Thursday, October 2, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: ZAC AND MIA by AJ Betts (SCBWI Western Australia)

The next spotlight on the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite winners illuminates ZAC AND MIA by AJ Betts.

A member of SCBWI Western Australia, AJ's book won for the Australia/New Zealand Division.

The 2014 Crystal Kite-winning book

Award-winning Author AJ Betts

I connected with AJ to find out more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

AJ: Zac & Mia is my third novel, but the first to be inspired by real life. For the past ten years I've been working as a high school English Teacher in a children's hospital in Perth (Australia), with the past six years dedicated to the oncology ward. The story came together from three things: my interest in how isolation affects a person (especially those in isolation following a bone marrow transplant); my humble admiration for the amazing teenagers who confront their illness (and mortality) with maturity, humour and courage; and the request (by teenaged students) to write a love story. The novel took over four years to write, with huge pauses in between. I wanted to give up many times, but I realised I had to persevere: for my students who now see the world differently, and the students who never got the chance to. The story and characters are fictional, but they are inspired by the incredible teenagers I've had the privilege to know. I continue working at the hospital part time.

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

AJ: I've been a SCBWI member since the start of 2009 (when I started writing Zac & Mia). I'd already had one novel published, and another was in the editing stages. I'm so glad I joined! What a comfort it is to meet like-minded people. The SCBWI community in Western Australia is vibrant and supportive. There are so many talented authors and illustrators, and we often meet to collaborate, workshop, or discuss the industry and each other's successes. I've been fortunate to make friends with some incredibly gifted and generous creators. It makes my solitary lifestyle feel less isolated.

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

AJ: My advice is to link up with other creators. For some, you might want the chance to workshop, but for others (like me), having the emotional and professional support is enough. It's nice to know there are others backing you. Be involved in the wider community - sign up to your regional writing association's newsletters, participate in seminars, and attend launches. Of course, don't forget to hone your craft, through consuming (keep reading! read ten times as much as you write!), experimentation and practice. Never submit work that's not your best. If you're not sure what your best is, it's not ready yet. Being a creator for children is such a privilege, but it's hard work. We have to earn that privilege. We have to take our work seriously because it matters. I regularly receive emails from readers who thank me for Zac & Mia, and it's a powerful reminder of the importance of stories in young people's lives.

Thanks, AJ!

I also contacted Frané Lessac, SCBWI Western Australia's Regional Advisor, to find out more about AJ's win and about their region...

Our chapter began one sunny day in 2002 when a handful of children/book creators gathered for a picnic on the grass at a local arts centre. Today, we have nearly 150 members across Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Our membership is diverse and far-flung, reflecting the geographical area our region covers, which takes in some 4 million km2. We have members in the Northern Territory's "Top End", the goldfields of Kalgoorlie, and the rugged southwest of WA. Some members drive over 400km to attend meetings.

We hold regular gatherings, including our famous annual Rottnest Island Retreat, and our activities offer a balance of the social and the professional, ranging from informal exchanges and networking to formal professional development opportunities with publishers and editors flown in from the eastern states. We're a lively, supportive bunch who enjoys nothing more than seeing members grow and develop their creative and professional practice.

At that first gathering back in 2002, the discussion topic was Transmitting from the New Frontier (besides sending your manuscript on a Voyager Spacecraft). Nearly fifteen years later, the rise of our talented authors and illustrators suggests that we have well and truly learned how to transmit from this western frontier. Our region has now won three Crystal Kite Awards since inception!

A.J. (Amanda) Betts is one of our fabulous success stories. Her Crystal Kite award-winning book, Zac and Mia, has presently sold into nine countries and is taking the world by storm. Amanda is a selfless dedicated SCBWI Australia West member with a vibrant personality who we all absolutely adore. We’re so proud of her success!

Thanks AJ and Frané, and cheers to AJ on ZAC AND MIA winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

To learn more about AJ and her books, check out her website here.

And to find out more about SCBWI Australia West, visit their homepage here.

Illustrate and Write On,

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