Children's Non-Fiction

Why a picture book on leatherback sea turtles? +augmented reality announcement

When I look at my backlist (yes, it’s exciting to be able to refer to my ‘backlist’) I see a diversity of work. There’s children’s fantasy fiction, collaborative children’s non-fiction, anthologies, zines, photography, illustration, and painting.

Since it’s pretty clear I’ve given up on the idea of being consistent, why not chuck a picture book into the mix?

There are several reasons why I write, illustrate, edit, and publish. I love the challenge, and I love trying new things out and seeing where they lead me. It’s rewarding to publish other people’s work, especially people who may not otherwise be published. Most of all I enjoy the process of making, of problem solving: I work towards that moment where the idea in my head aligns with the product in front of me (I have no qualms about calling my finished pieces ‘products’).

I try to choose the medium that the story, or topic, tells me it wants to be. Reading Into the White, by Joanna Grochowicz, inspired me to write narrative non-fiction. I did some research, and had a few potentials to write about. But as I was researching, something else caught my interest – native New Zealand plants. We know so much about our birds, but what about our threatened plants? Or other native animals?

The more I researched, the more I found. I was also keen to do more collage, so I listened to an artist talk by Jeannie Baker as I worked – who better to turn to for inspiration on nature-inspired books? She got me thinking about what I’d really like to share with people. What do I love that I want to celebrate?

I had a turtle for a while, a red eared slider, who we’d rescued from the beach. She had probably been dumped (or escaped) from a previous owner. When I moved out of my parents’ home, I gave her to a friend who bred them. I’d love to have a turtle as a pet again. I simply like them.

Turtles have been used as a subject in children’s books before. My favourtiesΒ are The Smallest Turtle by Lynley Dodd, I’ll Follow the Moon by Stephanie Lisa Tara,Β and One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, though there are others. Primarily, they’re about the dangerous race of the turtle hatchlings from the nest to the water.

There are already many creative non-fiction picture books, so I wanted to ensure I was adding something to the landscape. Thus, I ruled out a book about hatchlings getting to the sea. Many creative non-fiction books start at birth and follow the life cycle of the animal they’ve chosen to focus on. So I wasn’t going to do that either.

I visited the DoC website and looked at turtles they featured. It told me the most common sea turtle in New Zealand waters is the Leatherback. I hadn’t heard of it, so I searched it up and found out more. They are fascinating! I had found my topic πŸ™‚

We are still learning about these creatures, as they were primarily studied when they came on land, which was annually at most. One of the ways scientists are learning more is by tagging them, or placing video cameras on their backs, when they surface for air. This became my starting point.

Now that my topic had been firmly chosen, and I was learning more about these intriguing turtles, I decided that there were three things I wanted to achieve with this book:

  1. There are many threats this species is facing.
  2. People are taking action to save them.
  3. Leatherback turtles are fascinating!

I have been thoroughly enjoying making these illustrations. It is my goal to complete one spread each week, so all of them are done by the end of 2017. In particular, gathering natural resources (dry leaves, shells, sand etc.) has been a fun task in creativity and problem solving. This will probably be the first in a series on NZ nature – I’m thinking ‘Wild New Zealand’ for the series name, with the next one being about a native plant.

And now for the announcement! This book will be getting Augmented Reality (AR) treatment (AR isΒ tech that superimposes a computer-generated image over the pages of the book). Mark Southcombe, my brother, is a programmer / game designer and expressed an interest in taking on this project. I met with himΒ earlier this week, and we discussed what each page might be. We’ve included some animation and interactivity, though we’re being flexible with how things might turn out – this is his first go at AR.

The idea with doing AR is to further build on what I want to achieve with this book – it’s to excite people about leatherback turtles, and to really get the reader involved. Leatherbacks are beautiful, ancient, and fascinating creatures – and many people don’t even know they exist! I just hope that we can do them justice.

The leatherback turtle has returned to her migration after a setback – this is my first complete spread!
Books & Reading, Children's Fiction, Children's Non-Fiction

Turtles, dollhouses, and plants – what’s next?

With Ramble On in its final stages (celebrate the release at Auckland Central Library, Sun Oct 15) I’ve been busy planning my next projects. Here they are!

The Caretaker Series is, I’ve decided, just for me. These are books where I get to be as deep, dark, weird and fantastical as I like. It’s about getting ideas out of my head and into a story that other people can interact with. I’m up to Book Five of the series at the moment, about halfway through the draft, and have a couple of beta readers lined up to give me feedback.

The Train to Nowhere is an idea I’ve had for a while, and I’ve recently worked out how to best do the illustrations – with a miniature dollhouse! I wrote a blog post about it here if you want more details, but this is going to be a longer term project. It’ll probably be ready for photographing in early 2018.

