Ep 213 How to write your second book. And meet children’s author Lesley Gibbes.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 213 of So you want to be a writer: Discover how to write your second book and 5 ways to start your story that aren’t boring. Learn how an underdog author has been nominated for a prestigious literary prize. And meet children’s author Lesley Gibbes.

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.

Show Notes

podcast-artworkLinks

How to Write a Book Part #6: How to Write a Book (Again)

5 Inspiring Tips for How to Start a Story

Michelle Winters: Cubicle worker by day, Giller-nominated novelist by night

Why Do You Write So Many Drafts of Your Novels?

 

Writer in Residence

Lesley Gibbes

Lesley Gibbes is an internationally published children’s author and primary school teacher.

She is the author of CBCA Early Childhood Book Of The Year Honour Book, Scary Night, CBCA Notable Book, Little Bear’s First Sleep, Bring a Duck, Quick as a Wink Fairy Pink, Fluke, and the hilarious CBCA Notable Book series Fizz, illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

Her latest book is Bouncing, Bouncing Little Joeys: A Bush Christmas.

(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

 

Follow Lesley on Facebook

Visit Lesley’s website

Competition

WIN: Double passes to “Tulip Fever”

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript 

Valerie

Lesley, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lesley

Thanks Valerie.

Valerie

Now, look. You started life off as a primary school teacher, and then you decided at some point “I want to write”. And now you write these fantastic children’s books. So just tell me, before you talk about your latest book, just tell me how did you get into this? How did you figure out what to do in between teaching?

Lesley

I think I’ve always had it in me that I’d like to write. And being a teacher, there were lots and lots of opportunities for me to practice that. So I was writing for assembly items, and telling stories, and doing stories through dance choreography. All sorts of things. But I wasn’t writing for publication, but I certainly had a lot of practice going.

And through sixteen years of teaching, just reading and reading so many picture books, so many chapter books to children – and I don’t think I could have written before I had done that sixteen years of teaching. I think that was the real background for me to learn how to write.

And so, it wasn’t until I had my two children and went on maternity leave that I thought that I actually now have time to write. Which must sound really weird, but for people out there who are teachers, they’ll know it’s a huge job. And it also has so much opportunity for creativity that that kind of urge is fulfilled. And I think when I stopped teaching, I really felt like I had this need to fulfil my creativity again. And I thought, well, you’ve always wanted to write. And you have a little bit of time in between feeding and changing nappies – this is the time to do it. So you either do it now, or you put that to bed and forget about it.

And I thought, well, you’re going to have to be brave. Because I might actually find out that although I can write school assembly items and things like that, maybe my skills just weren’t good enough for publication. So I did have to be very brave and take that leap knowing that I might find that out. And that would be disappointing. But I think it would be more disappointing if I didn’t try, if I got to the end of my life and I didn’t do something that I really would have liked to have tried. So that’s what spurred me on.

Valerie

So when then was your first book published, and which one was it?

Lesley

My first book was Scary Night and it was published in 2014. Now, it was accepted in 2012. And this might be something that listeners don’t realise is that you have to be very, very patient in publishing. It takes a long time. So it was accepted in 2012 by Jane Covernton at Working Title Press.

And my illustrator was Stephen Michael King, which I was delighted about. I had read his books to students, and books that he had illustrated over the years of my teaching, so it was really quite surreal to find out that Stephen said yes, he would illustrate it. That he really liked Scary Night. But because he’s so popular, he was booked out for two years. I had to wait two years for Stephen to be ready to illustrate it. So it was a long wait.

And I had told all my friends this was happening, and they must have thought I was lying because it just didn’t happen for two years. So finally, it came out and it just looked absolutely beautiful. It was really a book to be very, very proud of. And it went on to do very, very well, and in 2015 it was a Children’s Book Council Honour Book.

