Thursday Talk & Tea with Edwina Wyatt

It’s been a little while since I talked and tea-ed with a children’s author. But then, my good friend Edwina Wyatt’s new book Always Together was released this month, and I couldn’t resist asking Edwina a few questions.

By way of introduction, I met Edwina on my book tour last year. She too had recently published her first picture book. Edwina and I have been emailing ever since, and she is an absolute support, and beacon in the children’s book world for me. She’s my rock.

And it so happens, she makes really lovely books. Like her new book, Together Always, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo (Little Hare), which is a profound little story of two friends, Pig and Goat.

Pouring tea now…

Edwina Wyatt children's author

Edwina, you write stories for young people. What does storytelling mean to you?

To steal a phrase – stories make us care.

That’s a good thing to be a part of.

What process do you use to find a new story?

I start with a feeling, a word or a line that has been rolling around for a while, then I follow it on the page. Often these words don’t come at the beginning of the story, rather somewhere in the middle and I work my way around them. Clearly not a plotter!

Sometimes I will force myself to write a line and see if I can make myself interested in it. More times than not, I can’t, and it is only cringe worthy self consciousness that comes of it. But then there are those other times when creativity feeds creativity. For me, writing feels a bit like those moments when you force a smile or a laugh – awkward at first, but if you commit to it, it somehow becomes real.

Your books are very subtle, and elegant. A Haiku almost. Possibly deceptively simple! Am I right about the deception part?

Thank you for saying so! I suppose I am always striving to create a balance between simplicity and depth. I want to write books that are accessible but I never want to write ‘down’ to children.

The picture books that I love to read are multilayered; you can take as little or as much out of them as you need, and they keep giving on closer inspection.

Perhaps we can substitute the concept of deception with attention to detail?

Top of mind is the ‘evening’ motif running through my picture book In the Evening. This has significance to me, since it was intended to mirror the interior life of Oscar: a character suspended between the light and the dark in himself – the worthy and the unworthy – and so it extends the theme of transformation.

I also felt that the symbol of the gloaming or blue hour, as painters call it, was a nice foil for the story since it is tricky to decipher what is ending and what is beginning; another theme that I wanted to play with.

Together Always

Together Always is your latest book. Where did the seed for this story originate from?

I started with these lines:

Together in the cold.

Together in the dark.

It did not feel so cold or so dark.

The lines were a response to a question that I was pondering and I wove a story around them to see if I could find an answer. Those lines were ultimately cut from the story by the editorial team who felt that they had a negative effect on the tone of the story – making it too sombre.

You work. You have a child. How do you find time to be creative?

Yes, and another on the way!

For me, the stolen moments are always the most appealing and productive, creatively.  I find the idea of an extended period of time dedicated purely to writing to be immobilising. Adrenaline and sleep deprivation seem to have the surprising effect of pushing self-awareness to the side; the writing is more authentic and less indulgent as a consequence.

Where do you write?

Anywhere and everywhere.

But I have great faith in the powers of the kitchen table to aid both procrastination and creativity; not always mutually exclusive when there is tea involved!

Tell me about five of your favourite things in life.

In no particular order…

Family.

Horses.

Avocados.

Wisteria.

Surprises.

What are your creative hopes for the future?

To keep at it.

To grow a thicker skin.

To write something that an illustrator finds stimulating and nourishing to bring to life rather than it being purely work. It is this creative ‘conversation’ with an artist that is one of the best parts of it all for me – what a privilege to have your words interpreted and extended in ways you could never have imagined!

You can buy Together Always here. And visit Edwina’s website here to learn more about her other beautiful books.

Creative People: Marc Martin

A few times now, I’ve picked up a beautiful book, turned it in my hands and opened it. Then I would sigh. Yes, of course, Marc Martin.

Marc’s distinctive illustrations are whimsical. Max and A Forest are two of his beautiful books.

