Blog Visitor – Megan Higginson on Writing and Illustrating

Today’s writing guest is Megan Higginson who loves to write and illustrate stories of monsters, aliens, and mind-blowing places and asking questions like, ‘What if?’ She hopes her stories and illustrations will help readers to look at their life and the world around them with new eyes. 

I have come to know Megan through the Duck Pond community, of Jen Storer and also through Creative Kids Tales. I was thrilled when she illustrated one of my poems for the Creative Kid Tales Story Collection 2.   I am delighted to have her as a special guest on my blog.

1) What motivates you to write? What keeps you writing?

I always have characters talking to me and wanting to go on adventures. When I was a kid it took me until I was seven or eight to learn to read. After I learned to read, I was a total bookworm but never thought I was a writer as I have dyslexia and thought I was too stupid to write stories. In class I would write a story for a class assignment (primary and secondary) and it would be so different to everyone else’s I always thought I did something wrong. And the class usually ended up laughing at my story too. I realise that I just approached life differently and my stories where actually offbeat and funny.

As I child, sometimes, I would close the last page of a book and all these different characters would talk to me and we would go on adventures. I never told anyone as I thought I was nuts. For me it was another form of escapism. Yet, I’ve since found out that this is what writer’s do. In answer to your question, I have so many characters chatting to me about this adventure and that adventure they’d like to go on, I think I’ll be writing until the day I die and still have another story begging to be written.

 

2 a) You illustrate also? How long have you been doing that for? How do you prepare for your illustrating jobs?

In 2017 I joined the 52 Week Illustration Challenge at the encouragement of Giuseppe Poli. In fact, you can read about my journey to this point in a blog post, How I Overcame My Fears and Dived into the World of Illustration.  At that stage it was about practicing and learning about illustration, so I also took Nina Rycroft’s inaugural Illustration eCourse in 2017. I’m friends with an illustrator as well, so Ester de Boer has helped me immensely by giving me feedback on my art pieces, areas to improve, and different exercises to enable to me to get better. I’m a member of Creative Kids Tales. Therefore, when Vol.2 of The Creative Kids Tales Story Collection was announced, I decided I was ready to put myself out there as an illustrator. All nine of my illustrations were accepted and now published in the collection available now, including one I did for your poem.

For June Perkins, ‘Sleipnir’s Children’

 2 b) So, how do you prepare?

For the collection I read over the story and then I pretty much just dumped whatever came to mind onto the page. Lots of really scribbly pictures, and half-formed ideas. From there I weeded out what I thought would work and what didn’t. Then I moved onto planning the piece and getting it down onto the page in pencil, and gradually worked it up in layers of paint/pencil/ fine liner, whatever medium I’ve decided was best for that story, until I was happy. And then I finished them off in Photoshop. If I’m stuck on something and can see it’s not working, I ask Ester and she can always spot the little details that are problematic which I’ve missed. She always knows a work around. I fix it and then the picture pops.

I’m about to illustrate my first picture book and I’m doing the same sort of thing. However, in addition to my usual dumping, scribbling and refining the characters and composition, I will be mentored through the process of illustrating my first picture book by well-known illustrator Nina Rycroft, along with Ester de Boer. So, lots of support.

3) Tell me about your self published book?  Why did you choose to self publish?

‘Raymund and the Fear Monster,’ was originally written for some children in a Philippine orphanage whom I’d met while on a mission trip in 2013. However, I realised it had broader appeal. About the same time, I started writing other stories and decided that this was what I wanted to do seriously. In 2015 I took a Writing Picture Book course with Cathie Tasker at the Australian Writer’s Centre. I tried to make ‘Raymund’ fit within the parameters of a picture book. I tried to shove it under 600 words. It was like trying to shove a huge fluffy pillow into a tiny box. It just didn’t work. I did come up with a shorter different version which is now published as Freya and the Fear Monster in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection Vol 2. Things that Go Bump. Yet, I knew Raymund’s story still needed to be told. I kept reworking it. It kept popping out everywhere until I wanted to throw up on it, burn it, and never see it again.

