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I'm very happy to be interviewing lovely children's author Kaye Baillie on my blog today. I connected with Kaye a couple of years ago (I think it was that long ago - time flies!), and have watched her journey with interest.

Her new picture book, Message in a Sock, (published by MidnightSun) was released earlier this year, and it is a delightful example of just how wonderful non-fiction picture books, based on true historical stories, can be. Kaye's sensitive words, combined with talented illustrator Narelda Joy's gorgeous collage-style pictures, make this one to remember. 

Let's learn more about Kaye, and her journey...

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

My story is about Tammy, a five-year-old girl whose father is a soldier in France during WWI. While her mother knits socks for the soldiers, Tammy writes notes of support to go in each pair and she writes a special one for her father. Then she waits for his reply. Themes are war, the home front, family, love, distance, volunteering, ‘the fog of war’.

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What was the inspiration behind writing this story, and did it change much as you were writing it?

I wanted to write a story to commemorate the end of World War I but I wanted to write a story that reflected the homefront, the often-underrepresented side of war. As I began searching the internet I found a letter on Museums Victoria website written by an Australian stretcher bearer in France, 1916, thanking a knitter for the pair of socks he’d received. I knew I had my connection between the warfront and the home front.

When I began putting ideas on paper, I wrote the story from the soldier’s POV showing the emotional and physical value of the socks knitted by volunteers and the notes of encouragement placed inside the socks, but then I changed it to the POV of a very young girl whose father is at the warfront and how that might have felt for her, and her mother.

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

A note and a pair of socks are such simple things, but I hope after reading my story, readers will realise that these things can literally make someone’s day and possibly save a life. Simple things can be powerful and are accessible to every young child.

The other thing I hope readers connect with is that even in times of great uncertainty, (will my loved one come home from the war, where is my loved one) that there is one certainty - the bond of family, and how love can stretch across oceans.

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

It can be a bit concerning spending lots of time researching for a story that may never get published. That is one challenge. The other is getting rejected and possibly giving up too soon.

But because I had received a really encouraging paid critique, I never gave up on finding ‘Message in a Sock’ a home.

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?

Don’t underestimate smaller publishers. MidnightSun gave my book a life and have been so committed to the whole process. Also, my publisher has promoted my book at the Bologna Book Fair for the last two years.

Be prepared to wait for publication, it can take two years.

There may be many months where you don’t hear anything after signing a contract. That’s normal. But at the same time, check in with your publisher if you just need an update.

When it’s time for your book to hit the shelves, you should have planned promotional events and book launches in the months leading up to this, and what I found was how much time this side of writing can take. I couldn’t write for a couple of months because I was busy organising newspaper interviews, blog posts, book launches etc.

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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. 

I have made teacher notes which are up on MidnightSun’s website, which include lots of activities and exercises.

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

I am very excited to tell you that my next picture book, ‘The Friendly Games’ will also be published by MidnightSun in 2020. It is set in Melbourne 1956 at the time of the Olympics. I can’t wait to see who Anna selects as the illustrator.

I also am looking forward to seeing my short story, ‘Car Rally Granny’ published in the July edition of Countdown with The School Magazine. I’ve seen a couple of the illustrations which look perfect.

What got you into creating books?

To find somewhere to express my thoughts and ideas. As a kid I loved making books with my own illustrations. In my twenties, I dabbled in writing but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I began in earnest to learn the craft of writing. Even then I took many years off to raise kids, but have been back into writing for the last six years.

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

I have a purpose-built studio in our newly landscaped back yard which I love. It has a deck and it’s where all my books are kept. I turn the fountain on so I can hear it trickle while I work. I try to come out here whenever I can. I’m sitting in the sunshine in my studio right now!

What influences do you think shape your writing?

When a book can make me feel something or laugh. When I can connect immediately with the character/s and truly care about them, and when the language is so perfectly chosen and of course when the illustrations are divine, I am inspired to write to that level.

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

I had a look through my bookcase and grabbed some books I love and are a joy to read over and over for their beautiful settings or heartfelt characters or lovely language or humour.

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Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

Gary by Leila Rudge

Windows by Julia Denos (USA)

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (USA)

Two Rainbows by Sophie Masson

Bear and Chook by Lisa Shanahan

Bird to Bird by Claire Saxby

Do you have some tips for other creatives?

Immerse yourself in the writing world. Go to book launches, festivals, conferences, follow blogs, also join online groups in the US as well, such as Kidlit411 - that is a wealth of information and it’s free, although they hope people can chip in a few dollars a year to keep them running. Australian ezines such as Buzz Words and Pass-it-On are also a wealth of knowledge and tips. If you can go to a CBCA judges talk it’s well worth it as you will hear judges talk about what makes a book notable or short-listed.

What about a favourite word or quote?


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

I’m scared of heights. I even dream about being in a high place and am unable to get down.

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