A River recently arrived in the sunshine house. It’s poetry. We gently follow a river through a child’s dreamscape. Marc creates a vibrant yet delicate world where we travel with the narrator on her journey.

A River by Marc Martin

I was lucky enough to get to chat with Marc about his creative process.

Marc Martin
Hi Marc. We adore your illustrations in A River. Can you tell us what inspired this story?

A River was inspired by picture books I read as a child. Authors such as Jenny Baker and Maurice Sendak are two author/illustrators that nurtured my imagination and gave me the creative spark to make picture books. A River is a story about letting yourself dream and about our relationship with the world and how we choose to interact with it. We can either fear it and separate it from our lives, or we can be bold, embrace the unknown and trust our imaginations to guide us through the stormy weather.

Where do the ideas for your children’s books generally come from?

They can come from anywhere. I listen to a lot of podcasts and the radio, so sometimes there’ll be something I hear that piques my interest, and an idea will come from that. Ideas also come when I’ve got time to think – so going on holidays, traveling and taking time off is a great way to refresh the creative mind and gain inspiration.

Marc Martin A River

I’d love to know how you first came to illustrate and write children’s books.

I originally studied graphic design at university, but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve transitioned away from design and into illustration. I think I always knew that I didn’t want to work in the graphic design industry, so in the periods between graduating from university and working as an illustrator, I’ve also studied sculpture, social sciences, and furniture making, as well as being part of a publishing collective. Becoming an illustrator was a natural progression for me, and I’ve been working as an illustrator full-time for the last couple of years now. Predominately I write and illustrate my own picture books, as well as doing a mix of editorial and commercial illustrations. My training in graphic design still influences my illustration work today, however I’m continually battling between the learned restraint and principles of graphic design, and the creative freedom and fun that illustration allows.

What style of painting do you prefer to use when creating children’s books?

I’ll use what ever style is appropriate for the subject matter and mood I’m trying to create. Lately I’ve been using a lot of gouache, pencil and watercolour paints – they give my work a textural quality that you just can’t get on the computer. I try to do as much of my drawings by hand as possible, and then move onto the computer if they need cleaning up. I also like using textures and patterns, which are usually scanned in from left-over experiments I’ve made with ink rollers or paint. Textures can turn a flat page of colour into something more interesting to look at. When I’m starting an illustration, I’ll usually have an idea of the medium I want to use before I start on the artwork, but I like to experiment with different mediums as well. I often find that the tests and ‘mistakes’ I make whilst experimenting can later develop and inform the finished artwork, so it’s good to be open to new ways of working.

Marc Martin A River

What’s your workspace like?

It’s pretty cluttered. I’ve got a standing desk, which is great for drawing and working at the computer, and very tall chair for when I want to take a break from all that standing. I’ve also got a lot of posters, cut out images and pictures stuck to the walls, and a big bookshelf filled with illustration and picture books. It’s funny because I’m very neat at home, but my studio space can get very messy!

marc martin studio

Can you tell us what a typical day in the life of Marc Martin looks like?

I’ll normally start the day with a quick breakfast at home and then a bike ride through Edinburgh Gardens and into the studio. I ride my bike into the studio every day – rain, hail or shine. It’s a great way to start the day, and helps keep me fit.

At the studio, I’ll start by checking emails and doing a bit of admin before getting stuck into illustrating, but lately I’ve begun to experiment with different ways of working – I’m finding that not checking emails until after lunch is a great way to get focused on the tasks at hand, before getting bogged down by emails and paperwork. It’s very rare that I’ll spend the whole day working on one thing – I’m usually juggling multiple tasks.
At lunch, I’ll make a sandwich in our shared kitchen and chat to people around the studio – there’s about 15 people in our studio, so there’s always people around to keep things lively.
The afternoon is usually filled with more work, and then it’s back home around 6 for a home cooked meal and a bit of relaxation.

What’s next for you?

