Hello and welcome to the Greenleaf Press Newsletter.
Today, we feature an interview with Elli Housden, author and member of the Ten Penners. The Ten Penners are set to release a new anthology in November this year. From the authors of "Shock! Horror! Gasp!" and "Fan-Tas-Tic-Al Tales", "Mystery, Mayhem & Magic" is the new anthology written by the Ten Penners ... Come and explore!
Elli Housden writes stories for children and YA readers. In her other life, she is an English teacher who is passionate about initiating kids into the world of books and writing. Elli has written and edited three other anthologies of short stories for teenagers, published by Cengage Nelson, as well as some English textbooks for Australian schools. One day soon, she will unleash her YA trilogy, set on the Gold Coast, onto her unsuspecting readers.
I hope you enjoy this interview with Elli.
When did you start writing?
I wrote a story as a small child, about a haunted house, based on Victoria House in Victoria Street, Woody Point. Then I was hooked.
What and when were you first published?
In 2007, I volunteered to help two Maths teachers produce an anthology of short stories for secondary students for an educational publisher. We each contributed a story of our own to the anthology and selected some others, and then I wrote the activities.
Did you use an agent or go directly to a publisher?
Does your publisher deal only with non-fiction or do they also publish fiction?
Cengage Nelson, my publisher, publishes textbooks and other educational texts in Australia and worldwide.
Can you tell me the names of the books you've written and whether they are fiction or non-fiction?
A Stack of Stories, Five Senses and Step into Stories were anthologies of stories for secondary school students. Plus, two textbooks for Senior English: Senior Text Types, writing and Responding. I'm currently working on a new textbook for Queensland students to be published next year.
Can you briefly explain your approach to writing non-fiction as opposed to fiction? How do you plan your books?
Writing an English textbook is about finding most interesting and entertaining literature to use as examples to teach students about good writing and how to analyse and model on it. I also like to add my own model essays and creative pieces into the mix.
Do you draw your characters from your experiences as a teacher?
Yes. I've spent two decades teaching in a boys' school and they provide a lot of humorous situations to work with. I've got the draft of a YA novel in the cupboard, waiting to be finished and polished. But there are no guarantees of publication. It's a tough road, even though YA is apparently selling well.
Who are your favourite authors?
I read some YA but mostly for research purposes. I used to review YA novels for The Courier-Mail and that kept me up to date. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a brilliant read about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. I don't have favourite authors, only favourite books like Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, about a woman with dementia. It's a debut novel by a 29-year-old and I was impressed. And envious!
What is your next project, or, the project/s you are currently working on?
I'm currently working on a new textbook for Queensland students to be published next year.
Thanks for spending time with us today, Elli. We wish you the very best of luck with the launch of your new anthology Mystery, Mayhem and Magic! in November.
Find out more about Elli and The Ten Penners at www.thetenpenners.wordpress.com.
You can follow the Mystery, Mayhem and Magic! Blog Tour at the following stops:
15/10/17 Sunday -Marion Martineer - https://marionmartineer.wordpress.com/
Dimity Powell - author The Fix-It Man http://dimswritestuff.blogspot.com.au/
content Marion Martineer
16/10/17 Monday- Yvonne Mes, www.yvonnemes.com
Content about The Ten Penners
Elaine Ousten - author Mystery of Nida Valley https://elaineoustonauthor.com/
content Lindy Standage
17/10/17 Tuesday - Jill Smith – https://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com/
Candice Lemon-Scott, author https://candicelemonscott.com.au/
Content – Jill Smith
18/10/17 Wednesday- Kate Russell - https://katharinerussell.wordpress.com./
Teena-Rafa Mulligan - In Their Own Write https://intheirownwrite.wordpress.com
Content Kate Russell
19/10/17 Thursday - Julie Baythorpe https://juliebaythorpeauthor.wordpress.com/
Gretchen-Bernet Ward – Thoughts Become Words Blog https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/ Content – Julie Baythorpe
20/10/17 Friday – Robin Adolphs www.robinadolphs.com/
content Louisa Wright
Artelle Lenthall www.journeygirlontheroadtopublication.com
content Sharron Alexiou
21/10/17 Saturday - GCW book launch announcement
The Ten Penners https://thetenpenners.wordpress.com/
23/10/17 Monday - Aleesah Darlison - author of Fox and Moonbeam-
Greenleaf Press http://www.greenleafpress.net/ Content interview Elli Housden
There will be a giveaway copy of Mystery, Mayhem & Magic! For anyone who comments on the Ten Penners blog, today or during the whole blog tour period.
So, please make a comment to be in the running! Good luck!
Many people dream of publishing a picture book. This particular format, and genre, is my favourite of all the books I write.
But it’s not easy to write those few hundred words, which to some seems such a meagre amount!
Making a picture book is not simply a matter of writing those words, after all, it’s a matter of perfecting them, selecting them and making sure that each and every word carries its weight.
Recently, I was working on a picture book, toing and froing with my publisher, as we finalised layout and design and word choice to the nth degree. As we were discussing what words to keep or perhaps delete from the manuscript, my publisher wrote in an email to me:
We probably are picking at tiny grains of sand here…but I am enjoying crafting this book to the best we can make it.
This struck me as a profoundly prophetic and true statement about picture books. This comparison is, in essence, the entire crux of what making picture books is about.
To write a picture book, a good picture book, you have to think of each word as a tiny grain of sand that requires intricate crafting, with correct usage and placement, which, when combined with all the other tiny grains of sand within the story, will create an overall impeccable result. Something memorable, inspiring, emotive and … lasting.
As I said before, it isn’t an easy process, but it is a joyous process.
