Q. Congratulations on your latest book, Beijing Tai Tai. Whilst this book is aimed at the adult market you also have written many children’s books, in particular the ‘Riley’ series. Where do your story ideas come from?
My story ideas come from everyday life. Beijing Tai Tai is a non-fiction account of my experiences in Beijing, but my Riley the Little Aviator children’s series was also borne of our time in China’s capital. I had wanted to create a memento of my children’s life in China, and writing a picture book featuring my son and his travels across the city (and beyond) was absolutely inspired by our personal experiences.
My other story ideas are also inspired by life’s minutiae – or by children. In the past few years I’ve written books on subjects I’d love my kids to know more about, or take delight in. My latest children’s book – Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline was inspired by my desire to make our country’s history more accessible to younger children – I wanted to ‘make history cool’.
Making reading ‘cool’ is also something I’m passionate about – it’s a real thrill when my books inspire kids to write or read more.
Q. What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved Enid Blyton’s iconic book series like Amelia Jane and the Magic Faraway Tree. I was also a bit obsessed with Dr Seuss and Richard Scarry books, and Little Golden Books were a huge favourite when I was very young. Choosing one is near impossible but a major repeat read for me was The No Such Thing by Penelope Janic.
Q. Tell us a little about your other project – Kids Book Review.
KBR started life as a personal blog where I could enjoy reviewing and opining on picture books (my secret obsession). When I returned to Australia, it grew suddenly by word of mouth – and now comprises news, reviews, interviews, resources, giveaways, guest posts, and a plethora of children’s book industry information.
The more KBR grew, the more I added to it, and as a series of amazing contributors joined in, the site continued to blossom exponentially. I’m so proud that the site now achieves almost 55,000 hits a month (and growing!), and is frequented by parents, teachers, kids and industry professionals from all over the world.
It has been a glorious platform to get to know other authors, illustrators, publishers and literary professionals, which has certainly enriched my own work – but I still take much personal delight in sharing great books and the phenomenal children’s book talent we enjoy in this country. As my own work escalates, I’m battling to keep up with the site’s content, but my wonderful contributors, including Kelly Morton and Susan Whelan, really help keep things vibrant.
Q. As ACT Ambassador for the National Year of Reading you can appreciate the importance of reading to children from a young age. What outcome would you like to see from this special year?
I’d really like to see our woeful literacy rate soar in a positive direction . . . absolutely for adults, but especially for children. My heart physically aches when I meet children who either do not like to read or cannot read well – or worse – are not given every opportunity to fall in love with reading.
I recently visited a low SES school here in Canberra and was so heartened by the teaching staff – all clearly impassioned about improving literacy rates. When a teacher told me one of her young students said “you don’t find books in houses – only schools and libraries”, I was crushed. It’s hard to believe children are living in bookless houses, but NYR12 and its myriad volunteers are working hard to develop a reading culture in the home – specifically ‘reading for pleasure’, which is, essentially, what reading is all about.
I absolutely adore the sense of community (and fun!) NYR12 is fostering around our nation – for it’s this extended level of care that’s vital for literacy – in both adults and children.
Q. Tell us about your writing process? Do you make notes, let the story grow in your mind or do you just sit down and write?
It depends what I’m working on. For my non-fiction works, where much research is required, I plan carefully, take notes, keep annotations and fill in spreadsheets. For my fictional work, I write in a stream of consciousness . . . so much so, I often don’t know how the book will end until the ending is upon me. I’m consistently stunned at this natural ‘channeling’ of words that seems to come from above – it’s a little freaky sometimes!
Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?
I think I might like to be The Word Spy from Ursula Dubosarksy’s glorious series of books. I would don my hat and sit astride my silhouetted donkey and ride through the perils and pitfalls and brain-snagging joys of the English language and its remarkable construction. Yes, I’m that word-obsessed.
Q. And finally what’s next in store from Tania McCartney?
Right now I’m finishing off my second children’s picture book for the National Library of Australia, which will feature stunning Botanical paintings from their digital collection, combined with my own photography. I’m really excited about this book because I’m also designing and laying out the internal pages – something I love to do.
I’m also half-way through my third NLA picture book which is being illustrated by one of our best-known Aussie illustrators and showcases the Australian child through time. It’s for very young children, so will be heavily picture-driven.
I have a mid-year deadline for an historical junior fiction novel. I’m half way through it but can’t wait to get back into the story – it’s been so much fun researching and writing this book.
The pressure is also on from Riley fans . . . the fifth book in the series was due out later this year but has been delayed until next year due to other writing commitments. It’s nonetheless on the way! and in this edition, Riley will be visiting Canberra in search of a Jumpy Kangaroo.
Other than my KBR, NYR12 and speaking/workshop/school visit commitments, my next biggest project is some extended travel at the end of the year. And although our family always travels light, yes, I’ll be taking a catalogue of books with me. In this instance . . . thank goodness for iPads.