“There’s a storm brewing and the hive must find a new home. With clouds filling the sky and thunder growling, Bertha bravely rises to the occasion … until she meets BEAR, that is!” Bertha and Bear is a book buzzing with friendship, about finding your place and the courage of one brave little bee. It is one of the two books featured in our Bear Hug book box, we are celebrating its release with a 5 question chat with the author and illustrator of this gorgeous book, Christine Sharp. Enjoy!
1. You have been in the creative industry for some time. How did you go from bringing other people’s vision to life, to writing and illustrating your own books?
I’ve worked in the creative industries for around thirty years, across the visual, performing and literary arts. My first (completed) degree was in Expressive and Performing Arts at UNSW. Then, in my twenties, I started working at Metro Arts in Brisbane, managing publicity and publications for other creatives, while, in my own time, I created artworks for exhibition and performed in a few shows. In the early 2000s, I made a decision to bundle some of my skills together – namely, editing, writing, book design, marketing and photography – and create a freelance business, so I could return to university and complete two degrees: a Graduate Diploma of Creative Industries, Creative Writing, and a Master of Arts (Research) Writing for Youth and Children, both at QUT. The end goal was to write and illustrate books, for both children and adults.
For one of my subjects at uni, I wrote and illustrated a children’s picture book, which I later submitted to the University of Queensland Press (UQP). Kristina Schulz, Children’s and Young Adult Publisher at UQP, loved the book but advised me to go away, work on it, double it in length and resubmit. I did, and then Bea, my first picture book, was published in 2013. Now, I’ve written and illustrated three picture books and co-authored two cookbooks, plus I’ve edited or designed over a hundred books for clients along the way.
2. Your children’s books are all about animals in nature. What is the inspiration behind that?
At first, the decision to focus on animals in nature was not deliberate. The character of Bea came to me as a visual and I created the story around the character – a bird that remains true to herself, even if she stands out from the flock. Again, the character of Sylvia began as a visual: I imagined a snail trail winding its way around the cover of a book and I asked myself, ‘What interesting thing could a snail do with her snail trail?’ I decided she’d write a letter and I built the story from there. Then, for my third book, Bertha and Bear, it seemed clear I should keep the small animal theme going, and bees were top of mind, so …
3. All three of your picture books, Bea, Sylvia and Bertha and Bear have been recognised for their value in promoting oral language development in young children by being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards. What does that mean to you and what’s the secret to the way you write your stories?
It is such a thrill to be shortlisted for any award, particularly for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards. I absolutely adore language – both written and verbal – and I am honoured my work is considered to be valuable in this area.
The secret? Well, I take great pleasure in crafting delicious sentences that contain some kind of poetry – internal rhyme, rhythm, alliteration or something else – and I always, always read my work aloud. Picture books should be wonderful to read aloud, over and over again. Also, I don’t shy away from using rich language. Rather, I believe children are curious beings who adore learning. If I’ve used a word they don’t know, a word I’ve chosen perhaps because it isn’t the usual choice, they’ll learn a new word and expand their vocabulary! How fabulous is that?
4. You’ve written an amazing 10 part blog series about the publication process. What was it like reflecting on that process and how have your audience responded to your helpful posts?
I started writing the blog series because people were contacting me, seeking information about the process of writing and publishing books, and it was taking me a significant amount of time to respond thoughtfully to each person. I’d presented quite a few workshops on the topic, so I decided it was time to create a blog series to share. Now, when someone contacts me, if the question has been covered in my posts, I simply direct them to the blog.
Reflecting on the publishing process while writing the blog series was very affirming. I realised just how much I had learned over the years – through my studies and personal experience, as well as through working on other people’s books. I hear from readers of the blog regularly, mostly thanking me for such useful, practical advice. Some people find my website and email me with a question I’ve already covered, and I realise they’ve not bothered to read the series. I simply send them back to the blog. I think I’ve made it easy enough, don’t you?
5. What’s coming up for you next?
I have almost finished writing a book of short stories for girls, all about camping and the bush. I’ve loved writing it because I am totally in love with the beauty of the Australian landscape, and the stories each speak of our flora and fauna, mythology and a little magic. This illustrated book is aimed at middle readers. I am also (slowly) writing a novel for young adults set in the Australian landscape. Nature, it seems, features in all my work; I find it so inspiring and so endlessly beautiful.
Thank you for sharing our insights with us, Christine! You can find out more about Christine Sharp through her website, and follow her on Instagram (@christinehsharp).
Bertha and Bear is part of our Bear Hug book box, available now!
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