Joanna Marple — Spotlight Worthy
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.
I always knew when I heard you would be interviewing Joanna that it would be an interesting insight into her adventurous world (our shared interest in multiculture). What I would give to sit with glass of wine in hand in a cafe in the cobbled back streets of the south of France listening to her many adventures. Thankyou Joanna and Beth, I am so glad Joanna joined Emma’s course when she did.
I so enjoyed Joanna’s answers to my questions. She’s a delight to know.
Thank you, Diane, looking forward to yours.
Joanna, We should have had you for dinner last night. Hubby made fresh gnocchi! So glad Beth interviewed you today. It’s fun to learn more about your background and career path. I think it’s great that Just Write For Kids helped you so much. It’s so important for people to share their online class experiences. Some are good and some not so good. Glad to hear Just Write for Kids is good (but I knew this already because I follow Beth’s blog). Thanks Beth for these spotlight interviews.
Thanks, Stacy. It’s a delight to me to be able to spotlight Joanna!
Fresh homemade gnocchi is the best – light and tasty. shop bought can get stodgy! 😉
Great interview! I liked learning more about Ms. Marple. She has an awesome blog (I like reading about the places she’s been in her comments and some of her posts)! Can you tell me what SCBWI is? I see it on some people’s blog, but I don’t know what it is.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators http://www.scbwi.org/ Tons of information there on the children’s book industry and resources to help writiers. (Forgot to say congrats Joanna for being part of the mentor program. Can’t wait to hear how that works)
Thank you for telling me Ms. Jensen! 🙂
Thanks, Erik — she does indeed have an awesome blog. I’m so lucky to have met her in person!
Erik, thank you kindly for your words. I love your thoughtful comments on my blog.
Wonderful interview. Thank you for sharing. Your fictional series on endangered animals sounds unique. Best of luck as you work on it and other projects.
I can hardly wait to read Joanna’s stories! Thanks for commenting, Penny!
Penny, thank you, I hope this series has a unique enough slant!
Wow, Beth, what thoughtful and helpful interview questions. I love this post.
And Joanna, how much I love your faraway experiences and free and caring spirit that comes shining through even in a blog post! So many nuggets of wisdom and good advice here, especially your clear communication of your blog’s purpose (something I’m still trying to develop). But I think the main thing that comes through that so impresses me is your very grounded and serene sense of self, no doubt cultivated over the course of your many travels, humanitarianism, and life as an educator. Really lovely. Thank you so much. 🙂
Thank you so much, Renee. Isn’t Joanna inspiring?
Renée, Beth’s questions were excellent, weren’t they? Thank you so much for your encouraging words.
It was a lot of fun to learn more about you. I’ll join you for some stew and and gnocchi anytime!
You have grounded yourself very well in preparation for your writing journey. I look forward to reading your books in the not-too-distant future.
I, too, am looking forward eagerly to reading Joanna’s books! Thanks for stopping by!
Cathy, the great thing about a good pot of stew is it seems to stretch so well to extra guests! 🙂
This is a great interview! I love to read Joanna’s blog to hear about the amazing journeys she’s had in her life (50+ countries is amazing), her perspectives on children’s books and her writing. Wonderful words of advice for writers and illustrators, too. Thank you!
Thank you, Heather. Joanna is a delight.
Aw, thank you, Heather.
Great interview, Joanna and Beth!
I really enjoyed getting to know a fellow SCBWI France member a little better.
Hope to run into you at an event one of these days!
Thanks, Dana. Surely the two of you will meet at some point. Thanks for dropping in!
Dana, can’t wait for another chance to hang out with you. Merci!
I really enjoyed reading this interview. I am so happy that I have connected with Joanna through 12 x 12! Her blog and Google + posts are always worthwhile.
Thanks, Eric. I agree, her blog is first-rate.
Thanks, Eric, I love our cyber connections!
Thanks so much, Beth for hosting Joanna and having this wonderful interview. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Joanna better. She is most interesting! 🙂
Thanks, Clar — Joanna is a joy to know.
Thank you, Clar. It was so kind of Beth to interview me.
So glad to get to know Joanna a bit better! Wonderful interview Beth. I’ve never known of anyone that was involved in hands on anthropology research. So neat!!
Thanks for sharing ladies.
Thanks, Jennifer. So glad you enjoyed this opportunity to get to know the multi-faceted Joanna a bit better.
