After moving from Sydney to a rural beef cattle property, Paula Stevenson found she had more time to devote to writing. Inspired by the stunning bushland in her new home, she began scribbling away at stories. Then with the arrival of her grandchildren, she became ensconced in the world of picture books, trawling bookshops and libraries for new books to delight her grandkids as they grew up. At the suggestion of a friend, they both enrolled in Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“The Writing Picture Books course revealed to me the parameters around this genre,” Paula says. “I was determined to have a kid's book in my hands and to watch my grandchildren and other kids read the story.”
That determination has led to the publication of her debut picture book, Buster Follows His Nose, out now with Little Pink Dog Books.
“I did feel as though I had won the Golden Ticket! It was very exciting and we toasted the moment with members of my Sydney family,” Paula says. “To have a picture book published was very special and a moment I had worked towards for a long time.”
A world of inspiration
Working on a beef cattle property doesn’t sound like it leaves a lot of time for writing. But Paula thrived in her new country environment.
“I fell in love with the landscape and also the tranquillity and I realised I had time to devote to more writing without the distractions of the city,” she says. “I had lots of inspiration at my farm. There were echidnas, roos, magpies and wombats close by, and in my own yard I had chooks and guinea fowl.”
This rich environment was perfect fodder for picture book ideas. After completing Writing Picture Books, Paula continued to write picture book texts, pitching publishers and attending conferences.
Paula had also completed Freelance Writing Stage 1 and she was regularly being published in magazines like Outback Magazine and New England Living.
“The Writing Picture Books course taught me the parameters around this genre,” Paula says. “The freelance writing course taught me about longer writing and the role of transitions as well. I also refined my pitching technique.”
With these two courses under her belt, a wealth of inspiration, and a ton of grit, Paula was determined to publish a book her own grandkids would love.
“The AWC courses were a great starting point to encourage me to treat my writing professionally and to write every day, keeping a notebook to the side to record any ideas that I had.”
Following her nose
It was one of the ideas that Paula jotted down that led to her first published picture book, Buster follow his Nose.
“I heard a story on ABC radio of a lost child and an old dog,” Paula says. She wrote many drafts of the story and then sent it off to Little Pink Dog books, a small publishing company in Armidale NSW, and had a promising reply.
“The text was edited with the focus shifting from the lost child to the old dog and the connection between the two,” Paula recalls. “I re-wrote a number of drafts and finally, one day, a contract flew into my mailbox.”
It was Paula’s first time working with an illustrator and she loved the process.
“Luckily for me, the publisher chose Jenny Hale who had an immediate connection with my story and who totally understood the rural landscape and Australian bush setting. I was shown some early roughs and agreed that her style was perfect,” Paula says. “Jenny did make the dog a border collie and not a kelpie as I had envisaged, but she made it work. The only alteration I requested was to remove the image of a snake in the corner of one page! I had had enough of snakes during the drought, twisting along my verandah and sliding under my doors, so Jenny made it a lizard!”
Paula says she was absolutely blown away when she saw the final book with its stunning watercolour spreads. “It is totally amazing and a joy to hold in my hands. Jenny Hale has created such memorable images that are so full of affection for Tilly and the old dog Buster.”
As well as writing and farming, Paula harbours a passion for bees and has written about them in a middle grade novel.
”It is about a boy who relocates from the city to the country and who discovers all the wonders of the natural world including, of course, the honey bee and the native bees. I have been redrafting this story for quite a few years, had it critically assessed, pitched it to a few publishers and hope that it does soon find a home.”
For any other aspiring writers, Paula recommends giving the Writing Picture Books course a go, not just for the knowledge but also the camaraderie.
“All the important elements and parameters are revealed and the tutors have great experience in the area,” Paual says. “I have remained in contact with a few writers who were in my same class so it’s great to keep up those connections and follow their journeys.”