WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
I first met Susanne Gervay in the lobby of the Hotel Grand Pacific in Singapore. I attended several of her presentations at the 2013 AFCC/SCBWI conference and sat next to her for many of the functions.
Susanne is kind and generous and funny and smart…I was thrilled when she agreed to step into the spotlight today. I know you will find her answers enlightening. I’m going to be printing out her writing tips to keep posted on my wall – I need to remember them – especially #4. And she is sharing a really special recipe that I am sure you will want to try!
Susanne…I know you are extremely busy with your own writing, your speaking engagements all over the world, your hotel in Sydney, your family and the many children’s causes you advocate for. It was kind of you to agree to be interviewed and I know everyone is anxious to hear from you.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
Johanna Spyri – Heidi.
Elizabeth George Speare – The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Lucy Maud Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables .
Eleanor H. Porter – Pollyanna
May Gibbs illustrator of the gumnut babies
Beatrix Potter illustrator of Peter Rabbit
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
I wish I knew I should have worked on my manuscripts, edited them, let them sit for a while, until I looked at them again, before I sent them to publishers. It would have reduced the heart aches of rejection.
I also wish I’d belonged to SCBWI for the networking, community of writers and illustrators and to gain invaluable craft and industry insight.
Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook?
I only ever work on my computer and usually in my office. However I often print my manuscript and hand edit in the park or wherever I am, be it at the doctor’s surgery or in a café or at the beach.
When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
I am most productive when two factors align. It’s when the muse hits me, combined with a space in my life to dedicate a block of time to writing. Ideally I would love to be able to write for half a day every day, then do the things I need to do in life. I run The Hughenden Hotel in Sydney, have family and a lot of writing tours, so it’s hard to achieve.
When I am desperate to write and have a contract to fulfil. I love spending a week away at my brother and sister-in-law’s holiday house on the beach. I get up early and write until around 1 p.m. Then I stroll along the beach, have lunch, read, go to the movies, let the words I have written settle inside me in preparation for the next day. It’s called a writer’s paradise.
Why do you choose sensitive, and often unaddressed topics (dealing with cancer, relocation/immigration), as the basis for your picture book manuscripts?
Writing is such a deeply personal process for me. My background as the child of refugees heightened my sense of how voiceless children can be. How children travel in an adult world with all its challenges, yet have no experience and few skills to understand and deal with these challenges. Yet children feel intensely. Story can comfort, heal and partner children in their life, be a friend who laughs, cries, plays and shares life with them. I wanted to write those stories for children.
I also write my picture books for parents, teachers, adults to share story, emotionally engage in relationships through the characters and ideas, open communication between parents, adults and children.
‘Ships in the Field’ reaches into the human experience that we all need love, family and belonging. When we are dislocated from our homelands and come as strangers to new lands without language, work, community, it’s hard but we do rebuild and reconnect. While autobiographical, ‘Ships in the Field’ is about all of us. It invites parents and grandparents to share their stories with young people.
When I was asked by VARIETY the children’s charity who help children with disabilities and terminal illness to write a picture book for them, I knew what I wanted to do. Celebrate kids, every day. When Josh is sick, Gracie his sister is beside him. When Josh is better, he’s the leader, with imagination and a joy of life.
‘Gracie and Josh’ is also written for the parents and everyone. It gets so hard sometimes for parents and carers. ‘Gracie and Josh’ is a chance to reflect, share story, laugh and take time to hold your kids and for kids to reach out to their parents and adults.
My new picture book ‘Elephants Have Wings’ which will be out in 2014, was very difficult to write. It was intellectually and creatively challenging. Inspired by the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant with its spiritual traditions in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sufism extending into Judo-Christian story; and inspired by the strength, courage and endurance of the mythological and spiritual elephants, I wanted to write an endearing, assessable story grounded in philosophy and faith for young people to share with adults.
‘Elephants Have Wings’ is a magical story of two children embarking on the great journey of discovering the humanity in all of us.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights … and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1
- Everyone says find your own voice in your writing. What is voice? It’s you. Be authentic. Write how you think and perceive the world. That is your voice.
