Last month I attended the launch for Lesley Gibbes’ second published picture book Bring a Duck at the Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft, Sydney. Lesley has had phenomenal success since her launch into the children’s book scene last year with her first ever picture book, Scary Night, illustrated by Stephen Michael King. I am excited that she has agreed to be interviewed for the Just Write For Kids Blog.
Lesley, I hardly know where to start in our interview – so much has happened for you in what seems to be such a short space of time –I’m sure that we only see the tip of the iceberg and a lot had been happening over a long period for you to be where you are today. And where you are today is – two picture books published, one of them illustrated by iconic Stephen Michael King and winning CBCA Honour book this year (and representing Australia at the Bolgna Book Fair), and EIGHT more books on the way!
We’d love to get a glimpse ‘under the water’ as it were, into all the hard work and magical moments that propelled the proverbial iceberg out of the water. Apart from talent and perseverance (Paul MacDonald from the Children’s Bookshop says you are ‘driven’) how have you done it?
Let’s start with the idea of writing – Where did your interest in writing for children come from? Did it arise from your teaching background or before (or is it unrelated?)
You’re right Debra, it did arise from my background in teaching. In fact it really started at Sydney University where I studied Primary Education. I was lucky enough to learn about children’s literature from such passionate lecturers as Len Unsworth, Geoff Williams and the wonderful Robyn Ewing who won the Lady Cutler Award in 2012. Their passion for children’s literature was infectious. I left university with a love of children’s books and the mantra, always source the best literature for your students.
So over the next sixteen years I read and read and read aloud to my students the best literature I could find. All the while I was secretly learning about the structure, themes and characters in children’s literature.
As a teacher I did lots of writing such as plays and skits for assembly items. I even told stories through dance choreography. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this is where my understanding about storytelling and writing for children started.
However, I didn’t write for publication until I went on leave to have my two children. It wasn’t until then that I found I had the time.
How did you learn about and practice the craft of writing to get it to a publishable state? Did you belong to any critique groups, attend courses and association events? If so, how did they help?
When I finally decided it was time to write I didn’t know how to start. I knew no one in the industry including other authors and I had no idea how to submit a manuscript to a publishing house. So one day I started Googling and I found the NSW Writers’ Centre and Margaret Hamilton’s Pinerolo, The Children’s Book Cottage in Blackheath.
(Lesley with Frances Watts at book launch)
Frances Watts ran the very first course I attended at the NSW Writers’ Centre. She was fantastic and explained everything! I even had the beginning and end of my picture book ‘Bring a Duck’ written that day. I absolutely love the NSW Writers’ Centre and went on to do many more writing courses, manuscript appraisals and festivals there. The courses I attended not only taught me how to write for children but also were important for meeting editors, publishers, authors, illustrators and other aspiring authors just like me. It was by talking to other aspiring authors that I found out about Jane Covernton at Working Title Press who published my first picture book ‘Scary Night’. I was told she gave the loveliest rejection slips, which I thought sounded great.
I was also lucky enough to catch the eye of Margaret Hamilton at her picture book writing course at Pinerolo by reading my ‘Bring a Duck’ manuscript in front of the class. Margaret was so generous. She invited me to send my manuscripts to her for feedback. What I loved about Margaret was her absolute honesty about my stories.
Were you writing a long time before submitting these manuscripts? How did you know when they were ready to submit to a publisher? What feedback did you get and from whom?
I was writing only two years before my first picture book ‘Scary Night’ was picked out of the slush pile by Jane Covernton. But I was quite prepared to continue for a good ten years before I moved my creative urge onto something else. I understood that writing for children was not easy and would take a long time to learn and master. I was quite prepared to do the long haul.
Stay tuned next month to learn more about the steps to Lesley’s success…
Lesley can be found at http://www.lesleygibbes.com/
Debra Tidball can be found at http://www.debratidball.com/