Tania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adults books. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she has written for many online sites and hard copy magazines. She also founded Kids Book Review in 2009, one of the most respected children’s literature sites on the web.
An ACT Ambassador for the National Year of Reading (2012), a The Reading Hour Friend and ACT Reading Champion, Tania is passionate about literacy and has spent many years, presenting and speaking to children and adults on reading, books and writing.
She is the author of Beijing Tai Tai (Exisle Publishing, 2012). Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street), Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing).
Tania McCartney lives in Canberra with her husband and two kids.
Why I write
Because I have to. It overtakes me. I’ve been writing since I was seven years old and have only ever paused to have babies. Writing is creative expression for me but it’s also a way to share, and in the case of my children’s books, to educate, enlighten or enchant children. I’m a strong literacy advocate and also write to encourage kids to read… nothing warms my heart more than seeing children enjoy books, and indeed, some of my fondest memories come from the moments I was immersed in a book.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
I do. It’s hard to ascertain the hours because I write across so many genres (from web and magazine articles to adult non-fiction). I also teach writing, present to children, host adult workshops, blog, review books and run Kids’ Book Review. Probably six to eight hours of each and every day (and many weekends, though I’m trying to scale that back!) is spent writing in some form. People often ask me what I do for leisure – and it’s reading or writing. In that way, writing isn’t work for me. It’s life. It’s joy.
Worst source of distraction?
Social networking! I also teach social networking skills to authors, so I should know better! As my working life is pretty much a virtual one, I interact with my peers and colleagues on social networking, and also by email, so it feels like I’m constantly online. Because many of the people I deal with are also friends, the line between work and socialising really begins to blur and suddenly my day is gone. Upside is that I never feel lonely! If I’m working on a book deadline, I’ll shut down my email and Facebook. That’s the only way I can achieve large blocks of writing.
Best source of inspiration?
Travel. Books. Kids and what they say or do. Everyday life, really… the little things. I was recently inspired by a scattering of hundreds-and-thousands sprinkles on a bench top. I sat down and wrote a picture book from that tiny, inconsequential occurrence alone.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
Writer’s block is really easy to overcome. I just mow on through it like a freight train. Blocks are just that: blockages. If you push hard enough, put your head down and just keep going, it will unplug — sometimes with much ferocity. Some of my best work has come from pushing through a blockage.
Doubting is another thing altogether. I think the best way to overcome this is to work hard and educate yourself/upgrade your skills constantly. I’ve put A LOT of work into my writing and my career; I’ve probably spent more time working on my writing skills than I have actually writing, and this has brought me to a place where I feel relatively confident about what I produce. Or maybe I mean that I am at a place of ‘acceptance’ with what I write. I can view my work objectively and think ‘that really needs work’ or ‘this is great and is the best it can be’.
Where this comes undone is when a publisher is assessing your work or an editor is wading through, wielding a red pen. I don’t necessarily doubt my work in this instance — what I doubt is whether or not they’ll love it. I fear it won’t resonate with them. As we all know, acceptance is so subjective, so my doubt comes from people not understanding or resonating with my work, rather than feeling the work isn’t ‘good enough’. I guess I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve come to understand this subjectivity, and if I receive a rejection slip, I really don’t take it personally.
The other thing is, I know my limitations. I feel very confident writing what I know, but I must admit, I’m being drawn to return to adult fiction—and I’m sure this will bring with its lots of doubt!
Contemporary writer you always read?
Dr. Seuss (I have every book), Erica Bauermeister, A.A. Gill, Lane Smith, Oliver Jeffers, Jackie French, Enid Blyton, Bill Bryson.
I don’t understand that question! I have a personal children’s book collection of around 3,000 books and have only recently culled my adult collection to a teensy 600 or so; being able to pluck something from this treasured pile is almost impossible. I guess if I had to choose, the first book that comes to mind is the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. It was, is and always will be, astonishing.
See the list of writers above! I also love Carl Jung’s work. And Shakespeare, but everyone says that, don’t they? I’m really loving the slew of Young Adult (or New Adult) writers that are making a mark on the teen/adult literary world. Am loving this kind of crossover appeal since J.K. Rowling got businessmen on flights foraging through the pages of Harry Potter. This crossover appeal is extending to more youthful books, too — and vice versa. I’ve seen kids reading Beijing Tai Tai and my adult friends and I regularly read picture books — just for pleasure!
Best book about China?
I really liked Socialism is Great! by Lijia Zhang and River Town by Peter Hessler. I have a collection of China books I still haven’t read and am gagging to: A Thousand Pieces of Gold by Adeline Yen Mah, Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung, Beijing Blur by James West (love that title!), Wild Swans by Jung Chang and I can hardly believe I haven’t yet read Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. But one of my very favourite China books is by Lorette E. Roberts, who is a talented watercolour artist. She creates these incredible, visual books which showcase Asian places, and her Colours and Characters of China is astonishing.
Favourite China writer?
Gabrielle Wang — a Chinese Australian author of children’s books. She writes books with such heart. Her great grandfather came to Australia from China during the Gold Rush in 1853. Her story is stunning and her books are stunning. She’s also an artist.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
I tried War and Peace. I tried Anna Karenina. I tried Catch-22. I lost interest. I want to read all the classics but I’m not going to force myself just because I think I ‘should’ read them. Nevertheless, one day I will try again.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
Jumping up and down screaming for five minutes straight will necessitate a lie down. I still remember receiving that publisher phone call — and having to lie down on the floor lest I pass out. I thought I might quite literally burst out of my skin with uncontainable joy. Sadly, that reaction tends to be less intense the more books you have published! But the joy never dissipates. It’s a true life achievement to have anything published in this tightly-packed book world; I don’t think anyone outside the industry really understands the magnitude of being published. It’s such a long, tough road but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you get started writing?
I started writing adult fiction (in my late teens) and magazine articles. My first magazine article was published in a national Australian magazine when I was 18 and I was 27 when my first adult non-fiction book was published. From there I went into more magazine/Internet work, non-fiction adult and then children’s books. It seems I’ve come full circle because I’m heading towards adult fiction again.
Does writing change anything?
My heart rate! I truly love it that much, it gives me heart palpitations. It also changes the happiness factor in my life, and that of my family. Lastly, it changes the world. Books and reading are as vital as shelter, food and water. Books change lives in ways we can’t even fathom, whether it be educationally or through soul connection — or just sheer pleasure. Books are heart made of paper.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
I have two books out this October — Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend, which is an illustrated chapter book on one of Australia’s great humanitarians and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids, which is launching Exisle Publishing’s new children’s imprint. I also have three children’s books in production — two more books for the National Library of Australia (I’m a house author), one called Australian Kids Through the Years and another one which is a biography on Captain James Cook — a picture book for the very young. The third is a picture book called Tottie and Dot for EK Publishing. I’ve just finished writing my first junior fiction book (it will be a series) called Ella McZoo: Animal Whisperer; which is under publisher consideration) and I’m consistently writing picture books. I’m also about to start on that adult fiction novel… whilst simultaneously staving off doubt!
Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013