Janeen Brian – Interview with CKT

Janeen Brian

Q. What are five words that best describe you?

persistent, kind, sensitive, witty, creative

Q. What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?

I was 21, I had the use of a portable typewriter, I was in my third year out teaching, and one day after school, I came home and tapped out a small story called Little Blue Pig.  It was never published, but I remember the feeling of writing unselfconsciously, of simply writing because of the joyous feeling it gave me. I particularly remember a phrase I used to describe ‘the time element’ in the story, calling it half-past Wednesday.  I loved that phrase, and now I realise it’s probably because, despite not having access to many books while growing up, the phrase had just popped out. It felt original.

Q. What’s the best piece of writing advice you have been given?

Your first draft can be total rubbish because you can always improve on it, just as in the same way writing is a craft and you can always learn and improve.

Q. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I don’t have a strict method. But I do more detailed plotting with longer pieces, and I certainly did with my latest novel, Walking for gold,  which is historical fiction. I tend to brainstorm and jot down ideas and link them together, write a bit, edit, rewrite, back-and-forthing and so on. Although I maintain the basic story-writing elements I really go with how I’m feeling with each book or poem. So I do both.

Q. Do you find social media beneficial when promoting your work or name?

Indisputably. I can’t imagine any writer who wouldn’t access social media these days. It also goes without saying that it’s also expected by readers, colleagues, teachers, librarians and others in literature circles, as well as by the publishers themselves. Promotion is an essential part of writing. Someone wiser than me once said, what is the use of spending all that time writing a book if no-one knows it’s out there.  There’s also no doubt that I could promote more, but some times it’s a matter of finding the time to find new, suitable sites, as well as being active with hands-on promotion like contacting newspapers and radio and being involved in school and library visits. My aim this year is to reach a wider audience.

Q. Tell us a little about your publishing experience.

To begin with, I must preface the answer with the statement that I had never thought of myself as becoming a writer. So, finding myself in the happy situation of having almost 90 books published, as well as hundreds of poems and stories in anthologies, the fact that I am still fills me with a sense of incredulity. Another writer once spoke of being an accidental author  and I perhaps still regard myself as that.

Having been a teacher, I was lucky enough to know  someone in the field of educational publishing and that’s how I got started. I wrote dozens of stories, fiction and no-fiction, learning a little bit of the craft each time. I’d often written poems, mostly when my two daughters were young, and I began attending a few writing classes and submitting my work. School Magazine  has been my Fairy-Godparent for over 30 years, publishing my stories, articles and poems and providing the much needed encouragement to a fledgling writer, simply by getting published, as well as the financial remuneration, which a I valued.

The then, newly formed South Australian Writers Centre gave me the next helping hand, introducing me to other writers and especially children’s writers. Networking played a big part in starting to understand the bigger picture, publishing houses, and how everyone  suffered rejections.

From then on, I wrote a lot for myself, but I also entered dozens of competitions and sought out publishing opportunities wherever I could find them. I’d say that at least 60-70% of work that was originally rejected finally found a home.

When I began to win awards and Notable books in CBCA awards, I became more well known. Today I still write within a cross-section of genres; picture books, poetry, short fiction, novels and non-fiction.

Some of my most popular books to date have been:
Where does Thursday go?
Pilawuk – when I was Young
Hoosh! Camels in Australia
Silly Galah!
Meet Ned Kelly,
That Boy, Jack
I’m a dirty dinosaur.

About four years ago, I approached Jacinta di Mase, a literary agent, who took me on as a client. That’s been a wonderful relationship and a great step in my ‘30-something’ years of a writing career.

Q. If you could be any character for a day who would you be and why?

The girl, Opal, in Kate di Camillo’s wonderful book, Because of Winn-Dixie,  because Opal showed strength, courage and generosity of spirit towards all beings; be they a scruffy, homeless dog or other odd characters whom she befriends in her travels with her preacher father – despite carrying her own sadness.

Q. What’s next from Janeen Brian?

This year (2015) I had three new picture books released ( I’m a hungry dinosaurSilly Squid!  and Where’s Jessie?)  as well as two educational titles, (Ferdinand at the Fair  and Ferdinand and the Dance)  and a short story ( The Art of Illusion)  in an anthology called Rich and Rare.  Due out in 2016 is an historical novel about a Chinese boy in Australia, called Yong; the journey of an unworthy son,  picture books, Meet Nellie Melba  and Mrs Dog,  two educational titles, Paint my face  and My broken arm,  two poems in an Australian anthology called Our Home is Dirt by Sea  and one poem in an international anthology called One minute before bedtime.

Janeen’s website: janeenbrian.com.au

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