AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rebecca Johnson
I first met author Rebecca Johnson at the terrific Voices on the Coast literary festival in 2017, when I was volunteering. It was fantastic to get to meet someone whose books I love (I'm a fan of Rebecca's Juliet - Nearly a Vet series of junior fiction novels, published by Penguin), and to hear a bit about Rebecca's writing process.
Today, I'm delighted to welcome Rebecca to my blog for a Q&A. Let's get straight into it. I'm so excited to learn more about Rebecca's backgrounds, books, inspirations and more!
Can you tell us a bit about your books, and the themes/issues they explore?
My books (both the Juliet and Vet Cadet series) are basically about smart, funny girls who love animals, science and solving problems, and are not afraid to have a laugh at themselves, have a go, and treat each other with respect along the way.
What was the inspiration behind writing your latest books, and did they change much as you were writing?
For Vet Cadets: I grew up riding horses and exploring the bushland around my home with my friends (and we actually did solve a few crimes!), so when a huge number of children who had read and enjoyed the Juliet – Nearly a Vet books, started nagging me for something more, this was the natural progression.
These girls are older and the stories are more in depth than Juliet, and with even more science embedded, but I have stuck to my driving passion to write books about girls who are not afraid to be smart and kind, and stand up for what they believe in.
How do you hope readers will connect with your books, and/or what do you want them to take away from them?
I want them to laugh and relax and have fun with these characters. I also want them to see what a good friend looks like. So many books for tween girls get all serious and moody, but these girls are just all about taking chances and learning as much as they can along the way and not taking themselves too seriously.
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
Juliet – Nearly a Vet (The great Pet Plan) lends itself particularly well to kids being able to add in an extra character of their own (a new animal coming to stay in secret for the weekend and the ensuing drama). It’s a really good narrative writing task and one I do with kids at writing workshops.
Vet Cadets also lends itself to ‘imitation’ by young writers, in that they can come up with a crime or mystery that could happen at their school, then work out how they could use science to solve it.
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published? Biggest challenges in publishing, in general?
I have been writing children’s books for 25 years, and it took me 5 years to get my first book published. The challenge is to hang in there and believe in yourself. Dogged persistence. I cannot impress upon people beginning this journey how important it is to VERBALLY PITCH your story to anyone who will listen. No notes, just tell them the story. You will get far more honest feedback than if you give it to someone to read. I also do this with kids when they are learning to write narratives, with great success.
(Kellie's aside - What a great suggestions, Rebecca, to verbally pitch stories to people in order to get more feedback. Makes sense!)
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?
I think you need to send your work to a good manuscript appraiser (read the Australian Writer’s Marketplace immediately!) if you really want to know what publishers will think of it and if it has any chance at all.
It is really hard to get through that door and so often it feels like you are knocking on the window with a sponge, but that book at least showed me the right path to walk up. Wish I had read it from the start.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?
I am flat out with Nearly A Vet Conventions all over the place at the moment, so I have actually taken a year off writing. I had 22 books published last year, and it was a very big year. I want to sit back and smell the roses for a while, and promote the books I have.
(Kellie's aside - OMG, 22 books published in one year?! That blows my mind!)
What influences do you think shape your writing?
I grew up next door to a vet and his wife who was an amazing woman. I also have a mother who can do anything if she puts her mind to it. Neither of these women shied away from doing things that were traditionally considered a man’s work.
I learnt to use a drop-saw as a teenager, and my Mum and I built my stable. Dad had a really busy engineering job, and I think, in hindsight, I was so lucky to have the model that it is not always Dad that fixes stuff and mows the lawn! The girls in my books are not bound by stereotypes either. They are feminine, but strong, like the women I grew up around.
What's something you wish you knew, or believed, earlier on in your career?
1. To know to read the Australian Writers Marketplace.
2. To have had enough self-belief to take the royalty option on a series I wrote 20 years ago, not the up-front fee (especially when those books went on to sell 3 000 000 copies). I can talk about it without crying now… so that’s a bonus. :)
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I don’t sit down to write any book until I have pitched it verbally to anyone who will listen. I tell it out loud to myself in the car, in the garden etc etc. I have a lot on and don’t have time to write 50 drafts. This method allows me to get stuff done whilst I ‘write’, and then, by the time I write the book it is like typing out the script to a movie you have seen a dozen times.
I have a reputation for being a very quick novel writer and I have never had to redo a draft or make any big changes, and I think this is why. I know it’s a good book before I have ever written a word, because I have already tested it so many times.
I write in my lovely office overlooking my garden.. which is my happy place.
What got you into creating books?
I always loved telling jokes and funny stories… it seemed a natural progression.
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Tell it out loud first.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I tried to give up on my dream to be a writer SO many times, but it just wouldn’t go away. It felt like a curse in the early days.
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 Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I remember being so moved by the way he wrote the scene when Aslan dies and thinking that I wanted to write like that one day.
Charlotte’s Web. Fern. A girl who knew what was right and stood up for it.
What about a favourite word or quote?
Life is like a moving Ferris wheel. There are going to be times when you are at the top, and times when you are stuck at the bottom. The trick is to stay on for the ride.