The Fix It Man – The Writer’s Journey

I’m so thrilled to welcome Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston, and their beautiful new book The Fix It Man to my blog today.

Nicky and Dimity are both dear friends and amazingly talented people, and I’ve been lucky enough to share the journey of their wonderful picture book from initial idea to publication.fullsizerender

First, congratulations Dimity and Nicky on such a beautiful book.

Now … About The Fix It Man.

ex_fixitman_cvr_300THE JOURNEY

Back in early 2013, Dimity sent me her draft manuscript, The Fix It Man, and asked if I would help her get it ready to submit for publication. It was already a truly beautiful manuscript. The moving storyline was there and the language was lyrical, but I did have a couple of suggestions.

The Beginning

This is how the story originally started:

My Dad can fix anything.
No job is too difficult. No repair is too big. Or too small. Sticky tape is his preferred tool of trade and Super Dooper Dad Glue.
When butterfly bead bracelets break, Dad’s there. When mermaid kite tails tear, Dad’s there. When skipping ropes unravel and rip, Dad’s there.

Burst bulbs, cracked cups, and fractured furniture. Dad never knocks back a challenge.
Because that’s what daddies do.

fixing-dog-house_nickyjohnstonMy suggestion

Dimity’s beginning was already beautifully evocative, but I suggested that the story problem … Mum’s illness … could be introduced into the story earlier and that way readers would connect with the character straight away. I said …

Bringing the story problem in earlier would allow you to take more time in the story with Mum’s illness and eventual passing – and show Dad’s increasingly desperate attempts to fix her. It would create more tension and allow the reader more of an emotional connection.

Language and Tense

Dimity’s language was already beautiful, but I felt it could be strengthened by using consistent forms of words for example, Dad and Mum, rather than switching to Daddy or Mummy and back again.

Sometimes when you get caught in the emotion of the story, it’s easy to slip in a different tense … and this was something else we worked on in The Fix It Man.

But overall, this was such a strong story, that there really wasn’t a whole lot of work to do … and Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous illustrations have strengthened and enhanced it even more.kitchen_nicky_johnston

The Story

In The Fix It Man a young girl believes her father is the king of fixing things, but following the death of her mother, she discovers that broken hearts are not as easy to repair as damaged toys and cracked teapots. Together, she and her father find a way to glue back the pieces of their lives.

The Fix It Man is a poignant picture book that explores how a child can cope with the loss of a parent (in this case, the young girl’s mother). Grief affects all members of a family, with each responding in their own way to the loss. By sticking with her father, the young girl is able to strengthen her resilience and ability to cope with one of life’s harshest experiences. The author was encouraged to seek publication for this story after receiving the endorsement of several grief counsellors who work with children and who recognised the need for a book such as this.

In The Fix It Man grief is handled in such a gentle sensitive way, and despite the subject matter, readers are left with feelings of hope.

There are not many characters in this story, but each one has been well crafted with an authenticity that makes them so relatable.

To hold The Fix It Man in my hand has filled me with so much happiness for these creators. There’s such symmetry between Dimity’s text and Nicky’s evocative illustrations which take the story to a whole new level.

They truly capture the emotion and poignancy of the subject matter and the beautiful relationship between father and daughter.

I can see The Fix It Man providing a wonderful conversation book in homes and schools, not just for gently introducing children to the concept of loss, but for building empathy for others.


To celebrate the launch of The Fix It Man, Dimity and Nicky’s blog burst is taking them to many other wonderful places in cyberspace.

You can check them out here:



International Author Sails in With Some Fabulous Writing Insights

I first met extraordinary author Mina Witteman at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference where she was also the representative of SCBWI Netherlands through her role as Regional Advisor.

By a strange coincidence, we both successfully applied for the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship Program and here we are pictured above.

As well as being a much-loved writer, Mina is also a huge advocate for children’s and young adult creators and the publishing industry.

