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The Christmas Garden - Q&A with Caroline Tuohey
Caroline Tuohey is an award-winning children's writer and poet whose main interest is picture books.She has four published picture books in print with two more (one with Larrikin House and the other Ford Street Publishing) due for release in 2020.She has also been published in children's literature magazines in Australia and Ireland as well as in anthologies and online poetry sites.She enjoys holding story time sessions at libraries, schools and preschools and conducts workshops for both school students and adults.Her other interest is bush poetry – which she writes and performs.
What is The Christmas Garden about?
It's a Christmas story reminiscent of the classic 'The Night Before Christmas'. It takes children on a garden adventure filled with Christmas trees, reindeer, elves and of course, Santa Claus. It's a celebration of Christmas, the beauty in nature and the power of imagination.
Is there a particular theme in your story?
Christmas is the main theme. And believing in magic and/or things that seem unbelievable.
Was there an inspiration for your story?
Yes, there's a friend of my mother's – her name is Sue Denson and she loves Christmas. She always decorates her house and garden each Christmas and as a child, it was one of the most magical days when we'd visit her either just before Christmas or just after. I still visit Sue each year at Christmas and am always transported back to my childhood when I pull up at her house. And also, gardens in my local towns that always are beautifully decorated at Christmas. So many people create wonderlands in their gardens that bring a lot of happiness to many people.
What is the story behind the story?
This story was originally just a poem which I'd recite at various Christmas events. Then in 2017, I realised I didn't have a recent manuscript to submit to the CKT online critique group. I was frantically scrolling through my Word documents, hoping to come across a manuscript that might be suitable, when I saw the file for The Christmas Garden. I realised that it actually was not only a poem, but a picture book manuscript. I made a few minor word changes, then submitted it to the critique group who all thought it was worth pursuing as a picture book. After that, I had Jackie Hosking assess it and she also thought it was picture book material. I then sent it to several publishers and Little Pink Dog Books accepted it.
What kind of research did you do to write this story?
Not a lot, but as it's in rhyme it had quite a number of drafts in order for it to be (hopefully) the best version of the story. I did spend quite a bit of time looking at various covers of Christmas picture books because I thought it important to try and have a 'different' look to the book so it stood out amongst all the other Christmas books. Obviously cover design is largely up to the illustrator/designer/publisher but I think writers need to be able to have an understanding of the illustrative side of the book in order to appreciate how important the illustrator is to a picture book. I'm thrilled with what Sandra Severgnini brought to this project. Her illustrations are beautiful and when I read it out loud and am looking at the pictures, it feels like a story from my own childhood.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to write for children?
Listen to advice from experts and those who have been published, be open to editing your writing again and again, don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't know the answer to something, try and attend conferences or writing workshops – it's a great way to meet other writers and industry professionals and get a feel for how things work. And finally, keep writing.