On behalf of all of our readers, My Little Bookcase is incredibly honoured to be hosting Peter Carnavas on the final leg of his Little Treasures blog tour. He has visited many wonderful Australian websites over the past few weeks. The full blog schedule is listed below, and I’ve highlighted my particular favourites. Make sure you check them out:
- Be A Fun Mum- *A beautiful insight into Peter and his many hats.
- Sophia Whitfield’s Blog- *Peter takes you on a tour of his Drawing Room (What a treat!)
- The Book Chook-*Peter talks about visual literacy- telling stories with pictures
- Kids Book Review-*Peter shares some of his favourite cheeky book characters
But, what makes Peter’s visit to My Little Bookcase extra special is that this interview is the result of a wonderful collaboration between 30 of our readers who joined in to ask Peter a question. The questions are insightful, and surprisingly we had very few double-ups. I always endeavored for My Little Bookcase to be a community; this interview demonstrates that although it may be small, we have definitely formed a lovely community of children’s book lovers.
This is a LONG post, but with 30 questions for Peter to answer, it was always going to be lengthy. Peter admits that this is the longest piece he has written in a long time (Ooops! I hope we haven’t scared him off visiting again). At times, Peter found that it was easier to address multiple questions in one response. It is a beautiful interview that gives you a great insight into Peter as a writer, author, artist, teacher and parent.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOU- BROTHER, TEACHER, WRITER, READER
Allie Apps asks Who would you say was the most influential person in your life? and since you are a naturally quiet person, how could I encourage my child ( who always stands back and is really shy) to show their personality in front of people a little more?
The most influential person? It’s hard to pick just one…my parents, my wife, my kids, my siblings, good friends. My brother is quite important to me, as I still feel his approval is the one I value the most. I think something that helps shy children is to find a small skill they can develop, something that gives them confidence, even if it’s not in front of others. It might be drawing or music (for me) or swimming or making things out of clay or whatever. Of course, it’s much easier to say than put into practice – I’m trying to work out the exact same thing with my own daughter.
Ernie asks Are you generally an artistic person, creating and making things in all aspects of your life, or is writing your only outlet?
I’ve always drawn pictures, written stories and played music. For years I thought I would pursue music in some way but the pencil gradually took over my life. I’m pretty hopeless at anything 3D, like pottery, and I can’t sew on a button, despite being taught many, many times.
Diana asks What do you enjoy more: Teaching OR locking yourself away and letting your creative juices flow, writing children’s books???
I enjoy teaching but I’d make a very happy hermit.
Kate @ Puddles and Gumboots asks What were some of your favourite books as a child?
I loved anything by Roald Dahl. Matilda and The BFG still battle it out for my favourite.
AmberB asks Is there a particular book of yours that you are most proud of?
I have a soft spot for Sarah’s Heavy Heart. I always enjoy reading it and I think it best represents who I am.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE THEMES IN YOUR BOOKS:
Jessie Boan asks Do you have any training or life experience that has driven you to write about the “tough stuff” for children’s sake? (Full props to you – great work)!
Rebekah asks I’m curious to know how you handle such sensitive topics when writing the books and what is the motivation for the topics in your books?
I try to write the stories with as few words as possible, so readers can fill in the gaps. I think when readers are allowed to interpret in such a way, they become a part of the story more.
I think some of the serious issues in my books are just things we all go through. Jessica’s Box began as a story about me trying to work out how to impress people and eventually meeting my wife. Sarah’s Heavy Heart is about that feeling we all get sometimes when we are carrying something that weighs us down. I feel strongly that children go through these things as well and, just because they aren’t grown-ups, that doesn’t mean it feels any less important to them.
I have illustrated a charming little story by Alex Field called Mr Darcy, inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with a very proud and polite duck as the title character. I am currently finishing off my next story, The Children who Loved Books, about the ways in which books bring us together, both physically and emotionally.
Marita asks Do you plan to write more books helping children through the difficult parts of life? and if so what topics are you tackling?
