Fibro Q&A: Words and pictures – how to write a children’s book

Children’s book author and illustrator Peter Carnavas may be the first person to visit the Fibro (for Q&A purposes) whom I’ve never actually met. Everyone else has been a friend or acquaintance, either IRL (in real life) or URL (via blogs or Twitter). In fact, I wasn’t even familiar with his work. But his very engaging publicist Sophia from New Frontier Publishing emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Peter’s new Little Treasures collection – four little books for little people.

Nope, said I, I’m not really about a review. But I did a little bit of further research, fell in love with Peter’s whimsical illustration style, and realised that I had a few questions for an author who put big issues into children’s books.

The four titles in his collection cover love, family, the environment and self-worth. Sarah must carry her heavy heart around with her. Jessica tries to make friends. Christopher’s father is absent. And there is one about the last tree in the city. I’d tell you more about that one, but Mr4 has taken a liking to it and I can’t find it. I asked him whether he liked the books that Mr Carnavas had sent him. “Yes,” he said. “I do.” “Why?” I asked, looking for pithy words of wisdom for a review. “There’s one about a tree,” he said. “I like trees.”

And, really, what better review of a children’s book?

So here he is. All the way from the Sunshine Coast where, I discovered, he lives in a Fibro! (How could I not love him?)

You take on some ‘big’ issues in your little books. Why do you choose to tackle those, rather than simply writing a story to entertain?
Peter Carnavas: “I don’t always mean to tackle big issues, but they are the sort of stories I end up writing. I think it is because I need to feel some sort of emotional connection to a story to pursue writing it. That doesn’t mean the story has to be emotional itself, but I just like the idea of readers being able to delve into themes a little, to have layers of meaning working throughout the story. Of course, I love simple, fun stories as well – Quentin Blake is probably my biggest hero and his books are usually pure fun.”

What are some of the things you have to think about when working your material into a book suitable for children?
PC: “Most of my ideas have a grown-up origin, such as a conversation I’ve had or a newspaper article I’ve read, so there is a bit of a process for me to fashion it into a children’s story. It becomes easier when I start working on the illustrations, for no matter what the theme, my pictures are usually quite light and fanciful. This helps a lot.

“There are other little techniques I use to help the story appeal to children, such as the silent animal friends popping up on every page, or adding funny little things in the background. It’s also important to cut out unnecessary words. I like to keep the text short and to the point.”

When you write your books, do you begin with words or pictures?
PC: “I start with the idea then, after thinking about it for days, weeks or months, I write the text. I like to write the whole story in one sitting – once I’ve started it, I can’t go to bed until it’s done. I then start playing around with pictures, usually working out what the characters will look like, what they wear, what sort of animal will follow them around.”

What, for you, is the best part of writing books for children? And the most difficult?
PC: “There are many good things about making books for children. I love reading the books to children at schools and getting their response. I’m always fascinated by the ideas they pick up from the stories, often things that I had never considered. On a personal note, it’s immensely satisfying coming up with an idea that I think will work, then gradually bringing the characters to life. It can feel quite powerful at times, creating my own little people with their own little triumphs and tragedies.

“The most difficult parts are the boring bits like working out money stuff, though sometimes the most challenging thing is trying to draw something the way I see it in my head. My hand doesn’t always do as it’s told and I have to reach a sort of compromise between my imagination and my ability. It always works out in the end.”

Any advice for wanna-be children’s book writers out there?
PC: “I think it’s important to get opinions of your work from people that you trust. If you are going to submit to a publisher, make sure you research the publishers well and choose one that suits the story you have written. Check out the Australian Writers’ Marketplace for details on just about everything, and join up to the weekly online newsletter, Pass It On. You can find out everything you need to know from those two sources. Finally, just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep going.”

You can find out more about Peter and his books at

In good news, the engaging Sophia has given me two extra sets of Peter’s Little Treasures collection, featuring Sarah’s Heavy Heart, The Important Things, Last Tree In The City and Jessica’s Box, to give away. Yes, a giveaway! The excitement. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Entries close at 6pm on Tuesday November 8, and Mr4 will draw two numbers at random at 7pm (before bed) on Tuesday November 8, with the winners announced on Wednesday November 9. Oh, and please friend the Fibro if you haven’t already. Good luck!

Comments 28

  1. I’m in. I clicked over to find out more having fallen in love with that little picture. He deserves a wide audience for his work seems wonderful.

    Oh to have this kind of talent. The coming together of art, story, meaning and a little magic is truly special. x

  2. In from twitter – oh you had me at children’s book..

    Have not read his books yet but this is the third interview I have ready about Peter in the last few weeks. Looking forward to finding some copies for my Master.

    I am going to sub to New Frontier and have a copy of Australian Writers’ Marketplace on my desk from the library. Thanks for the tips Peter and Allison.

  3. Peter’s work is AMAZING & he is just as lovely in person. Mind you, I do think it’s highly unfair that such talent exists in one person. You’d think he’d be generous about it & share some around 😛

  4. such beautiful illustrations, and I am a total sucker for a beautifully illustrated book, better still those with important stories to tell. thankyou for introducing Peter. Tatum xx

  5. Peter’s books sound wonderful, and I love the whimsical illustrations. I think it’s so important to have layers of meaning in a kids’ books, the story reveals itself in new ways reach time you read it.
    And that tree comes with the endorsement of Mr 4, so it must be pretty awesome.

  6. Books are treasures in this house – sounds like a set we’d love to add to our collection! Thanks for sharing Peter’s story and words of wisdom x

  7. Not only has this inspired me to complete a childrens’ story that I started, but also to persevere in illustrating it. I seem to have the same problem- failing to get my hand to draw what my head wants it to! Thanks!

  8. I once made up a bedtime story about two of her stuffed toys,for my eldest when she was a baby. Those toys had wonderful times together. She loved it and I really wish I’d written it down. I may have to search my memory and get it on paper.

  9. I’m so glad you decided to reconsider your review and interview.
    I think every family should have a peter Carnavas book in their home.

    Really wanted to comment but please don’t enter me in the giveaway. I’m blessed to already have Peter’s books.


  10. I love all Peter’s books. My 9yo daughter says she wants to draw like Peter. I say, I want to write like Peter as I can’t draw at all.

  11. Love books, all books especially children’s books and am always on the lookout for new titles to share with my classes

  12. Alison, you manage to bring attention to a whole lot of intersting facets of life in this wonderful blog. Books are a particular favourite past time in my house. We are seriously thinking of moving into a new house to accommodate our books! Peter’s books sound amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  13. it sounds great! My favorite part of the day is reading with my boys. My greatest wish was that they would develop a love of books and reading, because I know how enriching it is and I couldn’t live without it. I am happy to say they love books as much as me and I am getting better with my acting Voices!!!

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