Tell us a bit about The Thing about Oliver? How is it special to you?
The Thing about Oliver is special to me for a few different reasons. To start with it’s my very first middle grade novel so it feels like a big step forward in my writing journey. I’ve deepened my understanding of character development and narrative arc in the writing of this book. It’s also special because this story, while it took about eight months to write, has been growing inside my head and heart for about six years. In that time you really get to know and love your characters, so much so that they almost feel like family. It can be hard to let them go when the book ends!
I dedicated The Thing about Oliver to ‘the glass children’ (the siblings of children with special needs). I hope that this story makes them feel more understood, less alone and offers them hope during difficult times. I also hope that the story will help all children, parents and teachers to develop more empathy towards those who are different or struggling.
What started you as a writer?
I stared writing stories and poems from around the age of six. I wrote my first series of picture books about a prince called Puku (which means ‘belly’ in Maori) when I was seven ... I still have them! I wrote angst ridden poetry throughout my teen years and then later when I travelled kept journals detailing my adventures around the world. I also wrote a collection of Haiku poetry during the two years I spent living and working in Japan. It was illustrated and published many years later. But it was reading so many picture books to my own young children that inspired me to have a go at writing stories for kids.
What inspires you to keep going as a writer? What are some of the ups and downs of being a writer?
The writing process can be difficult and the publishing industry incredibly tough. But it’s the magical moments where a story begins to come together or ‘click’ that I’m hooked on. There’s something quite mystical and very special about the process of writing a book. And there is nothing quite like holding your own newly published book in your hands- a whole world full of characters you have created that began with the tiniest flicker of an idea inside your head.
Letters and emails from children who have enjoyed my books or gained something from them make it all worthwhile. Similarly, great reviews from readers who really understand your book go a long way to encouraging authors to continue writing.
The children’s book writing community in Australia has been a huge source of support and encouragement for me, too. I have long been a member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Newcastle Sub Branch and have made many friends. The same applies to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I have also formed some great friendships with fellow writers I cross paths with regularly through courses, conferences, festivals and workshops. We genuinely support and encourage each other and celebrate each other’s successes as much as our own.
My family are of course a wonderful source of support and encouragement, as are my friends who consistently showing up to my book launches and other events (sometimes travelling interstate or from overseas to do so). My illustrators and editors who help make the story the very best that it can be and last but certainly not least my wonderful publishers who believe in the story enough to want to publish it in the first place.
What does getting a CBCA notable for this title mean to you? You have had a couple other books recognised before tell us a bit about these and what they were recognised for?
It is thrilling to be included on such a prestigious long list, alongside so many other authors and illustrators that I admire. I hope that this notable listing with put The Thing about Oliver on the radar of parents, teachers and librarians around Australia so that more children will have access to read it.
Ruby Wishfingers: Skydancers Escape (Wombat Books 2016) was a CBCA Notable title in 2017. One of my picture books Me and You (Penguin Random House 2017) was a CBCA Notable in 2018. Me and You was shortlisted for and then won Speech Pathology Australia’s Book of the Year for 3-5 year olds in 2018.
How many books have you had published now in total?
This month will see the release of my fourteenth book for children, a picture book called Dugong Magic (Hachette 2020).
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on another middle grade novel with themes of friendship and identity.