Hi Kitty: Welcome to Better Reading Kids!
Can you tell us a little about the story and the main characters?
This story follows Croccy, a sweet crocodile, as he journeys from lonely egg in the forest to beloved family member and valued member of a community. Croccy is adopted by a family of birds. Together they form a new, happy and thriving family. The other animals are confused and search for reasons why the family love this green, sharp-toothed reptile. Ultimately it’s the other animals who have the harder journey as they interact with Croccy and the Family to figure out where Croccy belongs.
What inspired you to choose a crocodile as the main character?
It had to be a crocodile! The original idea for the book came from watching my kids play a game about eggs in nests and who would look after them (the unicorns decided to look after the crocodile eggs that day, I think there were 400 eggs in that particular game so quite a lot of responsibility). At that stage, my son had an alter-ego of Croccy. Crocodiles were a pivotal part of our life for almost two years. I still remember my kid with his face pushed up against the barrier at Perth Zoo whispering to Simmo, the crocodile there ‘You are so beautiful!’ while other kids were like ‘Arghhh! It’s scary!’
This is a book that makes us think beyond the obvious story. What topics of conversation do you imagine it will inspire?
I hope it inspires conversations about divergence, community and family. How they feel, how they intersect and how we can all benefit from inclusion. Everyone has a right to feel accepted as they are, without needing to demonstrate worth. Croccy has positive attributes just like everyone else, but they’re not why he should be accepted. The other animals in the community are naturally curious about Croccy. They ask questions and watch the family, but they never disengage from them. There’s a shift from ‘awareness’ to ‘acceptance.’ I would love to see society move even further towards acceptance of differences. There’s only so far awareness can take us! Also, the happiness of the Family is paramount. Happy families of all types exist and have more in common than otherwise. For my family and I, the story of Croccy is about neurodivergence, but I think other types of ‘different’ families would find themselves in these pages too.
This book is all about family. The release of this new picture book must be quite exciting for you and the family. What do your kids think about the book, Mum being an author and crocodiles?
They love the book! As for being an author, when I first started writing stories they were pretty harsh critics. I did not have enough (or any) unicorns, battle scenes or portals to other dimensions. Very disappointing. But, since my first book was actually published they are unfailingly positive and proud. They’ve been involved in a couple of social media videos so they’re pretty sure we’re an Author Team now. Which of course, we are. Crocodiles are no longer peak special interest; my Son has formally requested that it be known that while crocodiles are pretty great, dragons and video games are now his things. My daughter is just hoping the book about her gets published!
Can you describe the collaborative process of working with Daron Parton, the illustrator?
It was a joy. Initially, I was shown some of his work by my editor, and I loved the vibrancy of it. In the original manuscript, I hadn’t specified what type of animals the Family are, but for some reason I anticipated wombats. No idea why. I knew he was drawing up roughs with the Family as birds and birds had never occurred to me. But of course, it was perfect. Obviously, they were birds! There is still a wombat in the book too. Daron found aspects of the manuscript and characters that are uniquely his and made them sing, it’s definitely ‘our’ book.
You’ve come to writing in a rather roundabout way, via psychology and parenthood. Can you share some interesting information about your background and your current roles and goals?
I studied psychology because I wanted to spend my life around people and their stories, I think there’s something intensely powerful and healing about telling our stories. I didn’t consider a degree in creative writing at all, despite how much I loved English at school and all the teenage anguish diaries I’d kept. So I wrote university assignments and then work reports and then online articles and then more work reports and then my kids said, ‘tell me a story!’ so I did. And then I realised all I wanted to do was write stories. I’m surprised at how neatly all the pieces of psychology and parenting and writing came together. Current goals are to keep doing this. Which seems simple but is a very big dream!
What’s some great advice you’ve received that has helped you as a writer?
‘Why does it have to be your first book that’s published?’ I thought that I could only pursue a career in writing if my first manuscript was picked up. I was devasted when it was (rightfully) rejected. Then I found writing communities and discovered that we’re all in this for the long haul, and the goal is to improve as a writer, not to show up as one. I am extremely relieved my first manuscript was roundly rejected. For a start, I thought it rhymed, but it didn’t; and also I wouldn’t have pursued improvement as a life-long goal.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Pray your first manuscript gets rejected. There is more than one story in you and more than one idea. Find them. They usually show up on the back of a ‘Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…’ email.
What impact is COVID-19 having on your writing life and/or other aspects of your life? Eg how do you promote a book when you can’t get out and about
I’m in Perth, which has only a few restrictions at the moment. I’m having a Book Launch and going to local schools. We also still have author events with our SCBWI and CBCA organisations. I think my kids want to make another video? That could be Australia wide marketing! The impact of COVID-19 on the industry as a whole has been immense though. I feel for publishers and other writers who are navigating their way through some murky territory.
What’s the next project on your desk?
I was fortunate enough to receive an Arts Grant for a middle-grade novel from my local council. I am deep into a story of magic, monsters, friendship, truth and of course, diversity. There are battle scenes and a portal to another dimension. Still no unicorns. Whoops.