'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 14 January 2011

Author Interview: Hazel Edwards

Hazel with illustrator John Petropoulos
We're thrilled to be joined by author Hazel Edwards today. Here, she tells us about her life writing for children. You can see more of Hazel's work at hazeledwards.com.

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I was an aqua readaholic kid who read in the bath (adding more hot water if a good book).

Although I came from a family which valued reading, I didn’t know any writers. Trained as a primary teacher, later a lecturer. I’ve always written for all ages but children’s books are harder to write. When my two children were small, I was inadvertently ‘researching’, even on family holidays or while orienteering each week as a family. As a working parent, I learnt to use every writing minute.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? My first book, a YA novel General Store was published when I was 27. Same year as my first baby. This book was later translated into Finnish, my first translation and most exciting to read all those g’s, j’s and dots. There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake was my third published book.

What genre do you now write in? I like the variety of adult and children, fiction and non fiction, books, short pieces and scripts for performance. Much depends upon the best ‘shape’ in which to craft that idea and for which audience. Currently I’m learning to write in new media, for my author website, possible Apps and also for children’s theatre which is my secret love.

The concept of the recent picture book Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) was originally for a 13 part TV series, so flexibility is vital. I enjoyed working with illustrator John Petropoulos on the Plato picture book character who may still travel into new media (already on Kindle with translations in progress).

What other genres have you written in? Because motives interest me, I have written some short adult crime too. Have a 15 minute script on pokies gambling which I’d still like to have performed.

I write the picture book text, but don’t illustrate. I think in abstract not in colour or shape so I’m grateful to my wonderful illustrators.

However I also enjoy writing quirky junior fiction such as the just released Duckstar series which is a junior Animal Farm arts performers satire. Co-written with director Christine Anketell. This is both print and e-book and increasingly the titles and covers will be important clues for e-books. The stroppy, male belly dancing pig and the director duck with attitude are my favourite characters.

Adult satire and junior fantasy are similar in the economy of words, but also in the depth of ideas. That appeals to me. Shorter is not easier.

I do one non-fiction adult book each year, usually with an expert from that field as a collaborator, so I’m learning new stuff. Difficult Personalities (Penguin) with psychologist Dr Helen Mc Grath or Simply Events with event manager Jan Bottcher are examples. So I now know about sociopaths and what NOT to do for events.

Co-writing YA fiction is even more challenging. Co-writing f2m: the boy within, a YA novel about transitioning gender with family friend Ryan Kennedy, who has experienced ftm (female to male) transition, was a new experience, but a very satisfying book in which to be involved. Internationally, it’s a first by a co-author who has experienced transitioning from female to male. I also had to learn about punk music, genetics and how to plot on Skype webchats, as Ryan lives in NZ.

What do you love about writing for children? Genuine responses. Amazing fan mail like ‘What happens after the end of the last page?’ Loyalty if they like your character.

Tell us about your path to having your books published. Lots of rejections. Still get them. Mainly because I like to try new subjects or formats.

Persistence. Recycling. Taking risks professionally, such as in f2m: the boy within because of the taboo subject.

Because I have an educational background, often been possible to write about the ‘process’ of new kinds of work as well as producing the actual book e.g. I write a classroom performance script to go with the picture book as an additional resource.

Many of my titles are also in Braille or Auslan signed, as well as translated. The hippos are being published in Chinese now.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your book-writing journey? Time and energy management. Often responses occur a long time after you’ve had the idea and done the work.

Getting others to value the quality of work, financially and philosophically.

As solo operator in a very small business of ideas…. being an author, you are the boss but also the person who cleans the toilets or fills in the BAS.

What’s a typical writing day? Most writers are workaholics because private and business life is intertwined. Often home offices mean colleagues meet your family or travel is work.
Writing daily. Researching on site. (Recently spent a week on a French barge and will use this in a mystery, in addition to the travel article already published online.) Interviewing. PR such as autographing in bookshops or answering guest blogs. So I try to use my website as a shopfront window of information, and only have to enter things once.

Increasingly I try to use electronic aids such as ‘web-chat interviews‘ or mentoring online, to save on travelling. Skype is very useful.

What books did you read as a child? Enid Blyton. Mysteries. Espionage.

What else do you like to do, other than write books? Swim. Go to bellydancing classes.

What’s next for Hazel Edwards? Pocket Bonfire Productions release the Hippo film soon. Weary Dunlop and Dr Fred Hollows (New Frontier Aussie Heroes series) out soon. But I hope that more of my stories will become performed as children’s theatre, on tv. or new audio formats.

Visit hazeledwards.com for hints for aspiring writers as well as useful literary links, and backgrounds to many of Hazel’s titles.