The Official Bit – My Biography

Emma Bowd – Author

Emma is an internationally published (Bloomsbury, UK) and award-winning Australian author of books for adults and children; an experienced presenter; and a passionate literacy advocate in disadvantaged communities as an ‘Ambassador’ and ‘Writer in Residence’ for the children’s education charity, Ardoch.

Emma’s love of language, fashion, family life and contemporary culture has seen her write fun, feel-good adventures which showcase traditional themes for modern audiences.

Her debut rhyming children’s picture book, Wonderful Shoes (illustrated by Tania McCartney, Windy Hollow Books, 2021) was awarded a CBCA Notable Book (Early Childhood, 2022); named in a prestigious list of Best Rhyming Books for Little Ones (Children’s Books Daily, 2021); and featured on Play School Story Time (Series 5, ABC Kids TV, 2022)

Her next rhyming children’s picture books will be published by Affirm Press in 2023 and 2024.

Emma has lived in Asia and many parts of Australia, as well as spending 11 years in London – where she worked as an Occupational Therapist in diverse settings. She is an avid reader, maker, traveller and serial house renovator, and recently ran her own successful slow fashion business, DEED bags.

Emma lives in Naarm/Melbourne on Boonwurrung land with her family. An active participant in the Australian children’s literature community, she has been featured widely in local, national and international press; and was a guest author on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour when she lived in London. 

A little bit more about Emma and her writing, literacy advocacy and DEED bags social enterprise

Emma enjoys a happy creative life with a strong emphasis on giving back to the community.

Even though fashion, sewing, travelling and the environment have been lifelong passions of Emma’s, she pursued healthcare and corporate careers after graduating from the University of Queensland with a double degree in Science (psychology, biochemistry and chemistry) and Occupational Therapy (First Class Honours). After working in general medicine, neurology and paediatrics she specialized in industrial ergonomics and workplace healthcare – swapping her sling-backs for steel-capped boots and treading the factory floors at companies such as Ford Motor Company, General Motors Holden and Rover.

But it was complex report writing, and managing large healthcare teams in London for NHS Trusts and Insurance Companies, where she worked for eleven years, which ultimately sowed the seeds to her future writing career. And when she became a new mum in the early 2000s, she was both surprised and thrilled to find her creative-writing and fashion-loving interests come to the fore – resulting in the publication of her non-fiction and commercial fiction titles for adults with Ryland, Peters and Small (A Passion for Shoes; A Passion for Handbags) and Bloomsbury (The Shoe Princess’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Emma has been supporting Melbourne-based children’s education charity, Ardoch, since 2006. On the back of her extensive experience in running Classroom Story Writing Workshops in Melbourne Primary Schools, in 2016, Emma was invited by Ardoch to help establish their ‘Writer in Residence’ Program – which has since gone on to receive generous corporate funding and enable many published authors to be placed in schools each year, in communities of need. So far, in 2022, twelve ‘Writer in Residence’ Programs have been run by Ardoch. She is passionate about Early Childhood Education and getting quality childhood literature into the hands of as many young children as possible before they start school, and is an Ambassador for Ardoch and their annual School Readiness Book Drive.

Emma enjoys being an active member of the book community in Australia (SCBWI; CBCA; ASA; Writers Vic) and was invited to be an official blogger for the annual children’s literature conference, ‘KidLitVic Meet the Publishers’ in Melbourne (2019).

In 2017, Emma expanded her creative pursuits to follow her dream of starting her own slow fashion, environmentally responsible, social enterprise, DEED bags – where she designs and sews bespoke tote bags in a small sustainable studio; and gives back to charity via awareness raising campaigns and donations through every bag sold, along with regular social media fundraising auctions. 

And for something a bit more personal, an Author Q&A:

I thought I’d do a Q&A format, based upon what people have asked me at various events since I became a fully-fledged author – be it at a social function or a formal book event.

You’re always very welcome to write to me (author@emmabowd.com) with questions, but here’s a few to start things off:

Q: Is Emma Bowd your real name?

Yes. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked this! It has never occurred to me to write under a ‘nom de plume’. I figure that if you put blood, sweat and tears into a project, you may as well get some credit for it.  And trust me – blood, sweat and tears there will be aplenty on the road to publication.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  And how did you become a published author?

I’ve always loved writing. But I had not aspired to be a published author until I was in my 30’s.  Let me explain…

My earliest memory is about 4 years of age, sitting at my parents’ dining room table and filling in book after book with ‘pretend writing’ (rather dramatic attempts at cursive writing that had no semblance to the English language).  I loved the physical process of writing; the discipline and the solitude – I was an only child at the time. I also had a vivid imagination and had two imaginary friends (Johnny and Mary), a favourite book (‘Captain Kangaroo’) and a duck figurine which I used to drive my mother balmy with by following her around the house and making up a different story about ‘Dr Quack Quack’ every single day. Yes! Every. Single. Day. Quite good training for a future creative/writer 🙂

Throughout school and university I was a diligent and highly capable student, who focused more on the sciences – gaining a double degree from the University of Queensland in Science (psychology, biochemistry and chemistry) and Occupational Therapy – in which I gained First Class Honours. I loved every minute of writing a thesis – my writing reflecting my love of gathering large amounts of information and presenting measured opinions on topics. It was always grammatically sound and well structured, but never creative. Ever.