Valerie

Fantastic. Really good for your debut, I would say. Now, it’s two years before you got to see it actually and hold it in your hands. So tell me what happened after that got accepted, what happened in the ensuing two years before you got down to the editing and working with the publisher when the illustrator was ready? What else did you do and release, and write?

Lesley

Well, you cannot just sit and wait for that to happen, because two years is going to go! So you’re constantly writing. And for people out there who want to get into writing, I think creating a great volume of work is really, really important in terms of creativity. You just keep on writing manuscripts. And most of them are absolutely atrocious and that’s okay. Give yourself permission to write really badly. But out of every piece of writing, you strengthen your craft.

So I was writing and writing lots and lots of other manuscripts. Some of those have now been published, and others are just sitting in the drawer. I went on to do lots of courses in all sorts of different places. And that’s really, really important as well. Because writing is a craft, and it can be learned, and it can certainly be improved. So although I came along with some reasonable skills from all those years of teaching and writing and reading books, that was a great background, it certainly wasn’t enough. I had to go off and do lots of courses, and it was just wonderful. Because it was a time when my husband looked after the children and I went off and I did something that was just for me and it was so special.

And the first course I did was with Frances Watts and I just absolutely adored the course, and I learned so much. It’s just wonderful meeting authors. I didn’t realise that you could do that, that you could actually meet these people whose work you have admired over the years, and they will teach you wonderful things about writing.

So I just did that constantly. Lots and lots of courses, lots and lots of writing lots of manuscripts, sending all sorts of things out, getting lots and lots of rejections. And sometimes you would actually have a rejection slip in your hand, but most of the time it’s “if you don’t hear from us in three to four months we didn’t want your manuscript” which I always feel is so cold. It’s very cold.

Valerie

Yes. And so just tell us then, because you have obviously come to writing children’s books, and starting off with picture books, later in life. You spent sixteen years as a primary school teacher. You’ve done so much, you’ve been so prolific since 2014. So just take us through a potted list of the books that have been released so far, after Scary Night.

Lesley

Okay, starting with Scary Night. Although Scary Night was my first published, it wasn’t the first book that I wrote that I felt was doing really well, that was Bring a Duck, and that came in second with Scholastic. And I think that was then followed by… I’m not sure of the order. Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink.

Valerie

How would you describe Bring a Duck? What’s that about?

Lesley

Bring a Duck is a riotous story in a combination of rhyme and prose and it’s about a duck-themed birthday party. So Bear gets an invitation from Pig, and it says “come to my birthday party, bring your own duck.” So that starts off an awful lot of fun at this Bring a Duck birthday party.

But I love birthday parties, and if you know Scary Night, you know that ends with a birthday party as well, it’s not scary at all. And then I followed up with Bring a Duck, which is about birthdays. And then Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink came out. And I love this book. It’s another interactive book. Little Fairy Pink and all the other flutter fairies of different colours are going off to bed. But Fairy Pink is staying up. She doesn’t want to go to bed. And she plays hide and seek and you have to find her in the illustrations. And Sara Acton, the illustrator, did a beautiful job with that. That’s lots of fun.

And then a very sleepy story, Little Bear’s First Sleep, which was a Notable book this year. That’s another one that has come out illustrated by Lisa Stewart, with beautiful soft bear illustrations. And Little Bear is doing something for the very first time, and that’s a theme that you often see in picture books, because children really relate to that, doing something that they’ve never done before. And Little Bear is doing his first long hibernation sleep. Unfortunately, when he gets to the cave, mum and dad are asleep already, and he has to find a way of putting himself to sleep on his own, which he manages to do. So that’s a gorgeous little story.

Then there are some strange little ones. I’ve got a book called Poppy’s Special Talent, and it was a freelance work.

Valerie

Called what, sorry?

Lesley

Poppy’s Special Talent. It was written for a group of kindergartens. They had a grant and they wanted a story that would encourage their ethnic community to send their students to preschool before they went to big school. So Poppy’s Special Talent talks about all the sorts of skills that kids are learning in preschool and how they lead to some different occupations and things, but it’s done in a really fun way. So that was a really special one. And that is now part of The Dolly Parton Imagination Library, so I’m really quite proud of how that one’s done. But you can’t purchase that one in the shops.