In 2015 I was lucky to be invited by Mina to present a writing workshop at the second SCBWI Europolitan Conference she organised in Amsterdam. She is one of the three founding members of this bi-annual conference that offers a great opportunity for children’s book creators to connect with each other and with publishing professionals from all over the world.


My Amsterdam writing workshop

Mina was Regional Advisor for SCBWI Netherlands for more than five years from 2011 to 2016, and as well as organising amazing events in that part of the world she was also responsible for member communications. The Dutch chapter of the SCBWI is one of the nominating bodies of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s most prestigious children’s book award.

Mina is a member of the EU Planning Committee of Undiscovered Voices anthology whose aim is to discover new talent in Children’s and YA lit. In addition to this she spent four years as the Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild in the Netherlands.

She is still a Jury member of the Young Authors Fiction Festival organised by the American Library in Paris. dsc_4667

In between doing all this amazing advocacy work for the children’s book industry, Mina still finds time to create her wonderful stories for children, and that’s what she’s here to talk to us about today. She writes across all genre and age groups from picture book to young adult.

She currently divides her time between her hometown Amsterdam and San Francisco, where she is researching for a number of new works.


  1. Mina, your latest very popular series follows the adventures of Boreas, a young boy who circumnavigates the world with his parents on a sailboat. Can you tell us where the character of Boreas came from?

My favorite childhood book was Margaret Wise Brown’s
THE SAILOR DOG, a Little Golden Book about a dog that sailed around the world, and another one of my favorites was GIDEONS REIZEN (Gideon’s Travels), a book by famous Dutch children’s book author An Rutgers van der Loeff. Both books opened new and excitingly unknown worlds. From the first time my mother read me THE SAILOR DOG, I wanted to sail with Scupper on his ship. I wanted to hang my hat on a hook next to his, my spyglass on a hook next to his and have a bunk for a bed. I wanted to explore new worlds with him. Just like I wanted to travel with Gideon and his father to the mesmerizing new worlds they traveled to. With the Boreas series I hope to open new worlds to my readers, too.

2. You have mentioned to me before that these books come from your own personal experiences? Can you elaborate on this?
Sailing is in my blood, too. Thanks to my father, a sailor in heart and soul, we could sail before we could ride a bike, and that is something extraordinary in a country, where people are basically born bicycling.

We sailed a lot, first in a small open boat on a nearby lake and later on my father’s yacht out on the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. When we kids had all left home, my father left his firm – he was an architect – and his house, bought a bigger yacht and whisked my mother away on a sailing trip that would last twelve years. Every chance we had we would fly to wherever on the globe they were and sail along for a month or so. My mother was the storyteller of the family – I might have inherited some genes here too – and all those years at sea she kept a journal in which she wrote her daily adventures. When she passed away she left me her journals. They are my inspiration, together with all my own sailing memories. 

Mina sailing in France as a child with one of her sisters.

Mina sailing in France as a child with one of her sisters.

  1. boreas-en-de-vier-windstrekenHow important do you think it is for an author to bring their own personal experiences to their work as a children’s book writer? Do you have any tips for other writers aiming to do this?

I believe an author bringing personal experiences to the table is what makes the heart of a story beat.

And this is also where the hard work starts. On whatever experience or memory an author draws, it should never end up in a story just like it was. The art of writing is to transpose the beating heart from your memory to your story. You call up the feeling, the emotion behind the memory or experience and slip that into your protagonist’s skin. You disconnect the personal memory from what you need for your story.

You throw out the truth—what really happened to you—and invite fiction—what happens to your characters.

It’s easier with the middle grade adventure novels, but decidedly harder with my young adult novels. My young adult novels rely more heavily on my emotional life and I have to actively curb my truth, as it were, to prevent it from polluting my protagonist’s story or, worse, taking over and morphing it into a memoir.

  1. Do you think that it’s this personal connection to your work that makes these books so popular with readers? If so, why?

Reviewers and readers alike often describe that it is as if they are part of the story, as if they are physically present and sense everything the protagonist senses.