In my career as an Occupational Therapist, I ended up specializing in complex report writing for doctors, lawyers, businesses and insurance companies. I also held managerial positions where I wrote numerous business briefs and procedures manuals. My writing paid the bills. And it allowed me to live in London for eleven years on a decent wage. And to travel, and see and do amazing things in my time off … including indulging in my love of fine footwear and fashion (mainly during the Harrods sales!).

My perfect recipe for becoming a published author materialized after the very difficult birth of our first child, when forced post-birth homestay for a year quite literally made me stop and ‘smell the roses’ and see life through a very different lens.

And the ‘creative me’ emerged and blossomed again – all those years after ‘Dr Quack Quack’!

Enter left of stage:  Annabel – a fellow first-time mum at my West London Queen’s Park mothers’ group.  Annabel became my best-new-mum-friend and was also a senior editor for a gorgeous upmarket non-fiction publisher (Ryland Peters & Small) who covered topics like architecture, fashion, food and interiors. I’d never met anyone from this profession and found her utterly refreshing. I also had a house full of beautiful books, including multiple copies of a little shoe ‘gift book’ which had been given to me by well-meaning friends and family over the years. Surely, there was a gap in the market?

To cut this very long story short – the rest, as they say, is history. I pitched a one-pager to Annabel’s boss when he came over from New York for a ‘Shoe gift book’. He said yes, and would I like to do one on handbags to go with it. Yes please!

I had found a real love of creative writing. Who’d have thought? Certainly not me! I set aside my previous career (a big move), started calling myself a writer (a bigger move), and embarked upon writing a novel (a monumental move).

My husband worked and travelled all the hours on earth setting up a small tech start-up company, and I stayed at home writing the novel and raising our baby and then having another. Oh, and then moving house several times – including back to Melbourne, Australia.

How long did it take to get the novel published?  Now, that’s another story . . .

Q:  How long did it take to get your first novel, The Shoe Princess’s Guide to the Galaxy, published?

A long time! About six years from lightbulb moment sitting at my kitchen table (where most of my best ideas come to me) to being published by Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury UK, and on the bookshelf in Oxford St, London. And that thing I mentioned about blood, sweat and tears…times ten!

It would not have happened without the assistance of an amazing and talented editor, Marian Woolf, who taught me many valuable ‘tools of the trade’.  She was a hard task master (her nickname, she told me after our first meeting, amongst her authors was the ‘smiling assassin’).

It’s been said by many before, and I’ll say it again: all writing is re-writing.

The first thing Marian got me to do was re-write the first 20,000 words and cull at least three characters. ‘But I want my main character to have three sisters!’ I said. ‘Well, you can. But they must all add something different to the plot. At the moment, they’re all too similar.’ Argh.

So, yes, I had much to learn ‘on the job’ about the craft of writing.  And I (largely!) enjoyed every single minute of it.

Q:  What was your favourite part about writing your first novel? And what was the most difficult?

I love learning new things. So, without a doubt, the most exciting part for me was learning the ‘craft’ of writing a novel. Apart from writing a thesis at university, I had never before written a 70,000 word narrative – so I had a lot to learn. And not ever having done a creative writing course, it would be fair to say that I ‘ran before I walked’ and learnt much of my craft ‘on the job’ from my wonderful editor, Marian Woolf.

I like plot twists and planting them in the story. My editor, Marian, calls it ‘dotting and weaving’. You literally stand above your story and look at it from above. And then dot and weave your links throughout the story. I really enjoyed that.

As for the most difficult part, as any writer will attest, it’s writing the middle of the story. It’s relatively easy to start off in a blaze of enthusiasm and write the first few chapters, but it takes a lot more time, skill, planning and perseverance to weave together a narrative and keep it bobbing along with pace and interest to the finale – and I absolutely loved learning the ‘craft’ of writing and editing to achieve this. It was a hard slog, but also very enjoyable. I really don’t think it would be possible to write a book if you didn’t enjoy the process of writing and editing.

Q:  Why do you want to write for children? 

I genuinely adore the company of children and find them to be some of the most authentic, engaging and interesting humans on the planet. When my own two children started school, I conducted Story Writing Workshops in their respective schools, as my way of giving back to the school community. With the support and encouragement of teachers, these workshops soon blossomed into regular sessions, and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the children’s education and literature community in Australia – it really felt like I had found my ‘tribe’ and aligned beautifully with my background as an Occupational Therapist. I then decided to dedicate my writing energy into children’s literature.

I loved reading books as a child – both fiction and especially non-fiction; and I equally loved reading them to my own two children. I passionately believe that books play a vitally important role in children’s social, emotional and intellectual development. And it’s my great privilege to inspire their developing hearts and minds with my writing.

I’m very passionate about giving children in disadvantaged communities access to literacy programs, and I particularly love being an Ambassador for the education charity Ardoch – where I helped to develop their Writer in Residence program in 2016, as well as assist with their annual School Readiness Book Drive (where each year, thousands of books are collected and donated to preschool children in areas of need throughout Victoria).