And now for the new one… I’ve been playing with the idea of making a picture book about turtles for a while now, and returned to this idea a couple of weeks ago. I did a search for turtles in New Zealand, and the DoC website told me that the most common wild marine turtle is the leatherback. I’d never heard of them before, but they’re fascinating! They don’t have a hard shell (hence their name), and there’s still a lot we don’t know about these jellyfish-gobbling, dinosaur-age giants.

The storyboard is 95% complete, and I’ve been inspired by Jeannie Baker’s work to do this one in collage. Looks like I’ll have a few picture books in my future.

The final project is another long-term one. I feel like I didn’t give myself enough time to research for Ramble On, so I’d like to remedy that with my next adult non-fiction, which will be on New Zealand plants.

Yes, plants. Because they’re also fascinating. There’s this tree on this island that’s the last of its kind ever, and a native carnivorous plant that only flowers for like a week a year, and a kiwi botanist whose research of seaweed was important during WWII… like I said. Fascinating! So I’m giving my time to research this fully and will probably look at putting it together in late 2018, or possibly even 2019.

Well, you can’t stay I’m not staying creative. Looking forward to the journey these projects bring, but for I’m off for a walk and then the day job… have a happy day! xx

Children's Non-Fiction, News, writing

I Am A Writer – learning from my contributors (Part I)

One of the benefits of picking the brains of awesome people for your book is, well, picking the brains of awesome people! As they share their advice and experience with children, I learn a lot from them, too.

Some of my biggest learnings from the draft ofΒ I Am A Writer at the moment are coming from a place of gratitude, and creating manageable projects.


One of the writers in this book is Helen Tau’au Filisi. I met Helen through a mutual friend, and it was through my self-published books that she was encouraged to publish her own books. She says, “I never dreamed that writers would be able to self-publish… Now I’m able to make choices about the type of books that I want to publish, their covers and also the layout of the books. It is a creative process that I greatly appreciate.”

Recently, I was listening to a podcast about nature, diversity and happiness. They discussed how when we have luxury or ‘treats’ often, they become part of our baseline – they don’t feel like a treat anymore. I think that somewhere along the line this has happened with my creative work. I have forgotten to be grateful for the privilege of making art – the space, the energy, the income, the support from friends and family.

Also, I find that when I come from a place of gratitude, I’m also coming from a place of enthusiasm and excitement. These are wonderful ingredients for creative making!

Manageable Projects

Both Izak and Becky (from Izak Smells) talk about having manageable projects. Like their three-comics-a-week webcomic site. But the lightbulb moment for me was when Izak said: “Every now and again we compile our favourites into books… This is possibly the easiest way to make books. We just push ahead in bite-sized, manageable chunks until there’s so many of them that they turn into a book all by themselves.”

Mind. Blown. Possibly the best advice I’ll get all year.

“I Am A Writer” will be launched on Saturday the 18th of February, 2017 at Meow Cafe in Wellington.

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Children's Non-Fiction, Events, News, Visual Art

Broken/Beautiful & I am an Artist: Book launch & exhibition

The exhibition and book launch was a wonderful event! There were so many positive people in one place, it was hard not to feel happy, loved, and important.

Thank you.

Here are a few photos from the night for those of you who couldn’t make it.

Artworks can be viewed here and the book can be bought on the website shop or Felt.

Children's Non-Fiction, creativity, News

In the studio: Behind the book “I am an Artist”

As many of you know, I’m working on a non-fiction art book, sort of a ‘how to be an artist’ for children. As well as my own ideas, I’ve interviewed four other working artists (Jane Thorne, Andrew Black, Catherine Warren & Megan Murphy) to include their thoughts.

I realised that I haven’t said much about this project, so I wanted to share what’s driving me to make this book.

Originally, it came from my own return to art-making. I was re-learning processes that I had only partly learned to begin with and, as with my books, learning that independence and autonomy were more important to me than following conventional process.

I’m also writing it for children see artists as only for the Chosen Ones. I stand staunch in the belief that if you write, you are a writer; if you make art, you are an artist. It is one of my greatest motivations to help children learn this, and believe in their own capacity to create. This is one reason I’ve hired Anna, a young student of mine, to illustrate this book (the other reason is that she’s really talented).

And as I was writing the other day, I realised that the person I am really writing for is a mix of both of these.

As with my fiction, I’m writing first and foremost for the 12-year-old version of myself, a young girl who looked up to authors and artists, but held a deep-set belief that she could never be counted among them.Β 

And now I better get back to writing!