CKT's Featured Authors

Shaun Tan - Interview (March 2016)

Q. What five words best describe you?

Short, semi-Asian, husband, father, artist.

Q. What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?

Geez, that's going back, circa 1980 if you mean my very first, which I don't remember at all... but as soon as I could write, I was writing stories. Of those I do remember, the most prominent was probably an illustrated book called 'The Land Beneath The Sea'  at the age of 10. It was about three scientists who get sucked into an oceanic whirlpool and discover a subterranean world of magical creatures (very much inspired by 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth'  which captivated me as a child). They travel down a long river, escaping various perilous encounters, and discover a huge totemic statue with treasure inside. They steal the treasure, blow everything up, and escape back through the sea into the 'real world' as heroes. Now that I'm older, I realise it's actually a story of mindless colonial vandalism and right-wing atrocity. Why did I write it? Probably the same reason I write and paint now, I want to see how it turns out. I don't have a big plan when I start, just an idea, and like foolhardy scientists on a subterranean adventure, I want to see what's at the end of the journey. Anyway, 'The Land Beneath the Sea'  was available for loan in my school library, and proved quite popular. There's a lot to be said for kids writing for other kids. Unfortunately the book went missing after a year or two, either nicked or thrown out. If anyone ever finds the one and only copy of (made in an era before colour copying was accessible), let me know! I never planned on being a book creator as an adult, so it would be so interesting to see this early attempt now as a harbinger of things to come.

Q. What comes first in your creative process: illustrating or writing?

Usually a drawing of some kind, but it can work either way. It's less interesting how a project starts as how it proceeds, and that is often a constant back and forth ping-pong match between words and pictures. So I will draw something, which suggests a story, so I then write a little. That writing often redefines the image, takes it in a new direction, and I'll redraw my ideas accordingly. It goes on like that for a while, and somewhere along the line I realise what the subject of the story/sketch actually is, which occasionally can come as a surprise. As in, oh, I thought it was a story about a funny buffalo but it's really about my grandparents.

Q. Is there any part of the creative process you don't like?

Yes, there is always an awkward stage about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way in, where the idea becomes a bit 'worn out' or loses direction, or encounters some technical difficulty to do with either drawing, writing or design. It all feels somewhat pointless; a moment when I might want to give up or do something else that could be a lot more fun or inspiring. But I've learnt to expect this part of the process and to just persevere through it. In fact, I think most successful artists and writers owe more to their ability to persevere than anything like skill or talent: just sticking with something to the end, for better or worse.

Q. Are you a plotter or a panster?

(Plotter =Plotting out your manuscript before you write it. / Panster = Putting pen to paper and plotting as you go along)

I'm a bit of both. My dad is an architect, and I've inherited a lot of his penchant for meticulous pre-planning. But I also find that it's best to just randomly scribble a lot of ideas before thinking about them too much. There has to be room for a lot of evolution, for things to happen that would be impossible to plan. For that reason, I'm also not averse to ditching an initial structure and trying something else, time permitting, if I feel I may be painting myself into a corner through excessive planning. One important thing I have learnt as a creator: never start with a planned theme, always start with an object or event. For instance, to say 'I'm going to write a story about the migrant experience' or 'I'm interested in environmental problems' is a terrible way to start. Much better to just draw pictures of random things based in intuitive feelings, and figure out what it means much later. The story will tell you what it is about, not the other way around. Mastery has little to do with control, it's more about understanding the natural flow of things, accepting the beauty of accidents and listening to your subconscious.

Q. What excites you about the future of children's books?

Technological advances in image-making have really made anything possible. That does mean you see a lot of bad, half-baked digital work where artists have become too distracted by superficial possibilities, and not practising drawing enough (the basis of all good illustration is good drawing, there is just no substitute for a few thousand hours of pencil practice). But on the plus side, new digital media does give an artist a lot more control, and ability to play with variations, and present work in the best light to publishers.