Readers of the Boreas books mention that they can feel the wind in their hair, they hear the tingling of the halyards and stays, the flapping of the sails.

I believe this feeling of first-hand experience is brought about by how I peel the me from the memories and shape them into emotions the reader can project onto himself.


Mina tumbling down a waterfall

Maybe also, because I tend go even further than only using my past; I create new experiences, too. If the protagonist of my middle grade adventure books tumbles down a waterfall in a kayak, I want to know how that feels. I need to know what happens when you go under, how the current pulls your hair and clothes, how the water pressure pushes the air out of your lungs, how it feels when you want open your mouth to breathe but you can’t because all you’ll pull in is water, how you panic and lose track of what’s up and what’s down. So… I make sure I tumble down a waterfall too. Just like I hike icy mountains or scorching deserts or spend weeks alone at sea.

Just like I roam the streets of San Francisco and Amsterdam for my Young Adult novels. All to find out how my protagonist will see, hear, smell but above all how he or she will feel: the happiness, the sadness, the terror, the desperation, the boredom, the excitement.

  1. You are currently spending some time in San Francisco, immersing yourself in that world for your writing. How important do you think it is for an author to do actual research as opposed to virtually through the internet? What do you think this adds to a writer’s work?

As said before, my work is known to pull readers deep into such a vivid world that it feels as if they are actually there, walking alongside the protagonist, or even living in the protagonist’s head, seeing the world through her eyes. I would not be able to pull that off without walking where my protagonist walks, without seeing what she sees, without experiencing the light and the dark of this city. The Internet is a great help, but it gives you the technicalities of a location only, the street plan, the houses, the hills, the landmarks. I know with Street View you can ‘walk’ the streets, but what it doesn’t provide are any other sensory details. It doesn’t give you that distinct change in smell when you stray from the Financial District into The Tenderloin when crisp winter air morphs into the fetor of human waste. It doesn’t give you the nocturnal wailing and crying of the homeless that haunt you well through the day. It doesn’t brush the salty tang of the ocean past your lips. For that you have to be there. I have to be there. It not only breathes life into my writing, it’s also imperative to the development of the story, because it influences the actions of my characters, it has an impact on my protagonist’s state of mind. Imagine how different her responses will be if she ends up in a clean and bright city that is entirely plucked from the virtual reality of the Internet instead of being plunged into the grim truth of San Francisco… 

'The salty tang of the ocean'. Mina sails the Mediterranean.

The salty tang of the ocean sailing the Mediterranean.


  1. You have also written a Little Golden Book, Mia’s Nest. How did it feel to have your work selected for this classic series? What do you think makes Mia’s story so special?

el-nido-de-miaMia’s Nest…

My first favorite book was the Little Golden Book I mentioned earlier and to be included in that legendary collection is an immense honor.

Angela Pelaez Vargas and I were delighted when we got the call from the publisher. What makes Mia’s Nest a Little Golden Book? I guess it’s the universal theme—a little girl with tangles in her hair—combined with the unexpected twist and Angela’s enchanting pencil drawings, which give the illustrations that classic feel, that, at least I think, fits this much-lauded series.

  1. You have the ability to write in more than one language, what do you think this brings to your work as a children’s book author?

I am not sure if it adds to my work as a children’s book author per se. What I do know is that I never translate: when I write in Dutch I live, think and dream in Dutch and when I work on an English manuscript I live, think and dream in English and because of that it’s easier to write my Dutch novels in Amsterdam and my English novels in the US.

How I choose in which language I write a story? I don’t know. It doesn’t fees like I have a choice. Somehow the language is an intrinsic part of the story I need to tell. The idea comes in Dutch or in English and that decides in which language it needs to be written. So far, I mostly write my middle grade stories, which are adventurous and humorous, in Dutch, whereas my young adult stories that are decidedly raw and dark come in English. It may be that English creates just that little more distance between the darkness of those stories and me to not slip into despair myself. Or maybe my voice is just funnier and more light-hearted in Dutch. I don’t question my gut here. I just go for it. In English or in Dutch.

