Robyn Opie Parnell
- Guest Author
G'day guys. Today I welcome a very successful writer, author and screenwriter - Robyn Opie Parnell. Robyn is the author of 86 children's books. She has been writing for children for 15 years; most of her children's books are sold around the world and many have been translated into foreign languages. Welcome, Robyn. Tell us more ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen.
In my early twenties, I submitted a 2,500 word picture book to publishers. I thought the book was brilliant. I loved it. Publishers, unfortunately, didn’t agree. But I didn’t know back then that picture books are usually less than 700 words and never ever more than 1,000. Oops! It’s a good thing we live and learn.
Around the mid-nineties, I read books and completed courses on writing for children. My first three books were accepted in 1998 and published in 1999. The three books are still available today. They are My Bike, Jen Stays Inside, and People Need Trucks.
Thirteen years later, I’m the author of 86 published books. Naturally, I’ve written many, many more that haven’t been published. I’m still hopeful with some of them. Others I now chalk up to experience.
WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?
Yes, definitely. I loved to read. I still do. Books are the best escape from reality. And we all need to escape from reality.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I wrote my first children’s book when I was fifteen. My English teacher gave me an “A” for every essay I wrote. One day, as he handed back an essay, he said to me, “You should be a writer.” Talk about a light bulb moment! I went home and wrote my first novel. It was a mystery, like an Australian Nancy Drew – too much like an Australian Nancy Drew!
The rest of my journey was described in question 1.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Not working in an office from 9 to 5.
I love the freedom. I love being able to do anything and go anywhere. I’m talking about my imagination. I can have great adventures, from the comfort and safety of my recliner chair. I love being able to explore ideas, themes, subjects, times and places. Being a writer opens me up to anything, all sorts of possibilities, anything can happen. In my novel Backstage Betrayal, I explored a fear of mine. In Maya and the Crystal Skull, I travelled to Mayan ruins in Central America. I also defeated the villains and saved the world. In Working Like a Dog, I focussed on one of my favourite things. In Black Baron, I tried to save an animal from the ultimate cruelty – extermination. I did all of these things from the comfort and safety of my recliner chair. Basically, I get to dream every day about the things I’d love to do and occasionally about some of the things I’d hate to do. Oh, and I love still being a kid!
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The hardest thing about being a writer is marketing and promotion. I’m a writer. I love to write fictional stories. But, nowadays, I have to market and promote to sell these stories. I live in imaginary, fictional worlds. I have exciting adventures. I don’t like the reality of having to sell. Okay, so while we’re here, please buy my books, in particular Maya and the Crystal Skull and Stop! Do Not Read This Book. You’ll love them. Honest!
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was a freelance writer in a past life. Writing isn’t just an obsession from this lifetime. It’s an obsession from many lifetimes. My fascination with the Maya also stems from at least one past life, maybe more.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I’d like to say getting my first books accepted for publication … but I can’t. My dog died on 5 November 1998. My first 3 books were accepted by a publisher on 6 November 1998. I was too numb to celebrate.
I’d like to say receiving author copies of my first published books … but I can’t. Author copies of my first 3 books arrived by post during the worst storm in Adelaide’s history. The postman, in his wisdom, left the envelope next to my letterbox because it didn’t fit in the letterbox. When I arrived home, I walked the neighbourhood, recovering little bits of my books which were destroyed in the storm.
Okay, so not a good start …
My greatest writing achievement was either co-writing a screenplay with my husband Rob Parnell or writing Maya and the Crystal Skull. These were big projects compared to what I’d previously written. At approximately 10,000 words, my longest children’s novel was Black Baron published by Walker Books Australia in 2008 and Walker Books UK in 2009. Maya and the Crystal Skull is approximately 40,000 words, which made it a bigger challenge for me.
Hopefully there are greater achievements to come.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m doing a final edit of the sequel to Maya and the Crystal Skull, which is called Maya and the Daring Heist. Maya and the Daring Heist will be published in early 2013.
Here’s a little preview …
"Across the world, far away from Maya King, a crystal skull is stolen from the British Museum. When Maya hears the news, she is relieved that this time she is not involved. She has nothing to fear from the thieves. There is no chance of being kidnapped.
A birthday present for her father sets in motion unexpected events. Smugglers, the black market, and Maya’s life is in jeopardy. So, too, are the lives of her father and her best friend. Everything is at stake. The smugglers will stop at nothing, But neither will Maya."
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Waking up every day.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I write children’s books. I’ve written 3 books on writing for adults. With my husband, I’ve co-written a screenplay for a family feature film.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
When I submitted my first manuscripts to publishers, I didn’t know about word counts, age groups, types of books or anything else to do with children’s books. My first manuscripts were rejected. My advice, based on my own experience, is to learn everything you can about writing, especially to do with your chosen genre. I read books about writing, completed courses, joined writers’ groups and organisations. Only then were my stories accepted for publication. After all, you wouldn’t pilot a jumbo jet without first learning how to fly. If you’ve learnt about your chosen genre, so you’re way ahead here, then my advice is persistence. Professional writers often say that the secret to their success is persistence. They never gave up!
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s a myth. Have you ever heard of carpenter’s block, or accountant’s block, or clerk’s block? There’s no such thing!
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I write every morning, 7 days a week if possible, until at least lunch time. I like to spend a minimum of 4 hours a day on my own writing. I usually give myself a target word count each day and that target is usually 1,000 words. I keep writing until I’ve reached 1,000 words. Occasionally, I have an appointment and I can’t write 1,000 words. On those occasions, I aim for whatever I can do. I prefer to write every day, even if sometimes I can only add 100 words to a story. The target of 1,000 words, though, means that 98% of the time I write 1,000 words a day. Writing is a habit. I’ve created habits that enable me to write a lot and to write as efficiently as possible. After I finish work on my own writing, I answer emails, promote, market and work on students’ homework. (I offer writing courses on my website.)