Valerie

How do you get commissioned for something like that? How did that come about?

Lesley

That came through my agent. So they have sought out a literary agent and asked if there was someone who could write to demand, which is quite a different skill, being able to take a brief and then write to that brief. So that’s quite challenging, but I have found that I can do that. So that was great getting a piece of work like that.

And then I had the whole Fizz series, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, and that’s a chapter book series of four books. And they were also a Notable book, the first one Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts was a Notable book this year.

Valerie

Now for people who are not quite sure what you mean by chapter books – because a picture book is pretty straight forward – maybe first, why don’t you define picture book versus chapter book?

Lesley

Right. So a picture book, and this is really important, and I do ask people when I speak to people who want to write picture books, I ask them – “what do you think a picture book is?” And one thing that they often don’t get is that the story is told through both the text and the illustration together, 50/50. And there are things in the illustrations that just don’t appear in the text, and if you take the illustration out you’ve really got half a story in the text. So that’s a really, really important thing to know.

And although chapter books have lots of illustrations in them, the text stands more on its own. And the illustrations are there to accompany it and also to support newly independent readers. So chapter books are a longer text than a picture book, but they’re shorter than a full-length novel, say a middle-grade novel. And they’re complex enough to be split into chapters. But they are for children around six to nine years of age. And these are the kids who are just starting to read independently.

So with picture books, it tends to be a joint reading with an adult. The chapter books are their first step into reading independently. And kids are so enthused by chapter books. They’re a wonderful type of book to write, because there’s so much, you have a lot of pressure on you. Because these are the books that get kids reading for the first time and really switch them on to lifelong reading. And they’re the books that they can really, really treasure and remember back to those first chapter book series that they read.

And they are often a series. Mostly chapter books are a series, and the reason is that they are so small and slender. If you turn them to the side and look at the spine, when they sit on the shelf, they’re just going to get swallowed up and disappear. So they tend to be a series so that they take up a fair amount of space on the shelf and people notice them. So chapter book series are just so much fun and so exciting, and so important.

Valerie

Yes. So I want to explore more of the Fizz series in a second, but before we do, let’s round off, what are your latest books that have come out most recently, or about to come out?

Lesley

Well, I have two picture books out this year, and both of them are Australian themed. And I just love that about them. So the first one out earlier in the year was Fluke, illustrated by Michelle Dawson, and it came out with Working Title Press which is now an imprint of Harper Collins, which they purchased this year.

And Fluke is based on… It’s awful when I say this, because when I talk to kids about how I find my stories, I say, “with Fluke, and your teachers have to close their ears, it came from the television.” So it was reported on the television that a southern right whale was born in Sydney Harbour, and it was just all over the news, in the papers and on television. And the people of Sydney came out on to the foreshores to have a look at this beautiful whale calf, and it swam all around the harbour and down into Manly, and eventually, once it has become strong enough and big enough, after a certain number of months, it will then leave and go back to Antarctica.

So I thought that’s a wonderful story, I’m going to weave a fictional story around that. So it is based on a real event and there’s a fictional story woven in. But there were other things that it was based on, as well. So there was an incident in Sydney Harbour where a whale was hit by a ferry, it took a chunk out of its back. But the scientists believed that it would be okay, which was good news. So I put that in my mind, the idea about having an altercation with the ferry. And I thought a little whale in a big harbour, that’s a dangerous place to be really.

And then there was a really sad story, down our way, on Pittwater, and it was a little humpback whale that became separated from its mother, and it was so young it was still suckling. Because whales are mammals, so of course they suckle. And it was found trying to suckle to the hull of a boat, which to a whale looked like the underbelly of a mother whale. And so the marine biologists thought they might be able to get a pod of females to adopt it, but they couldn’t. And because they couldn’t feed it, because it was still suckling milk, eventually it got so sick it had to be put down. But in my mind, I grabbed that and I thought being separated from your mother when you’re young is an awful thing, and something that children have experienced at some stage, when mum’s gone out of their view.