I think we are also seeing a breakdown in genre boundaries, which is a very good thing. What I mean is that genres like children's literature, science fiction, picture books, comics, and all other formerly segregated areas of practice, are getting a bit blurred or contested, or readers just don't care about the fencing so much. I think this encourages more originality, and also means that unusual books are reaching wider audiences, and there's lots of cross-pollination. Pictures books in particular don't just have to be for kids; they can be for everyone, and deal with any subject. I still think there is a long way to go with this art form, but perceptions are improving and there are no shortage of terrific, universal picture books which demonstrate a high level of artistic skill being published. Publishers are still slow in understanding what is possible, I think dragged down by rear-view-mirror marketing, but there are many visionary editors around.

Q. What's the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during a read aloud session?

One kid said, 'if you're so good at drawing, why aren't you a real artist?'. This was said in the spirit of genuine curiosity (not a put-down) and was actually a very good question, one of the best I've been asked actually. The question is really, why be a book illustrator if you can be a 'fine artist', for want of a better term, someone who has gallery openings rather than book launches, more cultural kudos, potentially a lot more money. I could probably work in either field (and I do have gallery shows occasionally) but I've opted for book illustration, because I love this form of expression, and it also suits the way I think narratively. I've also found that you can reach a far greater and more random audience through a picture book than you can through an exhibition. Books also last longer! It's hard to see an exhibition years after a show, but you can always pick up a book, even decades later, and see the whole thing as it was originally published.

Q. What's next from Shaun Tan?

Well, having said all that, I'm spending a lot of time these days just painting, mostly landscapes of places near where I live in Melbourne. Some of these are for exhibition, but many others I just do for myself. Maybe I'll put them in a book one day, I'm not sure. I'm also collaborating on a couple of film and theatre projects, but these are at such early stages that there is little point commenting on them, except to say that the film is a possible adaptation of my graphic novel The Arrival.  I recently published a book of sculptures inspired by Grimm' fairy tales called The Singing Bones,  which was a great deal of fun to do and something different for me. These days, a lot of my time is spent looking after our 2-year-old daughter, and I imagine a bit of creative work might eventually emerge from many weird conversations with a toddler!


  • 'It's easy to feel alone when writing, and clueless about what happens next. Creative Kids Tales offers answers and community - invaluable resources.'


    Claire Saxby

  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a fabulous community of passionate, hardworking and committed writers. If you're looking for new and exciting talent that's dedicated to the children's book industry - look no further than CKT!'


    Wai Chim

  • 'I’m thrilled to be Creative Kids Tales author of the month.' 'I hope in some small way by me taking part, I might help and inspire young authors and artists to follow their own artistic path.' 'The key I believe is to seek to enjoy what you do. Even though doing your best is a constant challenge I find it is a worthwhile one. So, get drawing and / or writing.' Good luck ! -

    Leigh Hobbs
  • 'CKT is such a valuable site for anybody wanting to learn a bit more about making children’s books. When time travelling becomes possible, I’ll steal all the info from this site and deliver it to my younger, aspiring self.'


    Peter Carnavas

  • 'I love the grumpy cat videos, hahaha it's so grumpy ... oh, wait, wrong website. Ah yes, Creative Kids Tales. Brilliant! Getting published is an amazing, frustrating, brilliant, lonely, creative journey, and is awesome in that it helps both published and pre-published authors by providing support, inspiration, a community, and by allowing authors to learn from other authors, and who better is there to learn from .. .except maybe that grumpy cat, hahaha, hilarious.' -

    Adam Wallace
  • 'The details available on this site, for emerging writers (or those emerged) is incredibly helpful. From creating stories- plotting, dialogue and character building- to the support writers can seek for their work, be it mentoring or seeking a publisher, it’s all there. An excellent easy-to-access writers’ site!'


