Hi Valerie and welcome back to The Book Tree.
Kerry: Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! is your latest picture book release. Where did the idea for this new book come from?
Valerie: The idea for this book came from watching the games children play outside and thinking about the activities I loved as a child. Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! is a book that, I hope, encourages readers to go outdoors and have fun – as all children should.
Kerry: I love the diversity and inclusion in this story. Is this something reflected in your own neighbourhood?
Valerie: My current neighborhood is somewhat diverse but not as diverse as my childhood one. I believe it’s important for children to have friends in their own neighborhood, regardless of its diversity, but it’s equally necessary to travel outside of that community to expand their circle and, hopefully, meet more people from diverse backgrounds.
Kerry: Do you still hand write your ideas in notebooks like you did when you were younger?
Valerie: All of my writing is done on the computer. That’s the method that works
best for me these days. I do keep paper and pen by my bedside, so if an idea occurs to me just before I fall asleep, I can jot it down.
Kerry: How important do you think it is for young writers to understand and use rhyme in their writing?
Valerie: Children should be introduced to a variety of writing styles and have the opportunity to try them out. Rhyme is one of those styles, and I would want young writers to give it a try because it will allow them to explore language in a fun way. It also presents a challenge – thinking critically about what words fit best together, like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. I wouldn’t force young writers to rhyme if it’s not working for them, however. Even when writing poetry, children don’t have to use rhyme.
Kerry: Are there any particular authors who have inspired you on your journey as a writer?
Valerie: My mentor, Kelly Starling Lyons, has been a great source of inspiration. Her books have served as mentor texts for me, and our conversations have provided so much helpful information about writing, publishing, and book promotion.
Another author who inspires me is my agent, James McGowan. He champions my work, helps me get my writing submission-ready, and answers my plethora of questions about the publishing industry.
Kerry: What are you reading at the moment?
Valerie: Currently, I’m reading an adult book, Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. However, some fall picture books that I’m looking forward to reading are: Hold Them Close by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Patrick Dougher, Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change by Tameka Fryer Brown & Nina Crews, and Paati’s Saris by Jyoti Rajan Gopal & Art Twink.
Kerry: Thanks so much for dropping by for an interview Valerie!
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.
Are you carrying garlic? Are you careful not to tread on the cracks? Yes it's that spooky time of the year again! There are some fantastic stories that get read and published around this time of the year and I wanted to share some of my all time favourites.
First of all the picture books. The only really recent picture book one is Oliver Jeffers' There's A Ghost in this House (I love anything by that man!) and although not necessarily Halloween themed, the others are definitely spooky and ghostly. Sounds Spooky is fabulous story and the artwork and stop motion by Sarah Davis is outstanding. If you haven't read Gary Crew and Shaun Tan's The Viewer you really should as it's VERY creepy and I'm pretty sure it will send a shiver down your spine! I'd recommend that one in particular for older primary students. All the others are recommended for ages 6 - 10.
I've only included three middle grade ones this year. I know there are lots more out there but these are ones I could read again and again. The Greenglass House is a series of five books each equally enthralling. Kate Milford's series had me hooked from the beginning with the two captivating main characters and the game of Odd Trails. The Hungry Ghost by H. S. Norup is a wonderful story that gives an insight into the month of the hungry ghosts - a traditional Asian celebration that occurs during the seventh month of the Lunar calendar (so not always during Halloween) where the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth and get up to lots of mischief if ignored! And last but not least is Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. This has to be one of THE BEST opening chapters to a spooky story I've ever read. I literally could not put this one down and read it in a day. All of these are suitable for ages 11 +
Have fun reading these spectacularly spooky stories and don't forget to keep a lookout for shadows out of the corner of your eye!