Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Reena’s Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White, illustrated by Tracie Grimwood (EK Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9781925335491

Reviewed by Anne Helen Donnelly

Reena is deaf but highly observant. She finds Dog at the park and immediately likes his playful nature. They both play hide-and-seek in the playground with the other kids. But when Reena finds herself alone in the park after not hearing the other children leave and calling out to her, she is sad. Her mother explains to her that we are all different, just like each colour of the rainbow. But, just like in a rainbow, despite our differences, we all have a place. Reena is not convinced: she feels that she does not belong, like the brown dog that does not have a home.

Then one day, Reena, with her keen eye, notices a tree branch about to fall onto one of the boys in the park. She calls out, but no-one hears her. Luckily, Dog leaps in and saves the day. The children at the park are shaken and nobody notices that Dog’s paw has been hurt from his heroic efforts. Reena takes Dog home and the pair finds they are perfect for each other. Dog is joyful with his new home and best friend and Reena’s heart is happy again. She finds her place in life’s rainbow.


Reena’s Rainbow is a picture book ideal for children 5 to 7 years old, beautifully finished with soft illustrations and a hard cover to couple with this gentle story of diversity and acceptance. Children will identify with Reena’s need to belong and to find their place.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Emelin

Emelin by Jackie Randall (Schillings), PB RRP US $7.75  
ISBN 9780995379718     
Note: 'Emelin' is sold at The Children's Bookshop, Beecroft NSW. Also as an ebook and paperback and at jackierandall.com. Australian pricing starts at $14.50.
                                 
Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

The time is 1398. Emelin is an eleven year old orphan girl with an incredible gift for creating illuminated manuscripts. She lives with her Uncle, Calibor, who taught her the craft. Life’s a struggle and money is scarce. Then Calibor receives a wonderful commission: Geoffrey Chaucer asks him to illustrate The Canterbury Tales. Other illustrators, jealous of his luck, attack Calibor and leave him to die. Emelin has the manuscript, her uncle’s tools, his precious pigments and an advance from Chaucer to complete the task in three months.

She knows she cannot stay safely at home so she sets out, in the bleak winter weather, to find somewhere to work. She joins forces with a boy named Wolf and they journey together to Reading Abbey.

Emelin’s abiding fear is that she will end up on the dead cart, and be buried in a pauper’s grave, unmourned, unnamed, unknown. This doesn’t happen. Feisty Emelin faces many trials and tribulations and eventually triumphs. Geoffrey Chaucer is so delighted with her illustrations that he offers her permanent employment.

At the book’s end, the murderer of Wolf’s father is still at large and there’s a hinted mystery about Emelin’s precious brooch. Hopefully this means there will be more books to come.

Jackie Randall’s research is meticulous. The book is full of careful detail. Readers are almost able to SMELL what it must have been like to live in medieval times. There is also fascinating information on how illuminated manuscripts were made. Emelin is an interesting, attractive character, precociously talented for someone her age. In the past girls did grow up more quickly than they do today.
Overall, the book is easy to read with plenty of action, although some sections have a potential for suspense that isn’t fully realised. A way to add value might have been to include a section of Teacher’s Notes or Historical Facts.

Emelin is recommended for readers 10+ years, especially those interested in history and art. 


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hanna: My Holocaust

Hanna: My Holocaust by Goldie Alexander (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 9781743629673

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis 

Goldie Alexander again proves herself an insightful writer; skilful and imaginative. The Holocaust and all its heartbreak, death and desolation, is always confronting and painful to read about. Goldie’s familiarity with this subject is visible. But she has presented that traumatic time in history in such a way, that the horrors are not what are showcased alone. This is a story of courage, faith, family, hope and survival.

Hannah’s narrative begins in 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto where she, her brother Adam, baby sister Ryzia, and her parents are taken by the SS after their two years’ safe hiding place is revealed by a traitor. Instead of being put to death, Papa is told to report to the Jewish Council to work as translator processing new arrivals. This employment allows him a small income to purchase food and bare necessities.

Over time, the Ghetto becomes overcrowded. People are shipped away to an unknown place. Thousands are being starved to death or randomly shot on the streets in order to diminish the population of Jews through inhumane acts.

