Thursday, September 2, 2010

CHILDREN'S BOOK COUNCIL HONOUR BOOK, Potato Music and author Christina Booth

THIS MONTH'S GIVEAWAYS are Purinina, The Monster that Ate Canberra and As the Eagle, Flies the King. TO BE IN THE DRAW, POST A COMMENT. For submissions for author interviews to aussiewriters, post a comment and click follow.

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Our interviewee of the month is Christina Booth. Christina has just been awarded the Children’s Book Council Honour Book Award for the Picture Book category—a wonderful accolade. Christina’s interview shows how important mentors are. Welcome, Christina...

Our readers want books that reflect family values. Which books of yours are strong in that area?

I have a strong belief that we are caretakers of this world and its creatures and the environment—that we should do the best we can to care for each other as we undertake that roll. Each of my books reflects these ideals as each story I have written has been based in my own experiences and outlook. Purinina, A Devil’s Tale (Lothian/Hachette, 2007) was written to demonstrate hope that the Tasmanian Devil would continue to survive. Kip (Windy Hollow Books, 2009) is based on the story of our pet rooster. Potato Music (Illustrated by Pete Groves, Omnibus, 2010), is about a child’s perspective of the hardships of war.

Tell us a little about this book or if you have more, tell us about each.

Potato Music is a story that is based in family and how they overcome hardship together. It is inspired by a true story about my Opa (Grandfather) that happened during the Second World War in Holland, 1944. It is told through the eyes of a young child—how her family binds itself together with love, hope and music. When the darkness of war comes and the family begins to suffer from hardship and hunger they overcome through being together and the music that lights up their world. Then the music is gone and the child does not understand. They have food to eat and full bellies but the one thing that couldn’t be taken away was gone. Until her parents show her that it is inside their hearts and that, through hope and dreams life can go on and the family can survive.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an author. What dips and glides did you have along the way?

I had always dreamed of having my name on the cover of a book. As a young child I was a book hugger rather than a teddy bear hugger and learnt to read at an early age. I have always loved where books could take you and how they made you feel. I was very good at art—my best subject at school and so aspired to being an illustrator. I studied fine arts and teaching and became a specialist art teacher to ‘support my habit’ and painted abstract landscapes (still do!) until my first child was born (1991) when I once again became immersed in children’s books. I decided to try my hand at illustrating—pre internet etc.—and from Tasmania found it very hard to obtain information about how to go about it.

In 2000 I met through a relief teaching post a wonderful lady embarking on a publishing career looking for an illustrator for her poetry book series. Little did I know when I handed in my sample illustrations to be approved by the author, Bill Scott, that they would be handed to Colin Thiele, Bill’s neighbour, for a second opinion. I started illustrating the poetry book series and at Colin’s request, his was the second book I illustrated (I danced a wild dance around my kitchen when I found out about that book! He was one of my favourite authors as a child). So here was I—unknown educational illustrator, sitting on my lounge room floor at a tiny coffee table with a baby on my knee, illustrating for the greats: Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen, Christobel Mattingley. This was a wonderful way to get my foot through the back door of children’s publishing. At this stage I had not considered writing, just illustrating.

I found myself attending a writers/illustrators weekend retreat at the Tye Estate. We were as illustrators, asked to bring samples of writing we had and the writers were going to draw. I’m not sure who was the most nervous! I had some sample bits and pieces that I had written for my children so I tentatively took them along and had them assessed.

Potato Music received a number of thoughtful rejections stating its potential but it seemed destined to the bottom drawer where many first manuscripts are doomed to die. Almost a year after the first Tye weekend, I wrote Purinina, A Devil’s Tale. It seemed to flow so much easier than anything else I had written. I didn’t send it away but after a second visit to Tye, decided that door knocking publishers in person was the way to go so I hopped on a plane to Melbourne with very pink hair so they would remember me and visited a number of publishers with my portfolio in hand. As many publishers wouldn’t consider a manuscript unless it was solicited, I tucked a few inside with my illustrations to ‘show I could illustrate to text’.

I visited Helen Chamberlain at Lothian Books who sat and read my manuscripts. I decided there and then that I had just made the biggest fool of myself and that in future I would post them so I wouldn’t be present while they read my work. Thankfully she loved Purinina and this resulted in my first contract as both author and illustrator of a picture book. My dreams were coming true and now, one year after deciding to write, I was to be published.

I have now illustrated over 12 books for children and had three of my own picture books published. My latest, Potato Music, was re-visited a couple of years after discarding it to that drawer and with the help of a great publisher, we pulled it into a book worth publishing. This journey was to become different to the others, with another illustrator bringing the story together. This was difficult at first but I have learnt a lot from the process and it has helped me considerably as an illustrator for other writers. Since 2000, when I embarked on my career as an illustrator, I have now been a part of producing 13 books, have received the wonderful honour of receiving a notable book award (2008) as well as an honour book in the latest, 2010 CBCA Awards. It has had many highs and a few lows but it has certainly been an adventure that will continue....

What are the themes running through your work?

I suppose, without any fore planning, the theme of hope keeps occurring. Without hope I don’t think life is too worthwhile. For Purinina it was the hope that the Tasmanian Devil will survive humanity, with Kip it is that not so much hope but considering others, and with Potato Music, the message of having hope and keeping your dreams alive despite adversity is very strong.

Tell us something about your latest book.

As my latest book is Potato Music I have pretty much covered that. However, after saying one must never apologise for your work, I will add this. When I read this story to my Grandfather at his 90th birthday in Holland (the book is dedicated to him) I cried, understandably. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. However, I didn’t realise that 99% of those who read it for the first time—including a lot of grown men would also weep. It needs a tissue box warning on the cover. Sorry about that. It is a happy-ending story: it is not sad, but emotional. Kids don’t seem to mind. I am receiving letters that say that Mum or Dad cried but the kids went into a deep reflection of the story and that it evoked a discussion, even with very young children. An outcome I had never anticipated. A good example of how, once you have written your story, it takes on a life of its own, much like our children do. I received a note the other day from a mum who had just read the story to her four year old. She asked her daughter through her tears if it was a sad story or a happy story. The four year old replied “It’s a bit sad but not if we have dancing at the end”. This is what makes writing for children so worthwhile.

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