In 2016 three things happened within a week. 1) I read Jen Storer’s blog post, Right Story, Wrong Format. Why it’s important to stay true to the story. I also attended my writer’s group where we did a dialogue workshop. I played around with some dialogue from Raymund and I finally didn’t want to throw up on it anymore. I actually felt excited about it again. And then I read a picture book about a dragon who ate children (I know. Weird right. Fun story though) and realised I had started the story in the wrong place. I went and rewrote Raymund and it was so much better. I submitted it to one publisher who I thought if anyone would take it, they would. They didn’t. Probably because it is waaaay over the current trend in word count and a rather niche topic. So, Ester and I decided to partner up and do it ourselves. Penny Springbrook at Bookcover Café helped me polish ‘Raymund’ and I am so happy with how the story ended up.

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4) What have been the highlights of the journey?

I think watching my story come to life under the skilled hands and creative brain of my illustrator has been a major highlight. It’s a different style to what is normally used in picture books. However, when we’ve taken the illustrations and even the mock-up into schools, it’s been warmly received by the students and teachers. And that’s before it was published

5) What have been the challenges?

I think for me personally, has been the wait. We started this journey in late 2016 and it’s now 2019. Ester was busy illustrating other picture books she’d been contracted to at the time. She started planning December 2017 and began the illustrations in January 2018. However, having said that, I was happy to not be a pushy author and just leave her be and work at her own pace. Ester’s work is incredible and the amount of research she put in, and the details of her illustrations are amazing. I thought our book would look wonderful. But, not in my wildest dreams did I think it would look this incredible.

I think it’s also been a highlight, as well as a challenge working with a graphic designer. Ester and I had very clear ideas as to how we wanted our book to look and I’ve discovered it can be hard work putting a picture book together. However, it’s finished and it’s how we envisioned our book would look like. It’s a fun book.      

 6) What/Who are your major creative influences?

Writing: I love Anne McCaffrey, Frank Perretti, Wendy Orr, Jen Storer, Tony DiTerlizzi, Adam Wallace, Dee White, Jackie French, Alison Reynolds, Allison Tait… well you get the picture. Each of them has influenced me in various ways.

Illustration: As a child I loved the impressionist era (Of course, I didn’t know that it was called this at the time). As a child I loved the bush and was captivated by the artworks people like Tom Roberts, and how they captured the light of the Australian bush. I thought it was incredible and I always wanted to paint like that. I’m learning.

I didn’t know it as a child, but I loved Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. I would pour over his work for hours, studying his line work and detail and wishing I could draw like that. Tony DiTerlizzi is another one. I love his imagination and I love that he’s current and I can get online and see videos of him working on an illustration.

Aaron Pocock is another artist whose work I love. Hmmm. I’m sensing a theme. Fantasy. Anyway, Aaron is so versatile. He does cartoons, and huge gorgeous oil landscapes. However, it’s his fantasy artwork I adore. So, from him I endeavour to use colour well and think how to use colour to portray emotion. Ester de Boer’s work I admire. Her imagination is insane, as are her detailed line work. So, from her I’m learning to let my imagination run wild, to play and have fun, and to always add little details to my illustrations.

Thanks Megan for sharing your story!

Author Anxiety – What Do I Call Myself?

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Lately I’ve been noticing some anxiety among writers about what they should call themselves.

There are so many terms now and some of them quite official (especially when applying for grants) – emerging writer, established author, aspiring author, aspiring writer, published writer, published author, unpublished writer.

Some don’t want to claim too much or too little progress. Others complain that some writers and authors claim too much.

The definition in the dictionary simply says that a writer, “is a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.”

As for Author it is usually associated with being professional but not always.

1 a). The writer of a book, article, or other text.
b. One who practices writing as a profession.
2. One who writes or constructs an electronic document or system, such as a website.
3. An originator or creator, as of a theory or plan.

And furthermore the same dictionary says the ultimate author is – God.

Where is this anxiety coming from?

It seems that the rise of the self published author is causing some in the publishing and writing industries consternation, including writers. Self published authors are many things depending on who you listen to. For some they bad writers who focuses on Romantic, Fantasy and Horror texts poorly written and edited, trying to break into the markets that make the most money. (Self publisher Authors should not be called Authors)

For others self published authors are people who couldn’t or just wouldn’t find a voice in mainstream publishing because of colour, gender and spirituality and have begun to publish the stories they know their community wants and others might want to hear too. This kind of self publisher is publishing histories and stories, manuals, self help books, and guidebooks, cultural heritage texts.

