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 www.taniamccartney.com 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 www.ekbooks.org


  • 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


Rat City

Everyone thinks Shannon was responsible for his best friend’s death, including Shannon.

Now he’s not letting anyone get close to him.rat-city-cover-600w

That’s until he meets the gorgeous Ally. But she has problems of her own.

Ally’s twin brother, Felix is sick and getting sicker and nobody seems to know why.

Ally’s sure that it has something to do with her crazy scientist Uncle Killian who not only has a fixation for rats, he’s also supplying dugs to thrill seeking youths, including Felix.

Will Shannon and Ally find out the truth in time to save Felix and what will this mean for their relationship.

Rat City is a compelling read from start to finish. The stakes are high and the book is a page turning mix of science and adventure.

The reader will empathise with Ally and Shannon right from the start. The more you read, the more you care about these characters.

I got to the end of Rat City and wanted more. So I was pleased to discover that Book 2, Rise of the Rat Generation is due for release in 2017.

Rat City is written by Ree Kimberley and is available here and through Amazon.

About the author

Ree Kimberley grew up in Melbourne and travelled Australia before living in tropical Cairns and then settling in Brisbane, in sunny Queensland. She’s always loved reading and wrote her first novel, Strike Up a Friendship with a Vampire, when she was 10 years old. Ree’s writerly obsessions include weird science and things that are bizarre, strange and a little bit gross. She also has a thing for circuses (she swears she is not scared of clowns!)me-at-sete

Ree says that if she wasn’t a writer, she’d love to be a teratologist (someone who studies monsters). Rat City is Ree’s first novel, and the first in a three-part series, Rat Generation.

You can find out more about Ree here.

Life in Other States – A Texas Year and A New York Year

It’s clear that meticulous research and care have gone into Tania McCartney‘s and Tina Snerling‘s colourful fun books, A Texas Year and A New York Year.

These well produced picture books cover a year in the life of kids living in Texas and New York.

One of the things I love most about them is their theme of diversity – the way they reflect the lives and cultures of the people living in these states.

A texas yearA Texas Year and A New York Year feature ethnically and culturally diverse characters and diverse experiences.

The lively text and illustrations make these books a fun read for anyone with an interest in finding out about Texas or New York.

A Texas Year and A New York Year are full of information about the lifestyles and aspirations of kids living in these locations.

Readers will enjoy poring over the text and illustrations, taking in the fascinating detail.

They will be taken through a month by month account of what it means to be a kid living in New York or Texas, learning about special occasions and customs.

There’s everything from food, sport and school, to dancing, language, holidays and special occasions.

A New York Year - Front coverA Texas Year and A New York Year present great opportunities for discussions in the classroom or home about cultural diversity.

Each book has a location map with information about the state including its nickname, state flower, song, animals, and popular foods found there.

The content in both books has been produced in consultation with native advisors from the state including teachers and children.

A Texas Year and A New York Year offer young readers a fun and entertaining way to explore their own environment and the world around them.


Little Mouse – A Toddler’s Day Out

UnknownLittle Mouse is a typical toddler. He has a very busy and fun-filled day, but it’s also full of things he’d rather not do.

He’s learning how to do lots of new tasks, but one thing he does competently already is say, “No”.

Little Mouse was so relatable for me as a parent, and I’m sure young readers will also be engaged by the humour and the authenticity of the situations Little Mouse encounters.

There’s getting dressed, skipping through puddles, not wanting to go in the pusher or brush his teeth or eat his broccoli.

Unknown-1The text is simple and age appropriate and the illustrations are adorable. They’re full of humour and warmth and detail for kids to pore over.

Little Mouse is the work of Helsinki-based author and illustrator, Riikka Jantti.

The book is published in hardback and has a fairytale like quality.

Unknown-2It’s a perfect size to fit in a nappy bag or hand bag and I can imagine Little Mouse finding his way to many picnics, appointments and family outings.

Although he can be a testing toddler, Little Mouse is totally charming. I can see his captivating story becoming a classic.

