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6 Lessons from my first year as a debut author

6 Lessons from my first year as a debut author

What’s it really like to be a debut children’s author?

When I think back to my own experience (ten years ago now!) I remember excitement, trepidation, confusion, consternation, celebration and more.

But everyone’s experience is different – or is it?

Over the last year, I’ve had a front row seat for several debuts as members of my Write With Allison Tait group have launched their book babies into the world.

I asked one of those members to encapsulate the experience in a post and she has delivered in spades.

Heidi Walkinshaw writes stories for children, finding the fun and laughter in the everyday.

Her debut picture book Some Fish Have Moustaches (illustrated by Michel Streich) was released in June 2023 through Affirm Press, and she was recently Longlisted in the Just Write for Kids Pitch It competition.

Below, Heidi shares her experiences of being a debut author over the past 12 months – because the debut process begins well before publication day!

 

6 lessons from my first year as a debut author

By Heidi Walkinshaw

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. I would tag along with my grandmother to our local library, spending hours trawling the shelves and delighting in taking those stories home to get lost in for the two-week loan, the little return-by-date stamped inside the card on the front cover.

At school, I had great teachers who encouraged me to write, and I would fill pages with worlds beyond my own. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, however, and writing was pushed to the side for more “serious” career pursuits, leading me to a world outside the creative field.

It was only years later, a series of life changes and the courage to take a leap of faith that I stepped back into something that had been calling me for so long, and last year my debut picture book Some Fish Have Moustaches was published.

It hasn’t been an easy first year as a debut author. There have been highs and lows, wins and rejections and a lot of lessons along the way. Here are six of the key things I’ve learned.

 

It’s a game of inches, not miles – take your time and persist

There is an old saying that an overnight success takes a decade. This could apply to any career and certainly rings true when stepping into the world of authorship.

Success seldom happens instantly – as the online world may have you believe – and there are hurdles that you
will need to cross to get your manuscripts to those glorious bookseller shelves.

The path to becoming an author takes time and persistence. Even after you are published and the excitement has settled down, there is more work to be done and no guarantee that you can get your next idea across the line.

Keep going, keep working at it and eventually one will stick.

 

The roughs are just that – rough

When I look back at my first drafts of Some Fish Have Moustaches, I often wonder what I was thinking at the time.

It was headed in a completely different direction from what was eventually submitted and then published.

First drafts are just that – the first attempt before you iron out all the details.

Whether it’s your manuscript or the illustrations that you first receive, it is imperative to remember that it is the first concept and not the finished product.

On days when I had doubts, I was reminded to go back and look at the first drafts of some of my favourite picture books, like The Gruffalo and gain insight into the journey of some of the most successful creators in our space.

 

Find other creatives for support

There are wonderful humans out there who will cheer you on, especially on the less-than-creative days and pull you up when the blows knock you down.

And you had better believe there will be a few of those.

A career in the arts is certainly not for the faint-hearted and a group of like-minded creatives will help to motivate you, give you support and a reality check when your ego needs to go back in the pocket.

Joining a writing group was one of the best investments that I made in getting to know other writers and their projects. We get to share what we are working on, our challenges and the wins.

Life as a writer can be a solitary existence and having others to share it with helps build a supportive community.

 

Ask questions and look fear in the face

For most of my career, I worked in a space where questions were a part of daily life.

I developed a mantra of “No question is a silly question, especially if it is going to help you learn.”

While I’m not always great at reaching out and asking questions – usually out of a ridiculous fear – one thing I am trying for when I’m not sure, is to ask someone who has already taken the road less travelled and learn from their lessons.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and build connections with others, no matter how much networking scares the pants off you. The writing community is incredibly warm and willing to share their experiences.

Just keep in mind that their time is also valuable.

 

Be prepared to do the legwork

There are so many avenues to publishing now and all have different approaches to getting your book to market.

I was incredibly fortunate to have the support of the team at Affirm Press to launch Some Fish Have Moustaches and as a debut author, they were amazing every step of the way.

While the publisher will handle producing and getting your book onto the shelves, it is also up to you to do the legwork.

Get to know your local booksellers, especially in your immediate community. Booksellers are some of the best people you can meet and are usually very welcoming.

While there is no requirement, a website is essential real estate for others to learn more about you and your book.

