Interview with Dianne Bates, author of A Game of Keeps

Di alone bwDianne (Di) Bates makes a living from full-time writing. She has worked as a children’s magazine and newspaper editor, manuscript assessor, book-seller, and writing teacher. Di has a wealth of publishing experience and is a recipient of The Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. She has written over 120 books, mostly for young people, with a couple more contracted and many manuscripts awaiting review at publishing houses.

I feel privileged to have such an expert in the field answering my questions about her experiences in the world of literature, and celebrating the release of her new book, A Game of Keeps.  

Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I always planned to be a visual artist but found I have no talent whatsoever. I didn’t write my first book until I was in my late 20s when I made a conscious effort to have a book published by age 30. The book was Terri (Penguin Books), not a good book at all I realise now. Thank goodness it is out of print!  

Can you please tell us about the range of writing pieces you have published in the past?
Just about everything except board books, from fiction to non-fiction, for readers aged 5 to 19 years. This includes joke books, a (forthcoming) poetry anthology, verse collection, play collections (co-written with my husband, Bill Condon), novels, textbooks – you name it. Some work has been commissioned but most have been written on spec.  

A+Game+of+Keeps Congratulations on your latest release, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). What is the novel about?
For readers 8 to 11 years, this novel is about a bright, cheerful only child of a single mother who often leaves her alone.  Ashley wants much out of life, but more than anything she wants her parents to be reunited. Happily, she is taken under the wings of an elderly couple who support and encourage her.  

Does this story have a personal significance to you? How?
My husband Bill and I never had children together, but we have fostered full-time and also informally ‘adopted’ children. One of the children was in the same situation as Ashley in A Game of Keeps. She was a truly special, talented child with a wonderful outlook on life. We took her in under a program called Aunts and Uncles wherein adults take a child in their family for a weekend once a month for a minimum 12 months. With our Ashley, we saw her more often than that because her mother had huge personal problems. We grew to love Ashley and were a positive influence on her life. (I have also published Nobody’s Boy with Celapene Press, a verse novel based on a boy we fostered for some years).  

What is the main message of the book that you want readers to take away?
As a child, I was very unhappy because of a turbulent home life. I would have loved to have read A Game of Keeps because it demonstrates that no matter what life tosses at you, you can survive if you have faith in yourself and in others, and that there is always hope.  

How long did it take you to write A Game of Keeps?
I worked on it for about 12 months.  

Is this the general amount of time it takes to write books this length?
Yes, but some books take less time. The longest it took for me to write a book was almost 20 years! This book, The Shape (Allen & Unwin), was based on the death of my daughter, Kathleen, so it was obviously not an easy book to write. It went on to win a CBCA Notable Book Award.  

What were your favourite books when you were a child?
I only owned one book – Heidi, which I re-read many times, but I borrowed frequently from a public library (no school library in my day). My favourite author was Enid Blyton; I must have read every book she ever wrote. I remember loving How Green was My Valley, The Swiss Family Robinson and a poetry anthology I found on the local tip. I’m now in my mid 60s so when I was a child there were few authors writing for children. Nowadays I read – and enjoy — many children’s books.  

What are your biggest motivators?
I have a lot of self-motivation (which people with a passion always have), but I’m greatly encouraged by my award-winning YA novelist husband, Bill Condon. I keep in regular touch with numerous other children’s authors and attend a weekly writers’ critique meeting which is invaluable. What motivates me most of all is getting my work accepted! Annually I send out about 100 manuscripts, and have an average acceptance rate of 15 to 20%. Rejection is part of trying to get published, part of life really. You have to keep faith in yourself and your work.  

What advice do you have for emerging writers wanting to get published?
Don’t expect it to be easy. Persistence is paramount. Always watch out for new markets. Subscribe to industry magazines such as Bookseller and Publisher, and Buzz Words (a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book world which I founded in 2006.) Network, always meet deadlines, write daily, read widely, be professional, and when you’ve ‘made’ it, encourage new writers. That’s what I try to do.  

Find out more about Di Bates:

Interview by Romi Sharp