But this is mostly eleven year-old Hannah’s story. We read about her thoughts and longings; about her love of reading and her talent in gymnastics. She is a strong and reflective child, open to adventure and change while accepting of her current position.  The loss of the things and people she loves never diminishes her faith in life and the future.

We glimpse how some German soldiers felt about killing and war; how they were forced into conscription, and into unspeakable acts in contrast to their beliefs and humanity. The back stories are vivid and realistic. Each family member’s story is reflected, even if in a minor way.  A lot of historical information is incorporated and is a flowing river through the text.

Rich Historical Notes are added at the end along with a detailed glossary of words used. This book is part of the Courage to Care education program which ‘helps us to understand how lives are affected if we let discrimination occur….’ There will be more books of this ilk coming, so look out for them.



Monday, 18 September 2017


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

In Hades


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L. Webster, (MidnightSun Publishing)   PB RRP$17.99   ISBN 9781925227253

Reviewed by Stefan Nicholson

The romantic, bohemian city of Paris is the setting for Allayne Webster’s new novel. Many Paris tourist landmarks are described in great detail during the course of the story, which adds to the authenticity of the author’s research.

The story is centred around a migrant shanty town on the outskirts of the city that is threatened with demolition. The poverty and hopelessness of its residents is shown through the lives of the homeless children who are forced into criminal activity by greedy opportunists and desperate parents.
The first chapter immediately introduces one of these children, Jorge, and his English criminal minder Bill who takes on the modern equivalent of a cruel Fagan.

The story follows Jorge’s struggle with Bill’s manipulation of his army of child thieves.  There is a secondary story surrounding Jorge’s love for Ada who is being forced to marry at the age of 10, accepted by the camp culture. Some of his friends die due to sickness and accident. Jorge realises some relief from his hopelessness in the guise of Australian chef Sticky Ricky who mentors him and the empowerment of his fellow companions as they rise to fight for a better life. The battle then is between the survival of Jorge and the defeat of Bill.

The first chapter is written in past tense to rapidly show the mechanism of the petty theft used by the team on a typical day.

From the second chapter on, the story is written in the present tense through the eyes of Jorge, to create a film-like effect. This is an interesting approach because the present tense allows the story to flow with the immediacy of sequential events, adding to the characterisation of Jorge.  We are there with Jorge as events unfold which makes the climax more intense and satisfying. It does however include expanded descriptions to the story line and the general element of suspense is somewhat diminished because we only see what Jorge sees and not what is happening elsewhere.

This story will be enjoyed by the intended middle-school audience, no doubt with some lively class discussions on the social issues it raises and the way it was written.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Once upon a Christmas

 O

Once upon a Christmas compiled and edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978 0 9922838 5 8

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

How wonderful to see an anthology of Christmas stories, poems and illustrations for children produced by this fairly new Australian publisher! Dedicated to Santa Claus, the book has an eye-catching cover of a red door on which hangs a Christmas wreath; it is also flanked on both sides by decorated Christmas trees. The book is a visual treat with coloured plates by illustrators including Fiona McDonald, Stephen Axelson, Kim Gamble, and black and white illustrations by Allan Stomann, Nette Hilton, David Allan, and others.
Every page in the book is garlanded with black and white borders of ribbons with bells and mistletoe to help create a festive flavour. The book’s contributors, from both Australian and overseas writers and illustrators, are numerous.

So what of the book’s contents? Just to say that it is wide and varied. Christmas family memoirs include Isabelle Merlin’s recollections as a French child living in Sydney (she even includes a recipe for a French Christmas log cake). Dawn Meredith compares her first Christmases in England with beach visits in Australia and a Christmas in Norway with her extended family. Libby Hathorn writes of a bush Christmas. Susanne Gervay pays tribute to her late parents.

Some stories are set in blazing hot Australia; others take place in bleak and snowy overseas. Victoria Nugent’s ‘Festival Floods’, describes another scenario while Beattie Alverez’s story is set in a toy factory. Subject matter is truly varied. In ‘Season of Plenty’, Rebecca Fung tells a story from Santa’s point of view; Helen Evans writes about a pirate Christmas. Sophie Masson retells a traditional Russian Christmas legend in ‘Babushka and the Star’.

