Jen Storer’s Glorious Story

 

imageJen 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?!

imageThank you, Romi! I’m thrilled that you and Miss 6 enjoyed Clarrie.

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
lousy story.

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
words muddled.

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?

imageI 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?

imageNo. 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?

imageGirl 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? 😉

imageI’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

imageMore 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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Three’s The Website Charm

One of the perks of my job specifically and the interwebs more generally is that I get to seek out, muse over, discuss, and then write about brilliant, off-the-wall, quirky, and fun concepts. That job admittedly comes with a veritably enormous amount of envy. How, I often wonder, do people come up with such insightful, useful, or entertainingly useless goodness? And why, I wonder more, won’t my brain work the same way?

LifenPublishing is my go-to blog on days when working in the publishing industry wears me down. Nothing sums up or skewers the head-to-wall buttingness of the industry like this blog does (and nothing sums up my daily efforts like this cupcake-related entry).

Just in case we weren’t sure the blog had its finger on every industry pulse, my friend and fellow editor Judi showed me the other day that LifenPublishing completed a salary survey. It makes for bleak but necessary reading; I recommend having chocolate at hand when you click on that link.

But that’s not the reason I’m blogging. This is actually a good-news post, with three sites popping up on my radar this weekend (and so now on yours). And yes, I’ve saved the best for last.

Three-Hundred and Sixty Five

The first site seems now static, having finished its 365-day project. That said, that’s ok; the blog’s probably best enjoyed retrospectively as a whole (even if I am itching to switch around the placement of that hyphen in its title). It’s a Tumblr ‘celebrating the beauty of the ampersand’, the squiggly line I can’t for the life of me draw freehand but that’s a handy shortcut for linking things together. And frankly, its good use of white space and typography is something I could stare at all day long.

Taken on its own, the ampersand-themed site is art. Delved a little deeper and it’s an adventure in discovering font types beyond those we find ourselves returning to out of habit or because of organisational style dictates (don’t get me started on how one client’s restricted colour palette has made me fall out of love with teal). And who knew there could be so many interpretations of the humble ampersand? The mind boggles.

MailBooks For Good

The second site benefits an organisation I’m involved with (The Footpath Library), although it should be noted that the first I knew of the whole thing was the same time everyone else did: when I got the Google Alert. MailBooks For Good is best explained via the two-minute video on its site, but it in essence involves a dustcover that can be turned inside out to form a pre-paid envelope pre-addressed to a charity that promotes literacy.

The thinking is that once you’ve read a book, you send it on to give it a second life and to benefit those who might need it more than the dust mites on your bookshelf do. I might be troubled by the single ‘MailBooks’ word (I think it should be two), but I am impressed that someone’s finally come up with a use for a pesky dustcover (a crazy design I think is long past its use-by date as a form).

The Tutor Crowd

The third site involves a savvy UK-based tutoring school having found a clever, clever way of both correcting rubbish graffiti grammar and branding their work in an innovative, memorable way.

Their tagline explains the premise succinctly:

English tuition doesn’t have to be stuffy, boring and expensive. At The Tutor Crowd we’re taking the classroom to the streets, correcting London’s graffiti to spread our message.

The Tutor Crowd amend London graffiti to ensure correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar, affix one of their brilliantly designed stickers—which promote a free English tutoring trial—next to said graffiti, then snap a pic and post it on its Tumblr so the rest of us can teehee.

The simple, date- and location-tagged Tumblr demonstrates the org’s community service. They change the likes of ‘cheep date’ to ‘cheap date’, ‘so hot rite now’ to ‘so hot right now’, and ‘dolla dolla bill yo’ to ‘dollar dollar bill yo’.

Warning: I’ve mentioned some of the tamer entries. There are some rudie ones by pure virtue of the fact that graffiti is often gratuitously graphic. Still, nothing neutralises an intended insult and amuses the rest of us like a good, grammar-correcting culture jam.

As my friend Steph Jong, a graphic designer with a canny eye for good design and good grammar, said: ‘Knowing there’s a movement like this helps me sleep at night. Like, seriously.’

No Book Left Behind?

Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Grey (herein referred to as Fitty Shades, because it sounds totes more street) is, according to hotel chain Travelodge and The Telegraph newspaper, the book most likely. Most likely to be left behind in hotel rooms, that is.

Hmm. So much to unpack there. ‘Left behind’ implies deliberate ditching, but I wonder if that’s truly the case. I for one have been known to accidentally contribute my fair share of too-expensive-to-lose Apple iPhone and laptop chargers to hotels’ lost-and-found bins. (Holiday Inn, Spencer St, Melbourne being the most recent. Holiday Inn, if you’re reading this, hi.)

Books, in particular, are easy things to leave behind. They’re often kept out longer than most other items as we decide to read just a few more pages when we’re waiting to leave or before we go to sleep—they are, after all, an excellent way to pass the time. Not to mention the fact that they’re small enough to be caught up in doonas or down the backs of couches and easy to miss being spotted and as you cast your have-I-got-everything eye over the room one last time.

The Hunger GamesStill, the leave-behind figures for just this one hotel chain are pretty high: 21,786 books out of 36,500 rooms over the past year. Multiply that by all the other hotel chains and, well, maths isn’t my forte. Let’s just agree that that’s a whopper bunch of books.

Assume for a moment that people did deliberately leave books behind (quelle horreur!). The question is: Why? Did they not like the books? Did they do a bunch of shopping and no longer have room in their suitcase? As someone firmly entrenched in the no-book-left-behind camp, both are completely foreign and utterly abhorrent to me—I’d sacrifice undies before I’d sacrifice books.

But I digress into didn’t-need-to-know territory.

I wonder what happens to said books after they’re left behind? Are they donated to the equivalents of The Footpath Library or Lifeline?

I noticed that the ditched books list reads like a Lifeline book sale table: Stieg Larsson’s Girl-plus-Dragon-Tattoo trilogy and the aforementioned Fitty Shades. (Shudder—who’s really going to want to commandeer a second-hand copy of the latter?) You know the ones: airport fiction books that despite everyone’s denials that they were reading them, were wildly, mainstreamingly popular. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code presumably made the list some years back.

The Da Vinci CodeSurprisingly, Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games trilogy also made the list. Which perhaps lends cred to the accidental rather than deliberate leaving behind—I mean, book one, at least, is one you’d want to hold onto, surely?

The logical next-step question is: As e-book sales increase, will we see fewer (or even no) books left behind? Or just more expensive e-book power cables. Holiday Inn, Spencer St, Melbourne … hi!