So I put all of these things together and wove this lovely story of Fluke, who is born in Sydney Harbour. Everyone in the city comes out to watch Fluke grow and find out what his mother is teaching him. And unfortunately, Fluke goes missing. He has an altercation with the ferry, and he dives deep down to the bottom of the ocean to get away from the danger, and in doing so becomes separated from his mother and he can’t find her. And at this point in the story, it’s told through three points of view, from Fluke who is lost, from the people of the city, of Sydney Harbour, searching for this lost whale, and from the mother who is calling for Fluke. And of course, there’s a nice ending, because Fluke does find his mum and is reunited.

Valerie

Children are so young when they’re reading picture books, and yes they’re reading them usually with an adult. And both of those stories you just mentioned, about Fluke and about the actual whale that you referred to earlier, traumatise me like you don’t understand!

Lesley

Oh, you’re such a softie.

Valerie

No, really, I read some picture books and I feel so traumatised. Do you have it in your mind, what can a kid who is five or four, what can they handle? Is that in your mind when you are determining what happens to your characters, and what your characters do, and the challenges they need to face?

Lesley

I think I always like my stories to have some emotion about them, whether that’s joy or worry, as in with Fluke. But the Fluke story goes through a whole gamut of emotions. And I think that’s important for children to work through, that these things can happen, you could lose sight of mum, but there’s a way to find your way back.

And in picture books, we often have the main character needs to find a way themselves and to be reunited and have that happy ending. I like the fact that that happens, and I think kids like going through that emotion. It makes them attached to the story.

Valerie

It stresses me out to no end! And of course, your other book that’s coming out soon is Bouncing, Bouncing Little Joeys: A Bush Christmas. And that’s in rhyme, is it?

Lesley

Yes, this one is all rhyme. And I love writing in rhyme. It’s so important, I think, with my background in teaching, I just know how important rhyme is for children in supporting their reading and for prediction in a text.

And this is for quite young children, this is for preschool, and into kindergarten and year one in school. So that rhyme is going to help them with prediction in the text. And when they read the story again and again, they’re going to learn it, they’re going to be able to see those words, the rhyme is going to help them.

So I love writing in rhyme. But it has to be done really well. Because a picture book is read out loud, it can’t clunk. Everyone has to be able to read it very smoothly. So I do work very hard when I’m writing in rhyme to make sure that the rhythm is correct and that anyone who picks it up is going to read it in a similar way.

Valerie

So you’re very prolific, very, very prolific, and a lot of books released in the last couple of years. Now, I’m interested to know, because you said you can’t wait for two years, in those first two years you had many other manuscripts on the go. How many manuscripts would you have going at once? Like now, perhaps? And how do you then divide your headspace or your time or your time allocation to each of them? Do you have a system, or is it just whatever you feel like?

Lesley

When I first started, my goal was to write a completed story, a picture book story per month, so at the end of the year I would have twelve picture book manuscripts. Most of those were no good.

But I always completed a manuscript beginning to end. Because there was something that Frances Watts said to me that has stayed with me over the years, and that is if you only write the beginning of the story, and know that it’s not right and not going to work and then you stop, and then you go to the next thing, you write the beginning of that – you’re only going to get at writing beginnings. You won’t get good at writing middles. And you certainly are not going to have the practice of writing endings.

So even if I know that the manuscript isn’t working, it’s not going to be publishable, I still finish the story. And sometimes I have been able to take the ending of another manuscript that didn’t work and use it in a manuscript that was actually working and became published. So that’s a really great piece of advice. Always write beginning to end even if it’s no good.