Picture books and short stories come in Dutch and in English. In between my longer work, I love writing short pieces. My études. I use them to sharpen my pen, to force myself to be concise and trim skin, fat and muscles from a story to unravel its bare bones. Or I use them to just whip my brain in gear and keep the writing going. I need that in both languages and it’s always a conscious decision, composing an étude in Dutch or English.  403137


  1. As a highly successful children’s book author, what tips do you have for up and coming writers?

Don’t give up on your dream would be the obvious one, right? And you shouldn’t. You should never give up on your dream.

But not giving up on your dream comes with an obligation: you will need to work hard to make it happen.

Not just because it isn’t an easy business (and trust me on this one: it isn’t!), but first and foremost because we owe it the children who will read our stories. Our books are the ones they first encounter on their path to literacy, the earliest guidance in growing up, toward compassion and to critical thinking. We have to give it our best shot. You have to invest in your tuition. You have to continue to hone your craft every step of the way. Learn from others. Read the authors you love, but the ones you don’t love, too.

Gaining insight in story and in what works and what doesn’t will help you find your own strength in writing, your unique voice.

  1. Can you share one lesson you’ve learned in your journey from aspiring writer to an author whose books are loved by so many?

Writing is a wicked awesome métier but a solitary one. Don’t get lost in silence. Don’t get lost in your own head. Find the people out there who know what it is to be a writer, people that have experienced what you experience, the joys of that perfect story idea, the satisfaction of overcoming blocks and other hindrances, the despair that washes over you when you get rejection after rejection, the self-doubt that creeps in when words won’t work, the thrill of selling a story, the sheer ecstasy of holding your first book in your hands. You will need your tribe and you can find them by joining organizations like the SCBWI and local authors guilds. Find your tribe!

Mina, thank you so much for visiting and for your wonderful insights into your world and how you create your amazing books.

You can find out more about Mina and her wonderful work here.

If you have questions for Mina about anything writing related, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post. It could be about her work, about being a bilingual author, about writing stories for an international readership … anything.

Hope you’ve had a great start to 2017 and may it bring you much happiness.

I have a big year ahead with two new books coming which I’m so excited about. I’ll be posting about them here. I’ll also be sharing lots more writing tips, author interviews and the story of how I came to sign with  my fabulous US agent, Jill Corcoran. (I was so lucky to have wonderful people supporting and encouraging me along the way. That’s why as Mina says, it’s so important to connect with other writers.

Till next time …

Happy writing 🙂





Tracy Clark Brings Her Worldwide Conspiracy to Australia

traleaning-4Today I’m pleased to welcome an author all the way from one of my favourite parts of the USA, Nevada.

Tracy Clark is an award-winning author who grew up a “Valley Girl” in Southern California but now lives in her home state of Nevada. She has two teenagers who are a continuous source of great dialogue. (I can relate to this, Tracy 🙂

Her published books include: a young-adult paranormal series, The Light Key Trilogy (SCINTILLATE, DEVIATE, ILLUMINATE,) and her latest novel, MIRAGE, an eerie YA thriller.

Tracy’s a proud mom, a private pilot, a post-skydiving daredevil, a spicy-chocolate connoisseur, and an irredeemable dreamer.

Welcome Tracy 🙂 I’m so pleased you could take time out from your busy schedule to visit my blog. We have so much in common even though we’ve never met. I might need to get some spicy-chocolate tips from you at some stage 🙂

Tracy says,
“Thank you again for being willing to help me spread the word about SCINTILLATE internationally! It’s book one in The Light Key Trilogy. The series is complete and all books are available. Scintillate is on sale for .99 on all platforms and Bookbub is running its ad on 1/29. (Though the sale price will extend a bit longer, according to my publisher.) 
I’m thrilled to bring the series to Australia as it is a global story featuring a worldwide conspiracy. The series has been likened to a YA DaVinci Code or National Treasure because I use real-life mysteries and artifacts from around the world to build the mythology. There’s a strong romance storyline as well because I can’t help but write kissing scenes. It’s an addiction! Right now, the whole series can be had for about $8.00 USD. “

If you have a question for Tracy about her writing or her fabulous books, feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post.


scintillate-new-coverA mighty flame follows a tiny spark.

