SIGNIFICANT CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
- Ambassador for the USQ Writing Competition: ‘Get Writing’
- Finalist Strong Women Awards QRRRWN 2012
- Finalist Outstanding Contribution to Cultural Heritage Condamine Alliance 2012
- GOLD IPPY Award – Best Non-Fiction Adult eBook Child Writes: Creating Children’s Picture Books is Child’s Play
- IndiePENdents Seal of Endorsement ‘Meeting Standards of Good Writing’ Child Writes: Creating Children’s Picture Books is Child’s Play
- GOLD IPPY Award – Best Children’s Picture eBook Imagine
- GOLD MOONBEAM Award – Best Children’s Illustrated eBook Imagine
Emma Mactaggart… Who?
It is lovely to have your attention for a moment!
I am the Founder and Creative Director at Boogie Books – a small press publisher with a purpose! I was the creator and driver of the Child Writes programme, which is fully supported by Boogie Books.
‘The difference between men and animals is that men tell stories’ (source unknown.)
Christopher Booker in his definitive work Seven Plots: Why We Tell Stories, says ‘stories take place in the human imagination round certain archetypal patterns and images which are the common property of mankind.’
Combine our instinctive understanding stories AND the wonderful tapestry that is illustration with that story and you can see why children’s picture books are magical!
I am sure you have experienced first hand joy of a melodically worded and visually balanced picture.
It is with a picture book that I personally feel a state of contentment and more often than not, I believe the perfect ones are those written AND illustrated by the same person.
So I guess you get my angle! I am a sucker for picture books!
I am fortunate now to work with picture books all the time, albeit it was a less than salubrious start to my career as a writer, an illustrator, a publisher and a teacher.
You see, I started writing when I got the sack… True. I had finished a marketing degree and was relishing being involved with a business in its growth stage. I worked with my husband, and whilst he was delighted I was interested, I had taken the marketing planning as far as I could given my very limited real-world experience.
My husband fired me (I was manning the reception and kept commenting on how many chocolate biscuits he seemed to be eating!) His redundancy package was he encouraged me to keep the baby-sitter (I thought it was more as a safety measure - in case the new employee who was replacing me didn’t work out! I call that an ‘each-way’ bet, but I digress…)
I didn’t to anything ‘practical’ with my newly realised available time. I didn’t do anything social. I just wanted to have some fun and I was inspired to paint! Besides, why commit to something when it possibly could have been only short term?
Little did I realise that the next stage in my life was to span from then until now. So much for short term!
With one of my favourite photos of my family in hand, I purchased a canvas and on my first ‘babysitter’ day, I roughed out the portrait of David with our three daughters. I was so immensely proud of it, but there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t ever finish it.
Firstly, It was too hard to be at home, when the babysitter was there, behind a closed door, listening to my children laugh and cry, have a tantrum and then not potter around when the house descended into that blissful silence that comes with the children’s afternoon sleep!
Secondly, it was too hard to move the canvas. I had used pastels, the most uselessly beautifully fragile medium and one sneeze and it all could disappear!
Finally, my second daughter was reticent about school and I had earlier written a list of things to remind her ‘how’ she was actually a big girl and big girls went to school. She quickly tired of the list, so I took some photos, printed them on the little black and white printer at home and wrote sentences under each. I clipped it together and when Dave, that night, asked how our day was, I replied ‘I have written a book!’
Back to my inner-artist and I used my next ‘babysitting day’ to turn the photos into hand-drawn illustrations. It took weeks. Fortunately, the new marketing employee at work proved to be an absolute dynamo and I now had all the time in the world, yet I worked like crazy because I wasn’t sure when the rug would be pulled on the babysitting deal.
When I look back now, I started writing because I started painting.
I muddled through the process of setting up the book and finding a printer and launching it – I was too impatient to even try and find someone else to publish the book and I started Boogie Books, a small press publishe in the same year.
I Can Do Anything was released in 2003.
