Today I’m introducing you to Joanna Marple, whom, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, I know through the Children’s Book Hub and SCBWI. I am so grateful for her friendship. Her blog, Miss Marple’s Musings, has broadened my knowledge of the world and of the world of children’s literature. Be sure to check it out! But first…
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Joanna, thanks so much for participating in this Spotlight Interview. Could you tell us briefly about the life-path that has led you to where you are today?
Beth, firstly, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today. As for my life-path, it has been anything but linear or typical. It is a path that has had its own way with meanderings. At university, I studied Anthropology and then did my teacher training, in a city as far as possible away from home without crossing the Scottish border. Peoples and places different from my own had fascinated me from an early age, and I knew I would never be Britain-bound in my ‘career’, and that money would never be a deciding factor in what I did. I have always followed my heart, and the 12 years that followed my graduation took me, as a volunteer, across many nations, continents and cultures, involved in projects as diverse as: street theatre, teaching, well-digging and anthropological research. 13 years ago, I arrived in Nice for a short-term youth project, and ended up embracing the southern Mediterranean lifestyle, learning another language or two, and actually in paid employment, back in education.
What prompted you to consider writing for children?
I have always known I would someday write books, but anticipated that it would be for adults in the form of travelogues, until this past decade, when I set up and ran our bilingual international school library for a number of years. I became re-enamoured with children’s literature and the impact I saw these books having on my young students. I have always loved storytelling, orally, and I started to believe I could transform that skill into the written form.
What sets your writing apart? What is your focus? Without giving away proprietary details, what sorts of projects do you have in the works?
I am focussing mainly on picture books at present, though not exclusively. My biggest project is a series of fictional picture books about endangered animals, told from the POV of the animal itself. There are many wonderful books out there of children saving seals from oil slicks etc, but fewer from the point of view of the animal dealing with the threat itself. These are life and death scenarios, so full of action! Not all my stories are of anthropomorphic animals, though, and another driving force in my writing is an inherent commitment to multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance, because it has been so much part of my life journey. In my recent manuscripts one of my protagonists lives in an Asian nation, one is gay and one has a physical disability, just because this is who each of them is, not to make a point. In each case the story doesn’t focus on these differences.
Tell us a bit about your blog, what you do there, and what you hope to add to the kidlit blogosphere through your particular focus?
I started blogging a year ago. I have a three-fold focus.
a) To connect with others in the children’s literature arena and support and inform other creators. Blogging is certainly a wonderful way to achieve this, and I am excited about my Wednesday focus on illustrators at the moment, as I am getting to know so many and want to appreciate and promote their work in children’s lit.
b) Having lived and worked (or visited) in 50+ nations, I cannot help but have a multicultural bias to my writing, be it on a blog or in a book. I try to share my international experiences in many different forms on my blog, hence my Mondays “Around the World in 50 Days’ theme.
c) I have a passion for animals and our natural world, and enjoy sharing this on my blog through book reviews, links, news etc I think this brings out the educator in me, too!
You have taken the Just Write For Kids online/home study course in picture book writing, as have I. What, for you, was of the most value in the course? Would you recommend it to other aspiring writers?
JWFK totally kick started my writing career. I happened upon Emma’s blog a year ago, at a time when I was looking for new direction in my life and the notion to start writing, which had been in gestation, was showing signs of birthing. I signed up immediately for the course because I trusted Emma as an author and had experienced valuable teaching already from her blog. It is fantastic value, giving 8 distinct and practical, essential lessons on the basics of writing a picture book. Emma knows her craft, AND is an excellent teacher. I hate to imagine the immediately garbage-worthy stories I might have produced without this base. I constantly refer back to this course for each new manuscript. JWFK is more than worth the investment. My highlight was to build precept on precept each week in order to have my first picture book draft at the end of the two months, which, while needing serious revision, did at least have a clear, strong child-centred protagonist with a need, a story arc, satisfactory resolution etc.
You’re also active in the Children’s Book Hub and the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. Could you share with us briefly what the Hub means in terms of your writing life?
I truly knew nothing about the children’s book industry when I began writing a year ago, and Emma setting up the Book Hub at that same time was more than fortuitous for me. In just a few months I had received a crash course, and resources, on: editing, agents, contracts, publishing houses, genres, query letters etc, as well as listened to teleseminars with experts such as: Peter Reynolds, Emma D Dryden, Susan Raab, Emma herself and a host of others. I also built solid friendships with three other writers: Beth Stilborn, Pat Tilton and Diane Tulloch. As we embarked on this writing journey, we were not alone, and have formed a wonderful support network for each other, culminating in us all meeting up at LASCBWI last year. I believe the Hub has saved me months and months of internet research alone, and catapulted me forward in my writing career.
You’re a member of SCBWI – what does that provide in your life as a writer?
If there were only one newsletter/group/resource I could join as a children’s writer, it would be SCBWI. I can’t rave enough about this organization. Going to their summer conference in LA last summer was the highlight of my year. I found my tribe, filled my boat with inspiration and built lasting friendships, which have continued to strengthen me in my somewhat isolated situation in a non English speaking nation. I have joined an SCBWI critique group online and have just heard that I am incredibly privileged to have been chosen to be part of this year’s Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. I love SCBWI and its peeps.
Everyone is busy these days. I’ve discovered that “Busy” has become a standard answer to the question “How are you?” How do you carve out writing time in the daily demands of your own life?
I have tried to find my rhythm and not feel I have to keep up with anyone else. On days when I am out at work from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, mainly at the computer, I often do not write much at all. I may journal, comment on a few blogs and check into FB, and that’s all. This may end up being 3 or 4 days a week; that’s OK. I tend to pack my writing into Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and school vacations. This works for me.
Any words of advice or encouragement for other writers?
- Join SCBWI and try and get to a regional or international conference if you can. This is our tribe!
- Try and have at least one trusted critique partner, mentor or group. We need those who will offer input and correction, but who are also truly for us as writers/illustrators.
- Don’t be in too much of a hurry to build your writer’s platform. We do want to be known, but the friendships/relationships we are building on this journey are worth investing time in!
Quick and Quirky:
Of all the places in the world, where would you most like to visit and why? I would like to visit Tierra del Fuego and see the penguins, sea lions and condors. I have been far north in the world and would love to get this far south!
Favorite food? Boar stew with Gnocchi and a good glass of red wine.
What is your favorite non-book-related way to relax? Hiking in the mountains, or sailing, with friends.
If you could spend a day with any fictional character, who would it be? Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird.
Thanks, Joanna — I’ve so appreciated getting to know you a little better through this interview.