Lesley Gibbes - Interview (August 2018)
What five words best describe you?
My five quick words are tenacious, creative, silly, fearless & passionate.
How did you get started in this industry?
My career as a children's author began after taking leave from a sixteen-year career as a primary school teacher in the NSW Public School system. I'd always had a passion for children's literature but it was at Sydney University under the tutelage of Professor Robyn Ewing that it really blossomed. I took my passion for children's literature with me into the classroom but always had this thought that I'd like to take it a step further a write a children's book myself.
It wasn't until I took leave from teaching that I found the time and courage to start. My journey began at the NSW Writers' Centre with a fabulous course with Frances Watts and at Pinerolo The Children's Book Cottage in Blackheath with Margaret Hamilton.
Not long after in 2014, my first picture book Scary Night was pulled out of the slush pile at Working Title Press by the talented Jane Covernton.
Is there any part of the creative process you don't like?
As a school teacher, I'm used to a busy work environment filled with lots of children and enthusiastic colleagues to inspire me. Being a writer can be a lonely occupation. A lot of the time it's just me home alone at work on my computer. This is the downside of being a full time author for me.
I love the times when I'm out and about doing school visits for The Children's Bookshop Speaker Agency and presenting writing workshops for adults at the Australian Writers' Centre. These events get me up and out of the house and provide me with lots of opportunities to connect with my readers and fellow authors and illustrators. It gives me a sense of being part of a wider workplace community that I really enjoy.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to catch the eye of a publisher?
It's getting harder and harder to find publishing houses that will accept unsolicited manuscripts. The best places to find opportunities to connect with other authors and illustrators as well as publishers and agents, is to attend lots of courses and literary festivals. It's here you'll be able to gain insight into the publishing industry, hone your craft and find opportunities for pitching your manuscript to publishers and publishing houses normally closed to emerging authors.
Many successful authors have caught the eye of a publisher at a paid manuscript appraisal appointment, literary speed dating event, writing competition or a pitching event. Some may have casually struck up a conversation with a publisher at a festival morning tea break over coffee.
Other successful authors have caught the eye of publishers by building an author platform before they were published as a popular blogger.
Whatever you choose to do it's important to leave your computer and go out and connect with people. Publishing is a very human industry.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? (Plotter =Plotting out your manuscript before you write it. / Pantser = Putting pen to paper and plotting as you go along)
Because picture books are so short I can get away with being a panster. There's a wonderful feeling of freedom when you write this way. It's great to get let your imagination go and see where it takes you. If there are wrong turns along the way it doesn't matter. But if I do too much of this when it's a longer project I might have to rewrite thousands of words wasting many weeks of work. So on longer writing pieces such as my chapter book series Fizz illustrated by Stephen Michael King I planned my story plot but still gave myself creative permission to deviate from the plan if I got a better idea.
What excites you about the future of children's books?
I love that children still want a physical book to hold and that children's books are leading the way in terms of book sales.
What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during one of your presentations/talks?
An inquisitive and insightful child at the book launch of my picture book Fluke about a southern right whale born in Sydney Harbour told everyone that a whale's blowhole was it's snorkel. How adorable!
What's next from Lesley Gibbes?
I have three new books to look forward to all of them picture books. Three Little Mermaids illustrated by Lisa Stewart and published by Scholastic is due for publication late this year or maybe early next. Cicadas illustrated by Judy Watson and published by Walker Books is part of the hugely successful Nature Storybook Series. It's an info narrative book that is a combination of a touching narrative story about a grandfather and grandchild who go cicada watching combined with factual information about cicadas. Cicadas is due for publication in 2019. And finally I have an exciting all rhyme and rhythm Father's Day picture book called Dinosaur Dads. It's energetic and fun and sure to delight young children. It's publication date is yet to be set.
Next year I'm looking forward to speaking at the next SCBWI conference about poetry and the beautiful poetry anthology A Boat of Stars edited by Margaret Connolly & Natalie Jane Prior where I have twelve poems published.