The Children Who Loved Books (out next May) touches on a few important themes: the misconception that we need to live in big houses, the importance of learning to share space with others and the power of books to bring a family together.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHARACTERS YOU PORTRAY:
Kristy@houseofprowse asks Following on from this quote in Jackie’s review, “He admits that the characters are reflective of his personality and he hopes that they are also reflective of other quiet children.” Have you ever tried to write from an extroverted point of view or about a gregarious child? Does it feel completely unnatural?
Wow, good question. I don’t know if I’ve ever tried it. Thinking about it now doesn’t feel natural to me but perhaps I should have a go. A new challenge!
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR READERS:
Yvonne Lim asks Because you are writing books for children, is it hard to choose the right word to express yourself?
It is important to choose words carefully so they sound just right, especially when read aloud. I don’t think I change my language because I’m writing to children, my only consideration is that it sounds right, has a nice rhythm, pauses in the right places, a little like poetry.
Michelle Rivett asks Do you anticipate these books to be read by one special person to a child to maintain consistency in such circumstances, or do you encourage a number of different readers to read the story to the same child so as to invoke varied discussions?
It’s a great idea for children to hear different readers. I read my books a lot and I sometimes get sick of my own voice, so I love hearing other people read them. Guy Sebastian once read Jessica’s Box on TV. He did a great job and I secretly want him to perform all public readings of my books from now on.
Laura asks As a pre-service teacher, I love the idea of introducing these books into the classroom. Would you introduce these on an as-needed basis or create a sort of life-skills program in the classroom?
Cath@leafjournals asks I often wonder if these “harder” topics should be tackled with kids who are not currently experiencing any hardships, who are fairly happy and carefree and have things going well in their lives. Do you think it is important for all kids to understand the issues in your books, or are they aimed more at kids who are experiencing troubles?
I suppose the books could be used for such a program, targeting the different themes of self-esteem, love, friendship, etc. I hope the books can also be read for general enjoyment, too, so they aren’t just preserved for a particular purpose. When I write the stories, I don’t necessarily think of them as helping anybody. I think of them as stories that all children can enjoy and if they help someone in some way, that’s a bonus.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR ILLUSTRATIONS:
Michelle Hunt asks Can you please describe your workspace?
Small, cluttered, cosy, with a view of the kids on the trampoline. There are all sorts of things in my Drawing Room, as we don’t have room for them anywhere else. There are instruments, clothes, bookcases, records. My desk is a nice space amongst the chaos. I have little treasures on here that all play a part in what I do – old metal sharpener, cracked lamp, photographs.
(Note from the Editor: Visit Sophia Whitfield’s blog for photos of peter’s Drawing Room)
DD asks When are you at your most creative? Mornings, nights, relaxing in your PJ’s or after a vigorous work out?
A vigorous workout! Haven’t had one of those for a while. I work best at night, when the house is quiet and I can listen to my records. I’ve always stayed up late. My dad used to work late shifts when I was a kid, so we would stay up until he came home. I haven’t been able to shake the habit.
Maria asks Is there a reason you rarely draw mouths on your characters? Love your illustrations.
It’s just the style I have adopted, although I’m working my way out of that phase now. I was initially inspired other illustrators who did the same thing – Bob Graham, Stephen Michael King, even the Charlie Brown illustrations from years ago. It suits my characters a little because they are very quiet, I suppose. I am working on a new book now and the characters have mouths in all of the pictures.
Jackie@My Little Bookcase asks How does the process of illustrating your own stories differ from illustrating the stories of another author?
I suppose the big difference is that the decisions are made together, as there is somebody else’s work at stake. Also, I get to have conversations with another human being instead of just talking to myself the whole time.
QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING:
Di asks Do you write your books the old-fashioned way using pen and paper or type all your ideas out and compose the story on a computer?
I like to keep my picture books quite short, barely reaching 200 words sometimes, so it makes sense for me to just write it out with a pencil and notepad. When it’s finished I’ll type it out and cut and paste it into a two column table – text and illustrations. I use this table to sort out the paging, as well.
Barbara asks What is the hardest thing about writing children’s books?