I loved the experience of creating a picture book so much and I was amazed it was so ‘doable’ I was determined to write and illustrate another the following year.
Lily Fabourama Glamourama was released in 2004.
Through a friend, I donated a copy of my first book to a fundraiser for NAPCAN – the National Association of Child Abuse and Neglect. My relationship with NAPCAN started when I showed them Lily as a work in progress and they loved the positive parenting message in my second book. We included NAPCAN information and the organisation’s logo on the inside back cover and now I had a real reason to beat the drum for this book.
It was during this same time, a group of five of us formed a working party here in Toowoomba with the single objective of demonstrating the potential of community support for NAPCAN and lobbying the state government for funding for a project worker to be based here. I then read the NAPCAN commissioned paper, ‘Towards a Better Future’ which linked the simple fact that a community that listens to its children values its children and therefore keeps them safe.
I was completely hooked.
We created many opportunities for children’s voices to be heard – art competitions and exhibitions, short stories (written by the bigger kids) which were exhibited in the form of an anthology, ‘Hello Baby!’ welcoming the first baby born in Child Protection Week.
We raised money, we raised awareness, we created platforms and we handed our children a mega phone.
At this stage, I was determined to write a picture book each year, but my girls (age 2, 4 and 6) ‘had a meeting’ and informed me I wasn’t allowed to because ‘it took me away from them.’ I could have cried. I am sure I did! As I was working on the book, I couldn’t see how consuming the whole project was, and it took a delegation and a statement like that to force me to take stock of my priorities. I was also renovating at home, sinking into depression. My brother came to live with us to ‘help’ and it was during this dark time I wrote a short story called ‘Sam, I am’. I entered into a competition, a first for me. It won and it was published in a collection of short stories called ‘Time Will Tell’. Amazing. I was now a published and a self published author – and both felt great in equal measure. I had a fabulous session with a psychologist (who happened to be a yoga master) and when I described my days, her advise was ‘look for help from those around you’ and she taught me how to make eye contact again with those I care about, and to ask for help.
This simple act of asking for help was one of the keys to getting out of that hole! I changed my expectations, slowed down a tad, and I was able to ‘see’ opportunities, which arguably, were staring me in the face all along…
By way of compromising – after this, when our children were still little, I wrote when they were asleep and gradually, one by one, they started school. I have folders of picture books busting to be finished … too many in fact for me at the moment – so I have just recently worked with an amazing illustrator, Ester de Boer and she has finished one book for me and ‘Imagine it’ will be released soon. (Ironically, the incredibly talented graphic designer I work with is in the same spot I was ten years ago – with a very, very busy life!) I presented for free at a librarians seminar (and was completely hopeless) but I learnt a huge amount and was kept ‘working’ by my now patron Jan Watkins, never paid, yet paid-in-full by her unflinching support.
I was so lucky, after publishing my second book, to be invited to be a literacy champion at the Middle Ridge State School. I did a speech (everyone could see how terribly nervous I was!) and then read my books to the children in the lower primary classes. It was fun. I loved doing the ‘author’ visit.
I wanted to run a workshop, a few days where we would focus on the craft of writing and illustrating children’s picture books. We did. It worked. The workshops extended from the proposed three weeks to eight; the children wrote and illustrated their own picture books; the last money in the P&F can was drained and committed to printing book covers. My husband’s work photocopier ran hot as we printed the guts of the book... The logistics were a pleasure – simply because the whole thing worked.
Imagine how wonderful it was to run the workshops again the following year (and the next and the next!), with a little more experience and a little more planning each time. The output each time was incredible. The seed was sown!
I badly wanted to increase the volume of the children’s voices beyond the printed page. I knew the technology was evolving for what we describe quite nonchalantly these days as eBooks. Five years ago, I discovered a file conversion program allowing me to change PDF files to flip books (think online catalogues) and PDF versions of the children’s books is how I communicate with the printer at USQ Printing Services. I was looking on-line for a pair of black leather books (true) and I discovered ‘Alibaba’. If you haven’t looked at this behemoth search engines, you must! It is the biggest search engine in China and you can find manufacturers of anything! It sparked an idea and eventually, after much toing and froing, I managed to create a custom built USB (hold up USB!) which supports a number of books, my stocking fillers, specifically for grandparents as they still want to read to their grandchildren, but appear to be moderately groovy and technologically with it.
