Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey? How did you get your start?
As long as I can remember I wanted to write stories and draw pictures (early endeavors were washed off the walls). I loved books, although I didn’t have any; I loved the books I found when we visited friend’s houses. In High School, when each student was asked what their dream job would be, I shared my goal of being a writer and artist. The English teacher laughed and I was informed that as a failure, the idea was simply ridiculous and to get a job at Kmart. I left school at 14, my dreams a little shattered (my 5 closest friends graduated top of the State). It wasn’t 'til I was a new mother and we moved to a farming district in the far north that I actually wrote something for eyes other than my own. The Australian Government was changing laws that affected the local farmers (my new friends) and it looked as though quite a few were going to lose their farms. There were protests and rallies, but I thought as someone from a city I knew how to reach city ears. I wrote and illustrated some school reader style books that showed children how important each type of farmer was and what happened on their farms (dairy, beef cattle, banana and sugarcane). I included weights and measures, mathematics and ‘sight words’. These books were self-published and the money collected from their sale went to help the farmers. The money was to be used to fight the government. It was strange when the very same Government contacted me to purchase several thousand of the books… the farmers won a couple of the battles. I would never have put my writing ‘out there’ if it weren’t for the farmers that needed help.
As a teacher, I have a particular interest in using picture books in the classroom. I understand the Education Department in Australia has been using your previous books as part of the national curriculum. Can you tell us a little bit about these books and why you feel they complimented the curriculum so well?
Listening to my children in the car was inspiring. The youngest thought every machine he saw was a tractor, the eldest, then 5, would say, “That’s not a tractor, that’s a …” So, my first book was all about them. The following books featured us visiting farms and learning about them. It is the ‘That’s not a….’ series. The farmers were very encouraging. I am still amazed how often I am stopped in the street by a young mother telling me how much she hates me because she has to read my books EVERY night. I was spoken to by a few elderly women too; they told me about their husbands reading my books (some of the older farmers have never been to school).
During the time of rallies and hardship, our town and surrounding area was hit by a cyclone. It was the biggest in history and just about wiped us off the map. Our house disintegrated around us, as did many other homes. In the following months I was constantly stopped in the street and asked to write ‘That’s not a Cyclone’. I couldn’t, it WAS a cyclone. It was when my youngest told me he didn’t like living in the shed because it wasn’t our home that I wrote ‘That’s not a House’. This book is used for counselling displaced children after natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand (I also donate this book if you know of anyone who needs it). The cyclone clean-up coincided with a new Government Initiative ‘Year of the Farmer’. Initially I think that is why my books were chosen for schools. There was a new print run with a ‘Blueprint for the Bush’ logo inside. Really, the success of these books astounds me and I put it down to writing from my heart and sheer dumb luck.
My writing ideas seem to spring up most frequently when I am surrounded by children. Is this the case for you, as well?
My children are now teenagers so I am rarely around small children… but I am never without ideas, because, deep down, I am still a four year old. (Possibly the reason I didn’t do so well at school.)
What inspired you to write The Bear Said Please?
When I wrote The Bear Said Please I was alone in a hotel room. Something in the room reminded me of a joke, and feeling a bit silly I started rapping it to myself, dancing around the room. The idea of a hungry bear popped into my head and The Bear said Please was written with a mock book dummy finished before I fell asleep. It is 157 words and from my first draft to published story only one word was changed.
Will this new book become part of this education initiative, too? If so, what curricular components worked well with the adoption?
Last year after I signed my contract with Wombat Books I was contacted by the head of the Education Faculty of Queensland University. The universities around the state use my That’s not a… books in their lectures. I was asked if I had anything new. This professor was writing a grammar strategy book for the new national curriculum and wanted to use my books as class work examples. I sent her my MS to see if she was interested and told her I would have to obtain permission from the publisher. She loved it, the publisher said yes, so now my writing sits in a book with Mem Fox, Jackie French, Jeannie Baker and Narelle Oliver (all of these women are heroes to me). I am completely humbled by this.
Core Curriculum has become a buzz topic here in the states for writers, as well as educators. What do you feel is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing to compliment curriculum?
I don’t know why my books have become favorites. As I wrote them I certainly kept in mind the reading level (and variety of age group that may be at that level.) I made sure I kept them interesting with facts written in a way that kids could physically relate to. For example, did you know a bunch of bananas weigh as much as 3 seven year-old boys, and that a cow produces 120 glasses of milk every day? That’s a lot of mustaches!
Your talent does not stop at writing… You crafted some adorable little bear characters just waiting to go home with those that preorder The Bear Said Please! Tell us how you developed these characters, and may we have a sneak peek?
My bear character often appears on belated birthday cards to my nieces and nephews. I think he looks so forlorn and could really do with some loving hugs. I have drawn him so many times it was relatively easy to draw up a stuffed toy pattern. (I did look hard at how a 3D bear might be sewn together). I am making 10 bears. Each bear is individual. I am hand-sewing them, so they are all slightly different. In this image you see my prototype (the little one) and the first of the giveaway bears. He is extremely huggable and washable.
It’s easy, simply visit my website Jacquesartandbooks.com! Each person that prepurchases here by March 31st, (remembering my March 31st is actually your 30th), will receive free postage to anywhere in the world and have their name placed in a jar. Those special names will be shaken and stirred, with 10 being pulled out. I am positive a few bears will be winging their way to the US, as a couple of orders have already come from there.
My publisher, Wombat Books, is also selling the books direct (though this isn’t part of the bear promotion.)
I have heard you say that your writing and critiquing skills have greatly improved since starting the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge. What would you recommend to other writers who are involved (or want to be) in this community?
I have learned an immense amount from the generous 12x12 community.
Before being part of 12x12 I was the Workshop Queen and Writer Festival Stalker (not easy and very expensive when you live so far from anywhere). I’m not sure if it is the same the world over, but in Australia there is a lack of workshops for people who want to write for children. In 2012 I stumbled upon 12x12, but too late to join in. I signed up for the newsletters from 12x12 creator Julie Hedlund so I would be ready for 2013. As you may have guessed, even though my previous books found success, I didn’t understand why and didn’t have any real confidence in my writing abilities (I was the Little Red Engine). Joining 12 x 12, and constantly visiting the 250 word forum, I experienced a lot of Ah-Ha moments. At first I held back commenting on anything other than ‘ideas’, but I soon discovered most of my thoughts were on target or if not, why. Reading the stories posted and the comments that followed was a huge and enjoyable learning curve. The wealth of knowledge and honesty shared willingly from incredibly talented people, and the extra links to interesting and informative websites, is worth so much more than the membership cost. The friendships made have been a wonderful bonus. I now feel very comfortable and confident helping out others with their stories for children. I highly recommend investing in 12x12, not only with the membership fee, but with time in the forums. You will learn something every day!
Thank you for being our Mystery Author this month, Jacque! Best wishes to you in all your future endeavors!
You can follow Jacque on her fabulous blog, Jacque's Mind Wanderings, or on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.