Cora Sandoval’s mother disappeared when she was five and they were living in Ireland. Since then, her dad has been more than overprotective and Cora is beginning to chafe under his confines. But even more troubling is the colorful light she suddenly sees around people. Everyone, that is, except herself—instead, she glows a brilliant, sparkling silver.

As she realizes the danger associated with these strange auras, Cora is inexplicably drawn to Finn, a gorgeous Irish exchange student who makes her feel safe. Their attraction is instant, magnetic, and primal—but her father disapproves, and Finn’s mother orders him home to Ireland upon hearing he’s fallen in love. After a fight with her father, Cora flees to Ireland, both to follow Finn and to look for her missing mother.

There she meets another silver-haloed person and discovers the meaning of her newfound powers and their role in a conspiracy spanning centuries—one that could change mankind forever…and end her life.

Scintillate is the thrilling Book 1 in the Light Key Trilogy.

Rated 4.1 stars on Amazon and won the Golden Quill for Best YA.
MIRAGE, a YA thriller, 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks for visiting us here in Australia, Tracy. We are so pleased we’ll have the opportunity to buy your books.


All of Us Together – With Bill Condon

disphotoofbillyToday we are pleased to welcome the amazingly talented Bill Condon to DeeScribe Writing. Bill is celebrating his new book, All of Us Together and he has some great writing tips, and at the end of the post we’ll also talk about the book itself.

On four occasions Bill Condon’s novels have been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. In 2010 he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. (Since then he hasn’t been able to find a hat big enough to fit him.) He lives on the south coast of NSW with his wife Di (Dianne) Bates.

All of Us Together

All of us Together is a junior fiction novel set in Australia’s Great Depression of the 1930s.

all-of-us-together-front-coverWhen John O’Casey leaves his family to go in search of work, his wife Margaret is left to raise their three young children, Daniel, Adelaide, and Lydia. Daniel, being the eldest, tries to take on the role of being a leader, but as he discovers, it’s hard to be a man, especially for a boy who’s only twelve-years old.

Although the events within these pages take place many years ago, it is not primarily an historical novel, but one that examines the lives of the same kind of down-to-earth people, who live and breathe today. This is about a family who remain hopeful and resilient, as they stand together through the hardest of times.

All of us Together is an uplifting story, told with poignancy and humour.

Bill’s Writing Tips

In 2015 I spent several months working on All Of Us Together, but I wasn’t happy with what I had, so I gave up, which is one of my many bad habits. At the start of this year I decided to change the story to first person, and when I did that I felt it worked much better, and so I kept on going. – Tip 1 – If your stories not working as well as you’d like, don’t be afraid to try a different approach.

unknownI think first person enabled me (and hopefully the readers) to get closer to the action, and made the story more immediate and real.

The main character in the book is twelve-year-old Daniel. When his dad goes off in search of work, Daniel takes it on himself to bring some money into the home as best he can. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly. But the family sticks together and stays strong.

Daniel and his family are loosely based on my own family. He has two sisters, just like me, and he has loving, working class parents, just like I had. Once I’d recognised the similarities between Daniel and myself, the writing became easier. Tip 2 – Draw on your own experiences and the things you can relate to.

When I was young my parents sometimes told me of their experiences during the 30s. They didn’t tell me much – or perhaps I wasn’t listening very carefully – but it was enough to get me thinking about setting a story during the Depression.

