Diane Tulloch is a New Zealander who has travelled the world to pursue her many interests and has had some incredible experiences on her journeys. Her blog, The Patient Dreamer, is testament to those interests and her travels. Diane is also a member of Emma Walton Hamilton’s Children’s Book Hub, and we met in person at SCBWI LA ’11 (the annual Summer Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, held in Los Angeles every summer).
Diane, thanks so much for participating in this Spotlight Interview.
Thank you for inviting me Beth, I feel very privileged to be here.
Could you tell us briefly about the life-path that has led you to where you are today?
Sure, I am a New Zealander, my parents divorced when I was in my teens. That was a horrendous time for me. During those years I often hid away with my nose in a book transported to beautiful, whimsical, or, interesting, adventurous places. I guess looking for a loving peaceful family. One of my nicknames was “bookworm.” I loved to draw back then, usually portraits or animals. I inherited my mother’s artistic flare. She too loved to draw and played the piano. Anything that I put my mind to I could do reasonably well, be it writing, art, and crafts or piano. I had a small paying hobby making netted swans for orders which my mother delivered, when I was about fourteen. Being a painfully shy child my first job in retail, was working alongside my Mum, hoping that being forced to interact with others would cure me. At seventeen started in the Post Office, still shy, I remember my supervisor saying it took him 6 months to get one sentence out of me. My husband, I met through a blind date….*blushes*.. Yes, hard to believe but true…lol through a work colleague. He is the sweetest, gentlest and most patient person I know. I fell into writing I guess through a series of events. First while my husband and I enjoy Austrian folk dancing (which we took up after our first visit to Austria) I was asked one day to teach the landler dance from the Sound of Music. Reviewing the movie, I became fascinated by Julie Andrews and read everything there was about her. An interview she gave in 1968 moved me so much that I sat down one night and started my first draft of my novel. I felt a huge relief, almost like a cleansing days later when I was finished. I hid the novel for nearly eight months before I found someone online that I felt comfortable enough to send to, to see if it was worth pursuing. (That special someone is being featured on my blog any day now) She sent me a lovely email which I have kept and it inspires me to never give up. After life got in the way for a year I decided I needed to take an online course of some sort to better understand and also to give me the tools with which to tackle my novel after she had critiqued it. Enter Emma Walton Hamilton, her Home Study Picture book course and the rest as we say, is history.
What prompted you to consider writing for children?
When I first wrote my novel, I wasn’t really sure if it was children , YA or adult, I assumed because of my language, grammar etc. ( I never passed any official exams at school, they terrified me).. that it was more suited to a younger audience. My wonderful freelance editor who critiqued it suggested bringing the age of my character down if I am looking to reach younger readers. When I saw Emma Walton Hamilton’s online course for picture books I was initially hesitant because I didn’t think I could apply it to my writing. I emailed Emma and asked if someone considering only YA would benefit from her course, and she explained that although for Picture Books it did give basic guidelines in plot structure, character building, dialogue, the show not tell, and building story arch that applies to all genre. So I decided to join and in the process adapted another story idea I had, to the Picture Book guidelines. I learned so much.
What sets your writing apart? What is your focus? Without giving away proprietary details, what sorts of projects do you have in the works?
Because of my travels overseas and the thousands, oh yes thousands of photos we have lying around home I thought it a shame I hadn’t made a journal of our trips. Many times when looking at a particular photo an idea for a story will suddenly pop into my head. I would love to share some of the wonderful and interesting situations we found ourselves in, with children; different cultures, maybe experiencing an everyday incident in a different country. Children are inquisitive, want to know, are sponges and will learn so much. What better way than through a colourfully produced story. I have a number of things on the go. My novel, of course that I have just started rework on. Two picture book stories – hopefully a series, I did last year are sitting in the wings and needing twinking. After PiBoldMo month I have already one picture book story totally different from anything else I am doing that I am really excited about, written with one of my brother’s sons in mind. Another one of a little Cambodian girl….. modelled on my friends little girl. I have other story ideas eagerly waiting for me to work on. Also another series again totally different from my cultural themes which I think will be either a chapter book or MG series. Now that I have more confidence in what I am doing I can’t wait to start another YA Novel which I have had a very rough outline lying around for a few years, hopefully to be written as a tribute to the famous star who first set my writing life in motion.
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?
When I started my blog at the beginning of last year I wasn’t really sure what I would do, I only know I wanted to have a sort of journal going on in the back ground that I needed to house special moments, or parts of trips we had done and the people we have met along the way. I would love it to be a place where people can go and wander into a different world they never knew existed. I think that would be really special. To have readers travel with me to amazing places, learn interesting facts, and cultures, laugh at situations we found ourselves in, visualise the scenery, the history, the wonder, and all without leaving home. I also have a quotes and poems section which I share some of my feeble attempts at poetry. I love the book reviews and interviews sharing interesting aspects of writing. I have found it such a joy meeting new people, the continued friendship of friends I have made through my blog, all are special, hopefully lasting. My blog is still young, learning, and making its way in the writing world along with its author. You know some days I find myself reading one of my own posts and wonder in amazement… did I actually write that?.. I love that I surprise myself.
