My first foray into the world of Kid Lit as an aspiring author was at the Sunshine Writers Retreat where I got to meet real live authors with many years of experiences and many titles under their belt. The excitement was indescribable. But I dare say that it was just as exciting to meet, in our midst, emerging authors - hard-working dreamers who had finally, and just recently, landed that golden publishing contract.
Laura Wallbridge, author of "Elliot's Rainbow Heart", was one of those inspiring individuals. This amazingly colourful book is stunningly illustrated by Ben Clifford and published by Empowering Resources. Soon after the retreat concluded, we cheered in unison as the first copies of her debut book started to arrive at doorsteps and in bookstores. She shares her own story here.
Tell us about your first picture book, Elliott's Rainbow Heart. What inspired you to write it?
Elliott’s Rainbow Heart follows the journey of a chameleon who only likes to eat blue things. When there are no blue things to be found in the rainforest, Elliott goes exploring. After a chance encounter with a beautiful creature Elliott goes on a quest for something different, something strange, something rainbow!
I’d had an idea about a story of a chameleon trying to find it colours rolling around in my mind for some time. I, like most parents of younger children, had challenges getting my kids to try new foods and when dinner time came around I would try to tell a back story about the meal in an effort to get them to give new foods a try. Somehow the ideas converged and this story was the result.
What is the message in this story? What would you like children to take away from this book?
This story is all about empowering children to face the uncertainty and give new things a try. The uncertainty around new experiences, especially flavours, can be quite overwhelming for young children. I initially began with a focus on foods, but as I wrote the story it grew to encompass general sensory perception processes outside of just taste. New smells and textures and things like that. I am hoping that Elliott’s experiences will allow kids to consider giving some new experiences a try. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like it — and that is really not so bad!
How did you get started in writing picture books?
I’ve always loved writing and after I had my own children, the desire to write picture books became much stronger. The “turning point” for me was after my Grandma passed away. She was a big influence on my love of books, growing up she took me to the library a lot, introduced me to audio books and encouraged a love of reading and imagination in general. She left me a modest amount of money and it seemed very fitting to me to use this money to do a course with the Australian Writers Centre.
I did the picture book writing course with Cathy Tasker, and the first draft of Elliott’s Rainbow Heart was written whilst I completed the course. After that I did a few short courses with the Victorian Writers Centre and continued to work on the manuscript until I was confident it was ready to be shared.
Do you have any kooky habits / superstitions / rituals when you write?
Not really! But I have found whenever I jump on a plane anywhere I am overcome with creativity…a fantastic excuse to travel more perhaps?
What did books mean to you as a child? Which ones were your favourites?
Books were an escape for me. A refuge from sadness at times. My father passed away when I was quite young and I loved the possibilities that books held. The imagination that is encourages.
Like most people my age I adored Enid Blyton. I have very fond memories of the Golden Books (although admittedly I have not enjoyed them as much in my adulthood). The Wind in the Willows were another favourite!
As I got older I enjoyed Roahl Dahl, Paul Jennings, John Marsden, Judy Blume, Robin Klein and The Babysitters Club series.
What are your influences and sources of inspiration?
My children are a huge influence on how I see the world in general, and unintentionally, they make their way in to all the books I work on.
Nature and being outdoors seems to spur the creative process for me too. Natural beauty, human interaction and my life experiences are probably my biggest influences.
Who are your favourite authors?
These day I most enjoy the picture books that my kids enjoy. Their favourites are Andy Griffith, Aaron Blabey. Nick Bland and Julia Donaldson.
My nearly-5-year-old son got Andy Lee’s Do Not Open This Book for Christmas and we have read it once a day since.
Wendy Hamer’s Pearly the Park Fairy series is my 6-year-old daughter's current favourites.
Mr. 9 is all about ‘choose your own adventure’ titles of any description at the moment.
Do you feel like a bit of a chameleon in your own life? In what way?
Yes, absolutely. I think in today's busy society we are all chameleons to a certain extent. I wear so many hats on a daily basis - Mother, friend, co-worker, gym buddy, author…the list goes on. I love meeting new people from all walks of life and I think we pick up a lot of our behavioural cues from non-verbal communication. Most of us adjust our behaviour somewhat depending on our company and environment, I think we all have some traits of a chameleon.
Do you have any other books in the works?
I have around 8 I am working on! I need to knuckle down and re-draft, polish and finish a couple. That is the problem, too many ideas and not enough time. I think finishing a story is the hardest part.
What do you do when you're not writing or promoting your books?
Outside of looking after my three gorgeous children I work as an office manager for a company that runs music lessons in primary schools. I am a publicist by trade, and still enjoy taking on some freelance projects in that area. Other than that you can catch me at live music, on the dance floor, at the gym, at the beach or grabbing coffee on a regular basis or out and about enjoying whatever events or locations take my fancy in that moment.