There is no shortage of social media sites available for use and whatever you choose – for me it was focusing on Instagram – make sure that it is manageable and gives you a space for engagement with readers and the writing community.

 

Celebrate on publication day

Publication day is everything and nothing all at once and I had sage advice from a mentor to go out and celebrate.

Battling minimal sleep and a toddler who decided it would be fun to bring home head lice from daycare, going out was the last thing I felt like doing.

But we deloused, organised the troops and headed out as a family.

It was the best advice I could have received and well worth it to celebrate a milestone that had taken many years to achieve.

The author’s life is one that we do for love and if you blend that love with commitment and add a dash of discipline, the wins will come.

Just keep at it and the writing community will be right there to cheer you on.

 

Some Fish Have MoustachesFind out more about Heidi Walkinshaw on her website, or follow her on Instagram

Discover more information and teacher’s resources for Some Fish Have Moustaches here.

 

 


 

a l tait profileAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, insights and more amazing writing advice.

Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.

Writing Family History: Finding the Fiction in the Facts

Writing Family History: Finding the Fiction in the Facts

“I’m writing my family history.”

Whenever I teach a writing workshop for adults, as I did this week (‘Writing Through The Messy Middle’), I ask what people are writing and there is invariably at least one person who is creating a book based on family history.

Our family history can contain some incredible story material – just ask bestselling children’s author Katrina Nannestad, who’s new novel ‘Silver Linings’ is based on her own family’s story. And yes, it’s a novel.

Because one thing I always ask those writing family history is whether they’re creating a non-fiction version, a memoir or a novel. There are good reasons for choosing any of these options, but one thing is certain – you need a clear picture before you start of precisely which you’re undertaking.

One person who understands the tension that arises between telling a compelling story and ‘sticking to the facts’ is Pauline Wilson, whose first novel ‘Conflict At Hanging Rock’ was based on her own family history, and whose latest novel ‘Breaking Free‘, also draws on family ties – though much more loosely.

In this guest post, Pauline looks at how to find the story in the facts.

 

Writing Family History as Fiction

By Pauline Wilson

Writing family history as a novelMy Great Uncle Jim was once heard to say (pointing emphatically over his shoulder), “never look back, always look forward”.

This has always made me wonder what the old people would say to me digging up the past and putting family stories out for all the world to read. My Genealogy blog is full of stories from the past.

When I decided to write my first novel, Conflict at Hanging Rock, Uncle Jim’s words came back to me.

I had gathered up so much information about this very infamous branch of the family, I felt I knew enough to write their true story. There was plenty of tension to include: convicts, family feuds, a community divided, an illegitimate child and so much more.

But then I wondered whether non-fiction was the best approach.

Would there be descendants of this branch of the family who would be offended by hearing the full story? All of the events happened well over 100 years ago, so everyone concerned is dead. But I had to think of the living.

That was when I decided I would write the story as fiction and changed all the names. I soon found that this decision allowed me to add dialogue and fill gaps in the knowledge I had.

In short, it gave me more freedom to write a compelling story.

But there was still a tension for me between telling a compelling story and sticking as close as possible to the facts. Discussions with my editor were interesting as she tried to help me improve my book despite my determination to stick as closely as possible to the facts.

 

Treading the line between story and history

 

writing family historyMy latest novel, ‘Breaking Free’, whilst still telling a family story, is much less factual – and there are several reasons for this.

One reason is that the protagonist is a woman and, sadly, women left a much lesser footprint on history. Simply put, I knew a lot less about my protagonist, even though she is inspired by my Great Grandmother (pictured left on her wedding day).

Researching my family history, I found a report of my Great Grandmother having spent time in the Kew Lunatic Asylum, which prompted me to write the story. But apart from that report and dates and locations, I knew very little.

I also took inspiration from other authors.

Mary Anne O’Connor weaves many of her family stories into her excellent books, including Where Fortune Lies, In a Great Southern Land and Sisters of Freedom.

Darry Fraser drew inspiration from family stories in her book The Forthright Woman.

I recently read Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, an expertly written story of their search for Charlotte Waring, their great, great, great, great grandmother.

They too struggled with how to tell the true story. They didn’t want it to just be a dry biography and wondered how to keep to the facts and still keep it interesting.

That very struggle was why I decided to fictionalise my story. In their book, Forsyth and Murrell mention Emma Darwin who was another author who struggled with this when writing her book about Charles Darwin.

