|Illustrator Karen Blair, whose "Hello From Nowhere" won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award!|
Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!
Karen: "Hello From Nowhere" is a picture book about Eve, a girl who lives with her dad in the Nullarbor in Australia’s outback. It is written by Raewyn Caisley who was inspired by her time in this unique environment when she moved from New Zealand to Australia and ran a roadhouse for 2 years. Eve loves living in the middle of Nowhere, but she misses her Nan who has never visited from the city. When she does eventually come, Eve can show her all the wonderful animals and sights that make it so special like 200 kangaroos at dawn or the infinite stars in the night sky. Hello From Nowhere includes themes of place, belonging, family and relationships with the land and people. I felt a connection with the long distance relationship between Eve and her Nan, and that special, intense time of coming together to share everything and then the bittersweet farewell.
Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?
Karen: I joined SCBWI Australia West in 2007 and was instantly inspired by the people I met. At that stage I was pre-published and although I knew that making children’s books was my dream, I didn’t really know how to go about it. At the first big event I attended, the SCBWI West Conference in 2008, I had the opportunity to meet a publisher, so I created a storyboard and took it to Sarah Foster who was the Publisher at Walker Books Aus/NZ at the time. She gave excellent feedback and although that work was never published, making that contact and having face-to-face communication was so important. Also, hearing her talk about what they were looking for and how they approached books was really important. She went on to publish 3 of my books. Since then I have attended local conferences, meetings, retreats, forged very strong networks and friendships, professional relationships, made further contact with publishers and a mentoring program, illustrated 7 books including Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer who was SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time! I love the mix of pre-published or “newbies,” recently published and well-established book creators who are all willing to guide and help each other (as well as have a lot of fun!). Western Australia is very isolated which I think helps to foster a sense of camaraderie amongst our group. SCBWI has really been a very important part of my growth as picture book creator and the support I get from my peers is really incredible. It has also been wonderful to see my friends' careers go from strength to strength.
Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?
Karen: I am mostly an illustrator, but I think this holds true for writers as well - keep up your creative “fitness.” I try to sketch as much and as often as I can, doing heap and heaps of practise sketching before doing any final work. Embrace the process - its my favourite part. Also embrace publisher feedback. You can get so caught up in what you think is working, but fresh eyes can point out obvious or even subtle things to change or slightly alter to make the book the best it can be. I have also recently been attending workshops with artist to learn different techniques, since I didn’t do any training to become an illustrator! I just hope I keep getting better in little ways and I can keep enjoying making books that are challenging and make me feel connected to the story and hopefully put a little of that in the illustrations.
I also checked in with Susanne Gervay, the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand to find out more about Karen and their region. Here's what she shared:
SCBWI Australia and new Zealand love Karen Blair who is one of our new, young talented SCBWI protégés. Enormously gifted, she’s always been a writer and illustrator, like so many children’s book creators. SCBWI welcomed her into the community and she has flourished, receiving awards, publishing contracts and friendship. It’s such a great pleasure to see the support of SCBWI Australia and New Zealand has been part of her creative journey. Being awarded the Crystal Kite Award is our celebration of her talent.
SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand and SCBWI Australia West celebrate so much talent and bring together two countries through children’s books. SCBWI Australia and New Zealand has become the prime organisation for Australian children’s writers and illustrators Down Under. There is enormous energy here, with events, conferences, get together retreats, launches, industry talks, professional and personal friendships. SCBWI is increasing the conduit to most of the writing organisations in Australia and New Zealand including the Children’s Book Council, our Writers Centres, literary festivals and competitions. We are now on a brave new venture called WRITERS in the PARK.
Speaking are 50 authors, illustrators and publishers including some of our best and brightest established and emerging SCBWI authors and illustrators. James Foley the new RA from Australia West is flying to Sydney to launch his brilliant new hilarious zombie bunny book, ‘My Dead Bunny'. The malt award winning Anna Pignataro is flying from Melbourne to Writers in the Park where I will launch her beautiful picture book ‘Being Agatha.’ Our talented ARA illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall and IC Sarah Davis who just did the covers for American Girl and has won endless awards are coordinating the illustrator duel and the illustrator hands-on tent.
What’s at Writers in the Park? There are two stages, a cartoonist corner, illustrator SCBWI tent, stands and much more. We have included many literary and literacy organisations from the Society of Women Writers, Room to Read www.roomtoread.org bringing literacy to the children of the developing world, The Footpath Library which provides books to the homeless, to the Charles Dickens Society. How can we have this festival without ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Scrooge. Charles Dickens’ statue stands in Centennial Park, only one of 3 Dickens statues in the world.
Writers in the Park reaches across Australia and New Zealand celebrating books and ideas in this inaugural literary festival.
Love SCBWI across the world to join into Writers in the Park through facebook, twitter and support our brave new adventure in the world of children’s books.
Learn more about Karen and her illustrations at her website here.
You can find out more about SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand at their regional website here.
Thanks again to Karen and Susanne, and Congratulations again to Karen for "Hello From Nowhere" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!