Little Mouse, for readers aged 0 to 4, is published by Scribble, the children’s imprint of Scribe.

Zelda’s Big Adventure – The First Chook in Space

9781925266382What’s not to love about a chook in space?

Zelda’s Big Adventure, written by Marie Alafaci and illustrated by Shane McG, is a charming story of a little chook with big dreams.

Zelda has big plans – she wants to be the first chook in space. She leaves nothing to chance and packs food, fuel and a cosy nesting box. But will she make it without the help of her friends?

One of the things I love about this book is that it introduces the concept to children that you can have big dreams and achieve them no matter what other people say.

Zelda is so determined in her quest that she is not deterred by lack of assistance or encouragement from others. Zelda’s Big Adventure teaches young readers about self-reliance and optimism.

I also really like the fact that Zelda has a plan. She doesn’t just expect things to fall in her lap. She works towards them.

Zelda shows great resilience and determination, and these are what get her there in the end.

She is funny, generous and forgiving and a thoroughly likeable character, and these characteristics are captured so well in Shane McG’s beautiful illustrations.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is an entertaining read that could also inspire discussion with young readers about following your dreams, and not being discouraged. There’s also plenty to engage them with the Shane’s humorous, detailed pictures.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is published by Allen & Unwin for readers aged 2-5.

It’s a book for chook lovers and for anyone who has ever had a dream.

Break Your Silence – Explore the Writer in You Writing Workshop

I’m delighted to be presenting a writing workshop in Trentham on 21st August, as part of the Words in Winter Festival.

Words in Winter logoI’ll be inspiring writers of all ages from 15 to 115.

If you’ve been getting around to getting started, felt intimidated by ‘writers’ or found it all too expensive, then this is a golden opportunity to participate in a safe, easy environment at a super affordable price.

Places are limited, so book yours soon. Book here.

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For more about the fabulous Words in Winter festival check out their website.

Hope to see you there🙂


Why “So Wrong” is So Right

With its short bites of text, humorous adventures, and hilarious graphics, So Wrong Uncensored is so right for readers aged 10-13, particularly reluctant ones.

MW 2011 PS

Michael Wagner

From the diabolically dangerous duo of author, Michael Wagner and artist Wayne Bryant, this book will engage young readers, but don’t expect it to be politically correct.

Former reluctant readers themselves, Michael and Wayne have created the book (and series) they wish had existed when they were kids.

Here Michael chats about how and why he created So Wrong.


How did this series come about and what prompted you to create it?

Over the years, I’ve written lots of little bits and pieces that I couldn’t find a home for. They were ideas for things like two-panel cartoons, satirical ads, parodies of picture books, etc. None of them were substantial enough for a book of their own or would sit easily in a book of short stories, but I liked them and really wanted to do something with them. So they became the spark for So Wrong. It started out as a place to put all these awkward little bits and pieces.

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Wayne Bryant

But once I started assembling them into a book, I got really excited. Not only was I having the most fun I’d ever had as an author (which is an important sign), but I felt like I was creating the exact thing I would have loved as a kid.

Instead of reading books when I was in later primary school, I preferred magazines like Mad and Cracked. So Wrong felt like that sort of publication but in a book form. It had the same hyperactive structure, and abundance of ideas, but short stories instead of comics, and rather than being cynical and worldly, it was more cheeky and absurdist, making it naturally more aimed at children than teens.

The big problem however (which kind of hung over me as I wrote) was how to get it illustrated. It really needed a lot of variety, so it felt like I was going to have to employ several illustrators and a flexible designer to make it work. But then I remembered working on an animated feature film many years ago with an artist called Wayne Bryant. I knew he could vary his style and while discussing the book with him I discovered he was an excellent designer and a fan of Mad and all sorts of other hilarious and beautiful retro comics. So, suddenly, the big illustration problem was solved.

Wot to Luv 01Why did you think it important to feature a narrator with spelling challenges?