    Libby Hathorn

  • 'I stumbled on to Creative Kids Tales by accident. I thought it was kid's tails. I'd been doing some research about goats and how their tails were actually a fifth leg, a very long time ago. Or did I just dream that? In any case, I was bitterly disappointed at first to find not tails, but tales. However, while I was at the site I had a wander around, and soon discovered that it was even better than a goat's site - no kidding! This is a brilliant haven for writers, new and not so new; a place to showcase their work and to learn from others.' Well done, Georgie. You've done a fantastic job. -

    Bill Condon
  • 'What a wonderful website Creative Kids Tales is, supporting and helping Australian authors in their quest through the dark thorny forest of the publishing world. Georgie should be congratulated for all her hard work and fearless leadership!' -

    Kate Forsyth
  • 'CKT is informative, relevant, recent and fun! It’s an exceptional resource for anyone involved in children’s literature.'


    Tim Harris

  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a fantastic resource for aspiring writers that showcases emerging and published authors and illustrators and provides links to publishers' websites, helpful hints and competitions.'

    Rachel Keyes
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a brilliant resource – for established writers and those just starting out. I wish it had been around when I was a new writer. There are lots of invaluable tips and great advice.
    Congratulations Georgie – it’s fabulous.' -

    Jacqueline Harvey
  • 'Everything you need is here, on Creative Kids Tales! Oh, how wonderful this would have been for the young Emma Quay, knowing she loved children’s picture books but not knowing a soul in the industry. Down to earth, comprehensive, friendly, realistic and encouraging advice — this is an invaluable resource. Bravo!' -

    Emma Quay
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is an awesome resource you should totally check it out.' -

    R.A. Spratt
  • 'If a website can be described as 'homely' or 'a friendly place for emerging writers to visit' then that's how I would describe Creative Kids Tales. It's probably the only Australian website for children's writers that I visit regularly and actually feel part of. When I need motivation, interesting writers to read about, or just a peek at my own 'baby steps' towards being a published writer, I visit the Creative Kids Tales family.' A big thank you to Georgie and Rod for a great website. -

    (Pat) Patricia Simmons
  • 'Congratulations to Georgie Donaghey for her hard work and enthusiasm in setting up a site that has been sorely needed to promote current Australian children's writing. Not just for the established, but for up and coming, Creative Kids Tales showcases talent and provides information essential for anyone in the industry.' -

    Dianne (Di) Bates
  • "Whether just starting out or with many books under your belt, Creative Kids Tales is the perfect place to go for all things writerly. Sharing the inner world is a wonderful thing for solitary writers, and it's all there on Georgie's website.
    Happy reading!" -

    Anna Fienberg
  • 'The long-distance marathon of writing, illustrating and publishing usually begins along a very foggy road, in the dark, shoeless. But wait! What's that light on the horizon? A glowing little cafe, full of a bunch other runners plotting out mud-maps on napkins and exchanging anecdotes, warning about ditches and praising short-cuts. Stop for a while, have a cup of tea, maybe even a shoe-fitting, then get yourself back on the road for the long slog to sunrise.' -

    Shaun Tan
  • 'Creative Kids Tales offers new writers the joy of publication on their journey of craft and creativity.'
    'It’s a warm and wonderful home.'

    Susanne Gervay
  • 'Thanks for being such a strong advocate for children’s literature, the power of stories, and reading.
    Keep fighting the good fight and call on me anytime.'

    Tristan Bancks
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a treasure trove of resources and insights, compiled with dedication and enthusiasm. A wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in picture books and children's literature.' -

    Sarah Davis
  • 'The Creative Kids Tales site is great fun and full of information about authors and their books!' -

    Isobelle Carmody
  • 'Wow! What a wonderful resource.
    Congrats to everyone involved with Creative Kids Tales.'

