Hi Shae, and thanks so much for joining me to answer a few questions about your beautiful new book THE RABBIT'S MAGICIAN.
Kerry: This is such a quietly emotive and touching story. What drew you to writing about loss?
Shae: I never intentionally set out to write a story about loss – it was certainly not a subject I would have chosen to tackle. The story was inspired by The Law of Conservation of Energy – a fundamental law of nature, which states: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change from one form into another. I had long known of this scientific principle but had more recently come across a speech by Aaron Freeman about why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral. It was so moving, how the science-talk – which is often cold and clinical – was heart-warming.
An impression must have been made on my subconscious because a scene appeared in my mind of a rabbit looking up at the moon. I sensed he was waiting for something. The moon phases changed, and still, he waited. What are you waiting for? I wondered. And then, he told his tale. In a matter of moments, the whole story suddenly existed, like a neatly wrapped gift. No tackling involved.
Kerry: You say in your bio that you once thought about a career as a magician. Was this part of your inspiration for the characters of The Amazing Albertino and Ziggy?
Shae: In high school, we were asked to write down the career we aspired to have. I wasn’t sure, so I wrote a short-list of occupations that interested or excited me. Magician was one, author was another. The teacher looked at my list and scoffed, ‘Be realistic!’
Well, thanks for teaching your students that they can be and do anything they put their minds to! I’m on the Autism spectrum – this wasn’t known at the time, but it was so disheartening to be told that all of your special interests were unrealistic to aim for. People in positions of power/authority/influence, please use your words thoughtfully.
I still love the artform of magic, but I’ve stuck to watching it rather than performing it. Well, watching it, analysing it, studying it. Magic is an art dependent on fooling your brain into experiencing something impossible. Magic can give us that child-like sense of wonder from seeing amazing things happen right in front of our eyes. Now, sometimes I can leave it at that, and just be amazed. Other times, I am too curious and simply must know how a trick is done. I enjoy trying to figure it out.
I’m super interested in the psychology of magic and what it can teach us about how our brains work. Our eyes gather information that our brain processes and interprets to help us make sense of the world. The human brain is designed to see structure and logic. It looks for patterns and fills in the blanks. Our brain is reliant on visual cues and it likes to group and organise things in a predictable way. Magicians use this to their advantage.
Many people consider magic to be simple entertainment, however, the ancient art of illusion is helping today’s scientists learn more about perception and reality.
So, yeah, I gotta lotta respect for magicians. There’s such talent involved in making the impossible seem possible and gifting us that jaw-dropping, eye-popping wonder. Intricate moves, exceptional timing, showmanship, spatial awareness and co-ordination are but a few of the required skills. It also takes dedication, plentiful practise and majestic confidence. Top-hats off to magicians!
Anywaaayyy, getting back to the question, I didn’t consciously decide to write about a magician and a rabbit, but the characters of The Amazing Albertino and Ziggy would have certainly been inspired by my deep appreciation of magic.
Kerry: Why does the story mostly take place at night?
Shae: One of the other themes in the book is the moon and its phases – this dictated that most of the story would take place at night. In the opening scenes, when the rabbit is waiting, the changing phases are used to show the passing of time. In another part, the waning phases represent the magician’s life-force waning.
The magician describes the moon as a ‘master of illusion’ because of the ways in which it appears to change shape, but is actually always whole; appears to shine, but doesn’t really make any light of its own; is a dusty old rock, yet we see it as beautiful.
Kerry: How did you choose the other characters for the story?
Shae: Ziggy's new friends were originally jungle animals. My publisher made a great suggestion to set the story in Australia. I let Andy choose and the animals transformed into a koala, an echidna and a quokka. Presto Change-O! A simple change that adds a touch of our uniquely Aussie magic.
The character of Owl represents wisdom. He stayed the same because there are owls in Australia.
Kerry: The images in the book create such a beautiful atmosphere. Did you work closely with Andy Fackrell on the illustrations?
Shae: Paul put Andy and I in contact from the start, he was happy for us to communicate back-and-forth freely, with him copied in on our emails. So we were able to bounce a lot of ideas around and make good progress. Even though I was in the loop throughout the process, just as The Amazing Albertino surprised and delighted the audience in the story, the amazing Andy surprised and delighted me with each picture. In the opening scenes, the depiction of that darling little rabbit staring up at the moon while his ears droop down captures the sense of waiting and longing. There are some beautiful silhouette moments with the moon as a backdrop that speak of Alby and Ziggy’s close relationship. The spread of Ziggy with the stars, rainbow and flowers has a peaceful ambience in perfect alignment with the words.
Kerry: Your first two picture books were written in rhyme. Was there a conscious shift towards writing in prose for The Rabbit’s Magician or was it simply the way the story evolved?
Shae: I find that most story ideas come with an intuition about whether they’re best written in prose or rhyme. This story came into my mind in a matter of moments – beginning, middle and end – all very clearly in prose.
