Tag Archives: Australian Illustrators

Huzzah! Special guest Q&A with the amazing Tania McCartney

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At the very first moment we met, around 11 years ago, the lovely Tan and I just hit it off and I, for one, have treasured this friendship and her astounding talent since.

Isn’t this just the most stylish and gorgeous woman? And the remarkable thing is she just as stylish and gorgeous inside as out!

Tania McCartney, welcome to Just So Stories- I have no idea why it’s taken this long to do a Q&A with you … not only one of my favourite author/illustrator people, but such a super human being! However, with your newest Plume adventure being released, it’s pretty perfect timing!

Let’s get into it!

Q. As someone once sang, “let’s start at the very beginning..”. Tell us about little Tania: growing up, family background, interests, good girl or naughty girl, studious or not? – you know what we want 😉.

Well, I was born on the small isle of Tasmania where I developed a loving relationship with raspberries. When I reached school age, it’s perhaps no surprise that art and English were my favourite subjects. My most treasured possession was a white exercise book crammed with stories and the whopping great glittery stickers Mrs Nicholas handed out for the tales she loved most. Oh, the glory to see a half- or even page-sized sticker in that book.

As a tween, we moved to Coffs Harbour where I morphed into a beach-loving surfer and wannabe fashion designer. At high-school, I was intermittently a rebel, enthusiast, swot or class clown, depending on the subject and the teacher (per: science, art, English, maths).

Q.  I know you started your writing career in the world of magazines and publishing. Could you tell us a little about that and what made you pivot to writing books for children?

Magazines have been quite the addiction. My first article was for Dolly magazine (at age 20) and when we moved to Beijing, I penned more than 250 tidbits, feature articles and columns for expat magazines like Time Out Beijing, The Beijinger, City Weekend, Beijing Kids and Little Star magazines.

Back in Australia, I worked for Australian Women Online, founded Kids’ Book Review, and contributed to various magazines and websites, including Maeve, Tickle the Imagination, HerCanberra and Boomerang Books blog. Roles included writer, feature writer, columnist, photographer, designer, editor, associate editor, contributing editor, copy editor and proofreader.

Including my reviews and articles for Kids’ Book Review, I probably have over 4000 articles in print or online. I also started my own magazine, called ‘little’ (there are some snippets of it on my blog), but kids’ books quickly snagged and dragged me away from this magazine thread.

Q. What other jobs have you done, if any?

Oh goodness, I’m the Jill-of-all-trades. My first job was in the milk bar at the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, around age 13. During high school, I worked part time at a newsagent, then at 18, I moved to Sydney where I spent 8 years in various roles – receptionist, executive secretary, marketing assistant, catwalk model, photographer’s model, promo girl in department stores.

Then it was various roles in Paris and London—mostly temp office work in London and secretarial/computer software training for the Australian Embassy in Paris. When I moved back to Melbourne, I spent four years as a flight attendant, pottered with magazine work and toyed with adult fiction.

It wasn’t until I met my husband that I was finally able to take on my dream role—a maker of books, mostly children’s books (sad that it so oft takes marriage for women to realise their dreams). When we lived in Beijing with our young family, I complemented my magazine work by producing my first picture book (Riley and the Sleeping Dragon). Then back in Canberra four years later, I founded Kids’ Book Review and immersed—with gusto—in our kids’ book community. That’s when things really took flight.

Q. When we first met, I think you had just published the second Riley book and I remember you talking about the illustrator for those. Now you illustrate your own books – and beautifully I might add! – how did that transition come about?

Ah, yes! The gorgeous Keiron Pratt illustrated those Riley books. Feels like a lifetime ago.

My own illustration journey began when ‘midlife crisis’ kicked in. I used to paint and draw prolifically as a child and young adult, but—like so many—lost the connection as adult life grew bigger. I’ve always loved art and illustration and was desperate to take it up again, so in early 2013, I founded the 52-Week Illustration Challenge as a way to challenge myself to regain non-existent drawing skills.

The Challenge Facebook group was a huge success—it grew to over 7000 members over three years and is absolutely responsible for my illustration journey. We had a weekly theme to inspire artists to create and post to the group, and no one was more surprised than me to see latent skills recover and blossom.

From my first woeful offering of a pair of eggs to a circus troupe and the first piece I was actually proud of, I went on to rapidly improve, eventually securing my first self-illustrated picture book contract for Australia Illustrated.

[I’m still so proud to have been noted in the credits for Australia Illustrated! 😊]

I’ve since gone on to illustrate a series of maps, puzzles, greeting cards—and 18 books. Most of these books were as author/illustrator but a small handful in cahoots with an author, including Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather with friend Stephanie Owen Reeder.

