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Monday, 20 April 2015

Captain Cook Book Launch Wrap-Up!


What a gorgeous launch at the National Library on the weekend! Held in the light-filled foyer, right outside the bookshop, we gathered to chat about the life of a formidable mariner, who sailed the seven seas not once, but three times.

Introduced by the lovely Candice Cappe {above}, I used a globe to show the kids where Cook voyaged and exactly how far it is across the Pacific Ocean! Then we got into the story--and had lots of laughs along the way.

It was such a warm audience, and these kids were so bright--every question I asked, they answered.

After the reading, I signed books while my gorgeous publisher Susan presented the kids with chocolate coins.

The kids, meantime, got stuck into some fabulous seafaring activities, including the ubiquitous newspaper captain's hat, paper boats, colouring-in and word searches--and of course, what would a launch on Captain Cook be without make-your-own telescopes??

So wonderful to have some of my Canberra home girls along for the ride--Tracey Hawkins and Stephanie Owen Reeder, who was editor on the book! ...

And a thrill to meet one of my members from the 52-Week Illustration Challenge--Richelle, with her beautiful grandson Charlie ...

A huge thank you to Candice and Susan for such a fabulous launch, and to everyone who came along to celebrate. Another whopping thank you to the amazing Nicole Godwin who took the majority of these absolutely beautiful pics--and also to Melissa Squire of Honeybee Books for the use of some of hers!

If you would like to add This is Captain Cook to your own collection, you can snaffle a copy right here


Note: As this was a public event, I have featured these photos online. If you have been featured here and would prefer to have your photograph removed, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Captain Cook Book Launch at the National Library!

Sunday 19 April at 11am
Hope to see you there!

I'm so excited to announce our Captain Cook Book Launch at the National Library! Alas, my friend and illustrator Christina Booth can't be here, but there'll still be lots of fun to be had at this launch in the Library's foyer.

We'll have a book reading and signing, and some fun activities including word searches, colouring-in and making captain's hats from newspaper. You'll also have the chance to make your very own captain's telescope, and nibble some gold coins!

Click the poster above to RSVP.

If you can't make it to Canberra, you can check out the Virtual Launch by clicking on the poster below!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Peas in a Pod! My latest with Tina Snerling

I'm delighted to showcase my newest book with the gorgeous Tina Snerling​--Peas in a Pod! Out this June. Tina and I had so much fun with this book and it's just too cute! I'm totally in love with her illustrations--wait till you see inside.

The book will be launched at the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore this June, and I'm hoping to have a book reading in Canberra sometime, too, so keep an eye on my site for more.

Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are quintuplets. Since birth, they’ve done everything the same — cry, eat, sleep, sit. But as they get a little older, things start to change. Now they want to do things differently — very differently. Can Mum and Dad keep their little girls as matching peas in a pod, or will those five very individual personalities win out in the end?

Gorgeous illustrations perfectly complement this simple yet highly entertaining storyline. Sure to be enjoyed by kids and their parents!

Learn more about Peas in a Pod on the website!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Interview: Don't Think About Purple Elephants!

There was, quite possibly, no one more excited than me to learn that my friend and Kids' Book Review partner, Susan Whelan, was having her first picture book published. I've followed her journey to publication with much enthusiasm--and the resultant book--Don't Think About Purple Elephants--is finally here!

It's always fascinating to learn the ins and outs of book creation, so I sat down (virtually, including a virtual cup of tea) with Susan and illustrator Gwynneth Jones, to chat with them about their gorgeous book.

What inspired Don’t Think About Purple Elephants?
S: When my daughter was 7 years old, she had trouble with anxiety. She was often worried at bedtime when there were no distractions, and she found it difficult to get to sleep. It would sometimes take up to two hours for me to settle her. She eventually needed to see a psychologist to help her develop some healthy strategies for coping with anxiety.

During this time, I became aware of how overwhelming children’s worries can feel, and how much difference a good night’s sleep can make when dealing with problems. Once we broke the bedtime worry cycle and she was able to get enough sleep, it was much easier to help my daughter process and deal with the issues she worried about.

In Purple Elephants, Sophie is a young worrier and her family try different techniques to help her get to sleep.

How did the two of you come to work together?
G: I met Susan at a CBCA Christmas dinner in 2013; we exchanged business cards, and a couple of months later I got a call from an editor at Exisle.