Animals feature in a number of stories such as Sue Bursztynski’s ‘The Sheepdog in the Stable’ and Sally Odger’s story about animals which can speak on the night of Christmas Eve. Duncan Ball contributes a humorous Selby the speaking dog tale, Nettie Hilton writes of a mouse.

It is gratifying to see several poems by Australia’s very talented Anne Bell, including her poignant, ‘The Donkey’, one of the very few references to Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Adele Geras’s ‘Christmas at the Homeless Shelter’ is another powerful poem worthy of mention.

There is much one could say about this engrossing anthology. It is certainly comprehensive and full of hours of reading for children aged 9+ years (and for adults, too). My only criticism is that some of the stories seem over-long. A special feature of the book is contributors’ biographies at the end of the book. There is also a comprehensive copyright acknowledgement page. Well done Christmas Press for this excellent addition to children’s literature!

Books can be purchased at www.christmaspresspicturebooks.com


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Ori’s Christmas

Ori’s Christmas by Anne Helen Donnelly (self-published) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9780646962207

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

Ori is preparing for Christmas and asks each of his friends what they would like to do on Christmas Day – but when the day comes the choices made by others are not liked by everyone.  The solution is compromise and everyone ends up having a great day.

This picture book is suitable for pre-school and kindergarten groups.  It contains two special features:

1.     There are actions to do as you follow along with the story that will delight small children.
2.     There are Christmas decorations to colour-in, cut out and hang on the Christmas tree.

Anne Helen Donnelly includes notes for Parents and Teachers to further engage participation with this book. She has published another book called Ori the Octopus in the same vein that includes Christmas decorations to colour and cut out.  You can also take a look at her website that includes extra activities to do with both books:  http://www.annehelendonnelly.com

So if you are ready for some Christmas shopping, be sure to add this book to your list.

Brook Tayla writes a Children’s Literature blog called telltalestome@wordpress.com.  Drop by to subscribe and read some reviews.


Friday, 8 September 2017

Self-Publishing by Sofia Goodsoul

So far, I have indie-published three picture books for young children. As an emergency kindergarten teacher, I see that some social and behavioural issues have to be discussed with children, but can’t find appropriate literature.  I have been working as an emergency kindergarten teacher for over a decade. Being an active teacher gives me the opportunity to communicate with children, who invigorate themes and inspiration for my books.

Self-publishing is both challenging and interesting. I wanted to know inside-outs of this new to me industry. My self-publishing journey started with an online Write Story Books for Children course provided by IAO (International Accreditation Organization). There are 18 modules in this course, including Getting Published/Self-published. After completing this course I wanted to apply just learned into practice. https://www.writestorybooksforchildren.com/

If you had your work assessed and/or edited privately, can you give details, please?                                                                                    Wendy Monaghan from Wendy Monaghan Editing Services (IPEd-accredited editor) helped me with all our published picture books.   Wendy treated both my work and me with the highest professionalism and regard. She was always more than happy to guide me through the editing process.  http://www.wendymonaghan.com.au/

How did you find your illustrator?                                                                                    Finding the right illustrator was the most time-consuming task in the whole publishing process. As we know, the majority of authors can visualize their stories. Some of them 'see' their story in a particular art style. I am not an exception. My vision made me to go through hundreds of art-portfolios till I selected five artists. Then, I asked them to illustrate just one verse from my story "Nian, the lunar dragon". One illustration, by Marina Kite, matched a 'picture' in my mind. She is a free-lance artist from Europe. Marina is a very experienced illustrator with more than 100 books in her portfolio. She also helped me with implementing my book and cover design ideas.  I call myself 'lucky' for virtually meeting her around two years ago. Since then, we have created 3 picture books together. I can't be happier with my illustrator! http://illustrators.ru/

What was your printing experience?          Despite print-on-demand online printing options, I decided to search for a local printing company. My first printing experience was with Ink Asia http://inkasia.com.au/  I found this company online and contacted their Sydney office. Their representative came to meet me in Melbourne a couple weeks later. There were a few objective and subjective issues we experienced along the way that why for my latest book, Easy-peazy, lemon squeezy. I decided to ask for recommendations from some established authors. They recommended Tingleman Print Media Group located in Melbourne.

