DIANNE ( 'DI' ) BATES
- Special Guest -
Today I introduce you to a member of Australia's writing royalty - Di Bates. Di Bates has published 120+ books for the education and trade markets. Some of Di’s books have won national and state literary awards; others have sold overseas. Di has received Grants and Fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australia Council and has toured for the National Book Council.
Di has undertaken commissioned writing for a large number of organisations and has worked on the editorial team of the NSW Department of Education School Magazine. She was co-editor of a national children’s magazine, Puffinalia (Penguin Books) and editor of another national magazine, Little Ears. In 2008, Di was awarded The Lady Cutler Prize for distinguished services to children’s Literature.
Her latest books are 11 titles in the fictional Bushranger series (Desert Dan the Dunnyman won the KOALA children’s choice book award) and Crossing the Line, short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Awards and sold into Germany. Currently Di works as a freelance writer. She lives in Woonona, north of Wollongong, NSW, Australia, with her author husband, Bill Condon. Their website is www.enterprisingwords.com
Welcome, Di. Thanks for sparing some time to be interviewed ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I’ve been writing and being published for the past 30 years and have over 120+ books published, mostly books for young people. I’m totally lucky to be married to Bill Condon who is also an author (winner of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for YA Literature.) Bill is my first reader and I’m his. Both of us are full-time freelance writers; we make a living from writing because we are so committed. Our website is www.enterprisingwords.com
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
When I was 29 I decided that I had done nothing much in my life but teaching and being a mother and that I hadn’t left my mark on the world; as a result, I made a conscious decision that I would write a book and have it published by the time I was 30. That’s precisely what I did!
I was a primary school teacher so I wrote the sort of book I thought my students would enjoy. This was Terri (Penguin Books). A few books later, I began writing humorous books, the first being The Belligrumble Bigfoot, a tall tale, followed by many other funny books for children.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The lifestyle, being my own boss, working my own hours in my own home, and not having to commute every day. I also have some great friends in the writing industry; they are like family.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Waiting for publishers to respond to my manuscript submissions. Also, getting manuscripts which I know are the best I can write, rejected for what seem to be silly reasons (for example, one -- which later won a literary award -- was a children’s book, rejected because, according to the publisher, ‘the ending (was) is too hopeful.’)
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I had numerous jobs, including teaching, schools’ performer, bookseller, journalist, newspaper editor, advertising sales executive.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Winning the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature from the Children’s Book Council of Australia is a career highlight. But I’ve also won numerous book awards, writers’ grants and fellowships along the way and have had books sold overseas and in translation.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
An adult crime thriller titled The Freshest of Flesh about a woman serial killer who targets paedophiles. I am really enjoying immersing myself in its writing!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The fact that I know I can write and finish whatever I set my mind to and that I have a history of publication. Also, the feedback I get from readers, especially parents of reluctant readers who tell me that one of my books started their child reading.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
No particular genre. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, some commissioned, including two series, Grandma Cadbury series (in print for 16 years) and Bushranger series (still in print after 10 years). I also write short stories and poetry for adults and children; some have won national competitions and been published in magazines.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Lots of tips, but the main things are to believe in yourself and your work, and to be persistent. Finish projects! Get critical feedback, even if you have to pay for assessment of your final draft before you submit it. When (and it will happen) your work gets rejected, find extra resources of determination and either re-write or re-submit. I once had 47 successive rejected manuscripts before an acceptance. One of my (non-fiction, children’s) books was accepted by the 32nd publisher to whom I sent it. Nobody but yourself makes you write so you need to be incredibly focussed and determined.
Keep abreast with what’s happening in the publishing market. Now is a time of great change as e-book and book app publishers spring up alongside print book publishing houses. Check out publishers’ websites; see what they are currently seeking and/or publishing. Whenever you can, pitch book ideas to publishers at festivals and conferences. Network; get to know people in the children’s book industry both in person and online.
Finally, read widely and read the best of the type of genre which you are writing. If, for example, you are trying to get a picture book published, read every prize-winning picture book publishing in Australia, UK and USA in the last five years. De-construct text, analyse why the book has succeeded; learn from the masters! Treat writing as a full-time occupation. Once again, always but always be persistent.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Rarely. I use the old super-glue trick – stick it to my rear so I’m stuck on a chair for hours in from of the computer where I get on with my writing: if I write regularly, I find it gathers its own momentum.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No. When I am fully immersed in a writing project, I become obsessive and spend many hours, morning, noon and night working on it. I try to write every day, but my writing hours are all over the place. At one time I kept a logbook of my working hours (which included research, reading and writing business); for weeks I maintained 40+ hours. If I wasn’t disciplined, I wouldn’t have written 120+ books over the past 30 years.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
In my office which looks down to the Pacific Ocean (though my desk faces a wall!) I think all writers should have a room (and a computer) of their own.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Finishing a project and knowing that the manuscript is publishable, then getting a book contract and receiving an advance copy.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I have to say my husband, Bill Condon, who has published YA novels that I love and some of which have won national awards. His book, Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, won the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for YA literature, and A Straight Line to My Heart was short-listed for the award in 2012. Meanwhile, he has three times been awarded a CBCA Honour prize for his YA novels. The characters in Bill’s books always have heart and soul and he writes with integrity, and deep insights, and often with humour.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
‘Your book was the first one I started reading and couldn’t stop reading, and when I finished I wanted to read it all again.’