Emma Darwin wrote that her book is strung painfully on the tension-line between the responsibilities of the storyteller and the responsibilities of the historian.

This statement definitely resonates with me, and is something every author writing a family story should bear in mind.

 

writing family historyPauline Wilson is a writer and family historian who loves learning and research.

She released her debut novel, Conflict at Hanging Rock in July 2022 and her second novel Breaking Free will be released on November 13th 2023.

Pauline writes historical fiction inspired by true stories of her ancestors. Find out more.

 


 

 

Allison Tait writing tips and adviceAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, insights and more amazing writing advice.

 Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here

 

Resources by authors and illustrators for teachers and librarians

Resources by authors and illustrators for teachers and librarians

Educators work hard! Creating units of work that meet the curriculum, engage students and produce great outcomes is not easy.

But authors and illustrators are here to help.

Australian author Charlotte Barkla has rounded up a list of resources created by authors and illustrators to help educators and their students connect with books and reading. As a teacher herself, she understands the value of an expert helping hand (particularly when most of these resources are free)!

 

Author/illustrator resources for teachers and librarians

A guest post by Charlotte Barkla

 

From teachers’ notes to newsletters, author penpals and writing tips videos, there’s no shortage of resources to help your classroom connect with authors/illustrators and their work.

The best part? Many of them are free*!

 

Teachers Notes

Teachers notes are a one-stop shop for creative writing activities. They’re usually linked to key curriculum areas, and are packed full of ideas for discussion questions, creative writing tasks and other activities.

For my early-middle-grade series, Edie’s Experiments, for instance, I helped write the teachers’ notes and also drafted a series of science activities.

Publishers often have a webpage devoted to the teachers’ notes for their titles, or you can find them on the author’s website. Otherwise, a quick google search on ‘book title + teachers notes’ will point you in the right direction.

 

Author Penpals

Inspired by BookPenPals, a UK initiative, Author Pen Pals connects Australian authors and illustrators with schools across the country.

The program was created by authors Kate Foster and Dee White, and pairs authors and illustrators with a class for one school year. Authors send the class four postcards throughout the year, chatting about books, sharing writing/drawing prompts and talking about their creative process.

So far, the program has connected 200 creators with 250 classes from 80 primary schools. An impressive achievement!

 

Videos

If you go down the rabbit hole of YouTube there’s no shortage of videos to inspire your classes. You’ll find writing tips for kids by A.L Tait, book-inspired Book’N’Boogie dance videos by Nat Amoore, ‘how to draw’ videos by Matt Stanton and nature journaling with Trace Balla.

 

Book Recommendations

If you’re looking for a book recommendation, you can’t go past the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group.

About to start a new unit of work, and looking for a picture book to introduce the topic?

What about a book that sparks the interest of that soccer-loving eight-year-old in the back row?

Whatever your question, type it in and you’ll have five to ten answers before you even press ‘post’. (Not quite, but it feels like it.)

Megan Daley’s website is another gold mine for book recommendations. She has helpful ‘Top 20 Book Lists’ covering babies through to adult readers, and hundreds of book reviews that can be filtered by age group and genre.

 

Newsletters

If you’re tired of department store sales newsletters and scam emails junking up your inbox, why not sign up to an author’s newsletter?

Newsletters can be a fun way to connect with authors and their work, and can also be a handy classroom resource.

Charlotte Barkla newsletterIn my free newsletter, Behind the Books with Charlotte Barkla, I delve into one aspect of the writing or publishing process each month.

My first issue covered coming up with ideas, while my second delved into the drafting process. By the end of the year, I’ll take readers through the entire process of publishing a book, from idea through to publication.

The newsletter is kid-friendly, so teachers/librarians/parents of voracious readers are welcome to share the content with their kids and classes. (You’re also welcome to send in questions, for me to cover during the newsletter series.) I’d love you to join me!

 

Arts and Crafts

Not forgetting the younger age groups, there are lots of wonderful arts and crafts activities that tie in with Australian books.

Illustrators Matt Cosgrove and Anil Tortop offer crafts and colouring-in sheets on their websites, while Andy Geppert has a Boffins Backyard Craft Kit designed for nature-loving kids.

Author-illustrator Judith Rossell has templates for making delightful tiny houses and rainbow stars, as well as a monster-drawing game.