One thing I didn’t count on was how much time it takes to illustrate books, and how hard it is on a middle-aged body. So, half-way through my Evie and Pog chapter book series, I switched to digital illustration, using Procreate on the iPad. I do all my books digitally now and I absolutely love it.

It’s hard to believe I illustrate books now. I still pinch myself.

Q. You published work for adults before you turned to writing for kids. I particularly enjoyed Beijing Tai Tai with the insights into ex-pat life in China and loads of humour. Which is tougher – writing for adults or writing for children?

For children, without question. I think people have little idea how hard it is to get children’s books right, particularly picture books, where every word must earn its place, and where visual narrative is even more important that the text. It’s an intricate, delicate and nuanced dance.

Similarly, books for older kids have such firm parameters in terms of themes, language, vocabulary and construct. They are totally dependent on the readership age yet simultaneously the need to cover many literacy variables.

In truth, it takes deep skill, craftsmanship, experience and time to do children’s books well.

Q. You’ve now published many books and your picture books are just so glorious. Tell us about the process e.g.  How long does the process of writing and illustrating one of your PBs take on average? Which has been the most difficult to create and why?

It really depends. Smile Cry took 20 minutes to write (and was illustrated by Jess Racklyeft). Australia Illustrated took a year to write and illustrate. Mamie took over 3 years from concept to publication.

I don’t think any of my books have been ‘difficult’ to make but if I think in terms of hefty workload, it was likely Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures . It was a crushing amount of work because I crafted it in Adobe Illustrator—sitting at my Mac, using a mouse (I know!) and the result was not one but two frozen shoulders. I also did all of the research, writing, photography (for textures to use in the illos), scientific editor liaison, layout, design, typesetting, cover. It was HUGE.

And testament to effort = reward, Fauna is by far my most award-winning book. I’m so proud of that book … and my shoulders were worth it.

Q. I especially love your ‘travelogue’ type books as well as the biography-based ones, and there have been quite a few. These are obviously genres close to your heart. What lies behind that? 

It’s not till these past few years I’ve realised just how many of my books feature the Earth, nature, animals, travel, culture, diversity.

I’m a bit of a travel obsessive. I mean, who isn’t? But it started young with me—I’d read the atlas. Like, sit and read it, as a child. And I’ve always been obsessed with maps—again, I would sit and read street directories (back in the pre-GPS Dark Ages). A world globe has always been my idea of heaven.

Our planet and travel have always fascinated me and they still do, so you can only imagine how excited I was when Hardie Grant Explore contracted me to create my first —Australia, Illustrated Map and then the Plume series of travel picture books. Some of the biggest highlights of my career.

Q. Now would be timely to share Plume and his latest adventure with us! 😊

Ah, yes! Festival Seeker! Book three in the Plume series—what fun it was to create. In this episode, Plume gads about the planet experiencing some of the world’s most colourful and dynamic festivals. He flies, of course, on Ava of the Albatross Express, visiting kids in countries like India, Spain, Fiji, Scotland and Brazil.

From spectacular fireworks to puffs of rainbow powder and carpets made of blossoms to burning Viking galleys, Plume has an absolute blast experiencing these remarkable festivals. Each time he travels, he meets new children, and he brings their culture and traditions home to his black and white friends—i.e. the other Antarctic penguins.

This book, like the others, is all about diversity, kindness, colour, adventure, friendship, sharing. It’s a feel-good way for kids to voyage the world from their own home (so timely, with Covid!)—and to be enriched and uplifted in ways that only travel can muster.

[Stay tuned troops for the review of the delightful new Plume adventure! You probably have enough time to go make a cup of tea – or pour something else.]

Q. What does your writing space look (pictures always welcomed!)

It’s a light, bright studio at the front of our house—with a lovely nook for my Mac, lots of cupboards and space for books … and, of course, there are lots of books! There’s also artworks and toys and photos and knickknacks from our travels that inspire and uplift me.

I have a large trestle table right under the window for when I one day return to hand-rendered illustrations (and I will). Even though digital art is my thing now, I really miss watercolour and ink and printing. There’s something less convenient but much more magical about it.

Q. What does downtime for Tania look like? What else do you enjoy doing? (and I know you work long and hard, so hope there IS some downtime!)

Not much downtime these past ten years! But I’ve recently rectified that and I’m finally, FINALLY reading more. And not just kids’ books. Adult books, too. I’m also getting more walks and yoga in, and my hubby recently brought a spin bike into our lives – so that’s giving me quite the [much-needed] workout.

