Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft's SMILE CRY wins in the Australia, New Zealand Division

Winner for Australia, New Zealand

Lee: Congratulations Tania and Jess! Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Tania: Smile Cry is an early childhood picture book that looks at emotion in a creative, nuanced and accessible way. Its flip-book format features two episodic narratives, one about smiling and one about crying—with the two meeting in the middle. It highlights the many shades of grey when it comes to feeling happy and sad, with scenes carried by an adorable trio—cat, bunny and piglet. 

Working with Jess on this book was heavenly. She really understood my desire to access the emotional responses of very young children, and show them that feelings are never black and white. Her dreamy watercolour illustrations carry the story so beautifully, and I’m thrilled to be working with her on two further books—one a follow-up to Smile Cry entitled See Hear. 

Winning the Crystal Kite for our region was totally overwhelming. To receive this nod from industry peeps who know books inside out, upside down and with purity of heart—it’s an absolute honour, and a thrill for our little book. 

Author Tania McCartney

Jess: A few years ago, I was an active part of a Facebook illustration group called the 52-Week Challenge, dreaming of illustrating picture books (something I had hoped for since I was a child, scrawling with crayons and pasting glitter everywhere). Tania and the publisher, EK Books, announced a competition to find an illustrator for Smile Cry, and provided a few lines of text for entrants to illustrate. I immediately came up with the three characters and a soft, dreamy look to illustrate the text, then nervously posted it in the group Facebook page. You couldn't imagine my surprise when I found out I had won the opportunity, and even more surprised that the same month I got a call from another publisher to illustrate another book—it was like my long-held dream had finally bubbled to the surface, and exploded glitter! 

Working on the book was just so much fun with the publisher and Tania, and we bounced ideas around the three of us the whole time. When I received my advance copies, I was so thrilled to have something tangible, and we are currently working on the next book together—just as much fun, and a real collaboration, which has worked so brilliantly. Tania and I have also gone on to work together with another publisher, and I'm busily working as a freelance children's book illustrator as a pretty much full time job now. A total dream come true. 

It was such a thrill to receive the Crystal Kite for this award, and we were also honoured to have it achieve Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s annual awards. It gave us such a boost to know our writing and illustrating community cheered for our work—a fantastic and supportive community indeed. 

Illustrator Jess Racklyeft

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Tania: I’ve been a member for around 6 or 7 years, and for me, SCBWI membership is priceless. Many of my memberships are about industry or gatekeepers. SCBWI is all about the creator. Not only are the resources phenomenal, the comradery, support, networking, opportunity and creative inspiration is everything. Everything! 

Jess: I've been a member for several years (I think around five? I've lost count!) and I've found it so beneficial for several reasons. I work from home, and to have the opportunity to attend SCBWI events quarterly and catch up with the other members has been invaluable and inspiring; I've been lucky enough to have a few drawings in the fantastic magazine that SCBWI creates (I love reading it too!); and I've had my portfolio shared with Australian publishers via the SCBWI conference. I love the website and the great resources that can be found there. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Tania: Get industry involved. So many of us tend to focus on our market and our peers, and while this is important, industry nous and backing will exponentially forward your career. Start something. Share something. Be there for others. Teach, review, blog, be a judge, present and speak. Be an innovator and an inspiration. Go to festivals and conferences and book launches and other industry events, and be sure to invest in memberships with children’s book organisations in your region. Not only is it smart, it’s fun. Your career will grow, and you may just make some incredible friends.  

Also—invest in your craft. Those seemingly endless hours will leave an indelible mark on your skillset. And, of course, it’s never, ever ‘work’! Work with heart, and work on only what you love. Oh—and shine. Always, always shine. 

Jess: My main advice is perseverance! It can feel like a long battle (and for me it was/is) but by working on my craft every day, meeting experienced writers and illustrators, as well as networking with the SCBWI community, you keep chipping away and moving forward towards your goal. And the good news is—the battle is a fun one! There are so many good folk in the industry who are there to support you and share their experience, as well as share a wine with. 

Thanks to you both, and again, congratulations!

Find out more about Tania here: 

And Jess here:

Illustrate and Write On,

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