 

Writing Courses / workshops

If you’re looking for something meatier for your kids/classes, a number of authors offer writing courses too.

A. L. Tait runs the Creative Writing Quest For Kids at the Australian Writers’ Centre, Tristan Bancks offers Young Writers Story School, Nat Amoore and Tim Harris run Kids Writing Cool and Emily Gale and Nova Weetman offer Writing with Emily and Nova. Lots of great courses to choose from – and some take the Creative Kids Vouchers too!

 

Author/Illustrator Websites

Last but not least, check out the website of your favourite author or illustrator for links to teachers’ notes, activities or other resources.

Better yet, drop them a message to say you/your class enjoyed their book or activity. It’s guaranteed to make their day!

 

*Many of these resources are free, but if you’d like to support the author or illustrator you can buy their book, borrow it from your local library, or book them to speak at your school or library. Not just for Book Week, author / illustrator visits can be a valuable opportunity to motivate kids with their reading, writing and creating. And we love it too!

 

Charlotte Barkla newsletterCharlotte Barkla is a Brisbane-based teacher and author of four children’s books: All Bodies are Good Bodies, From My Head to My Toes, I Say What Goes and the Edie’s Experiments series. She is working on five new books, include a picture book with Hachette, a fiction series with Walker Books Australia and a fiction series with Scholastic.

Teachers notes and resources for all her books can be found on her website and you can sign up to her newsletter here.

 

 

Allison Tait on why children's literature mattersAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

 If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

Why history matters – and how stories keep it alive for kids

Why history matters – and how stories keep it alive for kids

Talk to kids about history and you can often watch their eyes glaze over in real time as they consider facts, figures and dates.

But mention historical fiction? Then you get a very different response.

You only need to scroll through the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community to see how interested young readers are in reading stories set in the past. And one of the most popular settings is the Second World War.

From Morris Gleitzman’s Once series to Katrina Nannestad’s most recent work Waiting For The Storks via a wide range of titles in between (see this excellent list for more), there seems to be a thirst for knowledge about this time period.

And, frankly, my guest author today couldn’t be happier about that.

 

Catherine Baeur is a journalist and writer from South Australia, whose latest novel Tulips For Breakfast, is set in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Her parents were both great story tellers and among her favourites, her father’s wonderful retellings about finding joy in small things, his enthralling adventures and often hardships of a childhood growing up in WWII Germany.

Those stories were part of the inspiration for Tulips For Breakfast, and then Catherine drew on her extensive research skills to gather first-hand accounts to help ensure the emotional and historical authenticity of her novel. The result is the story of Adelena, living in hiding in the Amsterdam home of her music teacher after her fleeing pre-war Germany with her Jewish parents.

The character of Adelena is loosely based on the real-life Hannah (Hanneli) Goslar Pick, who was a friend and playmate of Anne Frank, and who, in her later years, encouraged Catherine to tell the story for this generation of readers.

Here, Catherine shares her inspiration and experience of writing her novel – and why she believes it’s important that stories like hers are told.

 

The importance of teaching the Holocaust to young Australians

By Catherine Baeur

Two years short of the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII, today there is a daily decline in the number of Holocaust survivors in the world. Therefore, the responsibility for keeping their memories and legacy alive increasingly falls to those who remain, including teachers and historians.

This point was made consistently with all those I spoke with while researching for my debut YA historical fiction novel, Tulips for Breakfast (Ford Street Publishing). Former hidden children and Holocaust survivors, now elderly men and women, still have vivid memories and a desire that new generations learn about this period, the heartache, inhumanity and also the many uplifting and life-affirming lessons.

One of those I reached out was Hannah Goslar Pick, a childhood friend of young diarist, Anne Frank. Hannah passed away last year, aged 93, and spent a large part of her life keeping the memories alive. She told me it was what her parents would have wanted and that the stories must be passed on.

Holocaust studies are not a compulsory part of the Australian curriculum in all states, but the topic does come up in subjects such as History, English and Religious studies.

A secondary teacher friend of mine mentioned that many schools don’t allocate enough time for an in-depth study of topics such as the Holocaust. This means many young Australians will only ever get a broad-brush overview rather than any valuable understanding of this cataclysmic part of world history and the almost total extermination of a generation.

The Holocaust – the organised and systematic genocide of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany – saw the death of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children. In addition, other groups were persecuted by the regime including homosexuals, those with disability, the black community and Roma gypsies.

