Do you dream of publishing a picture book? Need help perfecting your story for submission?
Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning writer for picture books, chapter books, and novels for children. We asked Aleesah five questions in the lead up to her workshop, Creating Perfect Picture Books, at the ACT Writers Centre on Saturday May 27th.
What draws you to writing picture books?
I think that picture books are probably the most lavish of all book formats—and they’re certainly my favourite. They’re an absolutely stunning medium and so engaging for children and adults alike. What’s not to love about them? I can’t draw at all so to have the gift of a talented illustrator working on a picture book project with me to bring my story to life visually is an absolute joy.
How did you progress from writing as a hobby to writing as a career?
From the age of sixteen when I’d first lighted upon the idea of becoming an author, I was told that it was too hard and that I’d never get published. Foolishly, I believed this advice and did always treat my writing as a hobby. But I spent so much of my spare time writing and dreaming of becoming an author that eventually I got my act together and decided ‘This is it!’. You only get one chance at life and as I grew older I felt that my chance to get published was slipping through my fingers.
I was about thirty and found myself at home with a young baby and another one on the way. I realised that now was a good time to turn my hobby into a career. That way I could be a mum and have a job that I could do around my child’s schedule.
I attended workshops, courses and festivals. I joined groups and set up critique meetings. I met lots of authors and immersed myself in children’s publishing. I also wrote every spare minute of the day and did lots of research for the stories that I wanted to write. I remember leaving my young baby at home with my husband once he’d returned from work for the night and going to the State Library in the city (Sydney) to pour over ANZAC records for a manuscript I was writing. After several hours there, I’d finish about 10pm and head home, usually arriving in time before my baby woke up so I could give him his night-time breastfeed. It was a juggle but I was determined so I gave it my all. And I loved the freedom and stimulation that those hours of research and writing gave me.
When you first decided you were determined to get published, you began attending workshops. What did you find most beneficial about the workshops you attended?
Learning about the craft and business of writing was crucial. I knew absolutely nothing! There’s so much to learn—it takes years to build your author knowledge bank—but if you can get hints, tips and techniques along the way it provides you with crucial guidance and information on how you should write and conduct yourself as an author. Learning from an experienced, published author is the only way to go. The skills and knowledge you pick up from those who’ve gone before can’t be learnt anywhere. There is no “Author School” and university degrees will only teach you so much. If you really want to know what it’s like to be an author then you’ll need to speak to lots of them, pick their brains, follow their lead, learn from them, emulate them and possibly even work closely with them in a mentorship so they can help you on your exciting journey towards publication.
Another important reason for attending workshops is to have the ability to connect with other aspiring and emerging authors and to find kindred spirits. I’m still close friends with a number of authors and illustrators who started out at the same time as I did. We’ve shared a remarkable journey together and have some wonderful memories. We all need to find our tribe and at workshops you’ll do just that.
What do you think is the most important aspect of getting a picture book publication ready?
There are so many things to learn so this is a hard one to answer! At the very least, having your story to a point where the text sings, so that it’s different, original and engaging for a publisher and a young audience is one key factor. Your manuscript must be presented to professional industry standards and be thoroughly edited so that it is error-free.
I read many manuscripts every year in my role as a mentor and so many authors who think they’re formatting their manuscript and writing a decent picture book story still get it wrong. You need to be INFORMED about the submission process and you need to be METICULOUS with your manuscript. Writing a story one day and submitting it the next isn’t the way to go—but I hear this happen all the time from new writers.
What are you most excited about imparting to attendees at your upcoming workshop at the Centre, Saturday 27 May?
I have so much information to share on the 27th. This workshop is like a crash course on everything you need to know about writing picture books. I know I’ll be doing a lot of sharing of my extensive knowledge of picture books and insight into the children’s publishing industry that minds will be humming with ideas and fingers will be itching to write!
I’m also looking forward to hearing some of the stories that people read out for feedback. I can’t wait to hear those new voices. I really do hope attendees bring something they’re working on so they can gain critical feedback on it and know precisely what to do with it next. My aim is to inspire attendees to take that next step on their journey and to give them much-needed guidance and motivation to keep following their hearts.
Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning Australian author who writes picture books, chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, teamwork and environmental themes. In 2015, she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction) for her picture book, Our Class Tiger. She has won numerous other awards for her writing.
Aleesah has published over thirty-five books for children, including ten picture books. In 2016, she set up Greenleaf Press, a business designed to provide critical support services to authors and illustrators.
Across the globe, Aleesah delivers talks and workshops to adults and children schools, libraries and literary festivals. Among many other events, she has presented at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Perth Writers’ Festival, the Vancouver WORD Festival (Canada), the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and the Young Child Expo and Conference (USA).