When we started, I couldn’t have forecast the impact the iPad, the ‘i’ anything, is having on the reading landscape, therefore the potential for sharing the voices of the children, but it is exactly what I needed to hand the authors their megaphone. I had been working with iAuthor which allows me to connect directly with the iTunes store. I just haven’t cracked that yet. Still, there are always other options out there, and I have just cracked ‘how’ to do a fix-layout page eBook and therefore load it onto Amazon.
The great news is with the Child Writes library (and a month or so of work!) we are now the largest publishers on Amazon of children’s books written by children in the world.
I may be sounding greedy now, but this may well be just the beginning!
My vision for the books Child Writes authors create in the future is not only their stories and their illustrations, but also, I imagine those eBooks also having a video of the author, comfortably in the big red chair belonging to the upholsterer on James Street, reading their story… or a video they have taken of their homes or their schools, of insights from their world, sharing more than the pages.
I have added this to my to-do list!
Of course, no-one can manage a ‘to-do’ list without support.
Boogie Books and Child Writes has support. Not only in terms of program material and trained tutors, but from external forces. From passionate literacy advocates who have been strapped in for the ride from the beginning, like teachers Jill Temple and Jan Watkins who are incredible patrons of Child Writes to a patient family. Financial support in the form of bursaries for students who haven’t the means to participate in the workshops have been raised by teachers; businesses have printed additional copies of books and donated them to locations beyond Toowoomba.
Child Writes also has the support of Jetstar as they have at least twenty books each month as part of their inflight entertainment offering available on the iPads and they have done so for nearly five years.
There has been room for other endeavours and I also managed to work on lots of other wonderful projects between my second picture book and what will this year, become my third.
I have written a cookbook, and been the ghost-writer for a friend writing an homage to her children before she died. I set up an anthology of short stories, one for Child Protection Week, another for a group of adult writers in a writers group I founded. I also wrote as a columnist for various magazines in Toowoomba as they came and went within the competitive marketplace.
I also have had my share of diabolically outrageous failures! I am more than willing to share, another time, if only you ask… Your cues are ‘Melbourne Cup Lunch’ or CYA Conference or Sydney Story Factory… Three is enough for anyone to admit to!
Suffice it to say, I now believe the classroom with a group of 15 to 20 children over one of the safest places in the world!
I wrote ‘Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play’ in 2010, edited in 2011 and worked on the layout the throughout the following year, finally released it in 2012. It underpins the program and is the result of the process of teaching children to write and illustrate their own book being formalised and finessed a little more each year. This title also received an seal of support from IndiePENdents.org in 2014. It forms the fundamental basis of our online training program for adults to walk themselves through the process of creating a picture book.
Unlike ‘that Melbourne Cup Lunch’, things do go my way…
I submitted the Child Writes book into an international competition and WON a Gold Medal for Best Adult Non-Fiction eBook and just had to go and collect my award in New York!
I have a monthly radio interview with Belinda Sanders on ABC South East Queensland as her book reviewer.
In 2014 I was invited to facilitate a three-day ‘power’ workshop where 13 children wrote and illustrated one picture book for the Condamine Alliance. ‘Finnley’s Adventure’ has the necessary backstory of trying to preventing the pest fish, Tilapia finding its way in the Murray Darling Basin and I was nominated for a Community Heritage Award.
I backed a writing competition for the Qld Regional Rural and Remote Women’s Network, by way of a ‘thank you’ after being nominated and then a Finalist for their Strong Women in Leadership awards.
I fulfilled a very long-term dream of presenting at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in 2012, and I had the chance to chair as a session at the Emerging Writers Festival in 2013. It was a practice run for being a panelist at the local Bookcase Festival in 2015. I like this role very much!
