AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Penny Harrison
Penny Harrison is a busy author and reviewer whose latest picture book, The Art Garden, was recently released by EK Books. (Click here to check out my review of the book). Penny was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss her book, her inspirations, the writing process, and more. Read on to discover all about this talented author...
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explore?
The Art Garden is about creativity and following your own passion. I wanted kids to understand that they should never compare themselves to others, but find their own special interests and talents.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
The idea came after a visit to Sunday Reed’s Heart Garden, at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. A patron of some of Australia’s most renowned artists (such as Sidney Nolan and Joy Hester), I wondered if Sunday herself had ever had a desire to paint. But the more I read about her, the more I could see her passion lay in her garden, which is a work of art in itself. It was originally more of a story about friendship and loss, but as I rewrote and rewrote, I realised I wanted it to be uplifting and encouraging for young creatives.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book? What do you want them to take away from it?
I just hope they will think about their own special talents and what they love to do, creatively. I wanted to inspire a passion for creativity, whether that be painting, or gardening, or sculpting, or sewing!
Do you have a favourite picture book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
Eek, always a tricky question! One of my all-time favourites is The Plant Sitter, by Gene Zion. I love the way it still sparks an interest in nature for kids (and just look at all the glorious indoor plants!).
I also love it when my daughter pulls out The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires, and Perfect, by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood.
Favourite book character at the moment would have to be the little girl from Wild, by Emily Hughes (she so reminds me of my little girl!)
What influences do you think shape your writing?
My childhood, growing up on a farm in NSW, with four brothers and sisters. My own children, aged 5 and 14. And reading as much as possible.
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?
It was originally a story of loss, which was rejected by the publisher. After sitting on it for almost a year and reworking it, and reworking it, it finally became something more uplifting and inspiring.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book you could share, with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?
It’s such a warm and supportive industry, everyone I have worked with is so wonderful and talented.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?
I have another picture book coming out in October, this year, with New Frontier, called Emily Green’s Garden. It’s definitely inspired by my love of The Plant Sitter and my daughter’s fascination with growing things (and making plenty of mess!)
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
Penelope Pratley, the illustrator, and I have put together some extensive teacher notes with lots of fun ideas. You can access them at www.ekbooks.org.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I went through a stage in my early teenage years of wanting to become a farmer. I was very determined. My dad is a farmer and I grew up on a farm in NSW. I think it was partly my strong connection to nature – and a desire to grow things!
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I wish I could sit down at my desk near the window that looks out to my garden and just write. But I find myself coming up with ideas at the most inopportune times, usually in the middle of the night! I wrote The Art Garden in my car while my little girl was asleep (back in the days when driving around was the only way to get her to nap).
What got you into creating books?
A strong love of picture books and a desire to do something creative.
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Don’t give up and don’t compare yourself or your progress to others. You’ll have many moments when you feel it’s not working, but just keep writing. And keep reading.
What about a favourite quote?
I’ve always been a fan of Cicero’s “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”.
You can follow Penny on Twitter, at @PenHarrison, or on Facebook, at penny.harrison.9828.