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?
Yes, and I am so glad I took the course. While I was mainly a quiet participant I loved that one could ask questions, print off the PDF files, read and reread the lessons and that they could be completed in your own home in your own time. These are very well set out, clear and easy to understand. There is no one particular Lesson that stood out as they were all valuable learning tools which I still refer to today. I love the idea of making a mock book up so one can visualise how your text would read across the page. It helps me visualise what the pictures might look like to. Recommend it to others?… certainly and I have, actually only last Wednesday I recommended the course to a customer at work who is joining me for our first SCBWI meeting this year here. I have posted about the course here..
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?
The Hub is a great resource of information of resources and teleseminars of learned special guests which we have been so privileged to have at our fingertips…literally! I know, like you, I would dearly love for some of the guests to return. The personal Q and A sessions are what I also love, as Emma really does her homework in sourcing answers and providing quality material to give maximum visual effect, and I am always amazed at how she manages to get across to us- her students from various countries, in a way we all can understand, use and build on. The Hub in general has been beneficial to me in the past year in building my confidence. I have always felt insecure in my abilities, a doubter. The Hub also provides the opportunity to network and set oneself up for the next phase – of published author.
You’re a member of SCBWI – what does that provide in your life as a writer?
I am lucky that I have an active branch of the SCBWI here in my city and have attended every meeting since I joined. I have also blogged about these. I was only thinking the other day how I actually have an agent among them, who is prepared to read our work and make suggestions if we felt brave enough to approach her…. I plan on doing just that before this year is out. Again the local SCBWI allows me to network and learn from published as well as unpublished authors. I attended the LA SCBWI with you, Pat and Joanna last year, and that was amazing. Mind blowing in fact! What I learned most there and it will always stay with me, is that no matter how great an author is or how many wonderful books they have written, they all had to start somewhere, they all made mistakes, stumbled picked themselves up and kept going….. they are like you and me. They cared, understood what we are going through and willing to help and share their knowledge….. BRILLIANT!
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?
Yes, I am afraid I give that as my stock answer to.. I find with my full time job now in an office that involves driving sometimes up to three hours a day one way to my work. Hence after a full day of being on my feet, facing customers, sorting problems etc… I am totally exhausted and fall asleep on the couch till late evening, then attempt an hour or two writing. I just glanced at my laptop clock and it reads 1.07am in the morning already. Usually I find my best time for writing is early morning. I never used to be an early riser but I have programmed hubby into waking me and I can get sometimes one to two hours done if I am lucky. This includes blog and email reading. Weekends I can spend longer, again usually in the mornings.
Any words of advice or encouragement for other writers?
Join SCBWI, their newsletters, blogs etc. are great. If you get the chance to go to one of their conferences DO IT! Join a group , any group although I recommend Emma’s Children’s Hub and online course, read plenty and above all trust yourself, just write, write from the heart and NEVER give up, not even when someone says it’s not good…. That’s only one persons’ view, you will impress twenty others. I love Jane Yolan’s comment…. “If I ever write the perfect story, then I’ll stop writing”
Quick and Quirky:
Of all the places in the world, where would you most like to visit and why?
Oh Wow! This is a hard question, there are so many lovely places I have been to and would gladly go back again and again. Gosh….. Umm Austria near Christmas time because I have dear friends there and one can go anywhere from there through Europe. I loved Laos and would go tomorrow to help the small non-profit publishing business “Big Brother Mouse” get books into the hands of small children in the jungle…. Yes I can just see me on the back of an elephant carrying a pile of books….lol. Want to join me? New York, for obvious reasons.
Love Potatoes and tomatoes, with cheese… yeah with cheese. I was nearly going to say, anything, as I am a lover of Asian, Indian, Moroccan, and Thai as well.
What is your favorite non-book-related way to relax?
Sitting on the beach with my feet in the soothing white sand. Lying back and snoozing in the warm sun. Also my garden. Really I would love to be travelling…. Anywhere.
If you could spend a day with any fictional character, who would it be?
Okay you are going to think I’m crazy but I was reminded of whimsical books I read as a child after reviewing one of Cecily Barker’s “Fairies of the Garden” Books. I think I would love to spend a day with a fairy, they love to sing, dance and hold grand balls, disappear on a whim. And lets face it they can travel anywhere in the world with next to no luggage. That would
Favorite real-life hero, if any?
I have always read a lot of bios especially those through Readers Digest of Courage and Endurance. Gladys Aylward (an English woman) someone I admired years ago who rescued thousands of Chinese children as a missionary in her adopted China is one that comes to mind. There are many others.
Thanks, Diane, for letting us get to know you a little better.