The narrator in question, Mitey Mikey, is actually one of the book’s ‘sponsors’. He appears in 3-4 places throughout the book in order to convince you, the reader, to pay for his ‘Lyfe Coach for Kidz’ services. He’s a kid, but he’s a strident, overconfident little go-getter, who believes he’s headed for fame and fortune – except he’s not actually as clever as he thinks, which becomes immediately apparent when you realise he can’t even spell his very first lines: ‘HEY YOO! Wee need to tork.’ So the joke is that he thinks he’s brilliant (and is a little bit in some ways), but we know he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.

But we reckon his misspellings serve more than one purpose – depending on who’s reading the book.

In a funny sort of way, his inability to spell subtly validates the reluctant readers who are also poor spellers. In a quiet sort of way it says to them that being a poor speller is a known, common problem (even for kids with other strengths), and it’s not a life-and-death issue, so work on becoming a better speller, but don’t lose all your self-esteem if you’re not that great at it just yet. It’s not actually the end of the world – in fact it can be a source of a lot of fun.

But also, because it’s tricky to decode Mitey Mikey’s poor spelling, it really reinforces the value of consistent, uniform spelling. If we all spelled phonetically, the way he does, we’d spend all our lives decoding text.

Wot to Luv 02And then there’s the sheer fun of suddenly being able to read his text quite fluently. When that happens toward the end of the book, you feel a little bit like someone who’s just mastered a secret code.

Why are this book and the series important to kids?

We hope these books appeal to all kids, but most importantly to reluctant readers. We think it’s important to keep those kids reading just one more book … then one more series … and for one more year. Just to entrench the habit of reading a little more. And to help them make their own positive associations with books.

What did you hope to achieve when you created So Wrong?

All we wanted to achieve is a book/series that kids love – particularly reluctant readers. And a book that no one’s afraid to admit they like, no matter how ‘cool’ or tough or naughty they feel they have to be.

What will kids gain from picking up these books?

Hopefully, more positivity towards books themselves, a good laugh, and a little validation.

As a reluctant reader, what challenges did you face?

One of the biggest problems with being a reluctant reader (as a child, mind you, I’ve been an avid reader all my adult life) is that you can easily feel as if you’re not that smart. That kicks in especially when the topic turns to books. It’s embarrassing to admit you haven’t read this book or that book or, basically, many books at all.

But it’s more than just embarrassing, it’s downright frustrating. By reading fewer books, you naturally have a smaller and less effective vocabulary than many of the people you know. Despite being an intelligent child (according to my reports – well, some of them), I could barely explain anything if I was under any kind of pressure. I never had the words, while others did. That’s frustrating and bad for your self-esteem.

How does this book/series address these challenges for kids facing these challenges today?

The real competition for reluctant readers is with screen-based forms of entertainment. In order to improve on what they offer a child, you have to be super relevant, visually interesting, and highly validating. That’s what we’ve aimed for with So Wrong. If we’ve achieved it, then those kids won’t think books are quite so boring. And they’ll read one more … and then another … And they’ll start to benefit from reading in all those subtle ways people who love books do, without ever quite realising it.Wot to Luv 03


9780994251756What I like about this book apart from its non-stop entertainment value is that it offers achievable reading goals for kids who are reluctant to pick up a book. They can read a few pages at a time and still complete a story or segment.

As the book itself states, it’s 100% unboring guaranteed.

I think my favourite parts of this book were the highly suspect ‘life advice’ from supposed Life Coach for Kids, Mitey Mike, and the hilarious advertisements for useful products like The Parental Attitude Adjuster.

So Wrong Uncensored is as the name suggests, uncensored, so there are some references to bodily functions and ‘alternative education’ however it’s all clearly done in jest, and designed to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

The narrator’s spelling in some parts is a little suspect too, and these tales are full of naughtiness (including visual treats throughout), but the book is clearly written from the hearts of the creators to entertain the kids who read it.

If you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom then So Wrong Uncensored could be so right for you.

So Wrong Uncensored is clever, funny and engaging. It’s the first book in the series and is published by Billy Goat Books.

So Wrong is available from great bookshops including:
The Little Bookroom
Tim’s Bookshop
and Michael’s own website, michaelwagner.com.au