These days I don’t write in that way so much, and I might have a few things going at once. Sometimes I might have a couple of picture books and I might be writing on a chapter book, having another go at another chapter book series. And whatever I’m switched on to at the time, that’s enthusing me, is what I’ll start putting the effort into.

And then I might come to a part where it’s really difficult, and I might need to leave it. It might be best just to leave that manuscript for a little bit and go and work on something else. And while you’re doing that, it’s funny what your brain does, it starts thinking about that and at night time it starts to sort through things and suddenly an answer appears. Because writing is a lot to do with problem solving. So a problem is solved and you might go back to it and keep going. So I will work on a few things.

Valerie

I want to talk about your Fizz series, which is your chapter book series. Just tell us briefly what the Fizz series is about.

Lesley

Well, Fizz is a little white fluffy dog.

Valerie

Naww!

Lesley

He’s based on my dogs, which are Jack Russells, who don’t know that they are a little dog. They think they’re a big dog and they’ll bark at anything. So I wanted a character like that. But instead of being a little Jack Russell, this dog is a Bolognese, which is about the size of a Jack Russell but really, really, really fluffy. Incredibly fluffy and frizzy. So I called it Fizz.

And more than anything, Fizz wants to be a police dog. So in the world of Sunnyvale City, dogs can talk. But otherwise they can only do what dogs can do. That’s the rules of the Fizz world. So when dogs are grown up they have to find themselves a job. And they go to see Miss Trudgeon at the Dog Employment Department. But Fizz does not want to go there because he wants to become a police dog, and he doesn’t think that he’s going to get that job, because he doesn’t look like a police dog.

And his parents are very worried about him. They think he’ll be disappointed, so they discourage him. But Fizz goes anyway, and that’s where the story starts. So he has a best friend there, Remi, and we meet Amadeus who is a bully. Because we all know, we’ve got to put some problems in the way for our characters.

So Fizz is small and white and fluffy and he doesn’t look like a police dog, his family doesn’t support him, we have a bully who sabotages him, and there are three really, really hard tests that he has to pass in order to become a police dog. And so that’s the premise there for the first book in the series.

Now, you might think, well of course for the series to continue Fizz has to become a police dog, but there’s a little twist there at the end. And it came about from something that Libby Gleeson told me at a course. She said there are three ways that a story can end: either your character fails and they don’t get what they want, or they are successful and they get exactly what they want, or they fail and they get something that’s different but equally as good or better. And I thought I love that idea, I’m going to do that for Fizz. So you’ll have to read it to find out what actually happens.

Valerie

All right. So a picture book for younger readers is usually around 500 words. How many words is a chapter book usually, approximately?

Lesley

It can vary. The Fizz books are around 5,000 – 5,500 words and that’s probably right smack bang in the middle of what a chapter book can be. But then there are early chapter books that are a lot less than that. So something like Billie B. Brown, which would probably be for the very youngest of those independent readers, I’m not exactly sure how long they are, but I would say something like 2,000 words. So they’re really quite a very small word count.

Then you’ve something like Fizz and Captain Underpants, and they’re around that 5,000 – 5,500. And then you can jump up to about 10,000. So there’s a bit of a range. But when you start going to a middle-grade novel, you’re looking at that 25,000 – 35,000 word mark there. So there’s a big, big jump you can see to a middle-grade novel.

Valerie

So you wrote picture books, and then you decide at some point that you want to write chapter books, which are totally different. They’re ten times the length of most picture books, they’re a completely different age group. Why did you decide to move into chapter books when you were already going so well with your picture books?

Lesley

Well, Fizz began as a picture book, but I just found that the story was too large. I did try cutting it down and tried to squeeze it into 500 words, but it just lost all its charm. So I thought, I think it needs to be a larger word count. And I just let it come out, just as it wanted to, naturally. And it ended up around the 5,000 word mark, and it just really worked for this story. That word count was just perfect. I worked on it for about six months before I felt that it was right.

