Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Delilah’s Birthday Surprise

Delilah's Birthday Surprise

Who doesn’t love birthdays? Birthdays mean decorations, friends, cakes, and of course, presents. Some of us have received some pretty incredible gifts throughout our lives, but what about… a hippo? In Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, multi-genre author Danielle Van Alst introduces us to seven-year-old Delilah as she experiences the most memorable birthday of her life.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: How is the process of writing a children’s book different than writing a book of a different genre?

A: I believe good stories from all traditions tend to have certain things in common, including convincing dialogue, strong characters and memorable settings. This goes for children’s stories as well as stories for adults, although there are some important differences. Stories for adults, for example, aren’t usually illustrated. And, depending on the age of the children you are writing for, there are elements of violence and sexuality you’ll want to leave out or handle with great caution. I like to keep children’s books lighthearted, fun, and entertaining all while sending a message.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I grew up as an only child and had difficulty relating to people my own age. Admittingly, being an only child can get lonely at times. I thought how fun it would be to create a character who is an only child in a nontraditional household and gets a “buddy” for a birthday present. That friend just happens to be a hippopotamus from her eccentric grandmother. I wanted Delilah to be able to feel unique and special, when all she ever felt was “different or weird.” I wanted to depict a situation that may not be seen as “typical” in a fun way.

Q: How often do you write poetry?

A: I write poetry every day, even if it’s just something small like a haiku. I have an Instagram account that I use as a poetry diary. It’s a great way to express myself while combining my love of poetry and graphic design. You can check it out @dvanalstwriter.

 Q: What is your favourite genre to write and why?

A: That’s a tough question. That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! I actually really enjoy challenging myself and experimenting across genres. I enjoy writing mystery, horror, historical fiction, poetry, kid’s lit, and tragedy. I suppose it would be easier for me to name the genres I tend to avoid and that would be sci-fi, fantasy, and erotica.

 Q: How would you describe your experience working with an illustrator?

A: I have worked with three different illustrators on three different book projects and they have all been a little different. For A World of Imagination and Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, I was not in direct contact with the illustrator. Instead, I sent a detailed storyboard to the publisher explaining in-depth exactly what I wanted each illustration to look like. The descriptions had to be exact all the way down to the shoelaces on Delilah’s sneakers and the decorations on the wall in her bedroom. The publisher would then send my storyboard over to the illustrator where they would draw it, send it back to the publisher, then the publisher would send it to me for approval or a redo.

For my upcoming book, Little Winnie Witch Goes to Flight School, I was able to work with a freelance illustrator one-on-one and it was a great experience collaborating on this project. I told her my vision and how I wanted each picture to look and she delivered with flying colors!

Q: What first ignited your passion for writing?

A: I have been writing since the day I could make scribbles on paper with a crayon. When I was really little I wanted to be a newspaper woman and write all the stories that were going on around me because I was so fascinated with other people’s lives. I was always watching and observing the world around me and making up stories about what I saw. I started a little newspaper in elementary school complete with a comics section and was certain that was what I wanted to do. I loved retreating into my imagination and making up stories that I could escape into. I guess I was just enamored with the world of pretend and make believe because it was so much more fun than reality! From there I started exploring different types of writing and got into poetry, short story writing, essays, flash fiction, and novels. I wanted to do it all!

 Q: How would you describe your publishing experience?

A: It has been both challenging and rewarding. I have worked with several different publishers and have learned a lot along the way. It’s a long process from idea to the completed book readers hold in their hands and the road is often bumpy and stressful. There is a great deal of rewriting, correcting, technical error repair, formatting, marketing, editing, graphic design, and promoting involved with the release of a single book. The result is something you created that everyone can enjoy!

Q: Was there any particular reason you chose a pet hippo as Delilah’s birthday present?

A: I thought a hippo was a unique and quirky pet. I have a lot of adventures planned for Delilah and Louise as this is book one in a series and a hippo seemed like a perfect fit for all the trouble they are going to get into!

Q: What is your favourite birthday present that you’re received?

