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I recently enjoyed reading Debra Tidball's hilarious, clever, interactive picture book, The Scared Book, and am delighted that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Read on for the lowdown on Debra's book, writing process, and more:

Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explores?

The Scared Book is essentially a fun and interactive reading experience where the book is actually the character and it asks readers to help it not be scared by blowing away the butterflies, tickling its insides and shooing away the monsters that have crept out of the book's gutter fold. But the book is not just scared, it's sneaky too, as kids are learning about fear and anxiety and practicing strategies to deal with these feelings while helping the book and having fun.

How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?

My biggest hope is that readers will have fun, laugh and play with the book. If they take away ideas about dealing with their fears, then that's a bonus.

Do you have a favourite book that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite character?

There are too many fantastic books, old and new! But Eeyore would have to be a favourite character as I love donkeys.

What influences do you think shape your writing?

The influences that shaped my writing of this book were metafictive books that I was introduced to at university. I loved their frame-breaking style and directly addressing the reader - they were so surprising and playful. I wrote a blog about it here:

I also write more conventional narratives, and I use Margaret Wild's books as touchstones - I love her blend of heart and humour.

Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?

In writing the story, the biggest challenge was attributing people's physical experiences to a book, for example, a book doesn't have a tummy for butterflies to tickle, but it does have 'insides,' and keeping this idea consistent throughout the book.

In getting it published: Patience was the biggest challenge! I was fortunate that my publisher was very quick to express her interest from initial pitch, but then, invariably, everything slows down. You need patience in this industry.

Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?

It was a dream team! Hachette set the bar high when it comes to delivering a quality author experience, and Kim's artworks are more than I ever could have imagined! Kim brought a vibrant and quirky personality to the book. I was consulted from the beginning with Kim's early sketches and there was some to-ing and fro-ing in the initial stages to ensure the consistency of the idea was maintained, and then Kim wove her magic. (See a video created by Kim, below).

Do you have any suggestions on some ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book? 

Absolutely! When I do story-time visits I introduce the book by talking about being scared. I ask about what things people are scared of and explain how it is a good thing to be scared sometimes, like if we are scared of fire, we won't get too close and be burnt. But if we are too scared, it can stop us from enjoying the fire, like toasting marshmallows or warming ourselves around a bonfire on a cold winters' night. I also talk about how being scared can be fun, like jumping out and scaring someone when they are not expecting us (what kid doesn't like to shout 'boo!’?) or going on rides at Luna park etc.

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After reading the book I show the pages of how the book felt when it was scared and ask kids to identify with these sensations - have they felt butterflies in their tummies or goosebumps tingling their skin? I then get them to practice breathing into their tummies and blowing the butterflies away.

Monsters are also fabulous to get kids engaged artistically. I realised this when I ran a competition to coincide with the release of the book and the kids were just so inventive and imaginative. You can see some of the amazing creations on my blog here: I think drawing monsters frees children to be creative without being critical as there is no right and wrong. So an activity creating monsters is a great tie-in with the book.

Just Write For Kids has also blogged about some activities here: and here:; and the illustrator, Kim Siew, has made some activity sheets that you can find here: .

Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?

I recently got braces – they are meant to be invisible!

Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?

No rituals, but I do love using sharpened pencils to write and sketch stick-figure pictures. I like to work mainly on my comfy lounge overlooking the garden but I find ideas often come to me while driving in the car.

Do you have some tips for other creatives?

Get involved  in the industry – jump in and submit to blogs and competitions, join groups in person and online – find your ‘tribe.’

What about a favourite word or quote?

My favourite quote is from Robert Cormier, “The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” I love it because of the dry humour, and I think it frees writers to play around with ideas and words, and not take themselves too seriously.


Debra Tidball is an author, social worker, blogger and children's book reviewer. Her picture book, When I See Grandma was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2014 and won the children’s book category of the CALEB award 2014. Her second picture book, The Scared Book, is heaps of interactive fun with sneaky opportunities for kids to learn about conquering their fears

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