It was quite handy for me to work with this company due to their close locality, professionalism and transparent printing process. The end product quality was outstanding and the unit cost of 1500 copies was a competitive $3.28.  I would recommend this service for you self-publishing projects.   http://www.tingleman.com.au/

How will you distribute copies?                                                                                          As an emergency teacher working for a teaching agency, I have a great opportunity to introduce my books to teachers at different early childhood facilities. Also, I have been running Creative Reading with Children Program and selling my books at the Federation Square book market on Saturdays. Again, with my fellow authors' recommendation, I was lucky to sign a distributing contract with INT BOOKS, a national distributor and publisher of books for school aged children.  http://intbooks.com.au/

How do you promote your  books?                                                                                    I started creating my media platform with a search for a website developer. Cherry jam & web graphic design company http://www.cherryjam.com.au/   helped me to develop my author's website: http://www.sofiagoodsoul.com.au/

My next step was to spread a word about me and my ideas. For that purpose I opened: FB profile: https://www.facebook.com/sofiagoodsoul                                                                                             Instagram profile:  https://www.instagram.com/sofiagoodsoul.com.au/                                                              Google profile :https://plus.google.com/105750348655544788069/posts/3sRQrbyW7kg     Linkedin profile :  https://www.linkedin.com/in/sofia-goodsoul-a64a2a104/?ppe=1                                             

I am a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and CBCA (The Children’s Book Council of Australia), where I have my author's profile and books listed for purchase.

Two of my first books Frog Todd and Nian, the Lunar Dragon are available in Kindle format on Amazon.com. Book reviews and interviews have contributed to the media presence, too. 
What I learnt from my self-publishing experience is that even if your dreams lie in with traditional publishers, your indie-publishing journey will benefit your future industry collaborations.                                                                                                  

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Interview with children's author Allison Paterson

Can you tell readers about your latest book?                    Shearing Time is my latest children’s picture book released in March this year. It is a charming tale of a day in the life of a farm kid as the family work together to get the shearing done. From sunrise to sunset there are sheep with attitude, a shed of shearers, dogs with personality and a country kitchen to open the door on the life of a country kid.  http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Children/Shearing-Time-HB/1163/productview.aspx

What is the book’s history to  publication?                        Shearing Time is a companion tale to my 2016 publication Granny’s Place, featuring the same characters, including Granny who makes a cameo appearance baking the scones and telling the shearers to mind their manners. I submitted the manuscript after Granny’s Place was accepted

Why did you choose Big Sky Publishing as your publisher?                                                                      Big Sky Publishing saw the value in my adult non-fiction title Anzac Sons, so they have been the first publisher with which I have worked. They love Australian content and my stories are quintessentially Australian, so it progressed from Anzac Sons to the children’s version and then to the children’s picture books. www.bigskypublishing.com.au

How long did it take from submission of your manuscript to receipt of advance copies?                                                                                                                               I submitted the manuscript in July, 2015 and we had our advance copies in January this year, 2017.

Which editor did you work with at BSP? How was the editing experience for you?         I worked with Sharon Evans at BSP. We were still changing words the day before the typeset version went to the printers. Once Shane created his outstanding illustrations we could take out chunks of text to allow the illustrations to tell the story and bring the tale to life. I look forward to the editing process; it is a chance to polish and I appreciate that BSP involve the author all the way to the end.

Can you tell readers about the book’s illustrator?                                                             Shane McGrath is a talented artist who lives in Melbourne. He worked with me on Granny’s Place, so the characters and style of Shearing Time are consistent. Although he grew up in the city, he also spent a lot of time on family farms just a short drive of an hour or so from the farms of my childhood. He was the perfect choice. Shane realistically captures the colours and landscapes of Australia and rural life with charm and accuracy, he adds humour and connections to his own life as well as mine. I love his work!