- Don’t write for a market. The market is fickle and changes constantly. Write about what inspires you creatively, imaginatively and intellectually.
- If you are bored when you are writing, then the reader is bored. It’s not about getting a work finished, it is about getting an engaged and exciting work finished.
- Enjoy the process of writing. Edit, play around with it, experiment, share with your writing friends, get editorial comment and create something you love. Publication is another journey and it’s not guaranteed that you will get published for all sorts of reasons including changes in the market, financial cuts, commercial considerations, so you need to have created a work you believe in.
- Establish a writing groups to share and edit and give support.
- Join SCBWI – it’s the place where you can develop craft and community.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT SUSANNE? HERE’S THE SCOOP!
Holding ‘Butterflies’ to her heart, a 16 year old American girl asks Susanne Gervay ‘Will I have a life?’ A boy in a wheelchair without language thumps his chest after Susanne reads out ‘Gracie & Josh’. He wants more. Susanne’s ‘I Am Jack’ series are rite-of-passage anti school bullying books, and are funny, real and make kids know they can be all they can be. That’s why Susanne writes and has been awarded an Order of Australia and the Lady Cutler Award for Children’s literature. That’s why Room to Read, Life Education, The Cancer Council, The Children’s Hospital Westmead Sydney, Variety the children’s charity, anti bully organisations and more support her books, because kids matter.
AND HERE IS HER CONTACT INFORMATION
Now hold onto your hats, everyone. You are in for a treat! And, when I say treat, I mean that literally and figuratively. Susanne has been kind enough to share with us her recipe for Jack’s Banana Cake from the third book in her Jack series, ‘Always Jack’.
Jack’s Banana Cake from ‘Always Jack’
Ingredients Jack’s Notes
125g soft butter Don’t melt it.
1/2 cup castor sugar Castor means super fine sugar
2 large eggs beaten Try eggs from the farm
2 large mashed ripe bananas or 3 small ones Squishy bananas
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour Grown-up flour. (Jack joke)
1/2 teaspoon bi-carb soda Have a burp here. (Jack joke)
pinch salt Don’t pinch too hard (Jack’s joke)
1/4 cup milk Mum likes low fat milk
2 table spoons of mango yogurt Your favourite yogurt is good
if you don’t like mango
How to Make the Cake
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Beat in eggs a bit at a time into the sugary creamy butter.
Stir in half the flour, bi-carb soda and mashed bananas.
Fold in the rest of the flour, bi-carb and milk, making it smooth.
Spoon mixture into a greased 20cm x 10cm loaf tin or 20cm round cake tin.
Cook Banana Cake
Bake at 180 Celcius (moderate oven) for about 40 minutes, or until cooked.
Cool cake for 5 minutes in tin before turning out.
Jack’s Job – Eat Banana Cake
Have a slice, and then another slice and share around. Yum.
I know you join me in thanking Susanne – interviews like this one can give us an inside look and a better understanding of what goes into becoming a successful author.
On January 18th, my Will Write for Cookies guest will be David Seow, one of the most popular picture book writers in Singapore. You won’t want to miss it!
I’m also starting another new series as part of my Monday Writing Magic posts. Goal-Busters will feature writers, illustrators, educators and others who will share their top goals for 2014 and the steps they are taking to reach them. They’ll also give us the inside scoop on how they reward themselves. I’ll lead off with the January 6th post – it will give me a chance to put myself and my goals out there – a strategy that I hope will help keep me on track and accountable.
Have you thought about your goals for 2014? If you’d like to join in and share, please let me know.
If you’d like to find out the winners of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Writing Contest, you can go here. You’ll be able to access the links to all of the contest entries. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish reading them…there were over 100 and I only read 60 of them. The contest may be over, but those amazing written words will last forever. I hope to see some of those stories in print one day!
Finally, I want to wish everyone a most Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy and Successful New Year! We’ll be celebrating in our new home in New Hampshire with our daughter and grandson, Jeremy. Then, on January 2, we’ll be flying to Chicago for a couple of days to celebrate the New Year with our son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter, Sophie.