I also love playing dress-ups (quite the clothing obsession) which is a great excuse to meet friends for coffee. I enjoy gardening, interior design, crochet, visiting galleries and a little nature photography. In the coming years, we’ll be travelling a lot more, so planning trips will be back on the agenda. Bliss!

Q. Who are your personal favourites – authors, illustrators, books? (as a child/as an adult)

As a child, it was Blinky Bill and Dr Seuss and Enid Blyton and Archie comics, the latter much to my mother’s disdain (I now read Austen, so she needn’t have worried).

As an adult, I’m pulling the good old ‘how can I possibly choose’ thing, which is generally true, but what I can categorically say is that my favourite picture books of all time are the Miroslav Sasek This is… series

[I completely agree with you on Sasek’s books – I think I’ve bought them for at least five different school libraries now!]

I’m also a huge fan of non-fiction picture books, and faves include Animalium by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, The Book of Bees and The Book of Trees by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, Mad About Monkeys (and ensuing series) by Owen Davey, and Suffragette by David Roberts.

Favourite children’s book creators include Anna Walker, Owen Davey, Chris Turnham, Isabelle Arsenault, Suzy Lee, David Roberts, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Gus Gordon, Jenni Desmond, Marc Martin and Jackie French.

[ditto to many of these favourites as well – don’t you just adore Owen Davey’s non-fiction? I truly relish each one I see.]

Q. What has been your greatest professional achievement or highlight to this point?

Touching the lives of children, uplifting and inspiring them, in any way I can.

Q. What is next up for the talented Tania? Is there a special project in the offing?

I’m actually scaling back my work from 2023. I have some life to live, you know? And I’m not 30 anymore (alas). So, there’ll be a much greater life balance and perhaps some deep gaps in between my books from now on. That both terrifies and thrills me.

I nevertheless have three books out in 2023 – the first in February – my beloved Dorrie (HarperCollins) on the life of Blinky Bill creator Dorothy Wall. Mid-year will be my Wildlife book with Hardie Grant Explore – which was a huge amount of much work – akin to I Heart the World. Really excited about it. Then in October, I have the fourth Plume book. Can’t tell you what it’s about yet, but it’s going to be soooo cute!

Q. Aside from your family and the memories they will carry in their hearts, how would you want to be remembered by the world at large?

Such a hard and confronting question. Okay, leaving out all the crappy parts, I’d like to be remembered as…

A good person. Warm. Generous. Helpful. Thoughtful. Thorough. Responsive.

Someone who heart-and-souled her career, even though her perfectionism and self-expectations were oft debilitating, sometimes even damaging.

Dedicated. Driven. Passionate. Innovative. Curious. Dynamic. Multi-faceted.

A founder, creator, artist, instigator, enthusiast, listener, adventurer, outsider. This last one is particularly important to me.

And, lastly, as someone who in any way uplifted and inspired and comforted even one child.

Tania, I can attest to all of the qualities above – you truly are an inspiration, and not just to children either. It is such a privilege to be your friend. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful insight into your life. I am looking forward to reviewing Plume: Festival Seeker – and more next year.

Caroline Magerl – Sunshine Coast Superstar

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Truly I am so very lucky to be able to count Caroline (and her lovely husband) as friends. She is not just a hugely talented creator of children’s books but an incredible artist. On her recent trip to London and beyond, as part of the Illustrators Exhibition at Chris Beetles Gallery, she delighted all of us with her gorgeous watercolours and photographs which formed a vicarious trip for we poor stay-at-homes.

How thrilled am I to be the recipient of one of these treasures?!! Today I received this beautiful gift in the mail to my utter astonishment and absolute joy. Thank you so much Caroline xxx. I can’t wait for our catch up to thank you in person for such a generous and thoughtful gift.

And in other exciting news, I can’t wait to go back up the coast as soon as possible and hopefully spot this gorgeous Sunshine Coast LIbraries bus tootling around with its colourful Caroline artwork. This is the library service that also celebrates children’s literature with the cutest story park benches all up and down the coast.

The Artist, and the Young Peoples Services Supervisor, went to town … in a beautiful Mercedes van.

Thanks Karen Gawen of/and

Sunshine Coast Libraries
and
First 5 Forever

Last time The Kid and I were up the coast we came across this beauty – one of my favourite picture books to share with small humans – who love to stamp and mess about like little dinosaurs.

And just in case you missed them – read my review of Caroline’s gorgeous new book Piano Fingers as well as Nop and Maya & Cat.

All of these marvellous books very highly recommended to you.

