- GUEST AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR -
Today, I interview a charming writer and author from Canberra, Australia. Sandra's answers are reasonably lengthy but they are worth reading.
Welcome, Sandra ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
First and foremost, my family has always come first. I am proud to say I have been married to the same gorgeous man for over 33 years and together we have proudly raised three amazing independent and unique young men. Two have already provided us with beautiful daughters-in-law and one absolutely, wonderful grandson. To say I am a doting and bias Nanna is just a bit of an understatement. My writing journey has had it’s ups and downs like everyone else over the years. It has been a long journey to publication but hey, aren’t we all struggling artists? My first attempts at publication began around 2001 when manuscript submissions were still sent off by snail mail in return self-addressed envelopes. I admit I succumbed to the dreaded rejection letter and gave up my dream for a few years. I buried myself in teaching while concentrating on further studies with a Graduate Diploma in ESL/LOTE and Certificates 1 & 2 in Indonesian Language. Finally, in 2012 I was encouraged to self-publish my first early reader/chapter book and I haven’t looked back since.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I always new I wanted to write. As a child I was an avid reader. When playing with my neighbourhood friends I was always the teacher, teaching them to read and write. By the time I was sixteen I won my first NSW state writing competition. This motivated me to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. However, after school finished I had to choose between teaching and journalism. I chose the teaching path, the need to help kids with their literacy compelled me in that direction. While at teacher’s college I took a course in children’s literature that flamed the spark once again. In my classrooms I wrote stories for my kids to entice them to want to learn to read. I found the reluctant readers responded well to reading stories about themselves. Eventually this wasn’t enough. I had parents suggesting I should be sharing my stories with the wider world. It was from there that I began to take this writing thing seriously and enrolled in my first writing course, a Diploma in Children’s Writing with the Australian College of Journalism. Funny how I felt like life had come full circle. This was still just the beginning, I had so much more to learn and still do.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Stories come from everywhere in everyday life. My family are used to hearing me say ‘there’s a story in that.’ Once an inkling of an idea comes I brainstorm possible plots with my husband. Sometimes we laugh when he says he can hear his idea being shredded in my hypothetical trash bin. Often, I am madly scribbling in my note book well into the middle of the night. Once I have a rough draft I would say I am more of a ‘pantser.’ I let the characters lead me where they want to take the story.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The kids. Writing for kids means getting books into their hands, helping them read and develop a love of reading. I love the looks on their faces when I read my stories to them and I can see their delight. I believe imagination is the key to inspiring innovation. The more children read, the more children develop their imagination which enhances their creativity.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The marketing of my books once they are published. Like most writers I am happy to sit at home in front of my computer and write. It is much harder for me to tell the world about myself and my books. I often refer to myself as a true crab, I was born in July, I like to hide inside my shell. To poke my head out and say, ‘here I am, look at me,’ does not come easily.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I spent over twenty-five years as a Primary School teacher. It felt like a natural progression for me to become a full-time writer. Now I enjoy school visits as an author providing readings for pre-school to year 2 and writing workshops for years 3-6. I even extended myself out of my comfort zone and provided a writing workshop to a group of students in year 7 and 8. I hadn’t taught kids of high school age since I first left teachers college in the mid 1980’s.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
While I have won the odd online writing award here and there for my short stories and won places in anthologies, I feel after publishing my first four books myself, to me my greatest achievement is finding a publisher for my chapter/middle grade book ‘Secrets Hidden Below.’ I am proud of all my previous achievements but to me there is nothing like the confidence boost I felt when Elephant Tree Publishing believed in my writing enough to take a chance on not only one story but a series.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I have several works in progress on the go at present. The main project I am trying to finish is the editing of the second manuscript in the Adamson Adventures. The family find themselves on the NSW South Coast exploring caves on a local beach. When the kids are lost in the caves they are rescued by a stranger who disappears as quickly as she appeared. Luke and Clare prepare for a ghost hunt, but Zac is not convinced. What is the connection between the girl, the old ruined lighthouse on the point and a ship wreck that happened 150 years ago? Find out in ‘A Lighthouse in Time’ to be released later this year. I have also begun working on the third booking in the series. It is set among the outback landscape of Winton, Queensland where the dinosaurs once roamed. Don’t want to give too much away about that just yet.