Would you recommend Big Sky Publishing to other authors?                                            The team at BSP are terrific. If you have a great Australian story to tell, submit it to BSP.

Have you had success with any of your books?                                                                  I was very honoured when Anzac Sons was long-listed in the ABIA awards and was also a notable in the CBCA awards in 2016.

What are you working on at the moment?                                                                          I am living dangerously, challenging myself and making a genre change to Young Adult historical fiction. This will be a tale that connects the past and the present and draws on both my knowledge of Australian involvement in WWI and, as a teacher, some of the issues that young adults experience today. Understanding your past can guide you to your future…!


Anything else you’d like to add?                                                                                        The manuscript I am working on is being completed with the assistance of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust and a 2017 Creative Time Fellowship. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to write in Canberra for four weeks where the inspirational and invaluable Australian War Memorial was just up the track!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Interview with Comic Artist Queenie Chan

How would describe yourself as a creator?                                                                                            I'm a comic book writer-artist, and I identify myself as such even when I produce work that is in a mix of prose and comics. I draw mostly in a manga-style format, which is a style of comics popular in Japan and much of Asia. My background is in visual story-telling, and while I like to experiment with different types of narrative forms, it's very important for me to be able to tell my own stories. Because of this, I generally prefer to describe myself as a “writer who draws” rather than any kind of visual artist or illustrator. At heart, I'm a writer – namely one who likes to express myself in a mix of words and images.

What is your artistic background?                                                                                                          Whether in writing or drawing, I'm completely self-taught. Most comic book writers or artists of a certain age tend to be – it wasn't until these past 10 years that comics have become a dominant part of the literary and pop-cultural landscape. Personally, I never drew as a child – I only started drawing when I was 18, and only because I had stories I wanted to tell in comic format. I just picked up a pen and started drawing, and visual story-telling has been a hobby for me ever since. Since my motivation for drawing is to tell stories visually, I rarely produce art outside the context of a story, and this remains true today.

How do you make a living?                                                                                                                        I've been working for the family business since I was a teenager, so that is how I earn my keep. Many comic book writers and illustrators work outside comics to make ends meet, whether it's in teaching or graphic design, but thanks to my family background I've been able to avoid that and concentrate on what I love doing. There are a handful of comic book artists and writers who are able to make a full-time living from comics alone, but they are in the minority because drawing comics is such a labour-intensive and poorly-paid job. I don't mind this – for me, producing books at my own pace is far less punishing than working to a tight schedule, which is what you need to do in order to make a living in comics since a lot of the paying work is in serialised superhero comics.

When did you begin as an illustrator? What was your first publishing success?                                      I started writing and drawing my own comics as a hobby in university, but what propelled me into the comics industry was the 2002 dot com bust. I had just graduated from university with an IT degree, and was unable to find a job, so I began to look at the other marketable skills I had.
At the time, manga was beginning to take off in America. Almost out of nowhere, it became a sizeable and growing portion of the bookstore market. The company spearheading this success was TOKYOPOP, an LA-based company that was looking for international manga-style artists at the time, which is how I got my foot in the door. TOKYOPOP published The Dreaming in 2005, a 3-book mystery horror series about a haunted school in the Australian bush where schoolgirls disappeared. It was a quintessentially Australian story which sold fairly well and got translated into multiple different languages, so that was my first published work.

What books have you so far published?                                                                                               Like most comic artists, I have works published with publishers (in my case, both American and Australian), and also self-published works. In order of published works, my first published work was The Dreaming series (from TOKOYPOP), followed by three graphic novel prequels by Dean Koontz which I illustrated called “In Odd We Trust”, “Odd Is On Our Side” and “House of Odd” (from Randomhouse Del Rey). After that, I did some art for “Boy's Book of Positive Quotations” (from Fairview Press), and then I collaborated with Australian author Kylie Chan on a prequel called “Small Shen” (from Harper Collins Voyager).

Of my own self-published books which I publish under the name Bento Comics, I have the “Fabled Kingdom” series, followed by “Short Ghost Stories: The Man with the Axe in his Back.” I've also collected my older short stories into a book called “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010”.

