I’m thrilled to be interviewing Janeen Brian on my blog today.
Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed, Renee. It’s lovely to be part of Books for Little Hands.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an author?
I didn’t really ever consciously decide to be a writer. I always like reading, but when I was teaching, a friend said she was going to a weekend writing workshop and would I like to come. I agreed and was surprised by how much I liked it. I’d only written little poems for my young daughters and as gifts for friends and family before that. It was only after many books were published, that I began to consider myself an author, but I think when I left teaching in 1990 to become a fulltime writer, that I felt comfortable announcing it to people and writing it on documents!
What is your writing and educational background?
I trained for 2 years as a primary teacher, 1966-67 and had my first class of Year 5’s in 1968, aged 18. Some of the best and fun memories were of reading stories and poems to that class and others later on, as well as making up stories and doing drama and singing with them. I really knew nothing of writing or the details of story structure. I learned it as I went along. Need became my motivator. I took correspondence writing lessons, but it was very solitary. There weren’t Writers’ Centres around or the number of writing groups, workshops or festivals as there are now. I never studied writing at a College or University.
What was your road to publishing like?
Wayward! I really knew nothing. The only manuscript I ever wrote before I was 30 with two young daughters was a story called Little Blue Pig, tapped out after a day of school on a portable typewriter. I sent it to Penguin, the only publisher I knew, and was dumbfounded when it was returned. I had no idea!! And yet that little story was quite close to my heart – it was about a little pig that didn’t fit in. A shorter edition has since been published with an educational publisher but that’s 44 years later! It was through my teaching background that I got my start in writing and being published. ERA Publications considered my work and I had many titles with them, including a CBCA Eve Pownall Honour Award book, called Pilawuk-When I was Young, a very early, and well-known book about the Stolen Generation, before turning my writing attempts to trade publishing. I now have 75 titles published, both educational and trade, though not all still in print, and at least 3 more titles due for release.
I probably have a leaning more towards shorter forms of writing than longer, so you won’t find me writing novel after novel. I love writing the picture book, poetry and short fiction or chapter books more than novels and information books, but I really enjoy the challenge and the different writing techniques and styles necessary for those forms also. So I’ve written in many genres. Three of my CBCA award books are the one I’ve already mentioned, plus the ever-popular picture book, Where does Thursday go? illustrated by the wonderful Steven Michael King, and the information book Hoosh! Camels in Australia. I’ve also written over 150 poems, stories, plays and articles for magazines such as The School Magazine, Pearson Magazines, and Ladybird and Ladybug for USA market.
When and where do you find you are most inspired?
I’m afraid although I’ve mostly got all my senses and pores on red alert for inspiration, for me it’s often more a case of finding or digging the story or poem out of whatever trigger or little note I’ve made for myself. A couple of stories have actually been easier to write than others; Where does Thursday go? was one of these, but the original story had been rejected and put away for years. Another, Party Time (which was a stand alone Aussie Nibble and which is now part of an anthology by Penguin called My Best Book of Nibbles) also I remember feeling as if it had a flow. That was based on my experiences as a Fairy Godmother (or Godmum I once overheard myself being referred to!!) at a Fairy Bay shop on Saturday afternoons. I also found my first picture book, called Beach Pirates easy to write. I was lucky it was published because I knew very little about the particular requisites for picture book back then.
You've written picture books, short fiction, non fiction, poetry, plays, and TV scripts. What do you enjoy writing the most and which do you find the most challenging?
I’ve probably answered that to a certain extent in a previous paragraph, but each form of writing has its own special challenge. In all, however, what I aim for is the right word in the right place. Many people comment on how they can imagine clearly what I write and that makes me feel good because I try hard to create strong word-pictures in the readers’ minds. I strive for accuracy in my information books as well as a narrative. I’m not someone who enjoys just bald facts and so I write for those like me who prefer a story-telling element in factual information. I also strive for honesty in emotions; whether it be through characters’ dialogue or interior monologue. I try to be honest with myself too; if I think I’m trying to be clever, I stop and rewrite. I did write eleven television scripts for Here’s Humphrey, a loveable bear who was a ‘four-year-old’, and I’m glad I did it, but it’s a much racier world in television land, and I prefer to mull longer over my work.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like a balance of outdoor activities and indoor. So there’s a mixture of reading, walking, travelling, bike-riding, swimming, aqua-aerobics and yoga with making mosaics from found/recycled objects (I have my own little studio down the backyard, near the chook-shed!), watching films, and theatre, knitting and other craft work, and of course, spending time with family and friends. I’ve also just joined a choir called Sing Australia.
Who were your favourite authors growing up?
There were few books around my home and even less at school, so I read whatever I could get my hands on. I didn’t have favourite authors because no one talked ‘authors.’ There was Enid Blyton, and I was given books like Heidi, Little Women and What Katy did, for birthdays or Christmas. I borrowed books from friends.
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
Having a huge metal sculpture made of my camel character from Columbia Sneezes! set in a Storywalk path in a park has been so special and gives a permanent testament to the story. That’s special. But so is having one of my books made into a textile object for a particular child who was visually handicapped. Then, there’s parents who say one of your books was the first their child had ever read. Or a child loving one of your books. There’s the prizes that go with winning awards and lots of other special things. But the highlight for me is the fact that I have been able to write and create for more than half of my life – and earn my living from it. Nothing beats that!
I have a story in Ford Street’s new anthology, called Trust Me, Too, which is being launched in July 2012; a chapter book called Where’s your flipper, Eddie Pipper? with New Frontier, which I had a lot of fun writing, due out in September 2012, and a picture book called I’m a dirty dinosaur! illustrated by the fantastic Ann James and published with Penguin, coming out in 2013. Also a picture-book called Meet Ned Kelly to be published with Random House. As well, I was lucky to win the 2012 Carclew Fellowship as part of the Adelaide Literature Awards and for that I’m compiling three new writing projects. One is a picture book on the subject of the Light Horse Brigade, another is a picture-poetry book, which the wonderful Anne Spudvilas will illustrate and the third is an anthology of my poems. I’ve finished that and it’s with my agent. As well I’ve had a number of my poems recently accepted by School Magazine.