DOUBLE DARE YOU – THE ELLA DIARIES BY MEREDITH COSTAIN
1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your latest children’s book is about and what inspired you write it?
The Ella Diaries is a series of books that reflect the life, thoughts, fears and dreams of a 10-year-old girl. There are lots of musings from Ella on friendship, family, school bullies and ‘fitting in’. Besides her diary entries, Ella also expresses herself in times of angst or great joy by writing poems.
I was commissioned to write the series by the publisher. The brief was to make the writing ‘reflective and funny’. Hopefully I’ve achieved that! I wanted to make my character warm and funny and ‘imperfect’, but also resilient and strong. Someone who can stick up for herself and others.
2) How do the illustrations complement your picture books? What was important to you as an author when you collaborated with these artists?
The Ella Diaries are more like chapter books than picture books. But the illustrations – there are two-colour ‘doodles’ on every page – do play a very important part, in that they tell part of the story – and give a further insight into Ella’s thoughts. I was very lucky to have the brilliant designer and illustrator Danielle McDonald work on these. Sometimes I give her ideas for what a particular illustration could be, but most of the ideas are hers. They’re very funny and provide an extra level to the story – as is the case with the illustrations in my more ‘traditional’ picture books.
3) With over 200 books in your bibliography, do you have a favourite and also was there one particular book which you felt was the one that catapulted you to becoming the prolific author you are today?
I have several favourites! Musical Harriet was my first picture book, way back in 1995. It was illustrated by the fabulous Craig Smith (we’ve gone on to do several other books together since then.) Harriet was made into a TV show by the ABC, and was the inspiration for a piece of music by the Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. Although I already had several books published by the time this one came out, this was the one that made me truly believe I might be able to make a living out of writing (if I worked really hard!)
One of my other favourites is Doodledum Dancing, which is a collection of poems for the very young, illustrated by Pamela Allen.
4) Which award / accolade are you most proud of winning and why?
Doodledum Dancing was an Honour Book in the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. I’ve been writing poems since I was six (mainly doggerel and catterel!) so it was very special to think other people liked them enough to give them a gong. I’ve also had lots of teachers and parents tell me how much their students/children love the poems in the book, which is great!
5) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I’ve always loved reading and writing, so to be able to do these things as my ‘job’ is wonderful. It’s also lovely when I receive emails from young readers who’ve enjoyed my books – especially when they tell me the character in the book is ‘just like them’. Or emails from teachers who let me know about one of their students who had never finished reading a book until they found my book about cheetahs – and is now doing a project on them, without any prompting from them. These are the moments that make the endless hours of drafting and editing definitely seem worthwhile.
6) Do you enjoy the teaching part of your career?
I do quite a lot of writing workshops – working with both children and adults – and yes, I enjoy them very much! It’s always rewarding to see the wonderful ideas kids (and adults!) come up with and to help them shape these into polished pieces of writing. Writing workshops also give me a way to keep in touch with the audience I write for – to listen in to their speech patterns and find out their current interests and passions.
7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your books?
A shared appreciation of the joy of language, rhythm and rhyme! And the understanding that reading can be fun.
8) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
I read lots of books written for children and young adults as well as adults – possibly because in my head I am still 6, or 12, or 17 … Some favourites are Libby Gleeson, Sarah Dessen, Cathy Cassidy, Ruth Rendell, Maeve Binchy, Helen Garner – a very mixed bag as you can see!
9) What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the edit on Book #5 in the Ella Diaries series and I’m about to start Book #6. I’ve also been invited to write a book of short stories for 6 and 7-year-olds, which is keeping me busy!