But why should Australian students dive into this period? Because, though WWII ended almost 80 years ago, the ripples are still being felt today.

Learning about the dangers of hatred and discrimination at play in the Holocaust is important for fighting intolerance and prejudice in today’s world.

Studying the Holocaust provides opportunities to explore and inspire students with stories of courage and adversity, activism and resilience. These lessons can encourage students to build empathy for other groups being persecuted in the world today and to develop an understanding of, and value, a diverse and cohesive Australian society.

Find out more about Catherine Baeur here, and more about Tulips For Breakfast here.

 

Allison Tait head shotAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

7 books about consent for kids under 10

7 books about consent for kids under 10

‘Consent’ is a word we’ve heard a lot about over the past few years and it’s a word that parents know they need to discuss with their kids from an early age. But how?

In her brand-new picture book, From My Head to My Toes, I Say What Goes, Australian author Charlotte Barkla takes children on a journey through everyday situations and shows that it’s okay to say ‘no’.

“As the Raising Children Network points out, children ‘need to understand that their body is their own and they have the right to say what happens to it’,” says Charlotte. “It’s not the easiest topic to discuss, but the good news is the foundations can be laid from an early age.”

Books that teach kids about consentThrough a gentle, playful text, Charlotte’s book discusses consent and control for a young audience.

I might say YES to pillow fights;
a kiss when I’m tucked in at night.

I might say NO to climbing high,
a tickling game or a hug goodbye.

Bright illustrations by Jacqui Lee keep the tone upbeat and lighthearted but the message is clear and the book is a great conversation-starter for parents of young children.

 

More books about consent for kids under 10

“It’s never too early to start teaching consent and boundaries for children,” says Charlotte, who has generously created this list of more books that open up conversations on consent, for children under 10 years. Click the title to find out more about the book.*

 

Books about consent for kidsHow to Say Hello by Sophie Beer

For very young children, you can’t go past Sophie Beer’s ‘How to Say Hello.’ This board book provides young readers with lots of examples of ways to say hello, whether it be a smile, wave or high-five. (And Sophie’s illustrations, as always, are gorgeous.) My favourite spread features a child peeking out from behind his parent’s legs, to say hello ‘from somewhere we feel safe.’

Simple yet brilliant, this book is inclusive and vibrant.

 

 

Books about consent for kidsDon’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

This picture book is lots of fun to read. It features a non-hug-loving boy called Doug, who much prefers high-fives. So, how do you tell who doesn’t like hugs? By asking, of course!

A great introduction to bodily autonomy.

 

 

Books about consent for kidsNo More Cuddles by Jane Chapman

Barry loves hugs, but sometimes he just wants to be left alone. Barry tries various things to stop others hugging him, and ends up falling into a solution (literally).

While this picture book doesn’t explicitly teach consent, it does provide a means for opening up a conversation on boundaries and communication.

 

 

Books about consent for kidsBoss of Your Own Body by Byll and Beth Stephen, Teeny Tiny Stevies, illustrated by Simon Howe

Originally a song by the Teeny Tiny Stevies, this picture book is all about being the boss of your own body, and not of anyone else. A fun read-aloud, with lots of vibrant illustrations.

The song is lots of fun to listen to with kids, too. (Although you may end up with an ear worm.)

 

 

Books about consent for kidsIt’s My Body: A Book About Body Privacy by Louise Spilsbury

An informational, non-fiction picture book about body privacy. I like how this book talks about listening to your body – whether your body is telling you it’s tired when it needs a rest, when it’s hungry or full, or telling you when a hug feels good or bad. As a UK-published text it includes links to British websites and helplines, as well as notes for parents, carers and teachers.

 

 

 

Books about consent for kidsRespect: Consent, boundaries and being in charge of YOU by Rachel Brian

This book was written by the co-creator of the “Tea Consent” video (which is worth a google if you haven’t seen it). In graphic novel format, this book is bright and fun. Readers learn about consent, setting boundaries and relationship dynamics.

This one is aimed at readers from 6+, but could even suit young teens.

 

 

 

Books that teach kids about consentCharlotte Barkla is the author of four books for children, including two picture books and the middle-grade Edie’s Experiments series.

Find out more about Charlotte and her books here.

 

 

 

Allison Tait podcastAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

 If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

 

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