August 24, 2011

Interview with Author Helen Ross

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

I got the writing bug around 1983. I undertook a correspondence Diploma in Writing with The Writing School which took me nearly ten years to complete as other life issues sometimes took precedence. The course encompassed a variety of writing genres and styles but it wasn’t until 2005/6 that I decided to take it seriously and enter the publishing world.

What was your road to publication like? 

To date, I haven’t submitted a lot of work to publishing houses because I have never wanted to be dependent on someone else determining whether I became an author or not. Even though the feedback I have received has been very favourable I decided to go down the self publishing path in 2006 to get my work out there, and take it from there. So my road to publication has been hard going, but very rewarding and worth it all the way. So many opportunities have now opened up for me.

I have now worked as a freelance writer for a local community magazine, had articles published in Australia Bookseller and Publisher magazine, and for online publishing websites (upon invitation); poetry published on children’s online educational resources; heartfelt poetry published in anthologies, and in early 2009, five of my giggle rhyming poems published in Books For Fiji, presented to the children at Namara District School in Fiji – a wonderful project by Morgan Hayton and Sally Odgers. I have also been invited as a guest speaker to many writers’ festivals including Tropical Writers Festival and Books Creators Expo in Cairns 2010.

Coming up, two of my poems will be published in Jelli-Beanz Publishing’s Volume One: Hopscotch of their annual publication, Packed Lunch, a collection of children’s short stories, poetry and illustrations. Due out in November 2011. It has been an exciting journey, one that is now getting even more exciting for me. So watch this space!

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Hone your craft. And network. It is amazing what you can learn from other writers about writing and the publishing world. Also don’t put a time limit on achieving your dream of being a published author, if that is your goal. Continue to write and improve your craft because that is what you love to do. But if you give it up because you can’t get a publishing contract then find something else as it means you are not writing for the right reason.

If you really want to be published and can’t find a publisher, maybe your work needs revisiting so take on board any feedback. Otherwise investigate other publishing houses that take on your genre. Or look at other publishing alternatives. Remember, taking alternative publishing paths doesn’t mean that your work is inferior to those published under a contractual basis. You have to think outside the square and believe in yourself. But don’t be too precious about your work if it means improving your skills.

Tell us about your books.

 My latest books, 10 Yellow Bananas (released 2010) and Bubble Gum Trouble and other Giggle Poems (2009) were published by Little Steps Publishing, a Division of New Frontier (a well respected, award winning publishing company in NSW). 10 Yellow Bananas is aimed at 3-6 year olds.

"Ten yellow bananas, clutching teddy bears, race through the doorway, then nine sleepy pears..." So begins the story of ten different fruits involved in a frantic, crazy chase. It is a reverse counting rhyme of teddy bears that are stolen by ten bananas. It is a colourful and creative tale ending in cooperation and friendship.

Bubble Gum Trouble and other Giggle Poems, is a collection of humorous poems for children of all ages (and those young at heart, who enjoy rhyming poetry). The poems are easy to read, some with educational value whilst others are really funny short stories in rhyme.

In 2006, I self published Ten Yellow Bananas (original version). The new version 10 Yellow Bananas has been revised quite dramatically with the assistance of Dr Virginia’s Create-a-kids-book course.
Also in 2006 I published Santa is in our Chimney. This book sold very well, so I have future plans for this one as well.

Where do you like to write?

I like to work at my computer (especially when my study is tidy) but I also love to curl up on the lounge and scribble ideas on paper, especially when working on verses as opposed to novel writing. But sometimes I have no choice, especially when it comes to jotting down ideas. On these many occasions I could be in the supermarket aisle, on the bus, walking, in a cafĂ©, etc. so I also take a pen and paper with me, or scribble on a napkin.

What's the best part about conducting workshops with children?

The laughter from the children, and their eagerness to become involved in the activities. Some of their work is just amazing. When this happens you know you are doing something right.

One class in Sydney took one of my poems, ‘Trick or Treat’ (from Bubble Gum Trouble) and worked out accompanying actions, and they couldn’t wait to show me. Also the interaction with teachers and librarians can be very confidence building. It is also great when the children come with money to buy one of my books.

Sometimes parents come with a camera so this extra attention can be a bit daunting. I sometimes feel like an imposter.

What books did you like to read growing up? 

I loved Agatha Christie; have always enjoyed murder mysteries from a young age. Also loved A.A. Milne and Dr Suess

Who are your favourite authors right now?

When it comes to children’s picture books, I love Stephen Michael King, Shaun Tan, Graeme Base, and Peter Carnavas. When it comes to picture books I love quirky illustrations so Stephen Michael King and Peter Carnavas’s stories and illustration styles really appeal to me. I still love Dr Suess books, especially those with a message. I am an avid reader and love adult thrillers from Harlan Coben, Matthew Reilly and some from Stephen King.

What do you think about book week?

Even though books are always a focal point in schools and libraries, Book Week is a time when children and schools really focus on books, and their favourite book characters. It is great when all classes become involved in a big way, and children and teachers dress up in their favourite characters. I think it is great when authors get invited to schools during this period as it just seems a very magical time. Reading is just so important and making it fun is a great way to get all children excited about the magic of books.

Helen is a former primary teacher but it was a gorilla named Lulu that set her on the path of a poet/writer. Helen wrote her first poem, ‘Lulu the Gorgeous Gorilla’, as part of a drama class; she has been writing ever since. Helen completed a Diploma in Writing, with ‘The Writing School’ in 2000, undertaken children’s writing courses, and has won poetry awards. 

In 2006 Helen published two children’s picture books Ten Yellow Bananas and Santa is in Our Chimney to prove a market for her work. Since then Helen’s children’s books, Bubble Gum Trouble and other Giggle Poems (2009) and 10 Yellow Bananas (new version, 2010) have been published by Little Steps Publishing, Division of New Frontier.

Born in Melbourne Helen now lives in Brisbane with her husband and their beloved pets, and conducts giggle poetry and writing workshops in schools around Australia.

Helen's blog is called Miss Helen Writes 


Sally Odgers said...

Good to hear from Miss Helen!

Tania McCartney said...

Gotta love the lovely Helen!

Unknown said...

Thanks Sally and Tania for your lovely comments. Yes, I can tell how lovely Helen is just from her interview.
Thanks Helen for sharing your wonderful picture books :)

Barbara Barth said...

Loved this interview. Helen is a dear and it was so good to read this. I am one of her US fans!

Unknown said...

Hi Barbara,
Thanks for visiting my blog all the way from the US! Helen is a fantastic children's author and such an asset to our writing community. Hope to see you again ;)