Book People: Janeen Brian
I have long loved the work of Janeen Brian and can never quite believe how diverse her writing style is. I often double check covers to see it really is Janeen’s name on the: funny book; ryhming book; deeply moving book; social justice book; historical fiction book; word-perfect early childhood book…it appears she can write with great skill on any topic and in any style she chooses to.
Janeen and I have chatted online for some time now, but I was super-chuffed to finally meet her last week, when she was a guest at Story Arts Festival Ipswich. It’s just an iPhone snap, but my favourite photo from SAFI is this one below – which features Janeen chatting with a young attendee. Janeen is accessible to her young (and older!) fans and she engages with them at their level – this photo pretty much sums her up!
Thank you so much for joining me here today Janeen!
You can purchase any of Janeen Brian’s beautiful books by clicking on covers or title links in this post.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Janeen Brian
1. Tell us about your latest book.
My next picture-book is called Where’s Jessie? and it’s illustrated by the wonderful Anne Spudvilas who wove her colour magic into Our Village in the Sky. It’s published by National Library of Australia and is due out in November 2015. It’s a simple story of a teddy bear getting lost. But this bear was based on a real teddy bear called Albert. Albert travelled from its home in Adelaide to the original Telegraph Station in Alice Springs in the early 1900’s – on the back of a camel! But Bertie, in my story, falls off the camel during a sandstorm. It’s not easy for a bear who becomes lost in the outback, but Bertie shows great courage – and finally finds Jessie.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I was teaching and had two young daughters. I’d never dreamed of becoming a writer, but I did like writing. I wrote short poems mainly. Some were for my daughters. I never thought I was very talented at writing – just interested in it, as I was with reading. At the school where I was teaching at the time, someone told me about a Writers’ Weekend. Curious, I went and the writing coodinator/author gave me a little praise. A little praise can do a lot of good! I kept on pottering with writing. Finally I had more encouragement from an educational publisher. From then on I wrote more consistently. But I kept on teaching because I needed to earn money. I gave up teaching in 1990 so I’ve been writing fulltime for twenty five years now. In that time I’ve had published over 90 books of all genres; 15 anthologies of poems and short stories, and more than 200 poems, stories, plays and articles published in children’s magazines – mainly The School Magazine.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I might start the day with a walk or do an Aqua-aerobics class. I like to get an early start because I yawn a lot in the afternoon and I don’t work well at night – unless I have a deadline. Then I work day and night. I also need to get the most urgent email and administration requests out the way, otherwise they hang around in my head, making noisy demands when I should be thinking or writing. I’ll often go back to other emails, Facebook, do research, or plan workshops later in the day, but I usually finish writing by 4.30pm or 5pm. Sometimes I have a few projects on the go, but not if it’s a novel. After a big project, I can’t wait to get back into writing picture books, or poetry.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
I have a lovely big room, with shelves to hold books and files. Two large windows look out over my garden, so I close the one closest to my computer, so I’m not tempted to gaze out. I focus better that way. In the centre is a large table where can spread books, papers, research material out – or just have a general mess! I have many small objects that I’ve collected to do with my stories or that I’ve been given; such as Ned Kelly, bears, elephants or camels.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I think children know more about books and writing that I did at their age, but learning is the same. Ask questions, discover books that help you, practise writing by writing and reading, share ideas and don’t give up. Make time to read. And on final note, remember, “Good things exist, for those who persist.” I don’t know who wrote that but it’s a favourite of mine. Another is: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I like any girl character who reminds me of Pippi Longstocking.
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
I loved my teaching career, but I think if I wasn’t writing now, I’d mess about with something to do with art. I already have a small studio down the back where I create saleable mosaics from found objects, and discarded crockery and tiles.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
My favourite food would be Asian style, seafood, hearty casseroles or my husband’s pork roast, crackling and apple sauce. (Couldn’t choose one!)I don’t listen to music when I write but when I’m in the studio I listen to classical music, or songs sung in French or Italian.
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
I think the author’s DNA slips into their writing! So, I think there’s often more of us in our stories that we think. Sometimes, I make my girl characters the kind of girl I would’ve liked to have been at their age; for example, Elsie, in my historic novel, That Boy, Jack, is gutsier and more outspoken that I was; someone who has her own opinions and not afraid to stand up for herself. As I write, I can sense characteristics of certain people I know creeping into characters. I’ve just finished an historic novel and I was very well aware of that happening.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?