    George Ivanoff
  • 'Emerging from one's chrysalis of anonymity into the prodigious world of creative children's writing and publishing is a daunting prospect. Georgie Donaghey's Creative Kids Tales is a superlative source of inspiration and information for the bourgeoning writer and illustrator. She has created an invaluable platform from which writers, both developing and established, can view, promote and share each other's work, and most importantly aspirations. A fun, friendly, and informative forum that everyone in the kids' lit industry can benefit from.' Keep it up Georgie! -

    Dimity Powell
  • 'This site is such a wonderful resource for writers and illustrators at every stage of the journey. I've learned more about some of my favourite people in children's literature here, but also had the joy of discovering whole new worlds of talent.' -

    Anna Branford
  • 'Georgie and the team at Creative Kids Tales have a wonderful passion for children’s stories, and this site is a wonderful place to visit to find and share ideas!
    Well done guys!' -

    Nick Falk
  • 'Wow! Creative Kids Tales is a fantastic resource for writers, no matter what stage of their writing journey they are at. Congratulations, Georgie, on your attractive, easy-to-navigate website, your generosity to your fellow writers and your constantly evolving ideas. Thanks on behalf of all of us.' -

    Wendy Blaxland
  • 'Creative Kids Tales deserves all its accolades. Thanks to its creator, the site provides brilliant support, inspiration and encouragement for anyone who loves creating children's books. I have no hesitation in passing on your link.'
    Well done, Georgie! -

    Sheryl Gwyther
  • 'Creative Kids Tales provides such a valuable service. Writing can be a lonely business at times, and seeking publication can be daunting. So it is especially wonderful for writers to be able to access such a comprehensive site where information, experiences and the ups and downs of writing for kids can be shared.' Well done, Georgie! -

    Sue Whiting
  • 'The thing I like about the Creative Kids Tales website is that the authors come across as real people who face the same problems that beginning writers do and that there’s plenty of practical advice.' -

    Duncan Ball
  • 'What a great site! We all tend to work in isolation in our own little caves. It’s great to see all the other cave dwellers out there and realise we are not alone. What a great resource!'


    Bruce Whatley

  • Creative Kids Tales offers a brilliant platform for established and emerging creators to keep in touch and learn from each other. That is a great thing for this most isolated of all professions (apart from On-site Antarctic Penguin Imitators). -

    Terry Denton
  • 'It's about time that we had something like Creative Kids Tales. It's a treasure trove for information and news, plus it showcases talent from aspiring writers. It's a wonderful springboard for anyone who wants to dive into the Children books world!'
    Keep up the fabtastic work! -

    Oliver Phommavanh
  • 'Once you find an easily-accessible, up-to-date and vibrant source of writing help and encouragement, you should value it and use it! Thanks to Creative Kids Tales, that’s all available, just with the tap of your finger:
    Well done, CKT team!' -

    Janeen Brian
  • 'Georgie Donaghey’s Creative Kids Tales is deservedly going gangbusters! What a wonderful forum and multi-storeyed resource for shiny new authors, legends of the industry and every writer in between!'

    DC Green
  • 'Creative Kids Tales will jump-start adults seeking to become writers!' -

    Jeff Kinney
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a lovely online meeting space brimming with support and ideas for writers.'


    Katrina Germein

  • 'Creative Kids Tales is great. You can pick the brains of people who make stuff without having to stalk them or do anything illegal.' -

    Aaron Blabey
  • 'Congratulations on a brilliant site, and a superb first year!'.
    Jackie French is Australian Children's Laureate for 2014 – 2015

    Jackie French
  • 'Thanks for having me on Creative Kids Tales. It's a great resource for emerging writers and illustrators and I hope it will have a long future.'