I managed to secure another GOLD Ippy for Imagine and went to New York again this year and I watched from afar as illustrations from the same book were included in an exhibition in Singapore during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I am represented by Speaker Ink and my books are distributed by the Australian Book Group. I am a member of the Small Press Network, affiliated with the Australian Booksellers Association.
Just as Emma Mactaggart and Boogie Books have evolved, Child Writes has too. The National Child Writes Competition was launched for the first time in 2013 and we had hundreds of entries in both the illustration and the writing categories from nearly every state and territory in Australia… and an author from Charters Towers School of Air worked with an illustrator from Sydney’s northern beaches on a collaborative project and Boogie Books published ‘The Lost Calf’ in 2014. The 2014 Competition and another talented illustrator for Sydney is working with an amazing writer from Melbourne and their book ‘Mitten’ will be published later this year. The 2015 Competition is open until September and we are positive we will discover more amazing talent from the Australian landscape.
And best yet, each year, there is another batch of children, somewhere, happily awaiting to be cajoled and scaffolded through the entire process of creating a children’s picture book. From the various tools used to formulate an idea; through the stages of writing to using professional planning tools for the illustrations, all the way through to a book launch and beyond!
All children, as they finish the program are published authors. All the children have a voice. Actually, they have the best microphone available. A megaphone really, as they are now recognised story tellers and influencing how our society operates, ironing out those disruptions caused by our egos with their steady guidance.
What fascinates me about their stories is children simply ask to be safe, safe at home, safe in the playground, safe in the classroom. When they are safe, they can get on with the fundamentals of being a kid and that is loving and learning.
I was fortunate years ago, to discover, at the behest of one of my children’s teachers, an organisation called the Pyjama Foundation. I was involved for five years. It creates relationships between foster children and their dedicated reader. Once a week, during term time, an ‘Angel’ reads to a child. These children have often had troubled journeys and have certainly not had a voice. The little girl I read to for five years was passionate about one book, which has the simplest language, the simplest illustrations. It merely recounts a little animal’s day as it gets up and showers, eats breakfast, cleans its teeth, brushes its hair, and has a hug.
‘For you are happy, clean and fed; now for goodness sake, go and have a great day, it is not time yet to go back to bed!’
It is not Children’s Book Council material, certainly. But it was still her favourite.
This experience I recount to the participants of Child Writes, because although their story may not rival the Harry Potter series, it certainly will make a difference in one person’s life! It is a privilege to be able to do this.
In order to be able to actually do this, on the practical side, the children participate in over 30 hours of workshop time. They spend the entire September holidays working on their illustrations and have to battle the tyranny of the ever-looming deadlines. Some will have turned over their text more than ten times; others will have drawn and redrawn their characters until they can draw them in their sleep. All of them want to drop out at some point – all of them are intensely proud of what they have achieved.
Each is a bona-fide member of the Child Writes 100 Club, recognizing their incredible commitment of over 100 hours to become a published author. They find this time after school hours, after sporting commitments, after extra-curricular activities.
And with those 350 plus titles? The minimum print run is 10 books. This means there are over 140,000 pages created by children, are out there, in schools, libraries and homes around the country.
Child Writes exists because it works. Boogie Books exists because it has Child Writes back!
I knew it was going to work because it did exactly what the Towards a Better Future paper suggested. It gave children a voice, in a medium they knew instinctively, treasured and felt comfortable with.
Mem Fox says, ““The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”
The process the children have experienced first hand, just as I had, was that creating a children’s picture book is akin to discovering something magical. Sometimes, for many, it is a ‘something’ they possibly didn’t realise was theirs to discover!
The Boogie Books /Child Writes story therefore is one of discovering those hidden gems. It is the same role I believe we have as parents, as teachers, as siblings, as advocates, as members of a cohesive community.
I firmly believe when you recognize the achievements of others, you also recognise the potential of greatness within yourself.
What I do know, more than anything, is this next ten years is going to be fun!