Some self published authors have formed ethical guilds to develop codes of practice and standards of writing. (Alliance of Self Published Authors)

Their books are not destined neccessarily to be best sellers but the stories they tell are important, that’s why they publish them. I think of  The Story of Fred Murray pamphlet and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass.

And then there are some self published authors who were traditional authors once and worked out they were better going independent.

Add to that the world of bloggers – coming from all walks of life with varying degrees of writer training. They’re sharing life stories, crafts, photography, poetry, recipes, views on parenthood and more. They are now told that their blogs are publications when entering competitions.

Another element of the mix are the smaller independent publishers who catered once, for the voiceless. Who brought and still bring together collectives to create opportunities for voice and a strengthening of diversity. They are not self publishers but publishers of those on the margins. Independent publishers not in it for financial gain necessarily, almost not for profits, (see Publishing from the Margins)

As for the published authors they are not free from these frameworks – some are commercial writers, technical writers, literary writers, nature writers and more. Some make a lot of money writing in popular genres. Some scarcely survive and so writer communities create funding to look after them in their old age.

But both these professionals and semi professionals must engage the reader – and the reader’s choices are guided by – internet searches and bookshop shelves, online book stores and word of mouth recommendations. So many studies are being done in this area I could get side tracked and go off on a tangent right now.

So many people, so many stories, make it so hard at times to negotiate becoming a paid published author. When I see these discussions my conclusion is – be a storyteller. Just write. Examine all the options open to you to share your work with the people who will benefit from reading it.

As a second generation migrant, I’m writing and telling stories in many genres to find where my authentic voice lies. I try documentary, fiction, poetry, creative film, mainstream comedy and I keep on experimenting with the style and options of publishing open to me, some doors open and some don’t. My dream is that my readers will tell me what it is they want to hear from me the most and then I’ll be well on the way to building a bigger audience.

I work on making my writing the best it can be – and study and craft, study and craft. One day success however we measure it may arrive. But another way of measuring success is to keep writing and improving and learning from what others you respect say to you. Can we only measure success in financial and material terms?

It is interesting to note that a study found those authors who combined both traditional and self publishing modes where better off than those who stuck with one mode and authors often were dissatisfied with something in both modes. With Self Publishing you have more control, more input, but also more responsibility to know enough about everything to make your book professional and to legally cover yourself. With Traditional Publishing there are also many challenges; especially for authors to achieve that high selling status in order to be viable investments  for the company. (Study cited in Lessons and Expectations as the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey Evolves)

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I’ve been observing discussions where some claim that you are only worthy of respect if you sell a lot of books? Others think it’s if you win literary prizes judged by those who can really write. There is an extra dimension of the popular versus the high literary craft that creeps into many of these arguments. I for one am never going to be a fashion and celebrity blogger or writer. But how many celebrities turn their hand to writing children’s books and life style manuals.

Maybe it’s the craft and sales combined that determine a writer’s credibility today – a book that uplifts anyone, entertains, educates has had a portion of success.

Writing is diverse as the people who employ it as their primary mode of creative expression. It will keep developing and emerging, in spoken, written and digital cyber forms. I for one am excited about the possibilities it offers.

It’s all about being open to diverse opportunities to create and share and not denigrating anyone’s choices.

It about accessibility, diversity and supporting the writer and teller of stories to develop their craft. It’s about accepting that not all of us who write well will ever be able to make an income out of it. We may have to have other jobs.
So where is anxiety coming from for the new writer? Perhaps its from the growing realization that there are so many writers out there that not all of us will be able to do it full time, no matter how good we are or become, or which publishing option we go with.

You see however much writers and publishers complain there is the unknowable magic of writers finding their readers – and readers finding the writers they love, that is not something we can individually control or predict, even if we can have a pretty good guess and strengthen the odds with attractive writing.

(c) June Perkins

 Loved these twitter comments

Like I say. Be brave and bold in your chosen field of creativity. And never be afraid to explore new techniques.

I like (originator or creator, as of a theory or plan)and sometimes I say “word artist” but I’m not one for labels.

Professionally I was a journo. Now I write because it’s what I have always done – it’s my voice.
a writer can be a person who loves to write in any form. Ann Frank for example was a writer.