Book People: Tania McCartney

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Book People: Tania McCartney

I recently commented on one of Tania McCartney’s photos on Instagram.  It was a photo of her back garden full of gorgeous Autumn leaves. I said how much PudStar loved leaves and how our leaves in Brisbane are all just green as we don’t really do Autumn! A week or so later a package arrived in the mail full of carefully packaged Autumn leaves in shades of red, brown and gold with a note from Tania saying ‘Happy Autumn!’. I’ve said it before – the children’s book industry is full of the most wonderful people!

Autumn in a package.

Aside from being awfully nice and having a beautiful Instagram feed, Tania McCartney is the author of several adult non-fiction books and many excellent children’s books including ‘Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline’ (our review is here), the ‘Riley the Little Aviator’ series for kids and ‘Eco Warriors’ (out in August 2013). As head ‘Earth Angel’ at school I’m looking forward to ‘Eco Warriors’. Tania is also the founder of the literary site Kid’s Book Review. If you are doing an author study on Tania her website is a wealth of information, as is her blog and the Riley Aviator and Beijing Tai-Tai pages.

Tania McCartney photo

Ten Things You Need to Know About Tania McCartney

1. Tell us about your latest book.

I have four ‘latest’ . . . all are due out within weeks of each other, so prioritising just one is difficult. The first is Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library of Australia) – a picture book featuring photographed characters (eco warriors!) and stunning, vintage botanical prints from the NLA’s digital archives. It’s a really unique book and will be out in August 2013. The second is the fifth book in my Riley the Little Aviator series – Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra, right in time for Canberra’s centenary. You can read more about the Riley series here The third book is my first historical junior fiction work. The book (for New Frontier) explores the life of Caroline Chisholm, and I have to say it was an incredible journey researching this amazing woman. My fourth is a picture book I wrote a long time ago – one that is very dear to my heart. It’s called An Aussie Year: twelve months in the life of Australian children (EK Publishing). It’s about our ‘typical’ Australian childhood (ie: there isn’t one!) and the myriad multicultural traditions and idiosyncrasies that make up our country – from festivals and cultural elements through to geography, the seasons, food, games, and all the Aussie quirks we know and love so well. It’s been illustrated by dear friend Tina Snerling and I’m very excited about this book.

eco warriors cover

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve always written – I had my first poem published at 8 and first magazine article published at 18 – so it’s just something that’s in my blood, I guess (my grandfather was an historian, photographer, journalist and author). I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, and my very first works in my late teens were adult novels (though I never submitted them to publishers). I then moved quickly into freelance magazine work and journalism, and it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I began writing children’s books, which I’ve always had quite the obsession with (have been collecting them since I was a tween). We were living in Beijing on post and I had a lot more time and resources on my hands, so I wrote the first Riley the Little Aviator book . . . and never looked back. When we returned to Australia, I entered the children’s book scene with gusto and it’s now an enormous and beloved part of my life. A lot of my books have included photography and I’ve since moved into historical children’s books so it seems I’m really following in my grandfather’s footsteps.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

My gorgeous husband brings me tea in bed, I check my phone for messages then I’m up to get the kids off to school. Next, it’s 45 mins exercise then breakfast at the computer. Most of the day is spent writing – anything from writing new material to marketing and publicity, liaising with my illustrators, writing posts for Kids’ Book Review (I’m the Founder of KBR), book blurb or workshops. Once the kids get home, I spend time with them, get into the housework and prep dinner. We always have dinner as a family then by 9pm I’m either back at the computer (usually only during book deadline) or collapsed on the couch for some TV time, where I simultaneously read magazines on the iPad or knit or craft – whatever I have going on at the time.

4. Can you describe your workspace for us?

It looks over our front garden and is light, bright, airy, with punches of colour. It’s packed with books and mementoes from our travels – and plenty of photos – but is still orderly. I find it hard to function while sitting in chaos; almost everything has a place. I believe it’s important to surround yourself with things that inspire and uplift you – in every part of the house, but most especially where you work. I try to have flowers on my desk at all times – they’re so inspirational.

WorkSpace Workspace


5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?

Readers – Read. A lot. Explore many genres and styles until you find something you adore, and never, ever persist with a book if it fails to engage you (unless you have to read it for school, of course!). There are simply too many amazing books to get through in this lifetime; why waste a nanosecond on something that doesn’t draw you in and enchant you? Reading, along with travel, is one of the very best ways to expand your heart and mind – and it also helps you write better.

Writers – Write what you love. Think outside the square and use your own unique voice. Don’t be tempted to write what you think readers (or the publisher) might want or like. If you write with passion and emotion and heart, the reader will always feel it and enjoy it far more than something written analytically. If you are hoping to be published, study writing, research well, be open to criticism and always do everything with excellence. Be prepared to view your own work as objectively as possible. This will help you write better.

6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?

I love Kay Thompson’s Eloise for her irreverence and zest for life. I also love Ian Falconer’s Olivia for her intelligence and unshakeable self-belief. Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia is also someone I adore.

7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?

I would have loved to have been a theatre actress, a stylist, the editor of a major magazine and a surgeon. All at once, of course. I also have this secret fantasy to be a librarian, and I wish I could have been a teacher but I just don’t think I have what it takes. I’m in awe of teachers.

8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

Coffee! Tea! I try to have green tea where I can and I’m down to one or two coffees a day, so that’s good. I TRY not to eat while I’m working because it’s easy to eat blindly, so I only drink at my desk then stop deliberately for lunch. I don’t listen to music when I work; I like complete silence and I still can’t explain why – I feel more inspired with silence.

9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

Interesting question! I guess there’s always a part of ourselves and others in our books, in some capacity or another. I guess I’m in the books in terms of what interests me and what I’m passionate about. Even though my son is the star of the Riley books and I’m currently writing a junior fiction series starring my daughter (Ella McZoo: Animal Whisperer), there is only a small part of my children in their alter egos . . . the characters end up writing themselves and much of the authenticity of my real life kids becomes lost. I’m consistently influenced by the behaviour and actions of children, which I do write into books, but I don’t find myself focusing on any one person – it’s more of a collective thing.     Riley books Lion  10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

My wish would be that people stop fighting and scrabbling and taking from others, and instead look inward and focus on their own lives and the way they impact the world – both with regard to thought and deed. This would help them live more authentically and find more courage to be themselves and follow their calling. I believe that following our calling is the key to happiness, balance, acceptance and so much more. So I guess my wish, overall, would be inner peace that could eventually lead to world peace. Is there any other wish? Oh wait – yes, there is. That every child could read.

Thank you Tania for joining us here at Children’s Books Daily! Below are cover images and links to some of Tania McCartney’s books.

(and thank you again for Autumn in the post!)

Beijing Tai Tai handmade living

Riley books Dragon Riley books Koala Riley books Grumpy Wombat cover Australian Story

Tania McCartney photo Pinterest

Ruby Olive Megan Pink Jacket and Who Am I Book

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1 Comment

  1. Global Kids Oz on Sep 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I love the idea of books for children that encourage them to explore cultures and cities of the world. Riley’s adventures look great, something my children would have read when they were little. “An Aussie Year” sounds really interesting as well, because you are right there is no “typical” upbringing in Australia.

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