August 13, 2012

Interview with Children's Author Lee Fox

A huge welcome to children's author Lee Fox.

Have you always wanted to be an author?

As a child I dreamed of being a writer because I enjoyed writing poetry but I didn't have a sense of what being a writer/author meant or how one became a writer/author. In 1987 I thought about being a writer again, very briefly, because I was doing my VCE as a mature aged student and really, really loved all the writing components of the course. Other students thought I was crazy for this. In 2000 I decided to go for it and set out to do everything I could to make my dream a reality. 

What was your road to publication like?

Once I'd made the decision to be a writer, and set a goal to have my work published, I began calling myself a writer. I promptly enrolled in a Freelance Journalism course with the Australian College of Journalism. Each week I received my tutorial and set about completing it. It was so much fun to have a writing task to focus on then send off to my tutor for comments and feedback. As a result of this course I had my first article published and received some money! It was such a great feeling. By the end of the 25 week correspondence course I'd had three articles published in The Age newspaper and made $1,800. This was a clear indication that I should keep going. But I didn't want to do journalism. So I enrolled in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT and was accepted. I thought this course would give me the opportunity to try a few different genres and find what I was good at. I should mention that my goal by this stage was to write a book and have it published. I started with two subjects in the PWE course - Short Story and Editing.

Short Story was great for creating short writing projects and getting feedback from the class. Editing was great for perfecting my writing and learning about grammar and punctuation. I found the editing class tough at times but I would highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about improving their writing skills. I also did a short course on proofreading which helped immensely. The following year I enrolled in the Writing for Children subject, not because I particularly wanted to be a children's author but because I'd heard that the teacher was great. I didn't think I was too good at writing for children but I persisted because the teacher was actually great and her classes were a hoot.

During that year I wrote a story in rhyme about a girl who wouldn't let her mother brush her hair. I faced the same issue at home with my youngest child. I didn't show my teacher because she'd said that although kids, parents, teachers and librarians loved rhyming stories, publishers tended not to publish them (that's all I heard) unless they were very good (didn't catch that last bit). But I had enjoyed writing the story so I read it to my daughter then put it away. Sometime later - perhaps six months - I began thinking about the story again. I kept pushing the thoughts away but it was like the story was calling to me. One day I went - oh, I think I need to take notice of something here. I got the story out and sent it to a writer friend. She loved it and asked if I would like her to send it to her publisher. I said no. Only joking. I said, 'Yes, please do!!!' The publisher also said yes and Ella Kazoo was let loose on the world.

Tell us about your well loved picture book character, Ella Kazoo.

I love Ella Kazoo. She has such a mind of her own. The idea for Ella came from my daughter, Mia, the youngest of my five children, because at the time of writing the story Mia was refusing to let me brush her hair. But once I decided on the name, Ella Kazoo took on a life of her own - much like her hair. I think children love Ella because they can relate to her but also because they love reading about someone else being very naughty and getting into trouble. Children tell me that they think Ella Kazoo is very funny. Cathy Wilcox did a wonderful job of creating Ella's physical body and her hair is particularly wild. Just like Ella really.

What advice would give writers trying to perfect the art of rhyme?
Friends gave me a great big thesaurus for my birthday many years ago and I got myself a good rhyming dictionary. These resources have been very helpful to me but others may not need them. I also read a lot of very good rhyming stories, including older rhymes and more contemporary rhyming stories. Reading rhymes aloud was also good for getting an ear for the form. Another important aspect to focus on is finding rhyming words that move the story along. Avoid choosing words just because they rhyme. Every rhyming word has to make sense and move the story along. Choose strong verbs and lively language. Be clever and witty when rhyming as this will delight readers and make their ears ring with joy.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I have two other jobs that I do because I need to earn a living. Unfortunately my writing doesn't earn me enough to live on and my teenage daughter is now in women's sized clothing and shoes! I do enjoy my other non-writing jobs though (I do quite a bit of corporate writing in both). Aside from working full-time and visiting schools and libraries when I'm invited to, I like walking, cooking, reading, listening to music and spending time with my family and friends. By nature I'm an introvert but I have very good social skills. So if you can get me to a party I will probably be very entertaining company. The trick is to get me there in the first place:))

What's been a highlight of your career so far?

There have been a lot of highlights after the initial one of having my first book published. Being shortlisted for a CBCA award was a thrill. I love visiting schools and spending time with students - especially the ones who don't think they can write or feel that reading and writing is a waste of time. I enjoy the look on their faces when they realise they can do it. Residencies are a lot of fun because I get to spend time with students and teachers and get to know them better. Visiting small rural schools is so much fun and I had a residency in the Kimberly that was wonderful too. Being invited to take part in children's literature festivals is always fun because I get to hang out with a lot of other children's authors and I feel like I have found my tribe. Each time I see an advance copy of a new book feels like giving birth to another baby - adore babies. My children are very proud of my writing achievements, which makes up for me not being a perfect parent. 

Who are your favourite authors?

As a child I loved Enid Blyton. I still can't go past a Noddy book and not feel a ping of happiness. Can't explain that one. It is what it is. I love the work of Michael Gerard Bauer, Gabrielle Wang, Sally Rippin, Matt Ottley, Simmone Howell and Susan Green. But there are so many great children's authors in Australia and it's difficult to choose just one. I should also say that I read best sellers - not because I like the writing - but because I'm interested to know what their secret is. So far I can only say that you need write the right book at the right time - the next BIG thing. 

What's next?

I am currently working on my second young adult novel and it's called Looking for Poppies. It's about a 15 year old girl who is cranky because her parents are dragging her off to Turkey for three months. Her dad is in show business and just landed a gig performing at the Dawn Service in Gallipoli on AnzacDay. It's about conflict and the real meaning behind Anzac Day. The other project is a collaboration with my partner, Jan 'Yarn' Wositzky and is also about the Anzac story. We met with a publisher today to pitch the idea and they really liked it so, fingers crossed!


Dimity said...

I love the Lee's backstory about Ella! All my admiration to those like her who can ryhme and write!

Unknown said...

Hi Dimity,
I love Lee's book characters-Ella Kazoo, Ginger McFlea and Jasper McFlea. Some of my all time favourite books are written in rhyme. It's Time For Bed, The Magic Hat and Crocodile Beat.

Mary Preston said...

ELLA KAZOO WILL NOT BRUSH HER HAIR looks just wonderful. Indeed all the books do.