Writers On Writing / Deborah Abela

‘I love it when I hear parents read with their kids and read what their kids are reading so they can chat about it. That warms my heart.’

Writers on Writing is our regular conversation with a writer or industry professional about the writing craft, industry insights, and their own practice. This week, we spoke to internationally published and awarded author Deborah Abela about the industry of writing for children, ahead of her workshop An Essential Guide to Being a Kids’ Author on 14 October at Writing NSW.

What’s your top tip for writers new to the children’s publishing industry?

Become part of the kids’ writing community. Join professional writers’ groups, go to workshops, join a critique group with peers, read kids’ books and write, write, write.

Who makes a better children’s book beta reader: a child or a writer?

‘Both’ and ‘it depends’. I am in a critique group with Tristan Bancks, Zanni Louise, Sarah Armstrong and Lian Tanner, and they are my first readers, along with a young 13-year-old friend of mine, so it was brilliant to get all these different perspectives on my first draft. They encourage me but also point out where I can do better. My latest novel The Book of Wondrous Possibilities is so much better because I’ve had all these very clever people give me advice. The Kindness Project (PRH 2024), my latest project, also needed expert readers who had first hand knowledge of subjects I’ve written about. So for me, it’s a mix of kid and adult and expert.

How much say does a children’s author have in the cover/illustration?

I’ve chatted to my author friends about this and it really depends. My publisher is usually very collaborative, letting me know which illustrators she is thinking of approaching, but other friends of mine only see the cover when it is finalised. Publishers know their markets but authors know their story and characters, so it can be a delicate balance, but one hopefully everyone is happy with when the book hits the shelves.

What are books you still remember and love from when you were a kid?

Professor Branestawn by Norman Hunter about a clumsy, kindly professor, The Lorax by Dr Seuss and Heidi by Johanna Spyri.

What children’s books by Australian authors do you recommend to parents?

Ohhhhh that’s too hard and it depends on the kid and so many other things. Generally I try to find out more about the kid first…what they’ve loved, what they enjoy doing, what their interests are…then I recommend. Mostly, I love it when I hear parents read with their kids and read what their kids are reading so they can chat about it. That warms my heart.

Deborah Abela trained as a teacher before becoming writer/producer of a national children’s TV show. Since then, she’s become an internationally published and awarded author of 28 books about WW2, pesky wolves, bears in space, spelling bees and kids living in a climate-changed world. Her latest novel, The Book of Wondrous Possibilities, is a 2023 CBCA Notable and was shortlisted for the 2023 YABBA, KROC and KOALA Awards.

Join An Essential Guide to Being a Kids’ Author with Deborah Abela, Saturday 14 October, 10am-4pm


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