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Yes, my trusty laptop and I usually create from a recliner chair in my lounge room.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
The writing itself. I love words. I love to disappear into a fictional world. I love to create. I love the challenge of completing a novel. I just love everything about writing.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
James Patterson. It’s hard to put his books down. I love the way his writing is so concise. Every word is necessary. In other words, there’s no chance to get bored. He uses “show, don’t tell” like the master he is. I fell in love with some of his characters. The good guys, that is. Not the serial killers. I don’t have a favourite children’s author. I love good books.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
During school visits, I was asked if I‘m going to write a sequel to my novels Backstage Betrayal and Black Baron. Apparently, the kids love the books so much, they want sequels. It’s great when kids want more.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Touch wood, I haven’t had any yet.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, definitely. The inspiration for Maya and the Crystal Skull was a lifetime in the making.
When I was a teenager, I became interested in the ancient civilizations of the Maya, Incas and Aztecs. In my spare time, I read about these cultures and learned what I could about them. Life moved on and I forgot about the Maya, Incas and Aztecs. About seven years ago, I developed a fascination for clairvoyant mediums, life after death and the spirit realm. In the last few years, I added the law of attraction and quantum physics to the things that fascinate me. I’m also a greenie, as in I used to work for Greenpeace Australia. To cut a long story short, one night my husband wanted to watch a documentary on crystal skulls. How awful, I thought. But I agreed because I love my husband. The legend of the crystal skulls is linked to indigenous peoples such as the Maya, Aztecs and Native American Indians. I was once again hooked on these cultures and curious about the crystal skulls. After a month of research and an inkling of an idea, I sat down and plotted Maya and the Crystal Skull. This story – and ultimately the series – includes my favorite interests: the legend of the crystal skulls, the Mayan culture, clairvoyant mediums, the spirit realm, quantum psychics and the environment. Most of my books are based on my interests or experiences. The Pony Game comes from playing with my dog when I was a child. Our Secret Place was inspired by a true story told to me by a friend. The Mad Mower is based on a fantasy of mine.
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
86 at this point in time.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
I’ve never entered any, so I’ve never won any either.
WHAT WILL THEY MEAN TO YOU?
I’ll let you know when I win one.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My husband! Reading, metaphysics, the paranormal, spiritualism, dogs, animals, walking, sunshine, nature, travelling, stories of all kinds (movies, TV etc).
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
My books are edited by the publisher but mainly for house style. I assume my books were accepted for publication because they didn’t need editing. Nowadays publishers don’t have the time and budget to do extensive editing of writers’ manuscripts. It’s up to us, the writers, to produce the best possible work. I always ask a writer, usually my husband, to read my books and provide feedback before I do a final edit. It’s good to get the opinions of experienced writers who can view our stories with fresh eyes. Recently, I swapped manuscripts with a writer friend. I critiqued his manuscript and he did mine. That was a great experience, very worthwhile. But you need to pick people who know what they’re doing, otherwise you might not get the quality of help you desire. But I always edit my own work. I do three or four complete edits, sometimes more if necessary. Many of the stories I’ve edited for other people have been published.
IF YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
What I would like to say to the world is clear from my novel Maya and the Crystal Skull, and will become even clearer as I progress with this series. The main character, Maya King, has to rescue her father from kidnappers, risking her own life in the process. Ultimately, Maya has to save the world. A theme in Maya and the Crystal Skull is that people do things every day, that these things make a difference and that it’s best to make a positive difference. Maya learns about life after death, the spirit world, spiritual guidance, the Mayan culture, the environment, universal consciousness and living in harmony with the land. All of this wrapped up in an Indiana-Jones-type adventure. You have to read it!
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
A warm, sunny day. I wake after a good night’s sleep, make a cup of tea for myself and coffee for my husband. We drink our tea and coffee, talk and cuddle. When we get up, I check my emails. I meditate, before writing until lunch time and for another hour after lunch. My husband and I go for a walk. At home again, I answer emails, update my blog, promote my books and respond to students’ homework. I have dinner with my husband and cuddle up to him on the sofa to watch a good movie or TV show. This is my perfect day and luckily this is how I spend most of my days.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST ASSETS AS A WRITER?
Persistence and patience. I’m a hard-worker. I’m logical, which helps in creating believable storylines. Talent, experience, instincts, child-like fascination of the world. I get bored easily, so my stories are fast-paced and action-packed. I don’t want to do anything else. I have a stubborn-streak, which helps with persistence and patience. Discipline and determination. I guess I should add imagination but, interestingly, I use words like persistence, patience, hard work, discipline and determination before imagination.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE? WHY?
My husband, Rob Parnell. Rob is my soul mate. We’re both full time writers working from home. We like the same things. We’re rarely apart. There’s no chance I’d be stuck on a desert island without Rob. We’d definitely be together.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I’ve been busy. My books Stop! Do Not Read This Book and You’re Amazing – the Law of Attraction for Young People will be released in paperback in 2013. I’m doing a final edit of the sequel to Maya and the Crystal Skull, which is called Maya and the Daring Heist, for release in 2013. I have other books in the pipeline, including a picture book Wiggle Jiggle All Around and a short chapter book If Not Jannah. Despite two false starts, I’m still hopeful of seeing our family feature film (a screenplay co-written with my husband Rob Parnell) on the big screen.
Please visit the following links for more information on Robyn and her books:
New Release! Maya and the Crystal Skull (R & R Books, January 2012)
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