Valerie

And so you worked with Stephen Michael King again. What kind of collaboration is there on a chapter book? Do you hand over your manuscript and leave it to his expertise and skill? Or do you have a certain level of collaboration as to how the pictures and words marry in the end? How does it work?

Lesley

I think the editor is the person that looks at marrying the text and the illustration. So for me, as the illustrator, I pretty much do hand it over. Particularly when it’s someone like Stephen Michael King and he is so talented and has such a strong skill set that he’s able to do that.

But there was collaboration in that the dogs were a definite breed. What I like to do is go onto the internet and I love to find pictures of these dogs that just look exactly like the dogs that I’m writing about. And so I sent to him this cast of characters for Fizz so that he had all the dogs and how I saw them looking. A

nd then of course Stephen then needs to take those pictures and put them into a caricature of those particular breeds. And I was shown all these gorgeous pictures that Stephen had done, and I certainly get time with the editor to talk about them. But they were just absolutely divine. And I knew how Stephen draws dogs, because he loves dogs, and he’s done many dog picture books of his own. So I kind of knew what they would look like if they were Stephen Michael King-ed.

Valerie

So you have written about many characters that are animals. And obviously you must like animals, I assume. Yet they are characters with fears and hopes and characteristics and idiosyncrasies and stuff like that. Do you develop your characters in a similar way as if they were humans? Do you create dossiers on them? Do you write down things that they would or wouldn’t do? Or things that they would and wouldn’t say or wear or whatever? How does that work for you?

Lesley

They’re definitely people. All the characters are definitely people but they’re put into an animal character. And so yes, you do need to know your characters really well if you’re going to write well with them.

So the things you were just saying then about writing their likes and dislikes, writing as that character to another character, what would they say or what would happen in this situation. So you really get to know your characters inside out. Those are really important activities to do, I think, if you’re building up the characters. Particularly for a chapter book series, I feel. That’s something that everyone should be doing.

Valerie

One of the things that I think you and I have previously spoken about is world building in your picture books and chapter books. Can you just expand on that a little bit more? Because it was such a great conversation that I think a lot of people get a lot of insight into it.

Lesley

Well, with the Fizz series – and this is a really good example of world building, because it’s different to the world that we know, because in the Fizz world dogs can talk. And I had to really think about, well, in this world what are the rules? And I’m going to have to keep to those rules as they go through the series.

So the dogs have a similar level of ability. When I first started writing Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts, the first book, I did have dogs with different abilities. So there was a character in there that got cut, I cut that myself, and it was a character that was Fizz’s grandmother. And she was reading so that Fizz could find out that there was a police dog tryout. And I was thinking about, do I really want to go to that level where dogs are actually reading? So I thought, no, I’m going to bring that back down again. So I had to bring in another character, a human character, a groundskeeper at Sunnyvale Shelter, and he was able to read the article to Fizz.

So you have to really think about what the rules are when you’re building a world that’s different to the world that we know, and you need to stick to that. So that’s a real skill and something that, if you’re going to write chapter books, you need to have a really good look at that.

Valerie

Do you do that consciously at the beginning? Do you write down the rules of the world before you start writing? Or is it something that you figure out as you go along?

Lesley

If you could figure that out before you start, then you’re not going to have to go back and re-do things. So I would certainly advise for anyone, if that’s something you haven’t thought about before, which probably isn’t if you haven’t gone into writing chapter books, I would say, yes. If you’re doing a world that’s different to the world and the rules that we know, think very carefully about what those rules are and how they’re going to affect that world and your characters and how they behave, and write that out. And then do your first chapter and see how that feels, and how that’s going to work for you. Rather than going past that first chapter, if it’s not working, go back to your rules and make adjustments. Because if you go a long way into your story, you’re only going to have to come back and undo it. And it may not be that easy. Once you’ve written something, it can be very difficult to unwrite it.

Valerie

Yes. And when you stopped teaching to have your kids, at that point did you think that you would be where you are now, with so many books under your belt and writing as your profession?