More books and other exciting projects! In the coming months I’ll be launching an interactive game/story app for tablet devices that a friend and I have been working on, having an exhibition, and starting work on my next book. Plenty to keep me busy!

Thank you Marc!

I have four copies of A River to give away. Just comment below or on Facebook and tell me about a river special to you. Share with your friends too!

 You can check our Marc’s website here.

Creative People ~ Samantha Turnbull {Anti-Princess Mama}

Anti Princess Club Emily's Tiara Trouble

A few years ago, at an exercise class, I met a lady called Samantha Turnbull who had just scored a contract to write four children’s books with Allen & Unwin. It was a dream come true, she told me.

I started following Samantha on Facebook, and caught up with her a few times in person. It’s been so exciting to watch her publishing journey unravel.

Just a few weeks ago, I went to the Anti-Princess Club book launch in Byron Bay. The bookshop was packed to the rafters! Since, Samantha’s been doing school visits, festivals and has even been interviewed on Mornings about her books.

My five year old daughter is loving The Anti-Princess Club. She incorporates the characters into her games, and has started to process some of the ideas posed in the books.

So of all the creative people I know, I had to interview Samantha for the Creative People series.

Samantha Turnbull Author Anti-Princess Club

Hi Samantha. Your books are selling well, and from what I have seen online, you’ve had some great feedback. How does it feel to be a published author? 

It feels wonderful. It’s funny, there are so many hurdles with each stage of the process – finishing the manuscript, editing the manuscript, submitting to publisher, editing again, etc etc. When the books finally hit the shelves I had a little panic thinking ‘what if no one likes them?’ But that seems to be fading as positive feedback flows in!

Can you tell us a bit about your books? What is the Anti-Princess Club?

It’s a four-book series aimed at 7-10-year-olds. The series centres around four best friends and each book is told through the eyes of a different friend. In the first book, the girls form a club called The Anti-Princess Club in response to being fed up with the adults in their lives treating them like princesses. Their motto is ‘we don’t need rescuing.’

The club then expands to include hundreds of members who are all sick of being treated like princesses, or at least being boxed into ‘girly’ stereotypes.

What inspired you to write this series?

I wanted to help redefine what it means to be ‘girly.’ I don’t think femininity only comes in one pink, glittery, princessy package.

Specifically, I was inspired to write the series when my daughter was bombarded with princess gifts as a baby. Then when she was about a month old we went looking in a local department store where the children’s books were divided into ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ sections. In the girls’ section, there was not a single book that didn’t feature a princess or a fairy, and that was the moment I decided to write ‘anti-princess’ books.

My books are now on that department store’s shelf, which was a major buzz to see.

So you are a mum of two young children. You’re a journalist. And somehow you managed to write four books for children. As a busy mum myself, I am wondering how you achieved such a feat! Can you tell us how you managed your time?

I wrote the first book when I was on maternity leave with my daughter – who happened to be a dream baby. She slept a lot, and so it was quite easy to write the first manuscript.

Fast-forward to when I got my publishing contract and was asked to write three more books, and I had a second baby. My son was a very tough bubba who didn’t sleep at all and experienced a lot of illness early on, so it was a very challenging time trying to get those last three books done.

I wrote in the middle of the night mostly, which was hard, but worth it because when it comes down to it, I just love writing.

What’s the hardest things about balancing your creative pursuits with your family life?

Guilt. No matter what I do I feel guilty about neglecting something. If I’m playing with the kids I feel bad about not being productive enough with writing, if I’m writing a lot I feel bad about not spending enough time with the kids, and I ALWAYS feel inadequate as a housekeeper.

And what’s the best thing?

Despite the guilt and the sleeplessness, I feel very lucky. Being a parent and a published author are two life-long dreams I’ve fulfilled, and that’s very satisfying.

What inspires you, generally speaking?

Beautiful language, heartfelt performance poetry, my hometown (Byron Bay), art galleries, travelling, and I’m hugely inspired by single parents – especially single parents who pull-off fulfilling careers on top of parenting – they’re my heroes!