What is your starting point when you are about to create a graphic novel?                                                                                                                                                       If I'm writing the story, I always make sure that there are solid world-building and interesting characters. The characters should also have good rapport with each other, which will allow the world and the relationships to be expanded upon in an on-going format. Even if the story is a stand-alone, I have to make sure that there is enough fertile ground for the characters and/or the world to bear multiple different stories and story threads since comics is a serialised form of story-telling. Lastly, I make sure that there is a strong central story that will gird the characters and their motivations. Without a strong core story, the graphic novel may be a tough sell to readers even if you have a well-built world and characters.
If I'm just illustrating and not writing, then I always make sure I speak with the original author and understand their intent for their characters and story. Usually this starts with the character design process – I often ask authors to “cast” a story using Hollywood actors so I can grasp how an author “sees” a particular character. You'll be surprised at how often an author can give an incorrect visualisation of what a character is meant to look like.

Can you tell readers about your experience with your publishers?                                                        I've worked with a number of publishers and their imprints, including TOKYOPOP, Random House Del Rey, Fairview Press, Harper Collins Voyager and Hachiette Yen Press. As such, I've worked with a number of different editors too, and mostly I find that the publishers take a hands-off approach with the exception of Yen Press. One of the reasons is possibly because comics are such a new format in publishing that there are very few editors who know how to edit comics properly. Since I'm one of the few creators who can write, draw and edit, they seem to  mostly leave me alone and check in on me only once in a while. The one editor from Yen Press who had some input was mostly about character designs.

On the other hand, Bento Comics is my own publishing imprint, so I get to do what I want with my own stories. Oddly enough, there isn't much difference between working for myself and for established publishers, except for having to hire copy editors probably because the publishers have had such a hands-off approach all along.

How active are you in the comics’ world?                                                                                             I'm quite active with the Australian comics’ scene, which despite having a fair amount of talent is quite scattered across the country. I'm currently helping to procure a booklist for a comics library festival called “Comic Con-versation” which is a week-long festival involving 20 Sydney libraries that celebrate local comics. It was started by Karen Dwarte of Ashfield Library, and is in its fourth year of running, so it's great to see librarians be interested in Australian comics.
Apart from that, I exhibit at various comic and pop culture conventions across Australia, including Supanova and Comic-Con. I like going to the smaller cons especially, such as ComicGong and the Comic Con-versation Artist Alleys. I've also presented papers at academic conferences about the International Manga scene, and I sometimes run workshops too.

Are there any particular illustrators whose work inspires you?                                                               I think my greatest inspiration is still Osamu Tezuka, who is best known for being the creator of “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion” in the west. However, it's not his kid's work that I'm enamoured with (though it's perfectly fine), but his more challenging adult work. What I like about him is his humanism and his willingness to write for adults at a time when manga in Japan was still considered for children. Also, as a comics’ storyteller, he still does things with his panelling that I've not seen any other comic creator do.

I also like Eichiro Oda, the creator of “One Piece”, which is the best-selling manga in history. The breadth of his imagination is incredible; “One Piece” is the only weekly comic I've read that has been going on for 20 years, yet is still fun and interesting to read.

Which are your favourite books for young readers?                                                                                  I would recommend One Piece, since it's a fun, goofy adventure story about pirates that a lot of kids can get into. In terms of Western graphic novels, I can recommend a lot of work from the Scholastic Graphix imprint, which has a lot of great graphic novels for younger readers.

What are your future plans as a book creator?                                                                                          Now that I've finished Fabled Kingdom v1-3, I've considered continuing the story with another three books, but for now, I think I may take a break and work on shorter projects instead. I've been experimenting with colour (finally), and am looking to do some zines and mini-comics just to hone my skills. I'm also currently planning a longer graphic novel for teen audiences which will be in colour, so hopefully I will be able to nail down the colouring and the art style before I move onto that.


Anything else you’d like to add?                                                                                                               I have a lot of free comics, articles, tutorials, and random art on my website at www.queeniechan.com, so please feel free to drop by and contact me if you wish. I also have an online webstore with free shipping for Australia and the US, so you can buy some of my books for those who are interested in hard copies of my published work!