Combined with the crafting of sand grain words, picture books must then have a layer (or several layers) of storytelling added through the illustrations.
One picture book I’ve had a lot of fun working on recently, and which was released in April 2016, was called Zoo Ball. It’s a funny, rhyming story about a boy named Ned who takes his big, bouncy ball to the zoo. Almost the moment he arrives, Ned loses the ball and then the chase (and the pandemonium) begins as each animal at the zoo has a go playing with Ned’s ball.
The special thing about Zoo Ball is that it’s illustrated by children. Twenty-three Australian school children, to be precise.
The publisher, Wombat Books, established an Illustration Challenge to provide aspiring young illustrators with the opportunity to be published in a professionally produced children’s book and gain an introduction into the world of illustrating. Once I’d written the text for Zoo Ball, it was then up to children to send in a drawing of one of the scenes from the book.
From the illustrations children submitted, it was clear that they had as much fun drawing the pictures as I did writing the story.
And that’s the other key thing about making a picture book – it’s crucial that an illustrator falls in love with the story text as much as the author who has written it. Otherwise, they miss the subtle nuances of story and overlook possibilities to make the book even better than the words can achieve alone.
I was amazed at how talented these young artists were and what nuances of storytelling – and humour – they’ve added to Zoo Ball. It’s definitely worth the read and a perfect example of picture book making teamwork.
Many of us harbour the dream of becoming a picture book author. Teachers, librarians, mums and dads, grandparents. Anyone who has ever loved books, anyone who has ever had children and clocked up hours of bedtime readings. Anyone who has ever dreamed or imagined that they were creative.
I’d wager just about everyone out there has thought at some stage or other that they could write a picture book, or thought, ‘I couldn’t do any worse than what’s already gone before, right? How hard could it be? It’s only a few hundred words.’
There surely is a picture book in us all.
But before you go sending your manuscript to a publisher I strongly suggest you bring your book to life by creating a dummy version.
After you’ve typed your story up and saved it on your computer, print the text out, cut it up into scenes then place those lines/scenes across a dummy book of thirty-two pages.
This is a great way to see how your story flows. Hopefully, the text will progress smoothly as you turn each page. You might even find that you’ve created appropriate breaks or cliff-hangers that flow across the pages. These are ideal.
If this isn’t happening, move the text around, rewrite your story, print out it again and try again. Read your dummy book out aloud over and over. Then over again
If your story isn’t hitting the mark, edit your work. Make it funnier or more dramatic. Print the new text out and start again and create another dummy book. Your sketches or illustrations (if you have them) can then be pasted in with the text.
You can test your story by reading it aloud to yourself, a writer’s group if you’re a member of one (I highly recommend this!) and to friends, family and young children. Anyone who will listen and who you think will give you constructive feedback.
Picture books aren’t designed to be read. They’re meant to be PERFORMED. And until you perform your manuscript out aloud (which should always be long before it goes to a publisher), you won’t know whether your story will indeed work in a picture book format.
The best advice I can give to picture book authors is to make sure your manuscript is well and truly road-tested before you submit it. You usually only get one shot at a publisher with any given story. So make that shot count.
The matter of illustration instructions in a picture book manuscript can cause many authors consternation. Especially if you’re starting out or haven’t worked with a particular publisher before, you don’t know what their preferences are in terms of illustration instructions and you may be a little uncomfortable with giving your own visual interpretations of your story.
There are two schools of thought on this matter. Some authors and industry experts believe it’s crucial to include illustration instructions. Others believe minimal or no instructions are better and that the text should be able to stand on its own.
I think somewhere in the middle ground is best.
You don’t need to include copious amounts of illustration instructions about your characters or setting or plot. Editors and illustrators don’t need to know that your main character is wearing a red dress or red shoes, for example, unless it’s critical to the story.
But they may need to know that your main character is, for example, confined to a wheelchair, or is a panda bear not a human. When I submit a picture book text to a publisher, I only include the most minimal, most important illustration instructions to provide visual clues. And when I do, the instruction is bracketed and in italics. For example: (Max lives in the city. PK is his dog.).
The idea behind this is that I do like to include crucial information but at the same time I don’t want to stifle the illustrator’s creativity. I want to leave the illustrator plenty of room to bring their own interpretation and layers to the story.
I believe the illustrator needs to love the story as much as the author does. If they’re going to commit to the project, do their best, get behind the book and perhaps even promote it down the track, they must have ownership of the project too. This involves the author giving up a little control, yes, and being flexible.
What you gain far outweighs what you give up.
Illustrators are far more talented and have much more experience and training at thinking and creating visually. So why would I, the wordsmith, take the joy, the passion and the scope of their expertise away by setting down too rigid a structure for them to illustrate in?
It doesn’t make sense.
A common error authors make is to include illustrations with their submissions. Sometimes, they do the illustrations themselves or have paid a friend or someone they know to do these drawings. This can be an expensive and unnecessary exercise.
My advice would be that unless you are a very skilled artist and know a lot about picture books, that you don’t include any illustrations with your picture book submission.
If you’re an author, submit your words only. If you’re an author-illustrator and are confident in both your words and your pictures, then go ahead and submit your text and one or two samples of your artwork. Always check the publisher guidelines before you do this.
If you aren’t an illustrator, this doesn’t mean you can’t draw pictures to match your text. It’s actually a great idea to visualise your story and this can involve drawing thumbnail sketches or creating a storyboard of the entire manuscript. It might also involve you drawing larger sketches or colour images for each of your scenes. I find this particularly helpful.
But, unless you’re a talented artist, I’d suggest that if you’ve written a picture book text that you focus on and submit the words only.