AUTHOR INTERVIEW and Book Review: Janet Reid

AUTHOR INTERVIEW and Book Review: Janet Reid

Janet Reid author photo.jpg

I first met the lovely author Janet Reid last year at the Sunshine Writers' Retreat run by Greenleaf Press (a highly recommended event), and have loved catching up with her whenever I can since. I was thrilled to recently read Janet's new junior fiction novel, Trouble for Toby, which is published by Wombat Books and illustrated by Amanda Francey, another wonderful Queensland creative. 

Trouble for Toby cover.jpg

In Trouble for Toby, we meet a young boy, Toby, who is very imaginative and full of life, but who simply can't seem to stay out of trouble! He is very well meaning, and never malicious, but accidents seem to happen around him constantly.

Things turn sideways before he knows it, and Toby's dream of getting a pet (which is dependent on his parents hearing he's being well-behaved at school), seems to get further and further away. The ending does see things looking up for Toby, of course, and I'm sure it will have kids wanting to read the next book in the series. Trouble for Toby is set at a school, too, which also means children should be able to relate to and understand what happens really well.

While the story will no doubt have young readers giggling at some of the events which unfold over the course of the story, there is also a deeper meaning. Trouble for Toby addresses themes and topics such as doing the right thing, thinking about your actions and their consequences, friendship, facing up to your mistakes, and more. 

The gorgeous illustrations by the experienced and talented Amanda Francey (another lovely creative I have been lucky to meet), suit the text perfectly. There are full-page black and white illustrations placed every few spreads throughout the novel, as well as smaller images on the chapter headings. These break up the text nicely for beginner readers, and also add to the story and its impact. Francey's pictures are full of life, and emotion, particularly humour (my favourite illustration involves a large spider on the school principal's face!). 

Trouble for Toby is perfect for children aged around six years and up.

Now, it's time to learn all about Janet's creative processes, inspirations, publishing journey, and more. Read on for the Q&A...

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

Trouble for Toby explores themes and issues about friendship, rules, imagination, caring for others, and having courage when it is most needed.

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

Trouble for Toby inside page.jpg

I think every kid (and adult) who reads this book will be reminded of someone they know. Perhaps they will even see themselves in the characters. I hope the story makes the reader laugh, but I also hope that it will give kids the courage to swallow their fears if or when they need to help someone.

Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book? For example, questions to discuss or ponder, activities to complete etc. 

Trouble for Toby would be a great book to use if parents wanted to focus on the consequences of behaviour and caring for those around you. Toby doesn't mean for anyone to get hurt but because he gets carried away in imaginative play, this is exactly what happens.

This story could also be used to generate discussion about how children might react in various situations, especially if they are afraid, or if they see someone doing the wrong thing. There are more ideas in the teaching notes on the Wombat Books website – 

Biggest challenges (and/or surprises) in writing this story?

Probably the biggest challenge is turning this story into a series. Toby was written as a one-off, but the publishers have asked if I can make it a series – something I haven't attempted before. I'm still working on it but it's a lot of fun.

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

Trust your publisher. They are in the business of producing good books. And editing is just part of the writing process, so trust your editor, too.

I believe the same goes for the illustrator who needs the freedom to interpret the story in their own way. I know when I saw the first illustration for my book, it was like, "Wow, so that's how this looks." It was a great feeling, seeing how someone interpreted my words and my characters.

Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?

Hopefully Toby will go on to be a series. The second book is under consideration and I have the third partly written. I'm also working on a middle-grade historical novel set in colonial Brisbane, but there is still a lot of work to do on that.

Do you have a favourite children's book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character? 

The Tishkin Silk books by Glenda Millard would be among my favourites. The stories, with themes of grief and friendship and acceptance are told with great sensitivity and empathy.

Janet and Amanda - Trouble for Toby.jpg

I also love Dave Lowe's Incredible Dadventure series. While they are chock-a-block with humour, they are also about facing and conquering your fears.

And of course, there is the Tomorrow series by John Marsden for the older reader. That's one I often revisit.

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

Mostly I do my writing on the end of the kitchen table, but I also like to go out to some of my favourite cafes and have coffee while I write, either alone or with friends.

Janet signing Trouble for Toby.jpg

What got you into creating books?

This really stems back to when I was teaching pre-schoolers and became interested in ways to develop pre-literacy skills. I saw an ad in the paper about a children's writing course and felt it might help. By the time I had completed it, I was hooked.

What influences do you think shape your work?

Being a primary school teacher for more than thirty years probably influences most of my writing. I also have two sons, grown up now, but they were children once, each with very different and unique personalities. That helps me to understand character.

Do you have some tips for other creatives?

Read, write, learn - and never give up.

What about a favourite word or quote?

"Don't get it right; get it written" by James Thurber is the one I tell myself over and over. It reminds me that my writing doesn't have to be perfect, especially in the first few drafts.

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

I started school the day I turned five, and started teaching the day I turned twenty-one.