Can you tell us what is next for you, creatively?

I’m working on some new kids’ novels, visiting schools where I’ll be running creative writing workshops, and performing at some upcoming poetry slams.

Thanks Samantha! 

You can visit Anti-Princess Club website and Samantha’s blog. 

Creative People ~ Graeme Base

Graeme Base

One of my clearest memories from early primary years was laying on my tummy on a friend’s carpet poring through Graeme Base’s The Eleventh Hour. I can still picture exactly where the animals and clues were hidden.

Twenty something years later I am still finding hidden animals and clues as I look over my daughter’s shoulder. My nephew and niece in California also adore his books.

How can one person be so talented?

I think if you had told early primary me I would get to email with Graeme Base sometime in the future, I would have been well impressed.

You probably already know most of Graeme’s classics – Sign of the Seahorse, Animalia of course, The Waterhole … The Last King of Angkor Wat is Graeme’s latest masterpiece.

The Last King of Angkor Wat Graeme Base

Hi Graeme. I can paint, but do very simple images. I can’t begin to imagine how long it takes you to create books like yours. So, how long does a book like ‘The Last King of Angkor Wat’ take to complete? 

The artwork for each book takes around a year to create. But before this there is usually a period of living with the idea, slowly developing the various layers to the story and the overall concept. It is this layering which I find makes the books worth spending all the time on!

How do your ideas come about?

For me the best source of ideas is travel. Sometimes the inspiration arrives as a direct link from an experience – The Sign of the Seahorse came from my first go at scuba diving for instance – The Last King of Angkor Wat was the result of a trip to Cambodia – but sometimes it is more convoluted – The Legend of the Golden Snail was the result of seeing a spiral-shaped wall lamp with a curved shade in a hotel room in France – I joked to my kids that it looked like a ‘Snailing Ship’. They were unimpressed (Dad’s joke #375) but I did a scribble of a little snail character with sails and this eventually became the book.

What is your process? Do you write the story first, or begin with illustrations? What then?

Idea first, almost always visually based (ie, I almost always start by wanting to create artwork not write a story) then basic story concept and first draft text followed by a period of layer-development (see above). Next comes a study of the layout – what will go on each page (and how many pages there will be) after which I begin to work on finished designs for the pages. When these are all done I revisit the text, tweaking it, editing it, and only then do I commence final artwork. The last stage is cover/jacket design and supervision of the pre-press process – only then do I let it go!

Can you tell us what a typical day in the life of Graeme Base looks like? 

It depends very much on how close the next deadline is. I work from home, (which is nice as it allows me to mix family and work life quite easily) and generally working fairly regular hours, but when the deadline looms the hours get longer and longer. I guess I actually work every day when I am creating a new book, but when I am between projects I can suit myself what I do and for how long.

Where do you work?

My studio is upstairs. Currently it is a total mess, more of a storeroom than a studio, as we have just moved house so there is nothing much to show.

And finally, the big question… Why do you create books for children? 

The obvious answer is because I am a big kid myself – and it’s true – artists generally never truly grow up – but it is also because picture books are one of the only genuinely creative openings for an artist like me who wants to create fantastical imagery of made-up worlds, link them with a throughline and perhaps imbue those images and the story with a message or two.

Thank you Graeme!

Do you have a favourite Graeme Base book? 

Talk & Tea With Salina Yoon

It’s no secret that reading books with my girls is a pretty major ritual in our little sunshine house. I am pleased to say they both love books, and I love the closeness of snuggling beside them on the day bed, one arm around each.

My children are nearly three years apart, so up until very recently they’ve had fairly different tastes. Reading together has meant I haven’t really been able to read the longer books with my older daughter, or the toddler books with my younger child.

But we  stumbled upon a series of books that satisfy both age groups (2 and nearly 5) perfectly. They are the Penguin books by US author Salina Yoon. Penguin is so cute. He befriends a pinecone, and knits it a scarf. Need I say more.