S: I looked up Gwynne’s work online after meeting her at a CBCA dinner and loved her artworks, especially the way she used colour. After my manuscript for Purple Elephants was accepted by Exisle (imprint: EK Books), I was fortunate that my editor asked for input on the style of illustration. I suggested several existing picture books as examples, but also added Gwynne’s Facebook page to the list.

It’s unusual for an author to have input into the choice of illustrator and I feel lucky that EK liked Gwynne’s work as much as I did.

Gwynne, what did you do when you found out you were going to illustrate a picture book?
G: I was bursting with excitement! I think I rang my husband and my daughter and told everyone I knew. As soon as I read the manuscript, I was scribbling elephants and characters--and grinning!

Susan, what was it you liked about Gwynne’s illustration style?
S: I love the sense of fun and quirkiness in Gwynne’s artwork and her use of colour. I was particularly drawn to her works which were primarily in black, white and grey, with just a splash of colour. I think her drawings and paintings can be appreciated on several levels, and I really like that. I love that I’m still discovering things in the details of the illustrations for Purple Elephants even though I have looked at them so many times.

Gwynne, tell us your first impressions of Susan’s story.
G: My first impressions were that Susan’s story was a good one, it flowed easily and visuals popped immediately for me. I grew very fond of it over the months, and I got to know Sophie well.

Gwynne, how did the story inspire your illustrations? Did Susan give you guidance on how Sophie should look or did you ‘see’ her in your own mind?
G: The story inspired my illustrations to be meaningful yet quirky, because of the subject of anxiety. I love drawing with perspective and Susan’s story was perfect for playing with those concepts. The elephants playing with the worries of Sophie was another instant interpretation I had after reading the story.

I developed Sophie as a few different characters, with both curly and straight hair, neat and messy, blonde and dark, and showed them to Susan at our first meeting. Susan chose the one she felt matched her idea of Sophie and we decided on the hair colour, too.

Susan, left, and Gwynne launch their book at the Newcastle Writers Festival.
Read Susan's account of the launch here.

Susan, did you provide illustration notes? Gwynne, how much of the story was your own visual interpretation?
S: The illustration notes I provided with the original manuscript were very sparse. I think the only one I really mentioned specifically was the title of the book Oliver offered to Sophie as a bedtime story. I wanted it to be clear that the book might add to Sophie’s worries, so I made up a silly name as an example (The Battle of the Green Globby Aliens and Mighty Robot Warriors). I was surprised that Gwynne actually used that title in the illustration for that part of the story.

G: I had so much leeway with this book, and Susan and our editor let me do my thing, really. They delighted in the illustrations when we met with sketches and roughs and we only changed a couple of them if they didn’t work for some reason. They both gave input on what they wanted to see in the illustrations.

What was it like working together?
S: It has been such a positive experience. Gwynne was so wonderful to work with – she loved the story as much as I did and there was lots of laughter when we met for our occasional update meetings. We joked around a lot, but underneath it all there was respect for what we each brought to the story. We have developed a wonderful friendship through the process of creating this book.

It was also wonderful to work with EK who gave Gwynne and I the opportunity to really be involved in the process of developing the book at every stage. I have learned so much over the past 18 months.

G: Too much fun! The whole process was smooth from start to end, with no hiccups. I think we bounce off each other really well and share mutual respect for what we do. I have made some lovely friends.

How did you actually put the book together? Were you in constant contact/did you liaise much?
S: We met up occasionally to check in at each stage of the illustration development – first sketches, rough draft, final draft, final illustrations. Gwynne and I also caught up regularly at local CBCA and SCBWI meetings, so we were able to quickly share any updates then.

G: We met at cafés for illustration handovers of roughs every so often. We were in contact when we needed to be, but more often at the beginning and end of the project.

Tell us the idea behind the monochromatic pages. I love how they come at poignant times in the book.
G: Our editor liked this style--black and white with a dash of colour, and suggested I use that in the book for the portrayal of Sophie’s worries. I loved the idea because it’s my favourite way of drawing and I ran with it, using angles, colour and size to highlight worries.

S: I think these pages really convey how worries can dominate the way we see the world – everything else fades into the background and our ‘worry’ is the only thing we can focus on. Sometimes they seem larger than life. I think the use of colour in these illustrations conveys just as much about children’s perception of worries as the words do.

What did you find most challenging about creating this book?
S: Definitely being patient! It’s such a long process from submitting a manuscript, having it accepted, finding an illustrator, waiting for drafts and then final illustrations, waiting for design and editing, waiting for the book to be printed. It feels like it takes forever.