One of the problems writers face is in finding a plot. This is particularly so in my case. I always struggle. Fortunately, this book came with a plot already built-in – the Great Depression of the 1930s. All drama needs obstacles for the characters to overcome. What better obstacle than a period in our history that impacted on the lives of so many Australians? Tip 3 – Historical stories can come with a readymade plot.

unknown-1As with nearly everything I write, All Of Us Together has bits and pieces from my own life scattered through it. Some of the mischief I got up to as a child could fit into any era, so I didn’t find it at all daunting to write a book set so long ago. I also wasn’t perturbed that I was writing what many might perceive as a book about history. It was never that to me. Daniel and his family were just ordinary people – the kind who might be your neighbours today – doing their best to survive in a very tough time.

Because I’m not a history buff, and I doubt my readers will be either, I’ve kept the historical facts to a minimum. My research was confined to Google searches. There is lots of information, and photos about the Depression on-line. I saw one photo that gave me an idea for the story. It’s a picture of three or four boys, each aged around 13 or 14. They were living in a tent in the bush and shooting rabbits to get some money for their families. In my story there are two brothers who are out in the great beyond somewhere, living rough to try to help their family. They are heroes to Daniel and he is always searching for them. When he at last finds one of them, it isn’t at all what he was expecting. Tip 4 – Don’t become lost in your research.

I’ve never been any good at plotting a book. I just find little bits and pieces as I go – like that photo – and I very clumsily and slowly stick them all together. And then, after a year or so of stumbling around in the dark, I make my way to those magical words, The End! Tip 5 – There’s not ‘right’ way to write a book … do what works for you.


all-of-us-together-400hIn his latest book, All of Us Together, award winning author Bill Condon gets us right inside the head of main character, Daniel, right from the first page.

All of Us Together is set in the Great Depression of 1930 when families were being ripped about by poverty.

Unable to find work, Daniel’s beloved father has been forced to leave the family to seek employment further afield in the hope that he will soon have money to send home.

He leaves behind Daniel, his two sisters and his mother, trying to cope with his absence. Poverty forces Daniel into doing things he wouldn’t normally do and his strength and resolve are put to the test.

This realistic representation of a difficult time in history has clearly been well researched, and the characters are so real that the reader feels as if they are stepping back in time, straight into the lives of Daniel and his family.

Amidst the hardship though, there is love and hope and we see the characters grow and develop as they face the challenges that life throws at them.

The harsh realities of the Great Depression are depicted with sensitivity and authenticity, and All of Us Together is a book that would make a great family or classroom discussion piece.

All of Us Together is a compelling read for readers aged 8+.

Bill draws us into Daniel’s world with his great characterisation, and the universal themes of family, belonging, and bullying make All of Us Together very relevant for today’s readers.

All of Us Together is available from About Kids Books or from any children’s bookstore.

Bill will also be visiting the following great blogs on a tour to celebrate the release of All of Us Together:
18 November Clancy Tucker 
19 November Sally Odgers 
20 November Sandy Fussell
23 November Elaine Ousten
24 November Melissa Wray
25 November Susan Whelan
26 November Romi Sharp


New Picture Book Treats From Abroad

here-comes-mr-postmouse-300-dpi_0Book Island, winner of the 2016 Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher Oceania brings us two beautiful new picture books from abroad that would make wonderful Christmas gifts.


Here Comes Mr Postmouse is the creation of award-winning author and illustrator, Marianna Dubac.

In this colourful book, readers follow Mr Postmouse on his daily rounds as he visits the home of Mr Bear, Senor Snake, Madam Dung Fly and many others.

But his last delivery for the day is the most important one of all.

imagesThe illustrations in Here Comes Mr Postmouse are quite extraordinary in their detail. Readers will love poring over them and seeing something new each time they visit a page.

latourdefactsouris_bookisland-1They will be fascinated by the variety of animals and entertained by the gentle humour. The text is simple but relevant, and carries the story forward.

Here Comes Mr Postmouse was a winner of the Kirkus Review Best Picture Books 2015.


unknown-2Fox & Goldfish is by Nils Pieters a creator from Flanders, and this is a story about a very special friendship.

Fox knows that his friend is unwell so before it’s too late, he takes Goldfish on an epic adventure beyond the fish bowl.

