Interview – Author Dianne Bates

KBC warmly welcomes prolific author, philanthropist and children’s literature champion whith this enlightening interview. Take it away, Di!

What is your name?
Dianne Bates, though everyone knows me as Di.

What do you do?
I’m a children’s author of over 100 books.

Tell us a little about your life.

My husband, Bill Condon (an award-winning YA novelist) and I live a quiet life with our dog Sassy in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, New South Wales, near the ocean. I had a very abusive childhood, my only ambition being to leave home, which I did as soon as I could.

I’ve had many jobs including factory worker, kitchen hand, nurses’ aide, journalist, regional newspaper and national children’s magazine editor, teacher, bookseller and schools’ performer.

Bill and I have fostered children; currently we’ve been adopted as grand-parents to five neglected local children. My youngest daughter, Kathleen, was killed at the age of two; my other daughter, Claire, lives permanently in Canada.

What genres do you write in?
Much of my earlier writing has been humorous (for example the Grandma Cadbury and the fictional Bushranger series), but I’ve written half a dozen social realism novels for older readers, plus a lot of non-fiction for the educational market.

Which do you prefer and why?
My latest YA novel, Beyond the Locked Doors, is a psychological thriller. I enjoyed writing it so much I plan to write some more thrillers, but having said that, I do enjoy writing funny books for younger, reluctant readers.

How long have you been writing?
My first children’s book, Terri, was published by Penguin Books in 1980. At the age of 29, I decided to write a book: it was published two years later.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
As a child I was a talented writer, but in fifth grade, falsely accused of plagiarism, I didn’t do much writing thereafter until I was in my late 20s. Then, when I was teaching primary-aged children, I used to write humorous plays for them to perform.

What inspired you to first write for children?
Moved by the desperate efforts of reluctant primary-aged readers that I taught, I wrote books which I thought would interest them. Many of my books appeal to these readers.

How did you get your first book published?
While writing my first book, I met the late Michael Dugan at a writers’ festival: Michael was then editor of Puffinalia, a national children’s magazine published by Penguin Books. Michael published my first children’s stories, read my book manuscript and passed it on to the Penguin children’s publisher who accepted it for publication. Years later, I co-edited Puffinalia with Doug McLeod! Later I was editor of the national children’s magazine, Little Ears.

How has the children’s literature scene changed in the past 10 years and where do you see it headed?
Increasingly it is becoming more difficult to get books published in print; however, it is easier than ever to convert one’s work to e-book format. One high school in Victoria (Aquinas College) is going paper-free from 2012, and I think this is the way of the future. This means that e-book authors will need to rely more and more on marketing their work through social media. Not such good news for older authors, such as myself, who first began writing on non-electric typewriters and who are not as experienced in handling e-publishing and promotion.

I know of several former print book publishers who are learning as much as they can about e-books with a view to becoming e-book literary agents. Bring them on!

What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Rewrite and edit ruthlessly. Find a mentor (and make it a two-way relationship). Network widely through social media and by attending conferences and festivals. However, more importantly than all of this, persevere. Have faith in yourself and your abilities because no-one will care more about your work than you.

What interests you, beyond writing?
I love to paint and to make. I spend a lot of time interacting with children and also working in schools as a performer and writing teacher. I love my home and pottering around in it, spending time with my husband, Bill. And I love meeting up with friends for lunches and going to the movies with them.

What books did you read as a child?
Sadly there were no books in my home, and we had no school library. I borrowed from a municipal library as often as I could, mostly Enid Blyton books. Nobody ever encouraged my reading, but somehow I found my own book path.

Novels I loved as a child were A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Swiss Family Robinson, How Green was my Valley, Heidi, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. On a rubbish tip I once found a tattered book of poetry and read it over and over. To this day I love poetry, both reading and writing it.

Why do you write?
Stories find me and compel me to write them. I love words, both in the reading of them and in the writing. My husband, Bill Condon (winner of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for YA literature) and I are both writers – we live among words every day; they are our life.

What five words best sum you up?
Resourceful, dogged, reliable, optimistic, creative.

Learn more about Di and her wonderfulwork at Enterprising Words.

Published by

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is an author of children's books and adult non-fiction. Recent books include Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, and Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline. She's also an editor, publisher and founder of Kids Book Review.