I love visitors! Today, I welcome Sydney author, Aleesah Darlison, who is going to talk about the difference between writing a stand-alone picture book and writing a series. In July 2010, Aleesah released her first picture book, Puggle’s Problem (Wombat Books) and in September, the first in her Totally Twins series, Musical Mayhem (New Frontier). A second Totally Twins title is due for a November release. Aleesah also reviews books for ‘The Sun Herald’. Her work has appeared in the ‘Short and Scary Anthology’ from Black Dog Books, ‘The School Magazine’ and ‘Little Ears’.

Thanks for visiting, Aleesah. Can you talk a little about your pathway to writing? Was it a gradual journey or was there a pivotal moment when you decided to write for children?

My journey to become a published author was extremely slow. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was sixteen – I’m now much, much older than that! After going through wanting to be several other things, like a vet, archaeologist and geneticist, when I won a national writing competition that saw my school awarded $10,000 worth of computers, I decided I wanted to be an author. Unfortunately, at the time everyone told me not to bother because I’d never make any money from it. I took their advice and studied marketing at the UNSW instead.

But the drive to be a writer never really left me. I still have a red folder full of poetry I wrote in my late teens and early twenties. I still have the historical fiction and romance manuscripts I wrote in my mid to late twenties. It wasn’t until I gave up full time (corporate) work to become a mum that I decided to give writing – as a career – a go and try to become a published author. Not only did it seem the natural thing to write for children because I had several of my own, I think my ‘inner child’ told me that was the age group I had to write for.

Puggle’s Problem, a picture book and your first published book was released this year with Wombat Books. And New Frontier Publishing are publishing your twins series. How different is working on a picture book project to working on a longer project (more about series later)?

They’re both lots of fun. My series is illustrated (in black and white) so I’ve had the joy of seeing both stories brought to life by talented artists. Sandra Temple illustrated Puggle’s Problem. She lives in Brisbane and I have only met her once (so far). Serena Geddes illustrates the Totally Twins series and she lives near me so we have been able to work really closely together.

Obviously, a picture book text is far shorter than a junior novel. The difference in this case is about 500 words versus 15,000 words. Editing a picture book text is so much easier and quicker than a novel, but you still have to be careful with text and illustration placement to make sure everything is set out neatly and flows well.

Did you always see the twins project as a series? Did you plot a certain number of books from the outset?

Yes, I always wanted Totally Twins to be a series. I originally wrote two stories in the series and entered the first one in a writing competition. It shortlisted (top 4) and from there I sent it to New Frontier. I had submitted other manuscripts to them without any success but in speaking to Sophia Whitfield, the publisher, she said she was looking for a junior series for girls and asked if I had anything suitable. Of course, I thought my twins series would be ideal! I submitted a series proposal which included synopses for seven stories, and the manuscript for the first book. The characters were remarkably vivid to me from the start, so the ideas for their lives flowed out all by themselves.

Puggle’s Problem is written in third person and Totally Twins is in first person, using a diary format. Do you have a preferred point of view to write in? Why?

I tend to write a lot from the first person point of view. I particularly love writing as Persephone, seeing and interpreting the world through her eyes. She’s an easy, lovely, fun character to write. Writing in first person gets you really close to your character – inside their head, in fact. I guess it depends on the story, but it’s often the way I like to write because I think it can translate to a more realistic protagonist.

Puggle’s Problem is pitched at quite young children and Totally Twins is for a mid-primary readership. What age group are you most comfortable writing for?

Am I sitting on the fence if I say both? First of all, going back to the ‘inner child’ concept, I’ve been told that you should write for the same age group as your inner child, which I consider to be about 11 years old. Still in primary school, not yet hit puberty, with an innocence and simplicity to life that really appeals to me. So that’s the age I tend to write for, about 8 – 12 year olds. Problem is, I also love writing picture books. My children are right in that age group audience (2 – 7 years) so I get a lot of ideas and inspiration from them. Plus, the joy of having my work illustrated is another motivating factor for writing for that age group. I’d be happy if I could keep getting books published in both genres.

