Penny’s wonderful picture book Captain Sneer the Buccaneer (illustrated by Gabriel Evans and published by Walker Books) was released in September to great fanfare and Penny has been riding the wave of swashbuckling book launches and appearances around the Sydney area since. Penny also has a series of board books for preschoolers (The ‘Hey’ books, recently shortlisted for the CALEB award) and other Christian resources published by Christian Education Publications (CEP) over the last few years. Her latest picture book with CEP The Mighty Mighty King Christmas Book is due for release any day.
It’s been a delight to run into Penny around the literary traps, and to watch her shine in front of a crowd of kids as she not only reads, but performs her book – her Preschool-teaching background comes to the fore. Penny has an understated cheekiness that pulls you in.
In this first instalment, I love what Penny has to say about how she starting writing – she really had no idea! This is a fabulous interview for those starting out, to see what things helped Penny develop such a sophisticated and surprising writing style, and how she eventually came to be published. Her whole story is also a lesson in patience 🙂
Penny what got you started writing for kids?
I had no plans to become an author. My writing began when I had young kids and was running a musical playgroup at my church. I was looking for books with a Christian message which were fun to read to a group of adults and toddlers and meaningful to both church members and people from the wider community. I couldn’t find many which worked in that setting.
I didn’t initially think of writing picture books myself, because I assumed I would need to illustrate it or find an illustrator. Plus, even though I enjoyed writing I didn’t think it was something I was particularly good at. But one day I was playing with photos on Photoshop, making my son laugh by editing his face. This gave me the idea for a funny book about ‘that’s not how God made me’. I thought I could illustrate it myself using photos of my son. I made up my dummy book and was surprised when the Australian Christian publishers weren’t interested.
At this time a friend told me about the Sydney Writers’ Centre, which is now the Australian Writers’ Centre. I enrolled in ‘Writing for Children’ simply to learn how to get my one little book published. While I was doing this course, my daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which produced a mix of intense emotions in me. I found writing a wonderful way to work through my feelings and I was soon addicted.
How long have you been writing and what things have you found beneficial to help develop and encourage the craft of writing?
The first course I did was in 2010. This course was brilliant but I followed it up with courses more specific to picture books. I’ve done a few half-day or one-day courses, which have always been inspiring and given new personal insights from the individual presenters. ‘Writing Picture Books’ is a 5-week course taught by Cathie Tasker at AWC and this was most beneficial to me simply because it was longer and allowed time to take in each topic we covered.
I’ve read a few books about writing and my definite favourite is ‘Writing Picture Books’ by Ann Whitford Paul. I keep going back to this book, especially when I’m stuck for how to fix a manuscript which isn’t working. It also has a great section on how to critique manuscripts, whether your own or someone else’s.
My writers’ group has been crucial to my development as a writer. These friend have kept me writing when I would have given up, partly because I always need to have a manuscript ready for the next meeting and also because I find it so inspiring to hear others’ creative manuscripts and receive their encouragement and suggestions.
Here ends part one of the interview – stay tuned for part 2 next month when Penny reveals the struggles in her writing life and the things that help encouage her to continue – as well as the path to publication of her Hey! books.
See my review of Captain Sneer the Buccaneer here
Penny’s Website is here
Here’s a great interview with Penny about The Mighty Mighty King (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
My website is here