My year in Togo doing research was fascinating, Jennifer… quite a privilege.
Great interview ladies! So nice to learn more about you Joanna. Great questions Beth! Looking forward to continue to getting to know you both!
Thanks so much, Sandi. Glad you enjoyed the interview — I look forward to getting to know you better, as well. The online writing community is such a great group of people!
I also think your series on endangered animals sounds interesting and something I would read. I’ve never tried boar before…what does it taste like? I’m assuming it has a wild taste to it like a deer does.
I can hardly wait until Joanna’s books are published! And thanks for asking her about the taste of boar — I was wondering that, too.
Rena, exactly, boar has a very gamey taste to it, like a very strong, but tender, beef! We have loads of wild boar roaming around locally.
Great interview, Beth and Joanna! So great to get to know joanna a little better after all this time reading her blog 🙂 Wow have you done some very interesting things – lots to write about!!!
Thanks, Susanna! Joanna has had a fascinating life-path — and the journey continues.
Susanna, I really appreciated Beth’s invite for an interview. I do have many experiences that I need to learn how to bring into picture book focus!
An inspiring and interesting interview Beth and Joanna. Joanna, I have always been in awe of your passion to make a difference in the world, through your humanitarian work all over the world, and your interest in other cultures, endangered species and the treatment of animals in zoos. I’m glad you are writing and blogging about your adventures, as we have the opportunity to learn from you. I love your free spirit and willingness to go where others don’t go. It has been great getting to know you over the past 15 months, but I still wouldn’t mind joining you, Beth and Diane in a cafe in the south of France!
Thanks, Pat — great response. Joanna inspires us all. That meet-up in the south of France sounds like a lovely idea!
Pat, thank you for your kind words. I have had unusual opportunities and am so grateful for the many things I have been able to get up to and the people that have and do inspire me.
Beth, great questions! Really makes a person think 🙂
Joanna, I love what you said … Don’t forget to add PEI to your list of adventures 😉 …. but now I must be off… I’m excited to check out that just write for kids course!
PEI is one of the best places in the world — I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Joanna has been there, I know she’s been to New Brunswick.
Thanks for dropping in!
Can you believe it, I have not yet visited PEI despite being a huge Anne fan! Though I have an even better reason to come now!
You really MUST visit PEI, Joanna. It’s one of my favorite places.
What a great interview! Beth, thanks so much for hosting Joanna! It was such a pleasure to get to know her better.
Joanna – I love boar stew and red wine too!!! Also, I wanted to tell you that you are absolutely meeting your blogging goals! 🙂 We’re all lucky we’ve “found” you.
Thanks, Julie. I’m glad you enjoyed getting to know Joanna better. She’s a fascinating person.
Julie, I wish I had know you better before last summer as we could have had some great Franco/Italian adventures!
Enjoyed the interview! Thanks Beth and Joanna! 🙂 Will look up the HUb!
Thanks so much! Sorry I missed your comment until just now. I’m very glad you’re going to check out the Hub!
Great interview Joanna & Beth! That’s neat you’ve traveled and worked around the world! Ever been to Korea? I enjoyed getting to know you. I’ve read some of your posts on facebook. Best wishes getting published!
Tina — I strongly urge you to check out Joanna’s blog. You will love it. Thanks for dropping by!
I have sadly not yet been to Korea, but boy I have had the privilege of working very closely with a number of Koreans – what discipline and humility! I loved working with them.
Beth and Joanna –
Terrific interview! And thank you both SO much for the shout-outs for the Childrens Book Hub and Just Write for Kids. You are such valued members of our community, bringing so many terrific questions and such generous support to our monthly discussions and regular Forum posts.
Keep up the great work! It’s a pleasure to watch you all taking off and soaring with respect to your writing and blogging goals!
Thanks so much, Emma. The “flying lessons” you have given me in so many ways including the Hub and JWFK have contributed to my own soaring. I will always be grateful to you for that.
Thank you, Emma. My writing life owes a tremendous amount to your teaching and mentorship. I am very grateful for this.
Beth, I am loving this opportunity to learn more about our fellow writers. Joanna, you have a fascinating background. I thought I was very international having lived in three countries, but I have nothing on you! I can’t wait to read your animal books.
Thanks, Kirsten, I’m so glad you’re enjoying these spotlight interviews! I think there will be a very long line at Joanna’s first booksigning!
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