Sunday, October 25, 2015

Guestopia! Poppy Inkwell

Today, I am delighted to welcome Australian author Poppy Inkwell to the Guestopia slot! Here's a quick bio before we get going with interview!

Poppy Inkwell was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Australia as a toddler. She grew up in Campbelltown, in Western Sydney, the youngest of three girls. She spent a year as an exchange student in Japan, graduated from the University of Sydney with a BA in Asian Studies and has worked in a variety of fields, including, a DJ for 2RSR Koori Radio, an interpreter for a Japanese ultra-marathon runner in the Sydney-to-Melbourne race, and PR for bands like Vicious Hairy Mary and Sydney’s avant-garde performance artists, The Post Arrivalists. Curious about Islam, she went to Brunei to teach English to ASEAN diplomats and ended up living there for almost 15 years.
Her five children inspired an interest in children and creativity which led to the development of PicassoPlay (an art group for toddlers), a transition-to-school programme and an Early Literacy programme.
She lives on the Sunshine Coast with her family.
She has sky-dived once.
Hi Poppy! Thank you so much for joining us today! Let's go!

Is this your first published book
The Alana Oakley series are my first published books.

Which genre?

Which age group?
They’re aimed at ‘tweens’ but adults seem to enjoy them too.

Is it a series or standalone?

Are you an agented author?

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Big Sky Publishing.

Do you have another job?
I’m an Early Childhood professional but I also run Early Literacy programmes for children learning to read, or for those who need extra support.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
My first manuscripts were added to many a ‘slush pile’ and very rarely did I even hear back to be rejected. I worked with a professional assessor who helped me get a foot in the door with Walker Books with a different manuscript to Alana. They liked the style or ‘voice’ of my writing but not the content. They asked to see more of my work. I showed them a picture book but they’d committed to another writer on a similar idea so it was back to the drawing board. I decided to write something completely different – Alana Oakley – which at that point was a stand-alone piece. When it was finished my assessor suggested Big Sky Publishing because he knew the acquisitions editor had similar taste to his. They were keen but wanted a series. This required a big mental shift for me but after a few stops and starts I got it done.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
I’m a huge YA fan and had just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant. While I loved them, I was aware of how ‘dark’ they were. I wondered what alternatives were available for someone wanting light comic relief. I didn’t find much and set about filling the gap.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I’m a very visual person. I think it’s because I was a TV addict as a kid. While I was a big reader, I also watched a LOT of shows like Batman and Robin, Get Smart, and the Thunderbirds. So when I write I see ‘mini-movies’ in my head (complete with cartoon-like Kablams!) For Alana, I only started writing when I had a clear beginning and an end because I love all my stories to have a twist. Everything flowed very easily after I established a writing routine. Book 2 was not as easy to write. I’d never written a series before so I wrote the second one as if it was a separate story, introducing new characters with very little connection to the first. It was all wrong – something my assessor very gently pointed out. Sean nurtured me towards making critical changes that made it a cohesive addition to the Alana storyline. It was an enormous learning curve.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I did countless revisions as I wrote, three professional revisions with an assessor and two with Big Sky Publishing, but I think I bored my husband every step of the way with every new chapter.

How many drafts until it was published?
Too many to count!

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
The guts and bones of it remain but it’s very different to the first. The role of an objective, professional eye in the writing process is invaluable.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
I don’t believe in ‘living in regret’ and our ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as our so-called successes. As the books are already published, I believe in putting my energy into the things I can change so I do a lot of re-writing and editing of the manuscripts.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

I enjoy all parts of the writing process but there’s no exact bit that is consistently easy or hard. I usually write in chunks and sometimes out of chronological order. If I can’t/won’t/don’t want to write a particular part, I’ll make a note in highlighted brackets to fill in later, e.g. ‘(describe her face here.)’ Editing, researching, coming up with ideas; they’re all crucial to the overall process and some days certain tasks are easier than others. The important thing for me is to maintain momentum.

What part do you find hardest?
In the original manuscript for Book 2, I had the idea of including an excerpt from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher so I went through the usual channels and ended up in conversation with someone from Lucas Films. Sadly, they did not give their permission so I had to re-think the idea of making ‘Shakespeare Week’ contemporary. My younger daughter, Meg, told me about her friend, William Brien, who had won the school’s Shakespeare Rap competition and he very kindly let me include it in the book. It was a win-win for everyone. Plus, I got rejected by someone from Star Wars... how cool is that?!

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
I try and push through but if I’m not successful I’ll give myself another, but related task, and return to it later. 

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
Usually one but I’ll jot ideas down into separate files so that I don’t lose an idea that might be incubating for something else. 

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I don’t know. A combination of both? Neither? You do get families of writers, and then again, you have authors whose children have no interest in writing themselves. Who knows what’s in our DNA? I do know I’m still learning to write and that the better the constructive feedback, and the more practise I get, the easier writing becomes.  

How many future novels do you have planned?
There are three more stories in the Alana Oakley series. I have another series with a male protagonist incubating in my head. And a few stories planned for much younger readers.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
I write articles and guest blogs on occasion, and a short story once in a blue moon, but mainly I focus on the series. 

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Actually holding the physical book is a very special moment, but also having an opportunity to explain aspects of the series have been an unexpected bonus so interviews and guest blogs are a highlight too. I think all fiction writers are philosophers in a way. Why we choose our characters’ paths, their decisions, or place them in certain situations and their subsequent response, is a reflection of us and our values.
It has also been a fabulous opportunity to collaborate with different people in unique ways. For example, to include William Brien’s Shakespeare Rap in Book 2, provide a platform for Alice Wilson’s song, Set Me Free, in the interview with TheOtherHamish&Andy (a song she wrote when she was ten!!!) or to reach out to an audience on Instagram and ask for suggestions for a character name for a dog featuring in Book 4.
We live in a different era and the rules have changed. It’s very, very exciting.

Give me five writing tips that work for you.
Seeking professional advice/feedback.
Typing out my favourite passages from my favourite books if I feel I can’t find my ‘voice’.
Repeatedly reading my favourite books from my favourite authors. It’s a bit like having a song on ‘repeat’; but you pick up on different nuances each time.
Establishing a writing routine that is interruption-free – I generally write in the morning and when I’m ‘less fresh’ I edit or tweak. Every writing session involves re-working passages I’ve written and I try to complete one chapter in one sitting.
Having a shower – I’ve had some of my best ‘Eureka’ moments in the shower!

And one that doesn't.
Reading reference books on how to write. 

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
New neighbours have moved into the creepy old house across the road and Alana suspects they could be vampires. With a kilo of organic garlic in her pockets I think this sassy sleuth has it covered, don’t you? 

Thank you so much, Poppy! We wish you a bunch of luck with the Alana Oakley series!

If you would like to know more about Poppy and her books, here are a few links that might help.

Big Sky Publishing



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