Lesley

No. It was a lovely surprise! I’m absolutely delighted. And it’s something that’s special just for me, which is wonderful. But no, and I often think that. If I could have foreseen what would happen for me, and how many books I have and how many are now printed in overseas countries, and having children from America send me little letters saying how much they love the Fizz series. No, I would never have thought that would happen. It’s just so lovely.

Valerie

And you are writing fulltime now? You’re not teaching?

Lesley

Yes. No, I’m not back in the classroom, although I do school visits. And so children can certainly see me that way. And I do enjoy those moments of teaching when I do all of the visits.

Valerie

And you teach adults as well, in terms of writing children’s books. So what is the most challenging part of your writing process, do you think?

Lesley

I think sometimes you can try so hard that you can switch that creativity switch off. And that can be really hard. So you get that writer’s block. And then you have to work your way out of that, and it’s usually by doing little writing activities. Small writing activities just to get the writing juices flowing again.

Valerie

Like what?

Lesley

For me, I love going back into my childhood and thinking of – for Scary Night it was “what was the scariest memory that you have?” Or “what’s the happiest memory that you have from childhood? What’s a time that you were separated from mum?” Just writing down those memories. And I think because it’s personal, and you feel a lot of emotion about it, the writing is a lot more vivid. And that can just switch you back again into that creative mode. And sometimes just remembering those stories from your childhood, your fears and your loves, can trigger an idea for a terrific picture book.

Valerie

Tell me, what are you working on now?

Lesley

I’ve got a couple of things. Picture book wise, I love this idea of the wild brumby. And so I’m just thinking can I find something there? I might, I might not. Who knows? And I’m also trying to find an idea for another chapter book series and working on that at the moment to see if I can come up with something really interesting.

Valerie

Well, you’re certainly busy. Finally, what’s your advice to people who are listening to this and they want to be in your position where they’re writing full time? Something that may be just an idea in their head, but they’re just not sure if it’s going to happen. What’s your advice to aspiring writers?

Lesley

I think going and doing lots of courses. So come into the Australian Writers Centre. Lots of courses. Meeting your favourite authors. Asking questions, networking, going to festivals.

There are not a lot of publishing houses that open up to unsolicited manuscripts; it’s getting narrower and narrower. So you need to go to the festivals and book in with your manuscripts and have them looked at by editors, by writers, and by agents. And that’s a way that you can get your foot in the door as well. So that’s really important.

Speed dating. I didn’t get to do that, but that sounds like an awful lot of fun.

Valerie

So speed dating with publishers and agents?

Lesley

That’s right. You get about five minutes with them to pitch something, and if they like it they’ll take your manuscript. I missed out on that, and I got published before I had a chance to do that. But that sounds like a lot of fun.

But there are lots and lots of opportunities, but you have to get yourself up away from the computer and actually go out places, and meet people and do those things. As well as having that time to sit down and write. And write a lot.

And give yourself permission to write badly. It’s okay. Don’t think that everything has to be perfect or you’ll never do anything. So I think you’ve got to get rid of all that bad writing, get rid of all those first ideas that you thought were fabulous, because they probably aren’t. I’ve always found that I get rid of my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth idea about a certain topic, and then I start to find things that are more interesting.

So I think if someone comes along and they’ve got this one great idea for a picture book or a chapter book series, maybe put that to the side until you’ve honed your craft a bit more and then come back and try to write that idea. Because if you write it, that really great idea, too early on, when your skills aren’t quite as good as they could be, it’s very, very difficult to unwrite that or try and write it again once you’ve got that idea down.

So I’d say, set that really good idea aside for a little bit later and try other things. And maybe you come back and think, well, what I thought was a really good idea actually wasn’t. Or on the other hand maybe it still is and then you should go for it.

Valerie

Love it. Great advice. And on that note, thank you so much for your time today, Lesley.

Lesley

Thanks so much Valerie. It was my pleasure.

 

Comments