I am thrilled to host fellow Wombat Books author, Aleesah Darlison on her blog tour for the release of her unique picture book Zoo Ball, also published by Wombat books.
I first met Aleesah at my CBCA sub-branch where she was a friendly and welcoming face when I was just dipping my toe into the kid's lit arena. It wasn't long before I realised that Aleesah is a dynamo! Prolific author, starting up writer's groups, organising festivals, speaking at schools, running workshops. If it is worth doing, Aleesah is doing it! I attended one of her workshops and it transformed my online presence - this website was the outcome! Although Aleesah has since moved states she still seems to be everywhere and doing everything! So welcome, Aleesah...
So let's get the nuts and bolts out of the way first - How many books have you published?
As of my latest picture book release, Zoo Ball, I’ve published thirty books for children and young adults.
So you must love writing! What is it you enjoy most about writing?
Being able to explore characters and ideas. Being able to share my stories. Creating a story from nothing, from blank air, from that hollow space inside your mind, and seeing it brought to life as a tangible object. Getting lost in the worlds I create. Seeing my story improve after a thousand rewrites. Having children and parents tell me that they loved one of my books, that it made a difference to them, that it was the first they took to their heart and couldn’t put down. There’s nothing sweeter.
How did you get your start in children’s publishing?
I’ve worked with a number of publishers and quite a lot of my first books for each of them were picked up through what’s affectionately known as the ‘slush pile’.
As a multi-published author do you still get rejections?
Absolutely. All the time. Once you have a relationship with a publisher and they’re familiar with your work, you can usually submit directly to them (or through your agent if you have one). This still doesn’t guarantee publication, however. I receive loads of rejections. I write a lot. I submit a lot. And not always to my current publishers or publishers in Australia. There are always new markets to explore and always new rejections to receive!
How do you handle those rejections?
It’s not easy. Sometimes when you’re completely and utterly in love with a project and everyone knocks it back it can be deflating. But after a while, you learn to pick yourself up and carry on. If your manuscript doesn’t find a home straight away, it might still get picked up. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing. Sometimes it’s a matter of a comprehensive edit before submitting elsewhere.
What do you attribute your success to?
Hard work, determination, persistence, a little luck and probably a good imagination to be able to keep coming up with story ideas.
What’s your favourite thing about writing picture books?
There are so many wonderful things to be said for writing picture books. I have young children, so I get many of my ideas from their lives and experiences and the funny things they do. The shorter format of the picture book also works well for me in terms of developing a storyline and being able to work on it on the go while I’m trying to do a million other things at the time (or so it seems). But probably the most wonderful thing about creating a picture book is that you do it as a team – with editor, publisher and illustrator all involved. Plus, once the project is complete you have a beautiful work of art that has been brought to life right before your eyes. The colours, the drawings, all of it, allow your plain old black-and-white text to come to life visually for everyone to enjoy.
Tell us a little bit about Zoo Ball.
The story is about a boy called Ned who takes his bouncy ball to the zoo then promptly loses it. As the ball bounces from animal to animal, they all get in the action, having fun playing with the ball and throwing it to each other. It’s a very funny, rhyming story. Not only does the text allow for humour and variety in the description of the action, each scene allows for great variety in what’s happening on the page, as does the varied illustration style.
Zoo Ball is a very unique picture book because it’s illustrated by entirely by Australian school children. Twenty-three of them! When you open a regular picture book, you’ll see that each page has the same style of drawing because it’s the one illustrator doing all the work. But with Zoo Ball, each page is a new discovery because it’s illustrated by a different child.
I’ve seen people open up the book and look at each page in wonder. These child illustrators are extremely talented and brought so much to the book. The book prompts loads of discussion about the illustrations and who the reader thinks is their personal favourite. In this way, the book is very thought-provoking, interactive and engaging.
Where did the concept for Zoo Ball originate?
The Wombat Books Illustration Challenge was established to provide aspiring young illustrators with the opportunity to be published in a professionally produced children’s book and gain an introduction into the world of illustrating.
The publisher asked me to come up with a title, concept and story. It really was quite amazing how quickly the concept and the story came together. Authors understand that sometimes stories just flow. And sometimes they have to be worked on. This time, the story flowed for me, so that was great.
Once I’d written the text for Zoo Ball, it was then up to children to enter the Challenge by sending in a drawing of one of the scenes from the book. Winning illustrators were chosen for each page and the most outstanding illustrator, Alyssa Teoh, was given the opportunity to design the cover.
Will Wombat Books be running the Illustration Challenge again?
The project has been very successful and I’ve loved being involved in the whole process. I’m just now travelling around the country launching books with all of the child illustrators. Feedback so far has been extremely positive, so, yes, we are hoping to run the Illustration Challenge again. All I have to do now is come up with a new story!
And, finally, do you have other picture book projects you’re working on with Wombat Books at the moment?
I certainly do. I’m currently awaiting draft illustrations for a new picture book to be released in November called Fox and Moonbeam. The story is set in Victorian England and Gerard Fox is a lowly servant in the Queen’s palace while Claudia Moonbeam is a beautiful and famous ballerina – who also happens to be a white rabbit. It’s quite a romantic story and I think the historical setting will lend itself to some rather enchanting illustrations.
I love how varied your writing is - I'll be sure to keep my eye out for that one!
Thanks for your time, Aleesah.
Thanks for having me and happy reading!
And for those who would like to know more about Aleesah, here's a low-down:
Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning Australian children’s author who writes picture books, chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, friendship, teamwork and environmental themes. In 2015, she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction) for her picture book, Our Class Tiger. In 2012, she was shortlisted for the same award for her picture book, Warambi.
Since commencing her writing journey six years ago, Aleesah has written over thirty-five books including Zoo Ball, Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine, Awesome Animal Stories for Kids, the Netball Gems Series, the Unicorn Riders Series, the Totally Twins Series, Ash Rover: Keeper of the Phoenix, Little Good Wolf, Puggle’s Problem, Little Meerkat, Spidery Iggy, and Mama and Hug.
Travelling throughout Australia and overseas, Aleesah delivers talks and workshops to children and adults at preschools, schools, libraries, bookstores, literary festivals and writers’ centres. She is currently Director of the NSW Writers’ Centre Kids and YA Literary Festival. When Aleesah isn’t creating entertaining and enchanting stories, she’s usually looking after her four very energetic and imaginative children.
For information about Aleesah, visit her website at:
or check her out on Facebook:
To purchase copies of Zoo Ball, visit the Wombat Books website: