August 20, 2011

Interview with Author Hazel Edwards

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

My Grandma taught me to read before I went to school. Reading was an acceptable excuse for avoiding the dreaded ‘washing up’ job.Words were the codes to ideas. 

Books opened new worlds, and I knew I’d like to continue learning new things, so becoming an author was one way.

What was your first book published? How did you come up with the idea?

I had my first baby and book acceptance in the same year. ‘General Store’ a YA novel set in Gippsland was my first fiction. Picture book ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake’ was my third title, and this year the film by Pocket Bonfire premiered at St Kilda Film festival, and was screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival last month. for film trailer.

Write about what you know is good advice for the setting of your first book. I’d lived in a country store as a teenager, but it is not an autobiography.

What is your education and writing background?
I went to night school while I was working. Later trained as a primary teacher, I was also a teachers’ college lecturer in reading and studied at Monash University for my post-graduate degrees, but part-time, while working and having children. My children joke that they went to uni, even before they were born, in my tummy. I remember sneaking into the back of a significant lecture with a baby, deciding I’d leave once she yelled but the lecturer’s voice put her to sleep. I’m always sympathetic to mature- aged students who juggle their roles, and did my master’s thesis on that subject of women returning to study.

You have written in many genres. Tell us about what you enjoy writing the most.

Quirky satires like ‘Duckstar’ . Mysteries like ‘Project Spy Kids’ or ‘Frequent Flyer Twins’ where I find out about new settings or subjects like greyhound racing, wedding bird hire, or hot air ballooning, and set the clues within those facts.

‘f2m:the boy within’ co-written with Ryan Kennedy, about transitioning gender, is my most important book because it enables  readers to enter a world about which they know little, and be more tolerant of those whose circumstances are different. It’s also a funny read with punk music. And I enjoyed our collaboration, since Ryan works at a comparable pace.

Collaboration with others where you trade skills is a strategic way of learning fast.The much reprinted ’Difficult Personalities’ (Penguin) co-written with Dr Helen Mc Grath has just gone into a Polish edition and has a USA edition and e-book.

What makes you passionate about writing?

Captures and deepens experiences.

What do you like to read?

Biographies, especially about females, activists  or artists  who have juggled unconventional lives as well as having families. Well plotted mysteries which have credible motives. I also read-research subjects  such as Antarctica, sociopaths  or outback feral pigs when I’m writing a book or play. Recently I have been reading about heroes such as Weary Dunlop and Fred Hollows for the Aussie Heroes series for 7-10 year old readers, published by New Frontier. I’d like to write more junior history in approachable ways about REAL people who have  contributed to solving problems in significant ways like inventions, or improvements.  I’m NOT interested in skinny celebs only famous for misbehaving and getting their photos in the media. I think young readers deserve ‘real’ heroes from extra-ordinary, ordinary people to inspire them.

What sort of workshops do you conduct for aspiring writers?

Mystery writing ones which make participants observe and value their surroundings. Where ever you live might seem ordinary to you. But your ’local’  is exotic to other readers. My YA novel ‘Outback Ferals’ is set in Darwin, and NT (Northern Territory)  youth love that.

I also run ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’ sessions for genealogists and those parents and grandparents wanting to write family history stories for the children in their families.

I write a story each birthday for the 1 year old and 12 year old in our family.’ Henry-Garnet the Serial Sock Puller’ was the latest family story with photos.

I also run ‘Authorpreneurship’ seminars for those wanting to organise their creative work in a businesslike way. The Australian Society of Authors  run some of these. Later in the year I’ll be releasing an e-book on ‘Authorpreneurship.’ from my website and I do some mentoring online.

Increasingly, I mentor aspiring writers on book length projects, by web-chat on Skype. This overcomes barriers of geographic distance. So a writer can work anywhere, with new technology.

Can you please describe a typical day?

Certain times of the year, like Book or History Week, I speak and travel a lot.(Bananas are good for the throat)  Other times, I write in concentrated 8am to 5pm days, in my home office  with a break for midafternoon exercise like a swim, walk or belly-dancing. Increasingly the administrivia of being an author takes more time than the original story writing.  I utilise my website, with links, so I  answer once and have bio details and hi-res photo available there.  That’s why I’ve provided the links to previous guest blogs etc. under Interviews on my website.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in writing and publishing today?

The biggest change has been acquiring e-skills, learning to web-chat, use Skype and my daughter has become my e-manager, teaching me social media skills and how to update my own website. Despite her help, I’m about kindergarten level and any credit for my website is due to her.
I think more clearly early in the day, so that’s when I write fiction.

Stories can be shared in any of the new formats like e-publishing. As writers we need to be brave enough to experiment beyond the conventional print book.

How do you feel about the transition into digital books?

In collaboration with illustrator and  graphic designer  Jane Connory I’m learning via the e-book mystery literacy series offered from my website. Slowly I will add some of my other rights- reverted , popular print titles to my website store. ‘Astrid the Mind-Reading Chook’ is next.  So I have become an e-publisher and Jane’s illustrations are also available as gifts.

       Why co-design junior literacy mystery e-books from your own website?

  • Distribution: now an author website can be as internationally effective as a publisher.
  • Choice of junior literacy mysteries in two proven print series was deliberate.  Hero Art, the sleuth in ‘Project Spy Kids’ is an ace problem-solver but is reading challenged. ‘The Frequent Flyer Twins’ are  Asian-Australian ten year old sleuths.
  • Creating a series name and using the same cover but a different colour, links the titles. Jane’s art is also on t-shirts, mugs and stickers.
  • Curriculum: Reading outcomes reassure teachers.
  • Price.  $2.95  will not offset costs so far  but , a test case.

Viable now. Soon, students will expect more e-gadgetry …
Jane’s Viewpoint: I illustrated the covers in Adobe illustrator and formatted the documents  in InDesign. Then taught myself to produce these files as ePub documents.
Illustrated & merchandise designed by Jane Connory   

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

As a writer, you live more intensively, using participant-observation. You do things, using all senses, knowing you will write about them afterwards."

My three hints to aspiring writers are: "Write regularly. Persisit. And always consider your reader- who are you writing for?"
Check  for articles and  strategies on how to craft your ideas and words.

What has been one of your proudest moments as a writer?

Fan mail like:   ‘Us mob like what you writ. Makes us laugh.’


Middle Matters said...

Hi Hazel,
As part of book week could my grade 3/4 writers in Blackburn South pose some questions on this blog.

Marg Yore

hazel said...

Yes, very happy to answer questions. You might also like to check some Q and A for kids on my website.

I'd love students to read and review Project Spy Kids too as these fit the Book Week theme.

What mystery would they like Art to solve next? Hazel
Happy reading.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Middle Matters for your comment and visiting my blog.

Hazel and Jane's e-books 'Project Spy Kids' are exciting, educational, interactive, and ideal for your students in grade 3 and 4.