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Sarah Jane Lightfoot’s path to author and illustrator success, with debut picture book ‘Down the Road, Little Bee’

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Courses completed at AWC:
Writing Picture Books

Textile designer Sarah Jane Lightfoot was determined to be a published children’s author so she took an unexpected approach. She decided to create and publish a calendar based on a picture book idea about a knitting grandpa. This drew the attention of a friend of a friend in publishing – and before she knew it, Sarah Jane had a contract for a picture book with Affirm Press!

“Life lesson learnt: do the work, show your work and share your work no matter how bad or unfinished you think it is, because you never know who is watching,” Sarah Jane says.

But with the contract also came the doubt that she didn’t quite know what she was doing. 

“Following the joy and a jubilation quickly came the fear and overwhelming sense that I didn't deserve it. Impostor syndrome had entered the chat,” Sarah Jane admits. “This inevitably led me to take charge of that feeling and make myself feel more qualified and deserving. Hello AWC. I enrolled in the Writing Picture Books course to learn as much as I could about the industry I was entering and build on my confidence and capabilities as an author. I'm so incredibly grateful that I did.”

With her newfound skills and confidence, Sarah Jane spent ten months working on her manuscript and illustrations. Her debut picture book Down the Road, Little Bee is out now.

“I loved the course and got so much out of it. Having the opportunity to flesh out ideas and receive feedback from the course instructor as well as the peers was wonderful. The course really helped me understand the key elements of picture books as well as the process that goes into creating and publishing one.”

Kickstarting a love of writing
Inspired by author and illustrator Graeme Base when she was younger, Sarah Jane knew that that’s what she wanted to do as well. She has always loved art and illustration and has built a career for herself as an artist, so moving into picture books seemed like a logical step. But the actual writing part had taken a back seat.

“I've always been focused on drawing. I think about drawing all the time. Not a day goes past where I don't illustrate in some way. Whether it's for my full time job as a textile/graphic designer or for an upcoming exhibition or pet portrait commission, I'm obsessed,” Sarah Jane says. “The course opened the door for me to channel ideas into writing instead of drawing. It really triggered something in me that I didn't realise was there. I enjoyed writing but previously I saw it as a means to getting to the good part, the illustrating. After learning all about the formulae and methods used to create a picture book manuscript and then putting it into practice I became hooked. I love writing and tinkering on words just as much as illustrating now and that's something I wasn't expecting after completing the course.”

Heading down the publishing road
Sarah Jane had been visualising the moment she would be a published author since she was five years old, so when she got the contract confirming she was going to be published, she was over the moon.

“I started jumping up and down and literally screamed out loud. I didn't know where to put all my excited energy so I just started dancing and skipping. I couldn't believe it, I was so happy.”

After signing the contract with Affirm Press and completing the Writing Picture Books course at the Australian Writers' Centre, Sarah Jane had to then put in the hard work of finishing her manuscript and illustrating it.

“Affirm Press was amazing. I loved working with them so much. My editor was incredible. She was so good at pushing me to get the manuscript and illustrations to where they ended up,” Sarah Jane says. “The entire process took about 10 months from signing the contract to handing over the finished art. The illustration took the longest and in the beginning I did quite a few roughs as I was learning the intricacies of picture books. Once all of the rough pages were signed off I got stuck into the final art which was a mammoth job but also a lot of fun. So much love and dedication goes into picture books and the process from start to finish was challenging but so rewarding in the end.”

In Down the Road, Little Bee, readers go on a search for pollen across the Australian suburban landscape, from flowering gums in January to Jacaranda in December, exploring the wonders of nature that can be found just outside the door.

Onwards and upwards
Having realised her publishing dream, Sarah Jane is now building her illustration portfolio so that she can work on more picture books, while also still working full time for fashion brand Peter Alexander. 

“At the moment my focus is on generating ideas and filling my notebook with characters and story prompts. Once an idea swirls around in my head long enough for an aha moment I'll put everything else aside and write it down.”

When we asked Sarah Jane if she had any advice for other aspiring picture book author-illustrators, she didn’t hold back.

“DO IT!!” she responded. “I loved this course so much. It not only gives you an immense amount of knowledge for picture book writing it highlights so many different aspects of the industry that you may not have considered. It also gives you the opportunity to make friends who share a common goal and interest and create a support group where you can bounce ideas off and encourage each other's progress. 10/10 would recommend.”

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