Well, add to that the fact that the author in question is a friend and partner in children's literary love over at Kids Book Review... well, let's just say I'm thrilled to be part of the launch of Tania McCartney's Riley and the Curious Koala. The third in the Riley series, following on from Riley and the Sleeping Dragon and Riley and the Dancing Lion, this is another truly special picture book filled with stunning photographs, gorgeous illustrations and beautiful words. Riley is travelling the world in his little red aeroplane, and this is his first Australian adventure.
I emailed Tania recently - well, we email every day actually - but this time I asked all the questions...
Tell us a bit about you. I often tell school kids I’m ‘just a regular mum who happens to write’ because that’s what I am. Kids so often look to the skies when they think of authors – as something elusive and unobtainable. It’s so not true. I may write books but I still have to cook, clean, shop and churn out manuscript proposals! I’ve always written – since I was a child – but true to my personality, I have stretched myself very thinly, writing in countless genre, most of it adult non-fiction (including workshops, blog articles and plays) but my main writing experience has been in magazines, which I utterly adore. I’ve written countless fiction and non-fiction manuscripts for adults, but children’s books came later.
Right now I live in Canberra with my husband, two kids and a mountain of books (I can hardly get in the door – seriously). I’m a bit of a nomad – I’ve moved over 60 times in my lifetime and have lived in almost every Australian state and four different countries. I’ve had countless jobs from barmaid to flight attendant and marketing assistant, but I’ve always returned to writing and I feel really fortunate to be writing full time now. I love travel, kindness, photography and anything made from paper (yes, yes, that includes books). I don’t like papercuts, mugs nor rabbit poop.
What made you decide to begin writing for children? I had always been obsessed with kids books. Even before I had children, I had a large collection, and after my kids were born, I wrote several manuscipts, but never thought to approach a publisher. We were living on post in China and I had a maid (no, I don’t have one now, thanks for the reminder), so instead of cleaning toilet bowls (which is now a full time occupation here in Canberra), I had all this spare time to write.
I became a kids editor for several expat magazines in Beijing and when I wrote the Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing (2008) manuscript as sort of a memento for my children and their years in Beijing, people kept pestering me to publish it. Printing in China was so cheap and I had the promotional backing of several large magazines, so I decided to self-publish. To my surprise, it worked – I sold almost 2000 books in three months to the expat community, and that book continues to sell in several Chinese cities.
When we moved home to Australia in January 2009, I thought Riley and the Sleeping Dragon would sink faster than a pork dumpling, but to my surprise, it’s done really well – I have an Australian distributor and the book appeared in the prestigious ABA’s Kids Reading Guide 2009/2010. Recoiling from shock, I decided to continue the series and released Riley and the Dancing Lion: A journey around Hong Kong in 2009. Riley and the Curious Koala: A Journey around Sydney comes out this November, 2010.
Since launching Kids Book Review and becoming so involved in the children’s book industry, I’ve garnered the courage to write more children’s manuscripts and this year have written around 10 books – from picture books through to junior fiction. I’ll still write adult non-fiction but I have absolutely fallen head over heels for children’s writing. I feel like I’m home when I work on these books.
What else do you write? I had a book on names published by Hodder Headline in 1995 (You Name It) and I also published a memoir in 2009 (Beijing Tai Tai). I’ve had hundreds of magazine articles, blog feature articles and posts published and I also write marketing material for Handmade Canberra and adult non-fiction. I’m releasing my first lifestyle book this December (in conjunction with Handmade Canberra) – handmade living and I’m so excited about that. It’s lead to other non-fiction proposals to publishers, which is exciting. I’m also a Senior Editor for Australian Women Online where I love writing feature and news articles, and reviewing books. Oh and I review books and blog for Kids Book Review.
What do you love about your work? It’s all-consuming fun, really. I just breathe it. When I’m not physically writing, I’m thinking and dreaming about writing. I write stories obsessively in my head and am totally lost without a pencil to write things down. The feeling I get when I write something is a combined head rush, heart palpitation and an almost burning in my gut that makes me want to squeal (with delight, not pain!). My heart truly tumbles about in my body.
Writing in all genres is fun, but writing for children allows me to be so freely creative – it’s just pure freedom – in every way. And witnessing the reaction from kids when they read my books is just pure elation. Knowing I’ve added to the literary fantasy of their childhood is unbelievable. Other than my family and health, there’s not much that makes me feel more grateful.
What were the inspirations behind your Riley series? Travel. It’s an obsession and we’ve been fortunate to bear two kids who also love it – they’ve been to seven different countries with us (soon to be eight) and they are sensational travel companions… I feel so lucky (mind you, we started travelling with them very young!).
Australian children are some of the best travelled in the world – we are a nomadic people and we love to immerse ourselves in other lands and culture. I personally believe travel is extremely educational for children – it opens their little brains and pours in tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness. Plus, it’s heaps of fun. For those kids who can’t do a lot of travel, I wanted to write a series that would allow them to armchair travel to places around the globe, hence the photos throughout the Riley books. These books are a great way for younger kids to get to know a far off city, to prepare for travel or act as a memento of their trip.
The series has been an incredibly successful example of self-publishing - why do you think that is? Because I’ve done it well. I don’t necessarily mean the books themselves (although I do hope people think they are good!) I mean the way they‘re done. It’s best quality all the way. Best layout, design, pictures, printing, binding, marketing – everything. So many self-published books (frustratingly) add to the stigma that self-published books are lesser quality because they, well - are lesser quality. I’ve seen some shockers, and alas, that is many.
