This week I’m thrilled to be part of Books on Tour — a series of blogs highlighting the release of the new children’s picture book Cloud Conductor, by Kellie Byrnes (illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn and published by Wombat Books). Books on Tour is a project by the wonderful folk at Just Kids’ Lit, who you may recall interviewed my book Every Family is Different about me a few weeks ago (here).
For the Cloud Conductor Books on Tour series, you can visit a series of interviews and guest blogs featuring Kellie and this beautiful book about the power of imagination. Simply follow this link.
Kellie is a children’s author and full-time freelance writer, and a children’s book reviewer. She has a BA degree in Literature from Macquarie University, is an experienced copywriter and has worked in marketing, PR, sales, e-commerce and publishing roles, including working as a publishing assistant for Pan Macmillan, a sales rep for Pan and later Hardie Grant Gift (Taltrade Books at the time).
During these years, Kellie read a huge number of books, developed an understanding of the publishing industry and what it takes to make it as an author and writer.
I’m sure you’ll be inspired by her responses to my Shelf Aware interview questions, fascinated by her eclectic list of favourite books, and wishing you could take the time to pick and choose some of the captivating titles on her bookshelves (just like me).
Q. Kellie, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I write children’s books that hopefully inspire and entertain children, and help them to understand themselves and the world around them better.
I’m always thinking about, writing, or editing ideas for kidlit, and pretty much live and breathe words and stories. I’m a full-time freelance writer too, so am always working on something involving words!
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. Cloud Conductor is a picture book about using the imagination to deal with challenging times. In the story, Frankie loves to just sit and watch the clouds. She conducts symphonies in the sky and listens to the melodies only she can hear.
As the seasons pass, Frankie is taken away from her bedroom on the tales she creates. Even when illness means she can’t leave her bed, Frankie can escape to the beach with shimmering waves or the outback with thundering horses.
The book is illustrated beautifully by Ann-Marie Finn, whose artwork style I just adore; and the book was published by Wombat Books.
I hope the story helps children who are ill or otherwise struggling, to discover a new tool they can use to cope with something difficult in their lives. It should also act as a prompt for discussions about how to help others who are unwell or facing tough times.
As well, I really hope Cloud Conductor encourages kids to have their “head in the clouds”. I think the imagination is so incredibly important, no matter our age, and children should be taught that it’s good, and healthy, to be creative and to daydream and visualise. There are many studies which show how creativity assists mental health, yet it seems to be something that we don’t value nearly enough.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. Most of my bookcases are in my office – I have three large (and completely full) ones, plus two smaller ones, and even the built-ins in the room are also stacked with books. On top of that, my bedhead is always covered with library books I’m in the process of trying to find time to read; and the bed has built in bookcases on either side too, which are, you guessed it, full!
In addition, I have a couple of other bookcases spread around the house that contain books. I think I have more books in my house than anything else! I also typically have a book or some kind of reading material in my handbag or car so that always have something to read. I haven’t ever counted how many books I have, but I think I’d be scared by the number!
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. On my bookshelves, the books are arranged by genre and, for kidlit, by approximate age range. However, as I buy books and pull them out of the shelves, they can get a little muddled, so I try to do a re-jig of my collection at least once every six to twelve months so that I can find things when I need them!
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
I have a very eclectic range of books. I’m interested in most topics, and read most topics, so my shelves reflect that. In particular, since I write kidlit, I have a LOT of picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult books.
In addition, I’m pretty well stocked when it comes to personal development books, business (I’ve been self-employed for many years), art, biography, travel, and the classics. There’s also quite a few fantasy, chick-lit, poetry and literary fiction books on the shelves. I think I’ve ended up covering most genres here actually, haven’t I?!
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. In bed! I know it’s not very good for my neck and shoulders, but there’s nothing quite like cuddling up in bed to read, particularly during the colder months of the year.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I always have multiple books on the go because I read according to my mood, and/or what I currently have to review, or that will help me write whatever genre I’m working on at the time.
In the last couple of days I’ve finished reading Oprah’s What I Know for Sure, which was a really interesting, poignant collection of life tips and musings (I liked to be reminded about ways to live a healthier, more productive and happy life); and Alexandra Horowitz’s Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, which was used for research for a non-fiction picture book I’m working on. It has some really fascinating facts in it, and is written in a very entertaining way.
As for kidlit, I read dozens of picture books each week typically because that’s what I’m most focused on writing, and it’s important to stay current, and learn from the best. The latest bunch that I’ve enjoyed include There’s a Dragon In Your Book written by Tom Fletcher; If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams, and Goodnight Already! by Jory John.
I’m just about to start reading YA novel The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco. I adore YA, and am working on some outlines for a couple of different novels in this genre, so try to read multiple books each month (YA fantasy is my particular love).
8. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. I always find this question tricky as I have fallen in love with so many books over the years. I have a comprehensive list of some of my all-time favourites in various genres on my website, that people can check out if they have a while (it’s a long list!) but for brevity’s sake right now, here are some particular faves: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness; The Ancient Future series by Traci Harding; The Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance; The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone & Michael Smollin; So Few of Me and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds; Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins; The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (of course!); Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Matilda; Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series; Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo; The Throne of Glass series and Court of Thorns & Roses series by Sarah J. Maas; Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley; The Messenger by Markus Zusak; and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
9. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
Argh, I don’t even want to think about that!
If I had to choose three, I’d guess it would be ones that are in prominent spots because I read them often and love them, like A Discovery of Witches, from the All Souls Trilogy; The Twits; and a big book of poetry called World Poetry, which covers centuries of the best poems. I love to just flick through that one here and there to be inspired and to enjoy the beautiful language throughout.
10. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
I think my answers to this would always depend on the day you catch me, and which authors and books are top of mind at the time. Today, I’d say I’d love to sit down for tea with Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice; Deborah Harkness, the author of the All Souls Trilogy; and Roald Dahl. I’d just like to discuss all things books and writing – rather predictable, I know! As for what to serve, I’d get the afternoon tea catered so I knew the food would be up to everyone’s standards, and I wouldn’t have to stress.