Kerry: What advice would you give to emerging authors who like to write in rhyme?
Ask someone to read your work
While you sit back and listen
Places where they stumble, trip
Are gonna need some fixin’
Don’t give up, though, if your words
Aren’t flowing nice and breezy
It’s known for being rather hard
To make it sound so easy
Kerry: Haha great answer! What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
Shae: It was advice given to me from. . . me!
As mentioned in a previous question, many years later, after that teacher told me becoming an author was unrealistic, I was fantasising about giving it a go anyway. One day, my inner voice basically just said, ‘Hey, why don’t you give this writing thing a real go? Come on, you know you want to! Who cares what that teacher said! Write something and actually send it off. Sounds exciting, right? Yeah, sounds fun! You’ve totally got this!’ There may have also been a, ‘You can do it!’ with an awkward self-high-five!
Kerry: Great advice from you to you! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Shae and best wishes to you and Andy for The Rabbit's Magician.
The Rabbit's Magician by Shae Millward, illustrated by Andy Fackrell is OUT NOW.
Published by Ford St.
With thanks to Books On Tour PR & Marketing for helping organise the interview and Ford St. for access to the book.
This week I got to interview the wonderful Kelly Louise Jarris about her latest book 'IMAGINE OUR SPECIAL PLACE.'
Welcome Kelly and thank you for taking the time to interview on The Book Tree Blog.
My pleasure and thanks for having me.
'Imagine Our Special Place' is obviously very close to your heart. How important was it for you to get the story out there?
This story was inspired by watching two very special people in our family go through palliative care and terminal cancer. Hearing how my sister saw her diagnosis and her positive outlook and how she coped, I saw a strength that I admired. We had small children at the time, and it was really difficult to articulate what was happening and the process that comes with this whole journey. I am hoping I have done that with this book as so many families are dealing with this daily.
The illustrations are so bright and playful. Did you collaborate closely with Sandunika Dissanayake?
Absolutely, my concept art, references and notes were very thorough. They needed to be as I wanted Sandunika to understand my vision for my story and she definitely did.
The story is very uplifting which is not what most people would expect from a story about grief. Was this intentional as an appeal for younger children?
It really was and I am so pleased that is what you took from reading my story. I think keeping a child's innocence for as long as possible is so important. My intention for the book was to get kids to use their little imaginations and hopefully create a soothing thought process for such a hard topic to talk about.
Do you share or ‘test drive’ your stories with anyone – students, family - before you submit them for publication?
Yes, always. I usually get my kids, young nieces and nephews to listen. In fact, they are already quoting lines from my next book, which I love.
What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
I was told early on to always surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart and want to see you succeed and achieve your goals.'
Read the book review here.
Thanks to Romi Sharp and Books On Tour PR & Marketing for facilitating Kelly's book launch and this interview.
Follow Just Write For Kids Blog and the blogs and websites below for more reviews, interviews and information.
Writer's festivals are the best! You get to see and hear so many fantastic, engaging and inspirational writers whose work covers anything from faith to motherhood, politics to adventure stories, history to a humous look at the human race. This year's Newcastle Writers Festival was no exception and as a volunteer I got to meet some of the truly inspirational Australian writers.
Hannah Kent held a Q & A session about her new book Devotion. It was a fascinating insight into how this eloquent, softly spoken, brilliant young woman goes about her writing process. She spoke about where her ideas and inspiration come from, how she pieces them all together, and what drives her characters in this new and compelling novel. Her use of language in the book is so intuitive and draws the reader in from the first short chapter heading 'My heart is a hand reaching'.
My other favourite session was with Monica Dux and Sarah Krasnostein. Both have released books about faith and its influence on themselves and society. It was such a funny, poignant and engaging session and both women spoke about their own faith experiences with clarity and honesty. Lapsed and The Believer are two books you should definitely read and add to your YA 16+ high school library collection if you're a TL.
I was also privileged to meet the wonderful Jane Caro. Jane has just released her latest book The Mother, which is her first fiction novel for adults. The Mother chronicles the journey a mother takes to protect her daughter after she supposedly marries the man of her dreams. Everything is not as it seems as the daughter and her children slowly withdraw from family contact. Jane has been a staunch supporter of teachers, the creative arts and education for many years .
There were so many other wonderful writers at the festival this year but it was impossible to see them all! Suffice to say if you didn't get there this year, then make sure you do in 2023!
Find out more about Hannah Kent
Find out more about Monica Dux
Find out more about Sarah Krasnostein
Find out more about Jane Caro
Hi Michelle and thanks for joining me to answer a few questions about your wonderful new book Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Kerry: Firstly, where did the idea for this book come from?
Michelle: I have been writing this book in my head for a long time. It is a love letter to libraries to thank them for being a safe space when I was growing up. Book characters are among some of my best friends and I hope readers will find some new friend in this book.