Many writers are inspired by other writers around them, and are often mentored whether formally or informally. Do you have idols or mentors in the writing game?
When I was starting out I read as many books by Australian children’s authors as I could: Libby Gleeson, Kate Forsyth, Libby Hathorn, Mem Fox, Pamela Allen, just to name a few. At first, I was totally star-struck when I met these wonderful authors, but now as time has passed and I’ve gotten to know many of them as friends, I’m less star-struck, but no less in awe of their talent and their giving nature. I won an Australian Society of Authors mentorship with Kate Forsyth in 2009. She has been absolutely wonderful, giving me loads of advice on more than just my manuscripts. Other authors in my local CBCA sub-branch have also been fantastic: Belinda Murrell, Karen Robertson, Wendy Blaxland and others. And then, there is the wonderful Susanne Gervay who, along with Chris Cheng, runs SCBWI in Australia. Susanne just gives and gives and gives in terms of her knowledge on writing opportunities, self-development, career advice and networking and publishing opportunities. These women writers are all my idols.

How important is promotion in the success of your books? What ongoing promotional activities do you have planned?

More and more I’m learning that promotion is an important part of the publishing process. Publishers and booksellers delight in authors who get out there and promote their work. To establish myself in the industry, I’ve worked very hard these last few months promoting my books. At this early stage in my career, it’s up to me to create my own opportunities – developing events that link in with my books, like the Puggle Picnic I’m organising at Featherdale Wildlife Park (Sydney) in November. Eventually, I hope people will approach me for events, not the other way around.

Looking forward to 2011, I’m sewing up festival appearances, planning launches for the books I have coming out, and confirming school visits for author talks and workshops. All the basics, really, but they’re key ways for children’s authors to get their name out there.

Generally, I start locally and work out from there. I’m really grateful for all the support I’ve received from the media any my friends in my local community on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and in the Manning Valley where I grew up.

When Aleesah isn’t chasing her writing rainbow, she’s usually looking after her three very energetic children and their two dogs, Buck and Floyd.

Puggle’s Problem, Aleesah Darlison ill Sandra Temple published by Wombat Books

Little Puggle Pipp has a problem. No spines. He’s healthy and happy otherwise, but this no-spine thing is really bothering him. Mum urges patience, but Pipp sets out to see if he can speed up the process. He tries all manner of solutions that help other animals develop their unique characteristics, but still his spines are a no-show. Young children will identify with Pipp, as waiting is seldom easy. Illustrations are in colour pencil and depict a range of Australian animals. Sandra has used lots of white space and the landscape, when shown, is iconically Australian. Endpapers show dancing ants – perhaps enjoying Pipp’s search for his spines because it means he’s not looking for them?

Totally Twins I: Musical Mayhem, Aleesah Darlison Ill Serena Geddes published by New Frontier Publishing

Persephone Pinchgut is a twin, and most of the time that’s a great thing. But not at the moment, when she’s trying to avoid being on stage for the school musical. She and her sister Portia may be identical in appearance, but they have very different personalities. Portia is a fantastic singer and can’t wait to be star of the musical. Persephone can’t think of anything worse. Portia can’t seem to think about anything else…except teasing Persephone about her not-so-good singing. Persephone tells her story in first person via her diary entries. Humourous illustrations from Serena Geddes intersperse the text. Mid-primary readers will enjoy this peek into Persephone’s world, and look forward to Persephone’s next adventure. Totally Twins: Musical Mayhem is the first in a new series from New Frontier Publishing.

To learn more about Aleesah and her books, you can visit other stops on the blogtour:

Tues 5-Oct Stories Are Light Blogspot with Sandy Fussell http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/

Wed 6-Oct Be a Fun Mum with Kellie Burstow http://beafunmum.com/

Thur 7-Oct Kids Book Review with Tania McCartney www.kids-book-review.blogspot.com

Fri 8-Oct More Than Words Blogspot with Debbie Johansson http://dsjohansson.wordpress.com/

Mon 11-Oct The Book Chook with Susan Stephenson www.thebookchook.blogspot.com

Tues 12-Oct Book Blog with Dave Hibbins http://bookblog.com.au/

Wed 13-Oct Alphabet Soup Blog with Rebecca Newman http://soupblog.wordpress.com/

Thur 14-Oct From the Mouths of Babes with Katrina Roe www.fromthemouthsofbabes

Fri 15-Oct Squiggle Mum with Catherine Oehlman http://squigglemum.com

Mon 18-Oct Let’s Have Words with Claire Saxby http://letshavewords.blogspot.com/

Tues 19-Oct Sally Murphy’s Writing For Children Blogspot www.aussiereviews.com

Wed 20-Oct Book Blog with Dave Hibbins http://bookblog.com.au/

Thur 21-Oct Read Plus with Pat Pledger http://www.readplus.com.au/

Fri 22-Oct BooBook Blogspot with Rebecca Newman http://www.boobook.wordpress.com