January 12, 2012

Interview with Children's Author Bren MacDibble

I'd like to welcome children's author, Bren MacDibble to Books for Little Hands.

Thank you so much for inviting me, Renee.
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author?
I think I first decided at high school. I spent my childhood telling stories (and outrageous lies) but at high school when I made a teacher cry with one of my English assignments (and not in despair this time) I was thrilled. I wrote a few more stories in which animals died painful deaths but they just made her look at me oddly. Then I left school early and went to work in a legal office and 40 hours a week of typing cured me of any desire to write anything for around 15 years until my kids were small and I was inspired by the books I read to them. I signed up to do a night class with Rose Inserra on children's fiction writing. That was back in 1999. So I've only been in training for just over a decade. Practically a noob!

cover Honestly ErnestWhat was your journey to publication like?

I'm still on it. I think most writers are. The journey to publication is constant. I want to be like Margaret Mahy and look back on a fine body of work and movies, but even Margaret Mahy is still on her journey to publication because she's still writing and, presumably, still looking for publishers (though it may be easier for her than most). I suspect I may be on a journey to publication until I die.

My first publication came after I did the course with Rose and sent a couple of educational fiction submissions out to Nelson ITP and had them accepted. I did another course with Australian College of Journalism and sent out another fiction submission to Blake Ed and had that accepted too. I kept on writing and Blake Ed kept snaffling them up. I submitted to other publishers both educational and trade but none liked my sense of humour as much as Blake did. At the moment, we're up to nine books together.

Early on, I started writing short science fiction for magazines and had a few publications in that area as well. I really am a bit of a quiet plodder on my continuing publishing journey.

A lot of writers get a novel or picture book published early in their career and then find out they're only as good as their next book, then their next. There's a lot of pressure in trade to keep that brand name out there. So starting out slowly may not have been my initial plan but it's not a bad one, in terms of learning about writing and the marketplace.

Can you please tell us about your most recent book?
There's No Such Thing! Was published last year by Blake Ed. It's for children of 6 ½ plus to read alone. It's about a boy that finds a tiny alien in his backyard and tries to tell his mother, but she is busy, he can't make her look up from what she is doing to actually see the alien. He decides to keep it but his teenage neighbour counsels him against it. The neighbour points out the very obvious flaws in its anatomy, like the fact that it blasts things when it is frightened. Then he helps to put out the garden shed. I adore the book because it has full colour illustrations by Rita Voutila. The illustrations are just amazing. Rita made that book come alive!

You've written many school readers. What are the pros and cons to writing for this market?
I love writing for this market. Blake Ed have some wonderful humorous fiction series for all ages. In "Gigglers" especially, I can just go mad with imagination. Blake take my mad story, form it into bite-sized chapters, pick out the words that children might have problems with and add them to the shiny illustrated glossary at the back, pick out the themes for classroom work and create lessons, then employ fantastic illustrators to create beautiful books. In short, they take my mad slice of fun and turn it into a wonderful book. It's a kind of publisher magic.

Educational publishers have a concept and marketing strategy all planned out before they even find a writer so writers have less input into the process and there is no expectation to assist with the marketing. For people who don't like the style of a series, or who are trying to get exposure etc, these may be cons but for me, when it comes to Blake Ed Gigglers and Sparklers these are pros. The books look good, sell well and in multiple ways, and leave me free to pursue other things.

When and where do you find you're most inspired to write?

Writing is easy. Life is hard. It's constantly interrupting the story in my head!

I'm more inspired to write when creating something new: the initial creation of a work, exploring it, telling myself the story, entertaining myself, is great fun... but when I have to evaluate it critically it becomes work. Sadly it takes more writing time to do the editing and rewriting than anything else. 

Rewriting is okay when you know you're on the right path, but sometimes finding that path can be an excruciating process. I can write anywhere. I can balance a laptop on nearly anything and hammer away on it. If you ever go on a writing retreat with me, you'll often find me on the floor with my feet on the chair, still tapping away on the keyboard. Ergonomics are for writers who are not hopelessly trapped in "the zone".

Congratulations for being selected for The QWC/Allen & Unwin Manuscript Program. Can you tell us about this experience?

It was a little scary and a whole lot of fun. Editors at Allen & Unwin picked out eight children's chapter book manuscripts from the QWC-organised development program and the writers of those manuscripts got together at QWC offices, with QWC staff, Erica Wagner and Sarah Brenan from Allen & Unwin, and Sally Rippin and Pippa Mason, for a long weekend of getting to know each other, talking about writing, editing, the marketplace and publishing and getting individual feedback on our manuscripts. Of course a weekend is never long enough for writers to get together and talk about writing but we managed. Erica and Sarah really took the time, with Sally (who's been published by Allen & Unwin) and Pippa (agent), to make sure we all understood their processes and how Allen & Unwin work. It was a little bit of writer TLC and we all need that!

How to Become a Children's Writer

I'm very excited to have ordered your book, Become a Children's Writer. What are the most important things to keep in mind when writing for children? 

I think the most important thing is keeping a sense of fun and whimsy and surprising kids with twists or unusual situations. You also have to understand that kids are smart. Really smart. Write to entertain them, not to teach them morals, or because you think they're easier to write for than adults. That's just insincere and they'll sniff that out real quick.

What's next?
Well mostly that's up to the publishers. That's the name of the publishing game. My middle grade novel from the development program is back to Allen & Unwin for further consideration soon. I'm also putting together an ePicture book with my 17 year old niece who is a talented artist, we will probably self-ePublish that one as it is a little too odd to fit into mainstream publishing. And once that's done, I'm turning my attention back to some nearly finished YA and middle grade novels, and trying to get some more short stories out to SF magazines.

kids performing sleeping beauty scene
The Australian Script Centre
The Other 'Other' Tale Of The Three Little Pigs


Karen Tyrrell said...

Congratulations Renee for this brilliant interview with Bren. I was very lucky to to lunch with this talented author when she visited Brisbane on her Allen & Unwin mentorship. Fabulous to learn more about Bren's books.

Unknown said...

Hi Karen,
Thank you. I'm very impressed with Bren's books. She's definitely found her niche in the educational market.

I'm so grateful for Bren sharing her writing and books.

Julie Hedlund said...

Congratulations Renee and Bren on a great interview! I especially love the sentence, The journey to publication is constant.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Julie. Bren's comment reminds me of
the quote, Life's a journey not a destination.

Congratulations on having so many people interested in your 12x12 picture book writing challenge. I've signed up and I'm preparing a post about it on my blog.

Corinne Fenton said...

What a great article on Bren. I thought I knew all about you Bren, but it turns out I knew very little. Congratulations on all your achievements. Corinne

Ali B said...

Great interview with Bren MacDibble. I'm interested in checking out her book on writing for children.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments Corrine and Ali.

Ali, Here's the link for Bren's book on writing.


Unknown said...

Great interview Renee! When it was over, you felt like you really had meet Bren in person.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, James. I love how each author/illustrator has shared their personality, traits, humour, and quirks, just by the way that they've answered their interview questions.

Bren, has given us an invaluable insight into the writing industry and demonstrated a very likeable character. No wonder she's so popular!