There is minimal text in this book, and the story is mostly told through stunning illustrations – each one an amazing work of art.

unknown-3I loved the simplicity of this book, but there’s such a powerful story told through the pictures which capture both the joy and sorrow of the narrative. The depth of colour and emotion in each picture leave a lasting impression in the reader’s mind.

It’s a reminder to all of us to live life to the full.

unknown-7Some things – like friendship, farewells, and the beauty of the world – are almost beyond words.

Fox & Goldfish is a great book to share with children who may have lost a pet.unknown-4

Smile Cry – A Beginner’s Book of Feelings

Smile Cry written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft is a wonderful book to introduce  discussions about feelings.

smilecryfullcover-smallYoung children find that a cry can quickly turn into a smile and vice versa so it’s an ideal blend to have these two feelings showcased in the same book.

Our society often has a negative response to tears so it’s refreshing to see this emotion presented to children as a ‘normal and acceptable’ way to feel.

The way these emotions have been introduced allow the reader to empathise with others and learn that everyone has feelings.

Smile Cry presents the concept that we feel things for a reason.

The simple and powerful text and emotive illustrations make this book relatable and relevant for young children.

The gorgeous pictures represent feelings in a fun, non-threatening way – providing reassurance to young readers.

piglet bunny cat double picFeaturing a very cute pig, rabbit and cat, the emotions of the characters are simply yet strikingly depicted in the illustrations.

Smile Cry is a ‘flip about’ book, symbolic of how emotions and feelings can flip. ‘Smile’ starts from one end and ‘Cry’ from the other, and the feelings meet in the middle.

Smile Cry is an important book, introducing young readers to the complicated world of feelings in a compassionate and memorable way.

Published by EK Books, Smile Cry is currently available in Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.

If you’re looking for the ideal Christmas present for the youngest readers in your life, this could be it.

Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book – With Tania McCartney

Today my very good author/illustrator friend, Tania McCartney is joining me on the virtual deck for a cup of tea and a chat about how to write and illustrate a picture book. At the end of this post, she’s also offering readers the chance to win some great prizes.

Check out Tania’s great writing and illustrating tips at the end of this post. image011

Tania, tell us about Australia Illustrated.

Australia Illustrated is the very first picture book I’ve both written and illustrated and it was an incredible learning experience. The process was unusual in that I had pretty much carte blanche (with a pre-approved outline from publisher, EK Books). You may already know that in publishing, this is highly unusual.

Having this freedom was a real gift. Having written, edited, laid out, designed, collected, studied, read and enjoyed picture books for two or three decades now, I had zero experience in the actual process required to combine my own writing with my own illustration. In fact, to give you an idea of up how-ended my process was, I did the book cover first!

With this lack of experience, it would have been almost impossible for me to take the ‘roughs, storyboards, mock-ups, colour-palettes, character studies’ route that most picture book illustrators undergo. I didn’t have the know-how or skill, and given that Australia Illustrated is 96 pages and I had scant idea of what I was going to include in the book, having to do all that would have been my undoing!

Thankfully, I muddled my way through, and the end result is something pretty unusual—and something I’m actually proud of.


If I could think of one word to describe Australia Illustrated … it’s joy.

T00a-cover-pastelhis book exudes joy on every page.

It’s clear that Tania enjoyed creating Australia Illustrated … and this book reflects her joy in being Australian.

Each page is full of vibrant, active illustrations that reflect well thought out and researched text.

Each state and territory of Australia is featured along with the food, flora, fauna, sport, customs people and places that make them unique … oh and did I mention food? There’s a lot of food in this book.

From the First People to washing lines and crocodiles, football and sunshine, koalas and akubras, skyscrapers and beaches that squeak, this 96-page picture book is a glorious tribute to this wide brown land and its rich and varied multicultural communities. Vibrantly illustrated with watercolour, ink and mono-printing, Australia: Illustrated not only celebrates the more ‘typical’ Australian flora, fauna and landmarks, it also showcases the everyday quirks and idiosyncrasies that make Australia unique: the many types of rain, Greek street food, Sydney ferries, cattle breeds, the plants of the Daintree. Even the quokka selfie epidemic is featured! 