Getting the idea in the first place can be difficult. I enjoy playing with the words to get them to sound just right, so I don’t find the actual writing part too hard. I guess writing an ending that is happy, satisfying but not too corny poses some challenges.
Yvonne Lim asks Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspired from things I read or see. Books, articles, newspapers…all these things have inspired stories. Whenever I find myself thinking and feeling strongly about something, I try to work out a way that it could be turned into a children’s story.
Raelene Graham asks Do you think of the message you want to convey first and work the story around that or vice versa?
Yes, I think of the message first, although I’m always a little wary of coming across as a bit preachy. Whenever I hit a stumbling block, I ask myself, “What am I really trying to say here? What’s the point?” This helps me cut out the unnecessary bits and focus the story more.
Joyce @ TOT: HOT OR NOT asks How long does it take to complete a story, from first putting pen to paper to final draft?
I think about my stories a lot before I work on them. When I start writing, the story will already be formed so I try to write it out in one sitting (usually). As I work on the illustrations, the text will change slightly to adapt to the images. The whole process takes somewhere between three and six months, I suppose.
Mick asks I know it must be hard to get topic ideas up and working but how do you know when to actually finish off a book?
Kaye Baillie asks Do you begin writing some stories then discard them? If so, what makes you decide to do that and is it based on a gut feeling or lack of feeling for that particular story?
If I have an idea in October and it still feels like a good idea in November, I’ll finish it. I think the story ideas that get finished are the ones that I write without any doubt creeping in. If I start to wonder whether it is really worth writing, it usually means that it isn’t.
I often write from experience. The only story of mine that required much research was The Great Expedition, inspired by the Burke and Wills story. However, I had read their story for pleasure, then drew a children’s story from it when I had finished. I probably could have written that story without reading the amount that I did but it helps having that knowledge when I present the book to children at schools.
Kerry Santillo asks I would like to know when your first book was published, also have you had any knock backs, and if so did this deter you from writing at any stage?
My first book, Jessica’s Box, was published in 2008. I was lucky enough to have it picked up by New Frontier, the first and only publisher I sent it to. I have worked with New Frontier since then, so we have a good working relationship and I haven’t really gone through the rejection experience that other writers have had. I sometimes feel a bit bad about this. I did miss out on a lot of competitions years ago, if that counts?
Bec asks What advice to do you have for people wanting to get into the field of published work. I am interested in writing children’s books but have no idea where to begin.
Very briefly… get opinions of your work from people you trust, attend festivals, workshops, etc., research publishers and submit to one that suits your story (check out Australian Writers Marketplace through the Qld Writers Centre), join up to the online newsletter Pass it On, keep an eye out for a book coming soon about making picture books by the folk at Child Writes (http://www.childwrites.com.au/childWrites/index.htm), and, more than anything, spend a lot of time reading children’s books and thinking about why the good ones work.
Jess asks Did you always want to write children’s stories? Or was that just an ‘easier’ market?
I used to write a lot of adult short stories (without anyone ever reading them – except the comp judges that didn’t like it) but turned more to children’s books after becoming a primary school teacher. I like writing picture books. I think the format suits me and my ideas best.
Kristy@houseofprowse asks How did you find out about New Frontier? Cold call, knew someone, liked other books etc?
I found New Frontier in the Australian Writers Marketplace, checked out their website and liked the look of their books and their philosophy. I thought my story matched the sort of books they wanted to publish.
Karina W asks How did you get into this? I might consider a career in writing kids’ books!
After being a teacher for a few years, I complete an online course with Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids’ Book, which led to much greater understanding of children’s books and a dummy version of my first book, Jessica’s Box. It just went from there.
Thank you to all the readers who contributed to this interview. It was a tremendous team-effort of which I’m extremely proud. What is even more exciting is that each reader who left a question for Peter was in the running to win one of his Little Treasures Book Sets. I’m excited to announce that the following readers were randomly selected to receive a book pack:
-Joyce@ TOT:HOT OR NOT
Ladies, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your delivery address and I’ll organise your treats to be mailed to you asap. :)