Jen Storer; word expert, her books and writing encapsulating the most brilliant use of language to tantalise every sense within its reader. Popular and highly acclaimed chapter books include Jen’s bestselling Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow, Crystal Bay, the latest awesome series Danny Best, and most recently awarded with a CBCA notable is the adventure mystery The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. And new to Jen’s writing repertoire is the absolutely scrumptious Clarrie’s Pig Day Out (review here), and boy, has she entered the picture book world with a tang! I mean fang! No, BANG! Today I am thrilled to welcome Jen Storer to the blog to discuss all things writing and Clarrie! ☺️
Congratulations on the latest release of your sensationally hilarious picture book, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out! I’d like to start with a question from my Miss 6. How did you think to write such a mixed-up story?!
Most stories come to me from all over the place. A bit here. A bit there. But it’s easy to say where Clarrie came from.
I was in a café having a cup of tea and people watching. At the next table there was a
grandmother with a little boy on her knee. She was reading the boy a story. It was one of
those vacuous picture books you often come across in cafes. I could tell the boy
wanted to enjoy the story. But I could also see, by his body language, that this was a
I thought, what would I do if I had to read a kid a crappy story like that? The answer was instant. I’d make up silly words!
I rushed home straight away and started writing a story about an old farmer who got his
Obviously the language in the story is intended to challenge the readers’ thinking and play with words. What other teaching and learning experiences do you hope your audience will gain from this book?
I never EVER consider teaching kids when I write stories. The minute I start thinking like a teacher I’m no longer thinking like a storyteller. Any lessons that come from my books are purely coincidental. My entire purpose is to delight, entertain and inspire.
Clarrie is such an eccentric yet humble and romantic type of character. How did he develop in your mind? Is he based on anyone you know?
He’s a darling, isn’t he? When I wrote the story I was studying art. I was learning to draw circles and spheres at the time. Swinging the ellipse. I’d been drawing loads of eggs in my sketchbook. And the eggs had evolved into cakes. And chickens. And then this funny old bald guy in gumboots and overalls. It was Clarrie! The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I’m very fond of chookens. They make good friends and their eggs make delicious caks.’ (That didn’t quite make it into the story…)
The illustrations by Sue deGennaro are deliciously playful, just like your story! How did you collaborate with one another? How long did the process take? What do you like most about Sue’s art style?
I love Sue’s imagination and the whimsical worlds she creates. And I adore her subtle use of collage. If you look closely you can see that she’s used the insides of window envelopes (bills) to make crockery and decorate various buildings. I also love her gentle palette. The original artwork is a dream. And she adds delightful quirks: Clarrie’s odd socks. His dapper suit. The way he’s a bit of a dandy. Miss Winterbottom’s fabulous 70s inspired frock. All these touches are Sue’s inventions.
I can’t remember how long we collaborated but it was quick. From the time Sue signed up to the time of final art was about eight months I think. Maybe a bit more.
We met a few times in person. I saw initial roughs. Then later a heap of half completed
paintings that we all swooned over. It was so exciting to watch Clarrie’s world come to life.
I was hands-off in terms of my vision for the story. I wanted Sue to bring her expertise to it. Lisa Berryman, my publisher, was the same. We just sat back and let Sue play.
I think that’s one of the best things about working on picture books. Seeing what someone else, another professional, does with your text. Seeing their interpretation, and thinking, ‘Wow. I never saw it that way. But this looks awesome!’
Fun Question! Can you rephrase this sentence Clarrie-style:
I could read your book all day.
I could feed your chook all day.
You’ve had tremendous success as an author of chapter books for younger and older readers, including Truly Tan, Danny Best, Tensy Farlow and Angus Jack, amongst others. When you’ve established characters like Truly Tan and Danny Best do you find that you need to reread from the beginning to remember things they’ve done?
No. I carry their worlds in my head from book to book. Occasionally I’ll flick back to check a fact or the name of a minor character. Also, I’m always writing one book while at the same time checking first, second and third pages of the previous one. So the worlds are in continual motion.
Do you plot out the whole series carefully beforehand?
Not on your life!
How do you ensure that everything ties together and flows on from one book to the next?
Each of the books in Truly Tan and in Danny Best are stand alones. There’s no overarching plot that I need to keep track off. All I have to get right is the characters, their relationships and the world they live in. And the voice, of course. That has to be consistent.
You juggle your time between writing, illustrating, speaking, presenting and blogging! How do you manage such a hectic schedule? What’s your secret?
I don’t always manage. Behind the scenes I’m often flouncing about swearing and cursing. But when I’m not doing that, I’m actually a really determined plodder. I’m committed to this work. I’m a boots and all girl. If I decide to do something I’m in it for the long haul.
I’m getting better at saying no these days, too. And listening to my intuition. It provides impeccable guidance. I’m obsessed with my work. Obsessed. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!
I love your new inspiring initiative to teach other writers all the tips and tricks of the trade with your girl & duck workshops and online tutorials. Can you tell us more about how this came about and what you have and will be offering interested participants?
Girl and duck is my passion. It came about in a stealthy manner while I wasn’t really looking. But now it’s up and running I’m consumed by it. I have exciting plans for it. I adore teaching. Love, love, love. I can talk about creative writing until the cows come home. I’m busy writing and illustrating a book for the ‘duckettes’. I hope to have it available by the end of the year. Then there’s another book planned to follow the first. I’ll also be running online classes. More on that soon. It’s a huge commitment. Under the surface we’re paddling like crazy. There’s so much techy work going on. And business school. It’s awesome. The online world offers astonishing opportunities.
You’ve been in the industry for a while now with many successes and accolades. What have been the most rewarding highlights of your career? Is there anything that you are still striving for?
Apart from dreaming up ideas and developing projects, meeting readers is still the biggest highlight. As well as receiving their mail.
But these days it’s also about inspiring others (adults) to pursue their passions and embrace their creativity. I never planned to do this but ‘creativity coaching’ is something that fills me with joy. I’ve had a tricky journey to get where I am. I’m a late bloomer. First book published at 42 etc. I like to urge younger creatives to get cracking while they can. The sooner the better. But even if you feel you’re too old, forget that! Age is a crock.
There are loads of goals I’m still striving for. Growing girl and duck. Writing. Painting. Drawing. Coaching. Teaching. Travel. You name it. I’m just getting started.
Besides all the numerous projects that we’ve mentioned above, what else are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future? A sequel to Clarrie’s Pig Day Out perhaps? 😉
I’ve written a follow-up to Clarrie. But that’s a secret…
I’ve written the first 30,000 words of a follow-up to Tensy Farlow. It’s about another girl in that same world. I’m desperate to finish it but I need to go to the UK to research it.
I have my girl and duck books.
I’m into the second act of my screenplay.
I have a picture book coming out with Andrew Joyner in August.
Book three of Danny Best is half written. Book two comes out in November. Mitch, Lisa and I are going over the illos and layout now.
Book five of the Tan series has just been released, Truly Tan: Hoodwinked! And I’m halfway through book six. One of my readers named it. It’s called Truly Tan: Trapped! I’m still figuring out where I’m going to trap the poor little peanut.
Books seven and eight of Truly Tan need to be thought about. And written (ahem).
There’s loads of stuff going on.
Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Jen! It’s been an honour! X
Thank you, Romi, you’re an angel! xo
More information on Jen Storer can be found at her website and Facebook page. Jen’s writing for children workshops can be seen at her new girl and duck website. Plus, details on her Melbourne-based ambassador role for The Footpath Library, an initiative to enrich the lives of homeless people with free books, can be found here.