One of the things readers will love most about this book is that it’s so relateable. For adults it will conjure up childhood memories, for young readers it will inspire them to create them.

Australia Illustrated is beautifully produced by EK Books. It comes in a hard cover and with 96 pages will provide hours of entertainment and joy for readers of all ages in the classroom and home.

What I Learned During My Picture Book Muddle.

  1. I learned that the best way to illustrate a book is to have courage and not think about it too much. There were moments on this journey when I was filled with absolute terror over how my images would be perceived—in terms of skill, style, content.

au-diverse-kid-girl-japaneseI also began questioning how things were unfolding and if I was on the ‘right track’. Whenever this happened, I had to shut this thought down, otherwise, I probably would have given up. And how did I shut the thought down? I told myself what ALL creators should be telling themselves—that I’m creating this book for me first, others second.

Many creators will tell you that they write for the reader but we HAVE to write for ourselves first. If we don’t, we wouldn’t enjoy the process (sorry, but I don’t want to write about boy superheros who live on the moon, even though millions of kids might love that!). We have to write and draw what WE personally love—to give us creative satisfaction and to do our best work. Then, as a massive side-bonus, if kids or adults or monkeys fall into our stories or our images and have a wonderful time there—that is what makes it doubly worthwhile. In fact, they say that once a book is published, it ceases to be yours—it becomes the reader’s. So I say make it yours while you can, then let it go!

  1. I learned that a creative process should be an organic process, and that while having a plan or outline is important, allowing story and images to unfold has an intense magic in it. Good publishers know this. They know that stories can morph over time, and picture ideas can change and grow. The very best books come from trusting that organic process, and not stripping it of its essence with over-editing and over-thinking—or bowing down to what other people want or might expect.
  1. I learned that illustrating books is an immense emotional, mental, physical and time investment (arguable even more so than writing one). You cannot be in this for the money. A hundred-thousand dollars probably wouldn’t cover the hours I put into Australia Illustrated, but the creative satisfaction and joy its creation brought me is priceless. It can’t be about money. If you make it about money, it will crush you with the fiscal unfairness of it all.
  1. I learned that children’s book illustrations really do need to be highly professional and beautiful. I mean, I knew that already, but I learned it all over again on a deeply personal level. I have only just rekindled my love for illustration these past few years. My skills were rusted over, and I’ve had to relearn so very much. During the twelve months it took to create Australia Illustrated, my skills, naturally, bettered themselves, and I found myself looking back at my first images with some disdain. Luckily, I had also developed digital art skills during that year, and I was able to touch up first images to the standard I knew the book needed.
  1. I learned that you Just Have To Throw Yourself In. During my [many] moments of self-doubt or angst of fear, I found the only way out was through. Just do it. When you do that, things unblock and flow. It worked for me every single time.034-vic-mel-icons
  1. Dee asked me for five points, but I can’t resist one more—sorry, Dee! I learned that I want to do things differently next time. There are some splendid illustrators who keep the same style of art their entire career long—and it works beautifully for them. For me, I think creating in the same style forever would send me to the loony bin. I still love the style I’ve done in Australia Illustrated, but I’m ready to try something new for my next book (in fact, I’m currently creating several fully-digital works) and I can’t wait to see what style that will be. I have some ideas but I’ve not settled on something yet. Perhaps I’ll just let it unfold—pretty much like Australia Illustrated.

act-arboretum-boy-3See more of Tania’s work at or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @taniamccartney

Australia Illustrated is published by EK Books and will be on sale 1 November in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with a release date of 28 November in the UK. Hardcover, clothbound, 96 pages, AU$29.99, ISBN: 9781925335217


  • WIN a copy of the book (There three to give away, thanks to EK Books)
  • WIN an original watercolour image from the book (two to give away)
  • the chance to name some of Tania’s book characters!

Enter here at Tania’s Blog