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
I can’t remember. (This is called denial – it really comes in handy!)
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Constantly. But a lot of my ideas come from my imagination, from things I see and hear. For example, the idea for The Girl in the Basement, came from seeing a newspaper article about the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a girl around twenty, and a boy around ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police. Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Callico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.
I remember being very distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My husband Bill, my home, reading, eating out, playing Scrabble, movies, making cards, seeing friends, travelling.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I paid to have The Girl in the Basement manuscript read and assessed by an editor who freelances and who came highly recommended. I also had work-in-progress feedback from my brilliant writer friends at our weekly workshops. My husband, Bill Condon, who is a prize-winning YA author, also read and critiqued my manuscript.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Rainy weather, indoors, potting around the house, drinking lots of tea and eating, reading, and watching television, chatting with my husband. No stress.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
It would be my husband of 30 years, Bill, because it’s mutual love and respect, and we get on so perfectly: he makes me laugh and we always have plenty to say to one another; we never fight, ever.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Create peace in your country and don’t become involved in another country’s political business. Make sure that all of your country’s children are safe and well-fed and sheltered.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To stay alive and healthy, to take good care of my husband Bill, and to go travelling more around the world.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
No Worries, Daredevils and every book written by Bill Condon; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; Cloud Street by Tim Winton; Where the Heart is by Billie Letts; Room by Emma Donoghue; Bones by Alice Sebold; A History of World Art (Woops, I broke your five book rule! I want far more books. Why only five?)
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Constantly. Every main character has some of my personality imbued in him or her, especially their emotional life, thoughts and experiences.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
In many ways, but mostly it’s the lack of loyalty from publishers towards authors whose work they have published. Also the bad manners of publishers not acknowledging receipt of manuscripts and sitting on them in slush piles for many months. I had a book accepted in 2009, supposed to be published in 2013, and I still don’t have a contract. All I have are continual excuses (and promises) from the (major) publisher.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Constantly, but I keep coming back to the one occupation in which I’ve found success.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Every manuscript I write is my favourite – while I’m writing it. This is because I am investing 100% effort into it. The most recent is The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia, 2013), which I spent more than five years getting into a publishable condition.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Getting work published, getting it published overseas and being short-listed and/or winning book awards.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I’d like them to think ‘that was the best book I ever read. What other books has Dianne Bates written? Where can I buy them?’ I would love all of my books’ readers to feel excited, satisfied and inspired.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I don’t know. You would have to ask a publisher that question. Why not ask Elaine Ouston of Morris Publishing Australia who has produced the best cover I could possibly have asked for in The Girl in the Basement? I do think, despite the old adage, that readers judge books by their covers (and by their titles, and by their authors’ names), this is wrong.
I best judge a book by an author’s name: for example, I will read anything by crime writers Lisa Gardener, James Patterson or Lee Childs et al. Or children’s books by Vera Cleaver, Glenda Millard, Ursula Dubosarsky. Or children’s poetry by Jack Prelutsky, Elizabeth Honey, Colin McNaughton. Or...
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To win the CBCA Book of the Year and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award the same year as my husband Bill wins the award, too, and then for the two of us to go on a long, extended holiday with the prize money.
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Promoting one’s books in a market that is saturated by a constant stream of new titles is essential. My last three publishers, Paul Collins, Kathryn Duncan and Elaine Ouston – all with small publishing houses – have been truly heroic in marketing, being far more proactive, energetic and tireless than any large publishing houses which have published my books. I do as much to support publishers as I can by way of interviews, social media, writing articles, visiting schools, giving talks, organizing book launches and events and so on. They invest their belief, time and money in my work; the least I can do is to support their efforts.
ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No. I’ve always been fortunate to be published by many commercial publishers, including (but not limited to) Penguin, Allen & Unwin, Random House, Hodder Headline, Cengage, Pearson, Heinemann, Blake, HarperCollins, Ford Street, Celapene Press.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
The key to success in writing – as to anything – is persistence. Believe in yourself and what you are able to achieve – and work hard.
Consider bonsai: there but for constricting bowl would be a giant.
WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
To paraphrase AB Facey: ‘I’ve had a very fortunate life’ (especially with regards to being blessed with Bill, the best, most dearest husband in the world.)
Clancy's comment: Go, Di! Thanks for sparing the time. I hope you and Bill get the chance to get away on that trip.
Clancy's comment: Go, Di! Thanks for sparing the time. I hope you and Bill get the chance to get away on that trip.
Love ya work!