Hi Salina. Welcome to The Sunshine House! My girls adore your books, especially Penguin.

Can you please tell us how you came to write and illustrate children’s books?

 Thank you for inviting me to The Sunshine House! I’m so glad your girls enjoy my Penguin series.

salina yoon Penguin

I received my college degree in Graphic Design because I thought I would become a graphic designer. But my love for illustration took me back to school to study Illustration. Note that I never studied writing! Writing was never an interest or talent I thought I had. I’ve never even kept a diary. But once I started to create books for the very young, I realized I needed words to go with them. I often let the images come first, and I write the text to support the pictures.

 Tell us about Penguin. He’s so sweet. What inspired this series?

Penguin

Penguin is actually a character inspired by both my son and my mother! My son, when 5 yrs old, used to love collecting objects from nature, like; rocks, sea shells, leaves, and pinecones. He once asked me to cut him a piece of fabric to use as a blanket for his pinecone. He placed it in a box and took it up to his room. This moment stayed with me—until Penguin was born.

Penguin is nurturing, loving, and kind, and he has the heart of my son. Penguin is also a knitter, and he shows his love through knitting. This was directly taken from my mom who knits me and my family all kinds of cozy things, even though I live in San Diego where it’s very warm, and never get snow! She told me once that she knew I didn’t need these knitted things, but her joy came from thinking about us while she would knit.

That is adorable. I’d love to know a bit about your process. What comes first, the drawings or the story? 

Almost always, the visuals come first. I imagine the story like a little movie in my mind, and I will quickly sketch out the most important scenes. Then, I will work forwards and backwards to bridge these scenes. Here is one of the first drafts of Penguin and Pinecone. Much had changed through revisions… but you’ll see that many key scenes remained the same.

image004

Here, you see a side by side comparison with some of my original thumbnails with the final artwork in the book. “Thumbnails” are very small, rough sketches created in the initial stages of a project. I scanned the sketches into my computer and typed out the text.

image005

Where do you work best from?

I love writing and sketching at my local library in the children’s section where it overlooks a beautiful, colorful garden. It’s also fun to see what children are picking out to read, and I love picking up new books to read myself. It’s a very inspiring place to work!

Are you illustrating by hand, using technology or both?

I sketch with pencil on paper initially, but for the Penguin series, I do the final illustration work on a tablet using a digital stylus. The artwork is created on Adobe Photoshop using a Wacom Intuos tablet. I use various methods, both traditional and digital, for other book projects however.

Does your Californian home inspire your stories?

image006

My home looks nothing like anything from any of my stories, but being close to the ocean inspired the story of Penguin on Vacation*. In this book, Penguin goes to the beach for his vacation away from the ice. But other than that, I usually don’t consider my home or surroundings when I write. People tend to inspire me more than my environment, particularly children!

What children’s books do you love reading?

I love to read picture books, even just to myself. I don’t need to read to my children to enjoy them. Reading the pictures is just as fun as reading the words. Wordless picture books are particularly mesmerizing to me, like Journey, by Aaron Becker, and Wave, by Suzy Lee. I also love interactive books like Press Here, by Hervé Tullet, fun concept books, like from Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, and all books by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers, just to name a few.

image007

Can you tell us about what you are working on at the moment?

My next project will be to write and illustrate the third book in my other picture book series that stars Bear. The first book in that series came out in April of this year with Found. The second book, Stormy Night, releases in Jan {in the States and February 2015 in Australia}. The third unwritten book will release in 2016.

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Oh, one last question, have you ever befriended a pinecone?

I have! This is my own personal Pinecone, with a scarf I finger-knitted.

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Thank you for having me on your blog!

You can visit Salina’s website at Salina Yoon for more cuteness. The Penguin books can be purchased here.

* In Australia, this is called Penguin on Holiday

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