Allison Tait is a multi-genre writer who has more than 20 years’ experience in magazines, newspapers and online publishing. She has written four non-fiction books, including Credit Card Stressbusters (Wiley, 2009), Career Mums (Penguin Australia, 2012) and two ghost-written memoir/biographies. Her children’s novel The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World has just been released by Hachette, under the name A.L. Tait. It’s the first in a trilogy that is already garnering her a legion of young fans across the country. Here she answers some writing questions for us.
Your book has been getting rave reviews, how does it feel to have your first fiction book recognised like this?
I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the end of the world. As a writer, you spend so much of your time alone — writing, wondering, waiting — then you send your baby out into the world and just hope. For the book to have been received with open arms has been wonderful.
You previously thought that you were going to write romance novels, how did you end up writing for kids?
I started out writing romance novels because it made sense to me. When I began writing fiction as a hobby, I’d been working on staff at women’s magazines, such as Vogue Australia and CLEO, for the better part of a decade. Romance, with its strict guidelines and target markets, made perfect sense to me – I’d also read an awful lot of it earlier while I was ‘studying’ for my HSC.
As it turned out, romance turned out to be much harder to write than it looks. I won a mentor in a competition who tactfully suggested that I needed a ‘broader’ canvas because, she said, ‘I seemed to have an awful lot to say’. So I turned my attention to women’s fiction, and wrote two full novels, one of which was picked up for publication in 2012 but which, for various reasons, didn’t get over the line.
I am still working on redrafting the second novel because the whole process was completely hijacked by two chance conversations with my son, now 10, which led to The Mapmaker Chronicles. When you have an idea that makes you tingle all over, you need to follow it (even if you’ve never written in that area before). I did, and three books later (books two and three of the series are out in 2015) I still love it.
You are quite active in the writing scene, what advantages did you get from being part of the writing community?
This is an interesting question because I don’t consider myself particularly active in the ‘scene’. I live on the south coast with my family and I’m fairly removed from it all, really. Most of my speaking work and conference/festival appearances to date have revolved around freelance writing (which is still my day job), blogging and social media for writers. Next year that will change, which is exciting.
Where I am active is online, as my blog was a great place for me to establish myself as a writer and to share my journey to publication as an author. Building my profile online has brought me speaking opportunities and the chance to connect/meet other writer and authors, which has been invaluable. My blog has also brought me an incredible community – support is so important when you’re a writer. It can be a lonely job and having people out there to talk to day or night is a fantastic help. Even if they are ‘friends in the computer’ as my son calls them.
The other place I think the blog helped, strangely, is with the development of my voice for fiction. Blogging requires an intimacy of voice that writing for magazines and newspapers does not. My ‘broadcast’ voice was very well defined before I began blogging, but that intimate voice, MY voice, really developed through blogging, and my fiction is MUCH better for it.
Any advice for writers out there who want to write for kids?
I don’t think I approached writing The Mapmaker Chronicles series any differently to the way I approach anything I write. All the elements you need for adult fiction are present when you write for kids. I think that in many ways I was lucky because I had a reader in the back of my mind the whole time — my oldest son. I wrote the kind of story that we’ve always liked to read together and I never had that sense of ‘writing down’ because I know that both my boys hate that. I just wrote the story as I felt it needed to be written — and I had the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything while doing it.
So I think the advice comes down to the same tips you’d give anyone who wants to write:
• Read a lot — don’t rely on memories of reading stories when you were a kid, read what they’re reading now.
• Write a lot — you need to find your own voice and this can take time.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently, as I mentioned, redrafting my second adult novel while I contemplate what I’ll do in 2015. I have written three picture books, and I might take another look at those (note: picture books are HARD). I’m also working on the structural edit for book three of The Mapmaker Chronicles, which, thankfully, was fairly minor, and waiting to proofread book two, Prisoner of the Black Hawk. Plus, keeping the freelance writing ticking over, of course. Am I looking forward to a holiday? Why, yes I am!
Kristyn M. Levis has been working as a journalist both internationally and locally for over 13 years. Her work has been published in various publications, including The New York Times and Al Jazeera. She’s also an award winning photographer and an avid mummy blogger. Kristyn self-published two children’s picture books in the last three years and is currently working on two Young Adult trilogies. You can see more of her writing and blogging here.