Kerry: Is the Ms Burns in the book very similar to the real Ms Burns?
Michelle: Ms Burns was my librarian in primary school. She was from America and had a laugh that filled up the whole library. Unlike the Ms Burns in the book, she wasn’t tall and didn’t have fake eyelashes, but she loved books and inspiring children more than anyone I had ever met.
Kerry: I love the way you talk about libraries being safe spaces and describe it as ‘a haven’ for Traz. Was the library your safe haven growing up?
Michelle: I was definitely one of the kids who spent nearly every lunch hour in the library, especially in high school. It was a place I visited my fictional books and escaped from reality for a while. Filling my head with fiction and non-fiction books was an important part of shaping who I am as a person and how much I value critical and creative thinking as well as education for all.
Kerry: Why twins as the other main characters in the story?
Michelle: This was a throwback to the books I loved as a child where the main characters were twins and always had the best adventures. My younger brother and I are very different, and I wanted to show that just because you are twins, doesn’t mean you think or act the same. I love the idea of twin telepathy and I have friends who are twins who tell me that it definitely does exist.
Kerry: Diversity is a key component in many of your stories including this one. How important is it for you to bring diversity into a story?
Michelle: It is very important to me that kids of all abilities can see themselves reflected in the books they read. I was very lucky as a child that I felt represented. It wasn’t until I became an author that I realised that not all kids were as lucky as me.
Kerry: What advice would you give to aspiring authors on incorporating diversity into their own writing?
Michelle: Start writing from a place of personal experience, but don’t be scared to reach out to diverse cultures and abilities to understand the world from their point of view. I think writing what you know is the most important place to start for any aspiring author, but I also think there is great potential to share our gift with others who don’t have a voice and help them represent themselves as well.
Kerry: Are the books and people you’ve brought to life in the story - literally! - ones that were your favourites growing up?
Michelle: I have loved pirates ever since I watched the Pirate Movie on repeat in the eighties. I was obsessed with King Arthur and the knights of the round table at University, when I was studying history, but have yet to find a movie that can live up to the books. Einstein’s theories have always been a fascination, as are all the historical figures who changed our world. There were so many more that I wanted to add, which will hopefully find a place in book 3!
Kerry: Ms Burns describes the books as ‘treasure’ to Blackbeard and his pirates. Is that how you see books too?
Michelle: Books are the best kind of treasure because they are different things to different people. They give us each exactly what we need.
Kerry: You’re a Children’s Rights Queensland ambassador and an Australia Reads ambassador. What drives your passion to be involved with these organisations?
Michelle: I am passionate about working with organisations that champion the rights of children, give them a voice and supply them with the tools to be the best they can be, regardless of economic or cultural barriers.
Kerry: In the book, Sass mentions ‘. . . we don’t even have a library at school anymore.’ What are your thoughts about the role of libraries and librarians in schools?
Michelle: It is a sad reality that some of the new schools I visit don’t have a full-time librarian, and some even don’t have a library. Books will always have a place in education, no matter how advanced our technology becomes. The benefits of reading a physical book on a young brain cannot be duplicated or improved on a device. Librarians are more than keepers of the books, they are the key holders and they can unlock confidence, inspiration and motivation for the kids who need it the most.
Kerry: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Michelle and best wishes for Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Published by Daisy Lane Publishing and OUT NOW. A must have for your younger readers library collection.
With thanks to Books On Tour PR & Marketing for helping to organise the interview and Daisy Lane Publishing for access to the digital copy of the book. Link to review here.
It seems spring is the time for new releases here in Australia and there have been so many wonderful books come onto the market. All of the books below are stunningly illustrated and beautifully written and my favourites so far from this year and 2020. Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a librarian, they are all must haves for your collection. I think I'm going to have to have my bookcase extended. . . There are also a few writer competitions and publisher openings both here and overseas to dive into some of which I've listed here. Happy reading and writing wherever you are!
Twitter: Fall Writing Frenzy #fallwritingfrenzy Follow @LydiaLukidis and @KaitlynLeann17 for more details
Pitch It! Competition 2021 from Just Write For Kids. More information here
Cardinal Rule Press are open for picture book submissions from now until November 1st. More information here.
It's been a long time in between blog posts! World Language and Literature Week, Virtual Author visits, a bout of illness and end of year school craziness have gotten in the way. But thankfully now we're on holidays there's more time to write, reflect and relax!
In terms of reflection, I wanted to share my favourite books for 2020. They are all by Australian authors and illustrators and I'm really proud of the fact that each one of them are absolute standouts in their respective literary genres and have already won numerous awards. I've reviewed some here under Book Reviews and now that time permits, will get around to reviewing the rest.
I really think our Aussie authors and illustrators are much undervalued and overlooked in favour of American and/or British writers by a lot of international school libraries and I hope that you will look at these and add them to your #musthaves list for 2021.