How I Wrote my First Children's Book
Family Tree Research
When we retired my husband and I soon took up several hobbies, some together, some separately. One of them was a mix of both - we both researched, but we each worked on our own family trees. We had been doing them, off and on, for some time. We moved to the Gold Coast to be nearer one of our sons. After a few years, sadly, my husband, who was also my best friend, died.
As a member of Castlemaine Historical Society, from time to time I received a mail-out. One was for a competition that included the Malcom Blume Awards for a book on a local family tree. Entries were to be sent in about six months' time. I thought,
"This could be good therapy. I should try to finish my Family Tree research and write it all up.That would give me a goal to work for."
I immersed myself in this and, almost at the last moment finished and sent it off. It felt good that at least I had achieved something. What was my delight when the Awards were announced! I received First Prize and a cheque. The only sad thing was that my husband wasn't there to help me celebrate. Part of the comment on the award was
'Sets a very high standard...very well written and well presented.'
One of my daughters, Amanda Thompson who is a Finished Artist, designed the cover and I used the prize money towards having the book printed by The University of Queensland Printery. I even had orders from James Bennett, Sydney booksellers who sell to libraries.
The Pandanus Tree Fruit Seeds
Now, I truly had the writing bug! But what to write about next?
Then, one day when I was taking two of my grandchildren for a walk along the beach, we picked up one of the seeds from a Pandanus tree fruit. It was strange, something appeared to have bored into it, so it seemed to have two eyes. We looked for more. Some others seemed to have two eyes. There were even markings that could have been a nose and mouth. We decided that the bumps on the top was the pandanus person's 'hair.'
So, the stories of The Pandanus People were born.
There were five stories, mostly about Billy and Jilly who lived in a Pandanus fruit house with their mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, and, as I had been an infant teacher at one stage long ago, each story includes some sort of moral teaching.
Then, as my first degree was School Librarianship, and I had loved those years of my teaching, introducing children to books and stories, I made full-page illustrations for each story. Each picture told a little more about the story than just the words - they were also intended for language work and observation with the young child being led by the teacher or parent.
The houses were the fruit - with chimneys, windows and doors; the Pandanus tree branches were the paths to the houses, some of the furniture was made from rubbish that human people left lying around or shells scavenged from the beach, and their pet was a beetle. Beetle appears in every illustration, but he is sometimes hiding and needs to be found, for example, when they are seated on small toadstools around a dining-table, which is a larger toadstool. Beetle is having his tea by hiding under the table and eating it!
Have you ever found Pandanus seeds with eyes like this?
Notes for Parents and Teachers
As the book was intended to be educational as well as fun, the last few pages of the book include notes with ideas for parents and teachers. There is a brief introduction about the aim of the book, then each story is looked at from the point of view of
- The underlying theme of the story
- What to help the child to observe
- A suggested follow-up activity
How to Publish?
As a young children's book, this did not seem appropriate for the University to print, so I looked online and found a publisher in the USA. who was willing to print it. One of their workers designed the front cover, using one of my illustrations, and the back cover.
Yes, the lamp over the matchbox dressing-table was two shells we found cemented together, so the fan shell is the 'mirror' and the other the 'lamp.'
The publisher did all the work, although I did go to Beijing as an author with them to advertise my book at a Booksellers' Trade Fair. It was very expensive, and I have since found that this is called 'Vanity Publishing,' but it definitely was fun. I did another children's book with them, but since then have written in a variety of genres and have self-published.
My latest book is the second in The Joan Murray Series intended for children aged about 10 - 12. The first in the Series was a girl's life and experiences during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The second is set in the years when the Depression was lessening, and there were rumblings of war. It is called 'Joan: Sunshine and Shadow' and hopefully it will be available in August and on my online 'Blossom's Bookstore.' It will be my fourteenth book.