suppose you have to be to keep going in the face of rejection. But I also think it’s about, it’s a numbers game. And so if you cast a wide net, you’ll get more responses than if you just submit one or two.

Allison

Can I just say, you sound like Valerie Khoo right there!

Charlotte

Oh, do I? Oh, there you go.

Allison

It’s a numbers game.

Charlotte

What a lovely compliment.

Allison

But it’s so true, isn’t it? If you just send out, if you just send out one idea and you put all your hopes on one idea, then the rejection is deep and awful. If you send out a hundred, then your percentages, at some point something’s got to stick, right?

Charlotte

Definitely. Yeah. I think so. And yeah, I mean, I kind of figured, well, I felt like my story’s good enough. And so if I cast a wide net, someone will pick it up. If they don’t, then it’s not good enough and I’ll have to rewrite it and make it better I suppose.

Allison

Okay. So what sorts of things are you doing to promote your fiction? Like to promote your children’s books? Are you online? Have either of your publishers made suggestions about things you might do to help get the word out there?

Charlotte

Yeah. So this has been probably the area that I was most daunted by, having to promote books. And I’m a little bit shy, I’m not really an out there person, I wasn’t sure what it would be like, basically. And I didn’t have a website or anything until recently. I didn’t have an Instagram until the picture book came out. But I kind of just asked advice of the publishers and what would they like me to do, what’s the best platform. So they both suggested Instagram as the best one. So I haven’t actually set up Twitter or Facebook author account or anything like that.

So yeah, at the moment, it’s still, I’m kind of just swimming through murky water, not really sure what I’m doing. But whenever I have something interesting, I try to put it up. Like if I’ve seen someone review one of my books then I repost it. Or if I’ve signed some copies of books, I pop it up on Instagram. Yeah. I’m kind of feeling my way through the dark, but also kind of noticing what other authors do and seeing what I like the look of and what I’d like to try to do as well.

No, it’s a whole new world, though. It’s very… Yeah, it’s different. But I’m actually enjoying it more than I thought I would.

Allison

Where do we find you on Instagram, Charlotte?

Charlotte

Sorry, yes, please, please find me. Haha. I’m @charlottebarklabooks is my Instagram.

Allison

Okay. @charlottebarklabooks. And Barkla is B-A-R-K-L-A. And do you have a website as well?

Charlotte

I do. So it is CharlotteBarkla.com.

Allison

Excellent. All right. Now let us finish up today, our very interesting conversation, with your top three tips for writers.

Charlotte

Okay, sure. So I had a think about this. Because I love – I didn’t mention this – but I love listening to this podcast and I always love listening to the tips at the end in particular.

So my first one is practice, practice, practice. So write lots, read lots. And in terms of writing for kids, read current books, modern books, because kids books have changed a lot since we were kids. Not just in terms of the style of humour or technology that feeds into books, like kids with phones, or whatever. But also the roles of parents and grandparents has changed. And the style and pace of books have changed, I think. So that’s my first tip.

The second is to get used to sharing your work, which can be daunting, but an integral part of the process. Obviously, once you do get a contract and you do publish a book, your book will be shared with your editor, your publisher, the world, eventually. But at that initial stage of just starting writing and being a bit unsure, it can be a bit daunting to share your work. But get used to that. Join a writers group. Start sharing your work, being open to critiques, and also critiquing others’ work as well.

Allison

Yep.

Charlotte

And then third one is to expect rejection. I guess we talked about that a bit. But also to be a little bit stubborn. So rejection is a part of writing a book, especially when it comes to the submissions stage, sending to agents and publishers. But also it’s part of the writing stage, the early stage. Even when getting your writers group or your friends to critique your work, you might get some feedback or criticism that you don’t really like. And that’s part of improving it. But you also need to be a little bit stubborn in terms of believing in your work and not necessarily changing everything that’s suggested. So I guess, being open to that constructive criticism, but really only changing what resonates with you.

Allison

Fantastic. All right. Well, thank you. All very, very good tips. Thank you so much for your time today, Charlotte. Best of luck with your three books out in five and a half minutes. And good luck with whatever it is that you’re writing at the moment and hopefully we will see you again in a year or two with more, more books.

Charlotte

Hopefully. Thank you, Allison. Thank you for having me. It’s been really lovely.


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