    Sally Rippin
  • 'CKT is a great resource for both established and emerging authors. I like the way you're always coming up with new and exciting initiatives at your site. And I love reading the fascinating journeys and achievements of the writers you profile here.' -

    Dee White
  • 'If there's anything emerging authors struggle with (beyond the dreaded writer's block), it's receiving recognition or even acknowledgment of their work – battling for a slice of that incredibly elusive publishing pie. Georgie Donaghey has created a priceless promotional and networking station that allows new authors to not only share their work, but gain the courage and nous to take their work to a whole new level. Creative Kids Tales is a valuable addition to Australia's burgeoning children's book market.' -

    Tania McCartney
  • 'Creative Kids Tales has inspired, encouraged and supported not only the published, but also us hopefuls still learning the ways of the publishing world. Thanks for providing not only an amazing site to scroll and learn through, but also providing friendship and a real sense of chasing our dreams.' -

    Kelly McDonald
  • 'I wish Creative Kids Tales had been around when I was first starting out! What a brilliant way to connect with other authors and find out about the lovely world of kids books.' 'Go Georgie! I think you're amazing.' -

    Deborah Abela
  • 'What can I say? Well if you have clicked this far and uncovered these words you KNOW that this (Creative Kids Tales) is a terrific resource full of ideas and connections.
    SO dig deeper and get connected!' -

    Christopher Cheng
  • What a terrific, enthusiastic, informative and creative resource - of value and interest to so many people.
    I'm delighted to be a part of it.

    Ursula Dubosarsky
  • 'Creative Kids tales is the perfect place to go for inspiration and to recharge the creative batteries.'


    Frané Lessac

  • 'Creative Kids Tales contributes a wonderful sense of community to the Australian kids’ book scene, from sharing insightful interviews, to writing competitions and now a conference. It’s a great organisation to follow online and be a part of!'


    One More Page podcast

  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a unique and valuable online resource for new and established authors. The site provides a wealth of information and insight into the children's writing world.' 'Thanks for all your support, Georgie, and keep up the good work.' -

    Aleesah Darlison
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is a great forum for people who spend most of their working time alone. It is interesting and inspiring to see and hear what other authors and illustrators have to say.' -

    Lucy Cousins
  • 'CKT is like the friendly and helpful colleague I could have done with when I started out. Back then I didn’t know anyone who was a writer or illustrator of books.'


    Tohby Riddle

  • Writing can be a lonely profession. By necessity, you need to work alone much of the time. But it is wonderful to have a website which eases that by connecting creators with each other and with a wealth of information and resources.
    Bravo! -

    Sally Murphy
  • 'This is a great website. Nowadays, when getting published is so hard and staying published not much easier, everyone needs all the help they can get. And here's Help with a capital H!' 'Go Georgie! Creative Kids Tales is an inspiration for all writers of children's and YA fiction.' -

    Richard Harland
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is such a great website for navigating this industry – not just for authors and illustrators, but for parents and teachers and librarians and publishers and kids and storytellers of all sorts. It’s awesome!' -

    Jules Faber
  • 'I would have loved to have had access to when I was starting out! It's an invaluable source of information, inspiration and encouragement for both emerging (and fully-emerged!) writers.' -

    Andy Griffiths
  • 'Buckets of thanks to Georgie for creating Creative Kids Tales. There’s a wealth of wonderful information and resources for everyone interested in creating books for kids – and a warm sense of community.'

    Meredith Costain
  • 'Having been a publisher and an author and now proprietor of Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage, I am passionate about promoting children’s books. Creative Kids Tales is such a welcome part of this network and I salute them for their support and their inspiration to so many. On their seventh birthday I wish them many, many happy returns.'


    Margaret Hamilton

  • 'Creative Kids Tales would’ve been mighty handy to know about back when I was sitting about drawing and writing and having no idea what to do with any of it! Go explore and create knowing you have such an amazing resource at your back!'


    Heath McKenzie

  • "What a wonderful website and wealth of resources. I wish I’d discovered it sooner - but I can still enjoy it now, and have added it to my list of resources for new writers."
    "Keep it up, Georgie!" -

    Wendy Orr
  • 'What a great asset you are to the children's book industry, Georgie.
    Long may Creative Kids Tales rule!'

    Paul Collins
  • 'Creative Kids Tales is ambitious, specific and professional - the Top Tips section alone is a must-read for every aspiring children's writer.' -

    Jack Heath