Tamsin Janu’s award-winning start in children’s fiction

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Tamsin Janu published her award-winning book Figgy in the World after completing a course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. After taking the book world by storm, she has now followed up with a sequel, Figgy and the President.

And it all started when she enrolled in a writing course (Writing Books for Children and Young Adults) that would change her life. “On the second day of the course I remember that’s when I came up with the idea for my first book!” said Tamsin.

Not only did the course give her a good insight into the publishing industry and what children’s book publishers were looking for – but it was also a very practical learning experience. “Basic craft things like how to write good dialogue, how to create a likeable character, things like writing voice that I’d not really known that much about.” Tamsin was introduced to a range of other children’s books that she was able to further learn from.

From student to award-winning author
That first book became Figgy in the World – about a little girl named Figgy in the west African country of Ghana. Tamsin had previously volunteered in Ghana so it was her experience there, as well as her time working in the remote Northern Territory community of Lajamanu (approximately 700km from Alice Springs and 650km from Darwin) which helped to shape her stories.

Figgy in the World saw her named the joint winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature), shortlisted in the CBCA Book of the Year (Younger Readers) Awards and shortlisted for the Readings Children’s Book Prize. Quite an impressive line up!

For Tamsin, who also works at a legal centre and as a youth worker, it was a pleasant surprise. As a debut author, she was unsure of what to expect. “Seeing it in bookstores was definitely a thrill, as was other people telling me they had bought or read it.” And it didn’t stop there. “I still receive emails from kids telling me how much they liked the book and asking really detailed questions about the story. It is great they are so interested!”

“I still feel kind of overwhelmed seeing my name listed alongside really great and established Australian children’s authors.”

The story continues
In her latest book, the sequel Figgy and the President, Figgy and her best friend are thinking about what they would like to do as a career. First her friend wants to be the President of Ghana, but then maybe an actress. Meanwhile, Figgy can’t decide.

Luckily the decision has been easier for Tamsin to continue writing. “How much I get done, or whether I get any done at all, varies widely from week to week,” she admits. However she is grateful for the guidance that her course gave her – including which age group her own writing would be best suited to. “I thought I was writing Young Adult novels, but through the course I learnt that my voice was very much more junior fiction. That really helped in pitching it to the right people and to knowing where to place my language and the story.”

But for Tamsin, the best thing was the supportive community – being around people who wanted to write and hearing feedback from others. “It helped me sort through my ideas and figure out what I wanted to write, and gave me motivation to try out things that were a bit outside the box.”

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