Piano Fingers – Caroline Magerl

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Walker Books

March 2022

ISBN: 9781760652616
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

I have been watching the development of this truly beautiful book for around two years; from the very first balsa wood model, that was to inform the illustrations of the piano, to endearing portraits of the original subject with her little red corduroy shoes, to work-in-progress video trailers. At last, all is revealed and what a revelation it is! Once again Caroline’s evocative artwork provides the reader with the most exquisitely sensitive, and stunningly realised insight into a little person’s emotions and dreams.

Bea’s big sister is able to make beautiful music with her violin, while Bea is not at all impressed with the ‘tink’ of a triangle. She dreams of much more imposing musical interludes. And with the help of Maestro Gus, the piano ghost cat, her leap of faith propels her into a world of swirling melodies. Big sister Isla joins her in her pursuit of perfect piano fingers, and together their refrains fill hearts and minds. Your young readers will not just appreciate Bea’s experimental exploits with the piano, but easily recognise that it’s no failure to not excel at everything, especially with the support of loving siblings to help you reach out for your dream. I would predict that there will be many would-be budding tiny pianists after sharing Bea’s story – though there may be some disappointment when no Maestro Gus (who is just adorable!) materialises.

Caroline’s undeniable creative talent has earned her accolades across the world, not only as an author/illustrator but as an exhibiting artist. Her recent sojourn in the UK as invited participant in Chris Beetles’ Gallery’ annual Illustrators Exhibition, alongside such guest luminaries as Michael Foreman, Michael Morpurgo and Joanna Lumley, is indicative of her stature as an illustrator/artist. Her work is always tenderly realised and expertly rendered, and she is always able to capture the very essence of any scene she paints. Aside from her boundless talent, those of us privileged to know her, are also aware of her gracious warmth and generous nature.

My highest recommendation for this stunning book, for readers from around 4 years upwards. I fully expect more award nominations and recognition to come Caroline’s way once Piano Fingers tinkles across the literary landscape. This is one to make my heart sing!

Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books – Stephanie Owen Reeder

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Storytime

NLA

September 2019

ISBN:   9780642279408

RRP: $24.99

 

During the week the Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature exhibition was officially opened at the National Library of Australia.

Judging by the photos posted by many friends it was a superb occasion with the glitterati of our children’s literary creators and supporters in attendance.

To commemorate this special celebration a range of products is available but most significantly this truly beautiful book compiled by Stephanie Owen Reeder. This retrospective look at over a century of children’s publishing features outstanding characters from so many much-loved stories. I can only imagine the difficulty that the author had in narrowing her selection down but also, no doubt, the immense joy in presenting each of these in a way that is both informative and light-hearted.

From the 1910s with Albert the Magic Pudding to the 2000s and the always outrageous Mr Chicken this is a truly inter-generational volume that will delight everyone who picks it up. Everyone in the family from grandparents to toddlers will find familiar and fun friends from their favourite childhood books.

It is a delight to hold in one’s hands with the quality of production that we have come to associate with NLA publications and would make a beautiful gift for either someone who cares deeply about our children’s books or perhaps to demonstrate to others our fabulous creators over time

An extensive afterword details the work of so many in preserving the history of our children’s literature including that of the NLA and also the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature.

Whether you are looking for an addition to your personal shelves as a lover of our Australian classics for children or perhaps as a professional reference as you guide youngsters through the rich history of our literature for little people, this is a sublime choice.

I cannot recommend it highly enough – just divine! And not leaving my shelves!

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The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories

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Penguin

9780143796732

July 2, 2019

Puffin

RRP $29.99

bedtime

If you are looking for a special gift for a little reader – and it’s never too early to think about Christmas, let’s face it! – this would be the perfect fit. Eight of Australia’s best- loved picture books from some of our best and brightest authors and illustrators are beautifully presented in this hardcover omnibus.

Bed Tails by Meredith Costain and Mitch Vane

Sophie’s Big Bed
 by Tina Burke

Baby Tawnies by Judy Paulson

It’s Bedtime, William! by Deborah Niland

One Very Tired Wombat by Renee Treml

A Bear and a Tree by Stephen Michael King

Jesse by Tim Winton and Maureen Prichard

Come Down, Cat by Sonya Hartnett and Lucia Masciullo

Take a peek inside here.

Whether as a read-aloud for snuggling up on these wintery days and nights or for the newly independent reader this will be the ideal choice to inspire imagination and a love of stories.

The special touches of the pages framed in lilac tones and the glorious endpapers along with the beautiful textured binding all combine to make this a treasured addition to the bookshelf.

Be prepared for many cries of ‘read it again!’ from your chosen audience.

Highly recommended for little ones from toddler upwards.