Added to that I also have plans to release my next picture book. Penelope is a platypus that desperately wants to make friends with all the other animals living around the riverbank. She has a creative imagination but when a stranger asks to join in a game Penelope and her new friends are a little too quick to judge. The illustrations by Marc Farrer are absolutely stunning. Children will adore ‘Penelope the Playful Platypus’ and her native Aussie friends.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Nature inspires me. I am lucky to live out in the countryside alongside kangaroos, wombats, echidnas and numerous colourful birds. They are the inspiration for my picture books and set the scenes for many a short story. My inspiration for my longer stories come from our travels around Australia and overseas. ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ was inspired from a holiday in Bali when our boys were little. ‘A Lighthouse in Time’ came to me during days spent camping down the coast and the third book was inspired as we drove from Darwin through the vast and dry outback of Queensland all the way home to Canberra.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
It’s easy to give the simple answer of children’s books, but that is a huge category. I like writing picture books for 3 – 6 years. So far I have Indie published two PB’s based on Australian wildlife with a third ready for release this year. ‘Emma the Eager Emu’ and ‘Frazzled Freya’ were both illustrated by the fabulous Dianna Budd, an artist I met right here in Canberra. I adore her vibrant use of colour that dramatically demonstrates the Australian Outback so vividly. Emma must learn to follow her dream as she needs to find an alternate way to achieve her ultimate goal. A book about diversity and inclusion as Emma the Emu discovers her own unique way of flying. Freya is a fill-neck lizard much too frightened to play with her friends in the heat of the sun. When she finally faces her fears and reaches out of her comfort zone she realises that what she feared most of all wasn’t so bad after all.
I have also been writing an alien adventure series for reluctant readers where three brothers find a mischievous little alien that gets them into all sorts of trouble. The third book has been ready for some time, but I have not had the chance to publish it yet.
My main series that I am concentrating on, is my chapter book/middle grade series, ‘The Adamson Adventures.’ Suitable for ages 7-10, ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ is book 1 in the series and is set as I mentioned in Bali. It is a fun pirate treasure hunt around the island where children can learn about Bali, the culture, history and language as they enjoy the tale. It is ideal for students of Indonesian at Primary school or kids looking for an exciting holiday read. Other than the obvious irresistible pirate treasure, the story includes a guardian snake, plenty of rotten-egg gas and a volcano spirit you don’t dare to anger.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Hang in there. It takes time to write. Write for yourself. Write whatever you want to write. Publishers say they don’t know what they are looking for until they read it, so don’t try to write like someone who is popular now, be original, write like you. Practice every day and keep learning. Edit and when you have finished, edit some more. Most of all, never give up, be prepared to be in this for the long haul.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Absolutely! It can be frustrating when I know where I want to take a story but can’t work out how to get there. Coming up with an idea is easy, the hard work is turning the idea into an intriguing and exciting story that kids will want to read again and again.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I’d like to say yes, but in truth, I write when the creativity flows or when I can fit it around the rest of life’s busy schedule. I take my dog for a morning walk most days, then try to sit and write for an hour or so on my return. I’ll then try to put aside a few more hours later in the afternoon.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I have recently begun meeting a couple of authors friends on Wednesdays at the National Library of Australia. The Reading Room is a great space to write because you must be silent. There are absolutely no distractions, no wifi, no excuses. It’s amazing how much work I can get done there.
15. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
J K Rowling, is my favourite author, the fact that she was able to kick start a whole new generation of children reading again was wonderful. The Harry Potter series brought imagination back to a generation and has continued to do so for the next generation as well. The books are timeless and will continue to encourage a love of reading in kids for a long time to come. I have fond memories of queuing at our local Indie book shop each time the next book was released so that we could read it aloud together in bed each night as a family. To me, this is what childhood is all about, raising kids to love books.
16. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
To have my book ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ referred to as being in the style of a modern-day Enid Blyton adventure. I was quite humbled by that remark. They are big shoes to fill, ones I am not sure I am up to.
17. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
The rhyme and meter in ‘Frazzled Freya’ was a bit off in places. Rhyming picture books are one of the hardest children’s books to get right. I am working on that.
18. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Definitely, story ideas come from life all around us. My first self-published early reader ‘Gingerbread Aliens’ all started from a mishap with the bread maker in our own kitchen when the boys were little. My picture books are all about the wildlife I see every day around our property and of course the Adamson Adventures all stem from our own holidays.
19. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I am a nature lover. So, having the luxury of living in the country where I can go for walks in the bush every day is wonderful. I love watching all the native birds flying between all the gum trees and it fills my heart with delight when I see an echidna or wombat waddling along. I will never tire of watching the kangaroos graze in our paddocks every morning and evening. Although I am not too happy when the alpha males get bossy with the young ones and start a fight. Occasionally we have deer wonder through as well, it is beautiful to see how gracefully they can hop a wire fence. Living among a hobby farm community I love seeing the lambs, calves and alpaca too. I watched a fowl being born the other year, that was a fabulous experience.
My husband owns a 1972 MGB, I love going for long country drives on the weekend in it too. We explore winding country roads and little country towns with quaint arts and crafts shops. You never know what gems you might find.
My newest love is my grandson. He has just turned one year old. I love being able to read and play with him every day. He is just adorable.
20. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes, I had ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ professionally edited, which is probably one reason why I managed to find a publisher for it. I’ve just had ‘A Lighthouse in Time’ professionally edited now too. My editors for my previous books have all been friends, they are highly qualified in their own fields, so I believed they were adequate.
21. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Most days around here are pretty perfect. If I could fit it all in, it would include an early morning dog walk around the valley with the neighbours, followed by a drive in the MGB with hubby, maybe to a little café somewhere for lunch. On returning home, I would play with my grandson and include reading him a story. Fit in an hour or two of writing, then sit on the back deck with a glass of wine and watch the sunset over the hills while the kangaroos graze below me, steaks sizzling on the BBQ wafting across behind us.
22. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
That’s easy, there is only one person I ever want to be alone with, the same gorgeous man I have been married to for 33 years. He is a hard worker, and often doesn’t make enough time to relax. If we were stuck on a desert island, he would have no choice but to unwind. He would have time to surf and snorkel just like he did when he was young.
23. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Children are our future, we need to leave them a healthy planet. Whatever decisions you make now, impacts on their future. Let’s try to make it a peaceful and healthy one with plenty of food and shelter for all without destroying the environment.
24. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I tend to take each day as it comes. With my husband working in Papua New Guinea for the next few years, my only plans are to help him see that through. His retirement after that would be nice, but whatever we do, that will include travel, I will always continue to write for children.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
I’ve only ever done one book trailer. It didn’t help much. However, I believe they do have the potential to be useful to help spread the word about your book. Any type of marketing helps. People like to watch videos on social media rather than read. They need things that are quick, eye catching and to the point. Book trailers, like movie trailers, can help gain interest. Whether that then leads onto future sales, I am not sure, but if you don’t give it a try, you don’t know.
26. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
No, my main characters are all kids. They are often loosely based on people I know, but never myself.
27. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Doesn’t it frustrate us all? As an unknown author it is hard to break through the barriers and reach the big traditional publishers and to self-publish, especially children’s books of high quality it is so expensive. We do it for the love of writing for children and the hope that our books will reach the hands of eager readers. However, the more we network and market, the more chances of achieving that elusive contract. Lucky for me, I found a small publisher that appreciates my work. Thank you, Elephant Tree Publishing.
28. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
I did quit for a few years in the early 2000’s. I wish I hadn’t. It is the old saying, ‘if I knew then what I know now.’ Life gets busy though and we all have a path to follow. I’m glad I am doing what I love now.
29. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Whatever story I am writing at the time is my favourite. If you don’t put your whole heart and soul into the story, you don’t write the best story you can. My favourite now is book 3 in the Adamson Adventures because I have just started writing it. This is where all the magic happens, the imagination flows and creativity escapes onto the pages. I am editing book 2 ‘A Lighthouse in Time.’ Editing is where all the hard work happens, it was my favourite while I wrote it, and will be again when I finish editing it and can say it is completed and ready for readers.
30. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Success as a writer is having your books in the hands of children. Knowing those children love reading your books. I’m not concerned with awards, how many books I’ve sold or being famous. Knowing there are children out there who enjoy my books and look forward to the next release is all the success I need. I was selling books at a market stall one year when a child stopped and looked. He was so excited to see I had a new book released and couldn’t wait to buy it. A children’s author can’t ask for more than that.
31. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I hope kids walk away after reading one of my books feeling happy and excited for the next book. I want them to have discovered a love of reading if they hadn’t before and feel more confident in their reading ability to find books that will challenge their literacy skills.
32. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
I believe ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ would make an amazing movie. In fact ,the whole series in the Adamson Adventures would make fabulous movies. I’ve never written a screen play, I don’t mind admitting I would need help with that. It is a challenge I would be excited to become involved with.
A speech pathologist friend has often said my alien series would make a wonderful animated movie.
33. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Book covers are difficult to reach a decision upon. It’s hard to design a cover that is eye catching and will appeal to the right age group. Whoever said ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ had it so wrong. Let’s face it, a book needs a great cover to be picked up off the shelf before anyone will consider reading the blurb on the back. I spend a lot of time trying to design my covers and make them eye catching. I have done research on colour use and font styles for best appeal, but it is always a difficult choice. I am so glad I now have a publisher and graphic designer to help with the covers of the Adamson Adventures. Nikki Jane designed an amazing cover for ‘Secrets Hidden Below,’ and I look forward to seeing her ideas for ‘A Lighthouse in Time,’ soon.
34. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
I think I am living the dream. Writing from home full-time, and sharing my books with kids. Although I would like to reach more kids and visit more schools doing more author talks and writing workshops. I love the opportunities I have to be invited into schools to read or work with children. I may no longer teach full-time, but I enjoy visiting as an author.
35. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Marketing is one of the hardest things I find to do. I am out of my comfort zone when it comes to telling people about myself and my books. That is not good as an author, I am slowly learning to improve on this. I have joined with other author friends to help find strategies to market ourselves together. Watch this space, this is going to be the year we improve our marketing.
36. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
My first four books were self-published. The Adamson Adventures found a home with Elephant Tree Publishing. I’m not sure how my next picture books will be published yet. I’m still considering my options.
37. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Persistent, Considerate, Generous, Loving, Optimistic
38. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Can’t answer that, I believe if you don’t have something nice to say, it is better to say nothing.
39. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Evermoor by Jessica Townsend. I bought it for myself for Christmas. Fellow authors had told me it was a must read. They were right, it was fabulous. I couldn’t put it down. Don’t know why it took me so long to buy it. Can’t wait to buy book 2, Wundersmith, but if I start reading that I will be too distracted to write myself.
40. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Not likely to happen. I think I will always write. May Gibbs wrote well into her 90’s. I don’t see why I should stop any time soon either. As long as the ideas keep coming, I will continue to write.
41. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Life has been good to us. I have a beautiful family and a beautiful home. The one thing that would make me happier would be that my husband could retire to relax and enjoy our home and family with me instead of him constantly travelling overseas for work.
42. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD
Thank you, Clancy for the opportunity to be interviewed on your blog. Your questions are certainly comprehensive. I hope I have done them justice and you and your readers enjoy reading and learning a little about this children’s author, Sandra Bennett. Thank you, for the opportunity to discuss my books and help spread the word of developing literacy to our youngest generation.
Clancy's comment: Well, you were obviously destined to become an author, Sandra. Well done. It's been a pleasure.