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Over the next couple of weeks, assisted by Books on Tour, Maura Pierlot is running a blog tour to promote her new children's book, The Trouble in Tune Town, illustrated by Sophie Norsa.  Excitingly, the tour starts today, on my blog!

I sat down with Maura recently to find out more about her picture book (which was just awarded Joint Winner, Best Children's Illustrated E-Book in the IPPY Book Awards 2018) and her writing process:

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

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The Trouble in Tune Town is a fun, colourful rhyming book that invites readers to step inside the experience of music, both from the notes’ perspective and also that of a young performer.

When Meg can’t play her song and wants to give up, the frustrated notes hop off the sheet, leaving Tune Town without any tunes. Meg must find a way to bring them back, not only for her performance at the big concert that night, but because everyone misses having music in their lives.

Bolded music terms appear throughout the text and in a summary at the back of the book, offering a simple introduction to music theory. The story explores nuanced themes of persistence, self-belief, resilience and belonging – somewhat ironically, themes that defined my journey in writing the book.

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

My three children were the inspiration for the book. They had piano lessons from a young age and although they loved playing, they never wanted to practise. In fact, learning a new song was often a source of frustration and despair; at any given time, one of them wanted to give up.

While waiting for my son one day at his music class (after he insisted on the way there that music theory was SO BORING), I started penning a rhyme. Despite tinkering with countless versions of the text over a few years, the underlying message was clear: rather than try to play perfectly, kids should relax and have fun, and see where the music takes them.

In the end, I stripped back the story to one character (originally, there were three) and streamlined the plot to make sure the heart of the story wasn’t lost. Our kids are now teenagers (16 to 19yrs), and I’m pleased to say a lot of music – guitar, ukulele, keytar and piano – is still being played in our house.

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Do you play an instrument? Have you ever felt like the notes disappeared on you?

I had guitar lessons for about ten years, learning classical style but drifting to folk (this was the ‘60s/70s after all). I don’t remember agonising over it like our kids sometimes did, but I don’t remember loving it either. I think in my day parents just told their kids what to do and there was little room to negotiate; nowadays, kids are mini-entrepreneurs, running their own social networks/schedules, always trying to make deals with parents!

I do recall struggling with a few very difficult songs and wanting to give up on more than one occasion. I enjoyed playing and performing, but I never liked that I HAD to – yet another obligation in a busy week. So when I left home for university, I didn’t bring my guitar. I have a vivid memory of my mother being dumbfounded that I wasn’t taking it with me; with hindsight, I probably left it home for spite – I was 18 and could finally do what I wanted!

But despite being urged by family and friends to continue playing over the years, one year merged into the next and then another; flash forward several decades later, and I still haven’t picked up my guitar seriously, despite always intending to do so (life’s been busy!). My mother was right, not that I’d ever tell her that … aren’t mothers always right? ;-)

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

I could write a book about this but I’m not sure if it would be a comedy or tragedy, perhaps both. ;-) First of all, who knew that so many publishers hated rhyming books? One publisher even replied – Such a lovely story; shame it rhymes! Although somewhat deflating, this was a non-issue as I considered rhyme to be integral to the musicality and rhythm of the story.

A small publisher offered me a contract, but I didn’t go ahead – at the eleventh hour they tried to get me to pay up front (on signing) for a certain quantity of books, yet they wouldn’t commit to publishing my title by any foreseeable date. There were a few other issues in how they handled negotiations and a voice in my head screamed: Run away! Always go with your gut.

I knew my story had legs so I looked up partner publishers and found Little Steps. I didn’t want to self publish, simply because I had several other projects on the go, and I knew I couldn’t give the book the attention it deserved. My biggest challenge in getting the book published was backing myself – knowing I had to persist, even when the odds seemed stacked against me. Probably how children often feel when they’re trying to learn a new song!

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

Little Steps has very high production standards – everything from the colour and clarity of the text and illustrations, to the design of the endpapers, the quality of the stock and so forth. I couldn’t be happier with the look and feel of the book.

However, from a business point of view, I would say that partner publishing, although worthwhile, is essentially a glorified version of self-publishing and is geared more to getting the book produced, then to selling it or supporting the author’s career. In the end, the only person who can do this is the author.

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

Little Women was an early book that taught me the power of story-telling. I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye not too long ago when our kids were assigned the titles for English, and was reminded how well they stand the test of time.

Other books that had a profound impact on me over the years are: Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bell Jar, The Stranger, and Atlas Shrugged. I love the work of Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro and Jennifer Egan. I have to put in a plug for my old friends, Plato and Aristotle. I read philosophy for many, many years even after I finished my Ph.D. (phil); like good fiction, reading how the great thinkers wrestled with fundamental questions can be life-changing in many ways.

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

I write from home in Canberra. We have a flat at the back of our block – two large rooms, and I’ve taken over one of them. There’s gym equipment there so I often write, hop on a machine or go for a walk, then write again, though more often than not, the equipment just collects dust.

It’s great working from home as I can wear trackies and uggs and get some little jobs done around the house when I’m procrastinating – which can be often. From time to time, I try to escape for a few days to our place at the coast, especially if I’ve hit the wall with a project or have a big deadline looming.

Do you have some tips for other creatives?

My tip is to find what works for you. Some people attend workshops, thinking the penny will drop, but I think we all have to dig deep and carve out a writing life that makes sense in our worlds rather than rely on someone else for the answers.

I’d also suggest that writers focus more on process than outcome – don’t fall into the trap of measuring your self-worth by whether or not you are published. I’ve read brilliant manuscripts that still aren’t published, and I’ve read a lot of not very good books that are.

And lastly, I’d say back yourself. Don’t expect your family, friends and writing groups to build you up, to motivate and sustain you. Of course, they can be key in offering support but, ultimately, I think writers need to find that core belief – that inexplicable, seemingly irrational, necessity to write that’s somehow mapped into their DNA, then harness that creative energy. I think that’s what keeps writers going when it would be all too easy to give up.

What about a favourite word or quote?

One of my favourite quotes comes from Socrates: Know Thyself. But in a day and age dominated by social media, technology and all the associated ill-effects, along with an endless number of self-proclaimed experts and TV pundits, I think we could all take a leaf out of Plato’s book: Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.


There are lots more "outings" coming up for Maura and The Trouble in Tune Tour - check out the flyer below to see where they will be featured next, as part of Books On Tour

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