IN CONVERSATION WITH DR GAIL CROSSLEY-CRAVEN
Written by Jackie Smith
Newly published author Dr Gail Crossley-Craven talks about her children’s book, Poppy’s Walk, writing, and life’s lessons.
• Is Poppy’s Walk your first book?
Poppy’s Walk is my first book. I have written courses and articles that are work-related but never a book.
• What’s the book about?
Set on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, Poppy is going to visit her uncle. She is enjoying the experience of being with her family when something happens to threaten the walk. This is a story about family love, an appreciation of nature, confronting fear and the wonderful relationship a child shares with her grandparents.
• What inspired you to write the book?
The concept for Poppy’s Walk is a culmination of my personal reflections, likes and fears. Growing up, I have spent many memorable holidays on the Sunshine Coast at the family beach house built by my father. I have very fond memories of my childhood experiences in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast where I took long walks with my grandfather. We would sit under grevillea and tea trees, eat red and green frog lollies, and philosophise about life. My grandfather would tell me stories of the past. As we walked along the banksia lined track, we would pretend we were explorers encountering scary and exciting adventures along the way. Even now, when I see and smell the banksia and grevillea trees, it takes me right back to that time to recall those vivid and precious memories.
• How did the story come about?
My grandparents had a huge impact on my life. I have observed and learnt (and still am learning) from the loving way my parents embraced their grandparent role and the connectedness that continues from one generation to another. My four children enjoyed playing in the bush land of our family home and our grandchildren share that same joy. The invaluable experiences my husband and I have shared with our grandchildren are so precious as life can change at any moment. Our lives are narratives with ongoing chapters.
I embrace life’s lessons and cherish the importance and connection with my family. “Everything happens for a reason” is a common saying of mine and I firmly believe it. I always look for the positive in a situation and the lessons to be learnt. I am a perpetual student of life.
• What’s your target audience?
Poppy’s Walk is an illustrated children’s book that is suitable for male and female children aged 2 years to 13 years. Teachers and parents will welcome the educationally-based activities while grandparents will relish a book to which they can typically relate and enjoy reading to their grandchildren. There really is something for everyone.
• What do you want people to get out of reading Poppy’s Walk?
I wanted to connect with people in a way that they could relate. Aside from the delightful illustrated story with soulful messages, Poppy’s Walk has over 95 educationally-based differentiated activities relating to the story. This book is a valuable learning tool spanning across all areas of the curriculum; I wish I had this book when I was teaching. Having a PhD and a Masters degree in Education, I could not have published a book that wasn’t educationally advantageous.
• When did you start writing Poppy’s Walk?
I really think I have been writing Poppy’s Walk in my mind since I was a little girl. I actually started writing the story at the beginning of this year then wrote the educational activities after the story was completed.
• How does your book compare to other children’s books in stores at the moment?
Since the inception of Poppy’s Walk, I firmly believed there was nothing in the bookstores like it. Now my book is published, professional authors, experienced teachers and publishers have made the following comments; “You have nailed it”, “There is nothing out there like it”, “Playful story and solid educational activities”, “It connected with me instantly”, “Poppy’s Walk has captured the essence and joy of childhood and relationships with strong messages from which to learn” and “it will be a useful teaching material for our ESL students as it’s an illustrated book with many activities”.
• You run CC Education and Business Services. Can you tell me a bit about that?
CC Education & Business Services (www.drcc.com.au) is a small business that is owned and managed by me. It helps people change their lives for the better whether they are in a business, a relationship or in a learning environment. I provide quality educational services in a non-threatening learning environment. These services include tutoring, editing & proofreading, educating & training, counselling, coaching and courses. I really love my work.
• How do you find time to write?
In the scheme of things, life is very short so I like to achieve specific goals throughout my life. Writing is one of those goals. I don’t put pressure on myself to write; it is something I make time for as it gives me pleasure, hopefully helps others and leaves a legacy.
• Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what’s your cure?
I definitely believe in writer’s block. I started a non-fiction book two years ago, have written 40 000 words and now I am stuck. My cure? Take it on a holiday to finish it, put it away and revisit it later to see if it is worthy of finishing, or perhaps a pot of tea and peaceful surroundings can cure writer’s block.
• You published through Xlibris. What did that involve?
Being an unknown children’s author, there are many limitations. Some publishers do not publish that genre and others do not look at authors who are not already published. After approaching twelve publishers and speaking to several authors, I took their advice and published through Xlibris. It is a Penguin Random House Company that assists authors to self publish. After the initial decision, it is a matter of deciding how much you want Xlibris to assist as some of their services could be costly. I needed their legalities, copywriting and printing assistance.
• What were some of the highlights / lowlights of the publishing process?
When I made the decision to publish, there was a motivational rush. The real highlight was when I first saw the final version of Poppy’s Walk; I shed a tear as I did when I was told “congratulations it’s published”. The lowlight of the publishing process was when I saw the first version of my book as it was not as I wanted. I was always very clear in my mind on what I had envisaged Poppy’s Walk to look like so it had to be right! My submissions representative was very accommodating and willingly assisted me with any concerns.
• What tips would you give aspiring authors?
Never lose sight of what you want to do regardless of what it is. Write down your ideas so that they become real and not just aimless thoughts; you will be more inclined to continue your writing. As part of my business, I conduct how to write children’s books workshops for children as well as adults. Authors can be any age.
• Where’s your favourite place to write?
My favourite place to write is at the back of my home under a pergola where I look out to the bushland and where my children played when they were young – so many lovely memories. If it is too chilly there, I write in my “Zen Room” (as I call it) which my son built for me as it has the same outlook. I adore the peace of the bushland as it grounds me.
• Do you have any particular writing rituals?
My ritual for writing is having a fresh pot of loose-leafed tea and white cup. The smell and taste of the tea is homely and comforting to me.
• Do you have any favourite childhood authors or books? Why those particular ones?
My old favourite childhood book is Smoke and Fluff, which is a Ladybird Book about a mother cat and her two kittens who are mischief makers. However, their mother teaches them right from wrong and has such unconditional love for them. I think the book has so many relevant lessons to parenting. I have read this same book to my three daughters and son, and my grandchildren. Biographies have always interested me as I think we learn from each other’s lives.
• If you could invite three people from history to dinner, who would be on the guest list and why?
The three people from history would be Mother Teresa for her compassion and love of children, May Gibbs for her gentle way of writing and illustrating children’s books, and Elizabeth Browning as I adore her poem, How Do I Love Thee. I would believe we would all connect with care for others and share wonderful words.
However, I would really love the opportunity to invite my three grandparents, whom I knew, to have dinner with my parents, my husband and I, my four children with their husbands/life partners and my grandchildren. It would be wonderful for them to meet each other, have eloquent conversations, laugh and create meaningful memories.
• Do you have any more books planned?
Yes, it has been suggested that Poppy’s Walk should be the first of a series of four books. I have a couple of outlines forming for other books about Poppy. Perhaps the ABC or Disney will run with it!
• Where can people buy Poppy’s Walk?
People can purchase Poppy’s Walk directly from me for $20 (heavily discounted) and signed copies by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning me on 0419 764796. I also offer fundraising opportunities. I am a registered and experienced teacher who is available for: book talks, literary events, ‘meet the author’ events, book week events, all year levels writing workshops (Prep – adult), key-note speaking, presentations, seminars, and judging students’ writing competitions.
Alternatively, books can be ordered through Xlibris LLC, Ph: 1800 455039; www.xlibris.com.au; Orders@Xlibris.com.au. The books are planned to be available at Mary Ryan Book Stores. (ISBN: Softcover 978-1-4990-2125-7; EBook 978-1-4990-2130-1)