A: Honestly, it’s the gift of love and quality time. As a kid, I never had birthday parties or anything like that but, as an adult, a very beloved friend of mine began celebrating my birthday with me. It’s so wonderful to just be together and feel loved and special on my day. There is nothing better than just relaxing and being with people you care about.

Q: What future projects of yours should we be looking out for?

A: I have a ton of projects in the works! I have another children’s book coming out in mid-September.  I also have another historical fiction novel surrounding the North Berwick Witch Trials that is very near completion. It’s a story that has taken me years to write due to the extensive amount of research that needed to be done. I’m hoping to see that released sometime next year. Stay tuned!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to thank all my readers. Without you, none of this would be possible!

 

A Chat with Mary Langer Thompson

Skink

As we go through life’s journey, there’s no shortage of lessons to be learned. Further, we never know who the messenger will be that’s going to deliver the advice and guidance we need to become our better selves. Sometimes it’s a parent or teacher. Sometimes it’s a total stranger. And who knows? Sometimes new wisdom comes to us in a completely unexpected form. A skink, for instance. Mary Langer Thompson, author of How the Blue-Tongued Skink Got His Blue Tongue, introduces us to her intrepid reptilian protagonist, Dinky, and shares insights on how her own journey as an educator and a writer first began.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Many an educator I’ve met chose to follow this particular career path because of a longstanding family lineage in academia or the influence of a favorite teacher when s/he was growing up. Who or what made you decide that becoming a teacher was what you wanted to do?

A: My mother was an elementary teacher, but it wasn’t until my 12th grade high school English teacher, Carroll Irwin of Hoover High School in Glendale, California, made me fall in love with English literature so that I became an English major in college and wanted to be a high school teacher like her. I corresponded with Miss Irwin before she passed away last year.

Q: As an adolescent and then a teen, was writing always your best subject?

A: No, some of my former English teachers used to read my papers aloud about what not to do, so it wasn’t until I mastered the five-paragraph essay and learned to give support for everything I said that I was any good at writing. Miss Irwin made us rewrite every single paper, and taught me that writing is rewriting.

Q: What books/authors might we have found on the nightstand of your younger self?

A: Nancy Drew books until I started sneaking into my older brother’s room when he wasn’t there to check out his bookshelf. I was in fifth grade when I discovered Lawrence Ferlinghetti (this was poetry? Wow!), Allen Ginsberg, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and authors like James Baldwin.

Q: Do you have a favorite children’s book?

A: When I was about 5 or 6, I got Scarlet Fever, which was serious in the early 1950’s. My mother and I were quarantined. She read her childhood favorite to me, Alice and The Teenie Weenies by William Donahey, now out of print, about characters three inches tall. She found and gave me that book not so long ago.

Q: Is there a famous author (living or dead) you’d most like to have dinner with?

A: I was asked this question before I was selected for jury duty once, and my answer is the same: Helen Keller. Although deaf and blind, her achievements in writing and speaking were incredible, and I’d love to ask her about her memories of her teacher and later friend, Annie Sullivan.

Q: In what ways did teaching (high school English) influence your writing and vice versa?

A: I was privileged to return to teach for a time at my alma mater in the 70’s, the days of the electives and so broadened my reading.  I taught Science Fiction, Mystery and Detective, Mass Media, Short Story, and because the curriculum was new, I wrote articles for English Journal, Media and Methods, California English and other educational journals. That’s when I started writing for publication.

Q: You moved from being in the classroom to becoming a public school principal. Although the latter still gave you access to and interaction with students, what were some of the transitional challenges of overseeing the activities and ethics of teachers versus the daily responsibility of assigning and reviewing homework?

A: I had been an assistant principal and thought I was well prepared, having worked closely with principals, being their right-hand person. By the time I became a principal I think the challenges with teachers were mainly generational. The teachers dressed more casually, some had nose piercings, purple hair, tongue rings, and many of the parents, even the ones their age, objected. Plus, we were opening a brand new school!  I had to have a lot of kindly talks and many times felt I was more a mother than a principal. One union rep told me I had “crossed over” (from being a teacher) and the teacher didn’t have to listen to me. However, I was in a new-to-me, poverty area, so I sympathized with the teachers because their job was hard in many ways and I didn’t want to lose them. I believed I was there to help them grow and develop but some of my bosses didn’t agree! The district was low-scoring and they didn’t feel we had time for growth and development. There was a lot of pressure. I believe it’s one of the reasons why California has a teacher shortage now.

Q: Your impressive list of publishing credits is primarily in the arena of poetry and essays. What made you decide to write your first children’s book?

A: When I retired, I joined the California Writers Club, High Desert Branch, and no one claimed to write poetry, so in order to stay in my critique group, I brushed off a children’s story I had been toying with. The club was going to have a reading at our local Barnes and Noble and approached me. I said, “Sure, I can read some poems,” and the answer was, “We don’t want your poems, we want you to read that children’s story you wrote!”

Q: Dogs, cats, horses and rabbits have long been popular stars of children’s literature. Centerstage in your book is a skink. Though it sounds like a made-up word, it’s a real animal native to Australia. When did the story of Dinky the Skink first take shape for you?

A: Quite a long time ago, in the 90’s, a friend having financial trouble called and said they had sold a pet skink to make that month’s house payment. I had never heard of a blue-tongued skink, Googled it, and up popped one in a picture with its blue tongue aimed right at me. I remember I had visited Australia on one of my husband’s business trips in 1980 and shopped all the book stores in Sydney for Australian children’s books to bring home to my then 5-year old son. I used to read to him every night. There weren’t that many Australian children’s books. One I brought back about a dingo dog scared him silly. An animal having a blue tongue is exotic, and so I tried to imagine for a long time how a skink might have gotten a tongue that color.

Q: Tell us about the story’s setting and why it works effectively as Dinky’s adventure unfolds.

A: Skinks are reptiles which led me to think of snakes. Snakes may not be liked by everyone, but they are fascinating. I remembered how I was teaching John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” to a tenth grade Honor’s class once and the author refers to “The Garden” in the first paragraph. My Honor’s students didn’t get the allusion which I couldn’t believe because they knew all about other mythological stories. How were they going to understand American Lit in eleventh grade? So I decided to set my story in The Garden with a “Know What’s What Tree.”

Q: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

A: Dinky the skink is bullied in all the ways kids and even adults are bullied—shunning, physical violence, name-calling, and more, yet he stands up to the bully, becoming a hero, and in the process obtaining a blue tongue. Dinky warns the bully that choices can go two ways, so I want to leave kids with the message that they can stand up to bullies and our choices in life are all-important.

Q: The title was recently made available in Spanish. Any particular reason? And are there any plans for future translations of a story with such a universal—and timeless—theme?

A:  In the second year of my principalship, I opened a Spanish dual-immersion school, a school within a school, that is now going into its 12th year and is the only elementary dual immersion school in the high desert. I translated the book mainly for Spanish-speaking children learning English. Because I taught in Glendale and was an English as a Second Language specialist there for a time, I am looking for someone to translate the book into Armenian as well.

Q: On your website you have a short list of favorite quotes. Among them is one by Carl Gustav Jung which states, “The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.” How and why does this quote personally resonate with you?

A: I think it is frustrating to the point of agonizing to have moments of grief or joy or even entertaining things happen to a person and for them not to have someone to share their story with. It can even lead to anger. My essay for Christina Hamlett’s anthology, Finding Mr. Right, was the result of someone contacting me after 40 years to tell the story of our time together years before. He had led an adventurous life and was looking for people with the skills to help him write it. Within my writer’s club, I am the director of the Dorothy C. Blakely Memoir Project, which is going into its third year this fall. We help high school students tell the stories of the lives of people over 50, and then publish the stories. We have a book launch party at the end of the year and the “Memoir Stars” are so happy their life stories are so valued.

Q: Retiring from a day job and becoming a full-time writer obviously has an impact on one’s self-esteem, outlook, time management, creativity, etc. Family members, though, certainly aren’t immune to the ripple effect of a loved one suddenly spending copious hours at a keyboard and engaging in conversations with the characters in her head. How has your own family responded to your full-time career as an author?