But there’s also an increasing number of amazing books being self-published, that simply cannot be overlooked. Self-publishers also suffer the indignity of being labeled quasi-failures because they couldn’t get a publishing house to take on their book. This is not true. Publishers are the first to admit many brilliant books are never accepted by a house (Harry Potter rejected a dozen times – hello!) and in that way, being house published is as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is about talent. In fact, I have never approached a house about my Riley books. I’ve done them all on my own, with no help (other than my distributor) and have sold more copies than many house published books have in the same amount of time.
If anyone is serious about self-publishing, they need to do it beautifully, all the way – and produce something that rivals house publications. They also need to realize that most of the work will come after the books is published. Marketing and promotion is full time, hard work that never ends. I’ve talked more on self-publishing during this blog tour – you can see the Blog Schedule for more.
What’s your approach to photographing scenes for the books? I’m a keen amateur photographer and take a million (well, not a million, but almost) photos whenever we travel, so I have a huge catalogue of pictures to choose from – right back to the 80s when I first started travelling. For the Riley books, I always look for sweeping vistas that can accommodate Riley, his plane and his friends, and also showcase the chosen city to its fullest potential. I chose to use black and white photos in the book to give the books a ‘coffee table travel book’ feel – and also to make the red plane and colourful characters pop on each page. Despite publisher indications to the contrary, kids love the black and white photos and it’s one of the top five comments I receive from children on why they love the books.
Tell us a bit about the latest book – Riley and the Curious Koala. This is Riley’s third adventure. It takes place in Sydney where Riley and his friends Panda, Dragon (from book 1) and Lion (from book 2) search this gorgeous city for the elusive and curious koala. Each Riley book sees Riley and his friends hunting down an iconic animal but each book has a little twist and a cultural or otherwise endemic message to it. As koalas don’t drink much water, this book starts out in heavy rain and has a water focus (perfect for Sydney).
The adventurous team always finds what they’re looking for but of course, it’s often not what they expected, and that is absolutely true of Curious Koala. This book is a little less text heavy than the second book and is much funnier. I love it. It’s my favourite yet. The ending is so adorable and very Aussie. Oh, and Panda goes through a bit of a transformation… this will be fun for kids, as he is their favourite character.
Where would you love Riley’s next destination to be (even if just for a research trip!)? The 2011 book (no. 4) will probably be set in Vietnam, though I’m tossing up a Californian coastal tour to take things away from Asia for a little while. 2012 is definitely Canberra (for the upcoming centenary) and 2013 – well, I’d love for it to be Europe but I’d need to go back for more photos and I can’t see that happening any time soon (authors don’t get paid much!) so it will more than likely be New Zealand, which I’m VERY excited about.
As for a dream destination to shoot for a future book… Antarctica.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Write. Writers write. They don’t just talk about it. And get some chutzpah about you. Some confidence. Have faith in your work and your talent. What will a publisher say? No? So what? Try another. Rewrite. Ask advice. Network. Educate yourself. Study. Become involved in the children’s book writing scene. Show trusted people (and kids) your work. Be open to criticism and advice but follow your heart, too. Rejection slips are normal and frequent, even for well-established and famous authors. Just keep writing. Often, the difference between a successful author and a not so successful one is tenacity. Oh – and learn how to market and promote yourself effectively.
What else do you like to do, other than write books? Not much! I try to get the house clean and iron the school uniforms occasionally (my poor, bedraggled kids). I spend time with the kids and see my husband occasionally. I daydream about travel or plan trips. I run Kids Book Review, respond to emails and write pieces for magazines. (Oh wait, that’s more writing…) Basically, I don’t get out much.
What would be your perfect day? A long stretch, cuddles from the kids, an invigorating swim, a blowdry and manicure with a great coffee, brunch with my family in the sunshine, writing, a browse at Borders, writing, a movie with the kids, writing, shopping with my daughter, writing, a Chinese massage, writing, BBQ dinner outside on our decking, a glass of champagne while playing charades with the kids in the garden, writing, snuggling on the couch to watch pay TV with my husband, fighting over the remote.
If there was no reality involved, I would write all day long and receive 5 – hang it, let’s make it 10 - publisher acceptance phone calls over breakfast in Paris, lunch in Hoi An, dinner in San Francisco and a show in New York city. I said If.
What else are you working on at the moment? I’ve completed around ten children’s book manuscripts this year, all of which are with publishers awaiting the ‘verdict’ (including a fabulous book series with a certain Kids Book Review partner!) – and I’ve started work on a very exciting historical kids book for a major publisher; hopefully out by next Christmas. My Beijing Tai Tai memoir is being republished in 2011 and I’m busy revising and updating it for the Australian market. I’ve also started some more non-fiction books – for both adults and children, and I plan to work on chapter books and more picture books in 2011. The next handmade living book will start production in January – A Handmade Christmas. Oh – and I’m working on my butt and thighs. It’s not a good look. Occupational hazard.
And you, dear readers - do you want more Tania McCartney?
♥ Follow her blog tour this week
♥ Buy the books
♥ Check out her blog
♥ Go to Kids Book Review
♥ See her work at Australian Women Online
♥ And watch the shelves at your local bookshop...
|Abbey loves the Riley books!|