G: I think becoming a perfectionist in regard to my own work and acceptance was my biggest challenge. And finding enough space to put all the illustrations!

What was the most rewarding thing?
S: There is something very special about having someone else take a story you have written and bring it to life. Every time I open the book, I feel very lucky that Gwynne brought my story into the world in such a beautiful and intelligent way.

G: Creating joy for Susan, and the excitement we shared.

What do you both love most about the book?
S: I’m so proud of this book and love being able to share it with everyone. I think what I love most is that children have really responded to the story. It’s so amazing to think I've been part of creating something that children enjoy; something that can help them start conversations with their parents and carers about how they feel.

G: I think I love everything about the book, truly! I love the story, the physical feel of the book, the fact it’s my first illustrated book. I also love how it has been taken up by children and adults as a good idea to practice.

How did it feel to launch the book at the NWF?
S: It was a little overwhelming, to be honest. We have had so much support from the local community – our CBCA and SCBWI groups, the Newcastle City Library and the Newcastle Writers Festival as well as our family and friends.

The launch itself was just so much fun and such a happy event. It was amazing to see so many people there to help us celebrate.

G: Very fortunate and I’m grateful for all the help and attention. It was a big day, and not a common occurrence, especially for newcomers! Many family and friends came and it was wonderful.

What’s next for you both? Do you hope to work together again?
S: EK have just accepted another one of my manuscripts, which will be illustrated with Gwynne as part of a three book set. I’m already very excited by the preliminary sketches Gwynne has prepared, as well as her ideas for the story.

I have a few other ideas underway, both for EK and for manuscripts I'll submit to other publishers. Now it’s all about taking that scary step of approaching publishers to see if they are interested. Fingers crossed!

G: Next for me is a compendium of books with three beautiful stories, one by Susan, with EK Books. I’ve already started and am excited about creating them. I also have another project in the pipeline, so busy times ahead! I’m very happy to be working with Susan again; we had such a great experience on Purple Elephants. She may not be able to be rid of me!

Learn more about Susan at and Gwynne at You can also visit the Don't Think About Purple Elephants website for some sneak peeks inside the book, creator profiles, and a link to purchase.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

My Illustrations - Jan to March 2015

Bonus Challenge: COCOON

Some of you may know I left the 52-Week Illustration Challenge in the talented hands of my friend Nicky Johnston this year, as although last year was life-changing and glorious, I was spending far too much time immersed in the beauty of this initiative, and needed to spend more time actually creating.

2015's logo was created by the lovely Sally-May Lott

My goal has been {all along} to start illustrating some of my own books, and since the Challenge began in Jan 2014, I've been really thankful to have the chance to hone my skills and reconnect with something I used to love so much.

Late last year, I was fortunate to receive a highly-commended nod from the ASA for their Emerging Illustrator Mentorships. I receive some mentoring from one of my all-time favourite illustrators, Sue deGennaro {glorious experience!}, and we spent time going over some of my digital work for a picture book I'd been working on.

The great thing about receiving mentoring is that it's both incredibly inspiring and daunting! It's also enlightening and really helps bring focus. After chatting with Sue, I realised I was perhaps working on something that felt 'easier' to do {digital illustration} rather than something that really impassioned me {watercolour illustration}.

So, I think I'm going to make a shift and start again on a couple of my books. Daunting, yes, but every pen and brush stroke I've made have all been part of honing my skills. Every moment spent in practise is valuable.

I have a very busy year ahead and will be in book production for most of the first half of the year, so this, coupled with a refocus on my book illustration pathway, has meant little time to participate in the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. And I've missed it sooooo much. Not only for the people involved--my gorgeous admin team--and, of course, the stunning, daily artworks being posted--but because it's been such great practise--creating to a weekly theme.

I did managed to get a handful of weeks done earlier in the year--weeks 1, 2 and 3 ...

week 1: FAIRY TALE

Week 2: ITALY

Week 3: RETRO

I then had a break and didn't post again until Week 7 ...

Week 7: FARM
And week 11 ...

And tomorrow I'll be posting in Week 13 ...


I still have a long way to go, but getting back into my practise again has been so rewarding. So much so, it's made my heart sing. And I'm more inspired than ever to begin work on my aforementioned picture books.

Are you doing something that you love? Daily?

PS: if you're near Canberra and are a SCBWI member, come along to our next ACT meeting on Weds 1 April, where I'll be speaking about the Challenge and our recent exhibition in Perth. Details are here.

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