A:  Striving for balance can be difficult. However, with the publication of my children’s book, my husband became a publishing partner and began Another Think Coming Press, and my grown son, Matthew, suggested kids eat blue raspberry Tootsie Pops while they read so their own tongues turn blue. Some kids have sent me pictures of their blue tongues. He also bought me a skink cookie cutter. So now the whole family’s involved with suggestions for future Dinky stories and we’re all feeling a part of Dinky’s success.

Q: When you’re not at the keyboard, what do you like to do for fun?

A: If I’m not writing, I’m reading or traveling with my husband, Dave. We’re planning a trip to Yellowstone this year. We traveled to Arizona to the Tucson Book Festival earlier this year to sell books and to see friends and family on the way.

Q: Tell us about your participation in the California Writers Club and how it supports and nurtures the wordsmithing of its members.

A: When I joined the high desert branch in 2009, we were about to lose our charter at 15 members, the minimum. Since then we have built it up to over 100 members. I have been on the   board, led critique groups and salons, and taught writing workshops in schools, colleges and the federal prison, in addition to directing the Dorothy C. Blakely Memoir Project. We meet once a month and have wonderful outside speakers like Christina Hamlett come and give us tips for writing and publishing. We support each other, and always have someone to call when we need advice.

Q: Any savvy advice for new writers whose journey on the road to publication is just starting?

A: Find a supportive critique group, don’t give up your day job, and get connected on social media.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I have another children’s book, another poetry book, a young adult novel and a memoir in the works. I’ll continue to write book reviews for Middleweb, an educational website for middle school educators and San Diego Book Review and Amazon.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you want to help authors of books you love, there’s no better way than to write a review on Amazon.com. Of course I appreciate this interview, as well. Thank you!

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: You can find me on Facebook and learn more about my poetry on home.earthlink.net/~ml_thompson/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Loulou Szal

loulou_headshot

Loulou Szal, a teacher and homeschooling mother, is passionate about advancing the vocabulary of children and teenagers, and inspiring the same love of reading that has been part of her life through a wide range of experiences. She makes a point to personalize the books she signs, to engage young readers in the story from the first page. She believes that “as adults, we should show children how precious books are” and she follows through on that philosophy in many ways. It was a pleasure to talk with her and discover her perspective.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: What inspired you to self-publish The Diary of Arnmore?

A: I had had my writing published in my high school newspapers and university papers. I loved having my work out there. After I graduated I went straight into teaching and so was busy.  I didn’t write as much ‘till my husband and I moved to Papua New Guinea for two years and ran out of books to read and borrow. He asked me to write something and read it to him, so I started The Diary of Arnmore.

When I finally asked family and friends to read it, they loved it and asked for copies when it was published. So, I began to look for a publisher. This is going back 24 years. The publishing market in Australia was small and limited. Back then you had to send printed copies by mail, with SASEs and this could take 6-8 weeks. I got some rejections and some encouragement from publishers who liked the story but didn’t publish what I wrote, which was fantasy [this is pre- Harry Potter].

So I decided to try overseas… it was even harder and more daunting to mail my story to people I would never see face-to-face and perhaps wait for a rejection. It was expensive and stressful. I didn’t trust an agent, was unsure of copyright, so I put it on the back burner.

We had children. Then came the Internet, so I tried to send my story off electronically, which seemed easier. One of the American publishers, Xlibris, kept up a steady contact. One of their reps called to say that they had been bought into by Penguin Books and would I be interested?

I checked the Internet for information of this merger and discussed it with my husband. He really believed the novel was a good one and we decided to go with self-publishing as it seemed to be fast and would cut out all the middle-men.

They had the published book in my hands within 10 weeks and it was a dream come true. It was just a long process and a mix of time, energy, emotion and trust to let the book go. Even to worry about what people might say. I had to be willing to take the good comments with the bad. So far, the comments have all been good.

Q: Congratulations. Your son, Jeremy Szal, is also an accomplished writer. What are some of the ways your shared passions have brought you closer?

A: My son is a great guy, he has always had loads of energy and so from the time he was a toddler, I always directed him to books to satisfy his restlessness and keep his attention. He is now 18 and writing is his hobby. We talk about books all the time. Books we are reading, writers and their styles, scripts, and books turned into movies. We talk about what we are writing, we critique each other and he often emails me his latest work to read. It doesn’t have to always be about books but the open communication is there. Since he was home-schooled most of his life, I have always been there and so we are close. He has other friends of course, but he and I are usually on the same page when it comes to books, even though he prefers Sci-Fi and I don’t.

He has actually thanked me on a few occasions for showing him how to enjoy books and writing and for sharing the high regard I have for these things, with him. I take it as a great compliment!

Q: That’s wonderful. I enjoyed your post “What I’m Reading…” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/what-im-reading/) that shared some of your experiences homeschooling your daughter on the classics. As a school teacher, who also homeschooled your children, what are the benefits and pitfalls that you experienced teaching your kids at home?

A: Not many pitfalls at all really. When they were younger it was hard to make an appointment for a hair-cut or dentist for myself. Personal time comes only at 11pm, but we are a close family and that’s always meant a lot to us. I have been able to enjoy my career and be at home with my kids at the same time.

They also had the unique experience of traveling the world with us, exposed to tremendous culture: visiting places from the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Swiss Alps, the Pyramids, and the Colosseum. They completed a year of school in Europe and became fluent in German. The school system there was different and based more on how many ‘failures’ you made in class, not how many things you got  ‘right’; this is completely in contrast to my training and the sense that a child should be given positive reinforcement, not negative. It also curbed our sightseeing and so we took them out after a year [and they were grateful].

I have always taken care to see that my kids had the social activities to help their skills in that area. Hence my home has always been the base for group classes with other home schooled kids, and my kids were always involved in classes like piano, tennis, gymnastics, etc. for a decade, and we also held picnics in the park and the beach.
Q: Cool! Another fascinating post from your blog was “Reading and Writing Has Changed” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/reading-and-writing-has-changed/). How do you think our digital age has impacted education?

A: It certainly has. The digital age has had a huge hand in this. Of course, I want my information faster now too, but not at the expense of the beauty of the English language, or the written word in any language.

A friend, a young 21-year-old man, showed me a brilliant antique book he had bought in a sale, Cassell’s Household Guide of Every Department of Practical Life, being a Complete Encyclopaedia to Domestic and Social Economy, printed in 1869. It’s a step-by-step guide to daily living for the middle and upper-middle classes of British society. Guidance and instruction on every aspect of life, ranging in subject matter from bread-making to death in the household, even the treatment of insanity. It’s beautiful and hilarious at the same time but it is written majestically.

Page 49 discusses acceptable employment for women: “the opening of the situation of a librarian to educated gentle-women… in either public institutions or in private families of rank or wealth… the work is such that a lady of good attainments and education could undertake to enjoy. It requires no great physical exertion, no exposure to the weather and no hardship which the most delicate would shrink from.” Yes, the subject matter is outrageous, but how beautifully and poetically written. This quote is taken from a time when conversation was an art, which ranked quite high on the list of accomplishments. But today, children and many adults wouldn’t understand the way it is written, nor grasp the meaning. What is a “lady of good attainments?’ ” Yes of course, all this could today be said in a faster, more succinct manner, with words of fewer syllables, but what a pity.

As long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter, but we are losing the descriptive, larger words and replacing them with simple abbreviations, like LOL.

Here in Australia recently there was a lot of discussion about how students write essays for exams and whether they should be allowed to write in abbreviated form, just as they do in SMSes and emails. The answer was no, for now…. the world is moving too fast and many good things are falling by the wayside; good vocabulary and good spelling are some of the victims.

Q: It will be interesting to see where we go from here. In your post “Why Writers Write…” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/why-writers-write /) you shared some of the reasons why you write. Why do you teach?

A: I love it, always have. I am the second child in a line of six children. I’m the oldest girl. My youngest siblings are younger than me by 8-10 years. I spent a lot of time looking after them when they were babies and playing with them when they got older. Our parents were immigrants and we never had much so our school holidays were spent in local areas and playing in the back yard. Funnily enough, I found myself building little huts and dragging a table and chairs beneath it and playing schools with my siblings. I must have been only 10 or 12 at the time but we all enjoyed it, read a lot, did maths, played games, and became close. We still are. So teaching is all I ever wanted to do (apart from writing).

Q: Having self-published books for the Children’s and YA markets, how do you promote?

A: It’s difficult now to promote my writing, I have a few distributors who represent me and take my books around to schools and libraries. This week I was asked by one of these libraries to join their town’s annual book promotion festival, called ‘Paint the Town Read’. It is designed to encourage young children to enjoy reading and so I am thrilled to be a guest and visit. They have asked me to read Hungry Mr. Croc. So at the moment I can do small things like that, but my priority is my daughter’s education and I don’t want to take away from that.

Q: What age group is Hungry Mr. Croc meant to be for? I usually think of picture books as the 3-5 or 4-6 range but per U.S. guidelines the language would be far too advanced.

A: It’s an interesting point that you brought up. The book is too advanced for 5-6 year olds to read on their own, but it is good for parents to read aloud to their children. I suppose the level of understanding would depend on how much the child has been encouraged to read by both parents and teachers by that stage.

When I initially discussed the illustrations with the publishers, I did specify that the illustrations should not be too cartoon-like as the book was not written with very young children in mind, even while the concept is simple.

We discussed the realism I wanted as the writing was not meant to be for very young children. They sent me some preliminary drawings and I actually loved them, so decided to go with it. I do however tell people that they should read it to their children first.

I feel that the larger words are set into the story in such a way that the meaning of the words can be discerned by the construction or syntax of the sentence. The writing itself was advanced and I did that specifically because I like to bring a child’s reading level up, encourage a wider vocabulary, not lower the standard to suit the common speech of everyday life as some school reading kits had been doing here. These books were not platforms to better reading, but were unimaginative and stagnant.

I based my work on examples of writers like Dr Seuss, whose books have great pictures and also great vocabulary, and are advertised as “classics with zany stories, silly rhymes and crazy drawings for young readers everywhere.”

Or even the beauty of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

These books were written when children read more and had a better vocabulary.

So I guess I’m old-fashioned like that, but as a teacher, I know it can be done: to raise the level of a child’s comprehension and reading ability by simply adding in a few new, bigger words. I read all of Dr Suess’s books to my son when he was a baby and I know that his comprehension of these books was good by the time he was 2 or 3. In fact by 3 he was reading The Cat in the Hat on his own. We took Dr Seuss with us everywhere (before iPads).

I just think we as adults aren’t trying hard enough or raising the bar, we have just lowered the bar and kept it there, from what I can see. There is nothing wrong in explaining the big words and reading on, the next time the book/ big word is read it, the child’s brain will make the connection.

Of course, I can simplify my writing, but I feel I would be letting the kids (and myself) down a little, when I know we could all do better.

There is my philosophy…

Q: That’s a fascinating approach. I love how you mentioned that writing allows you to travel in your head. How have your travels enhanced your writing?

A: I have always traveled in my head because in a crowded home (and quite a violent one) I needed my space and privacy and it was in my head. Better worlds where fathers were kind to their children and wives (hence a love of Enid Blyton stories). It’s calming to travel in your head and it’s a great escape with very little expense.

When I actually began to travel, I kept diaries. Traveling gives you the added advantage of really knowing a place, knowing the style, the customs, the smells—then you can bring them to life easier. I have written a novel about a school teacher working in The Solomon Islands in the early 1900s. Having been to P.N.G. I know how the weather is, the water, the customs, the lifestyle, the vegetation. Yes, I can Google it, but nothing beats being there. It’s like eating an apple and writing about it, or watching someone else on T.V. eat it and then trying to write about it.

I wrote another story about a holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I know the town and even the street and house I set my story in. Traveling is a great investment for writing, it isn’t the answer to everything, but it certainly enhances your ability to be descriptive.

Q: Anything to add?

I wish more parents, adults, older siblings, and teachers knew the value of reading and the benefits in all areas of life that a good book can give… it is underestimated. No one read to me as a very young child, but I thank God for good teachers and libraries!!