I will write a new book for children if I feel that I have a new story to tell and an original character, idea or concept to share in a fresh way. The most important things when it comes to taking on a new writing project, in my opinion.

Q: What books have you written in your Writer in Residence workshops?

I’ve been writing and independently publishing illustrated middle grade fiction stories with primary school children in Melbourne via classroom workshops since 2006, with fun titles like Have You Ever Seen a Blue Banana?, Treasure Island, The Parrot and the ScarecrowPencil Pandemonium (2016)Freddie the Famous Ferret (2017), Super Astro Chicken and the Giant Red Tomato (2018), Mrs Balil’s Brilliant Boots (2019) and The Very Sleepy Spider and the Exercising Dinosaur (2022). The latter five titles were part of my annual Writer In Residence workshops for the education charity Ardoch which run for one whole term each year, and involve work-shopping stories which are grounded in their current curriculum learning areas and are illustrated by the children. I’ve written a blog about the enormous fun I had writing Pencil Pandemonium with the students at Sunshine Primary School and always look forward to Term 3 now each year, to see where Ardoch would like me to go for the next Writer in Residence!

Q:  Why do you choose to write your picture books in rhyme? 

My love of rhyme stems from the early childhood influences of my mother. She is a great story teller who also loved to recite to my sister and I the poetry of Australian bush poet, AB Banjo Patterson. So I grew up surrounded by good old-fashioned storytelling told in rhyme. I was also a child of the ‘70’s and raised on Dr Seuss and Madeline books, so it was only natural that I’d be drawn to writing a children’s picture book in rhyme. It’s also no coincidence that I enjoyed reading Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd’s books to my own children. I also adore the rhyming picture books Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau and Ada Twist Scientist by author Andrea Beatty. 

I have tried writing in prose, but always find myself coming back to rhyme. I really like the way the words sing on the page and I think parents, carers, grandparents, and teachers like reading rhyme to young children, too. Having said that, I do adore reading many non-rhyming picture books too – my favourite author for tone and beauty of message being Bob Graham.

So…if I had to describe my picture book writing style, I would say that I write fun, feel-good rhyming adventures with the energy of Julia Donaldson and the heart of Bob Graham. I’m delighted to have published my first picture book, Wonderful Shoes, in rhyme with Windy Hollow Books and the uber-talented Australian illustrator Tania McCartney in May 2021. I’m even more delighted and humbled to have had Wonderful Shoes named in a prestigious list of ‘Best Rhyming Books for Children’ by respected Early Years Educator and Teacher Librarian, Megan Daley of Children’s Books Daily.

Q:  Do you read a lot?

I’m a magpie when it comes to reading. My bedside table has a never-ending collection of at least half a dozen unfinished novels (I tend to read multiple books at once, unless a book is completely gripping and then I’ll gobble it up in one go), a couple of biographies and numerous non-fiction books from fashion, science, architecture and my beloved National Geographics which I’ve been reading now for at least 40 years (and am running out of shelf space).

I have to be honest here, and say that if I was forced to make a choice, I would choose to write a book ahead of reading a book. I just love writing.

Q:  Do you have a favourite book?

The first book that really knocked me off my feet was Patrick Susskind’s Perfume. I rarely read a book in one sitting, but Perfume was impossible to put down.  For me, it was the grotesque allure of the main character from the opening sentence. An early love was also Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt.

I tend to go through phases, and when in my Indian phase, devoured White Mughals by William Dalrymple along with the non-fiction Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. I found Australian author Richard Flanagan’s Wanting to be completely haunting and have gifted it to many friends. As for writing with brevity and skill, I adored Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – I still marvel at the lack of conversation markers for most of the book. I do find myself quite often getting sidetracked with analysing how a book has been written, in lieu of marching on with the reading. I’ve heard this being referred to as, ‘reading like a writer’ and I think that pretty much sums me up.

I also find myself drawn to books set in London or Europe in the 1600’s which involve a bit of intrigue or discovery. The scientist in me loved Ingenious Pain (Andrew Millar) about the discovery of blood transfusion. And for a brilliant unputdownable read The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon is a long time favourite. Two fairly recent reads that I cannot recommend more highly are The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton) and The Bee and the Orange Tree (Melissa Ashley) – this time I’ve branched out to Amsterdam and Paris….in the 1600’s. I also very much loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) and The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.

I’m a huge non-fiction fan, too. As I mentioned earlier, I can always be found with a National Geographic somewhere close by me. I managed to string-out a really enjoyable read by Australian historian and author Clare Wright, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka – all about the previously undocumented history of women on the goldfields of Victoria during the great Gold Rush. Completely fascinating. I’m now torn between wanting to have lived in London during the 1600’s or Melbourne during the Gold Rush. It’s no surprise then, to know that I loved the middle-grade fiction novel The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor, which is set during this era in Melbourne and further fuelled the flames of my interest in this period of time in Australia.

As far as childhood books that influenced me, I would have to say that Joan Aiken’s middle grade novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was my all time favourite read. A true classic, which I have recently re-read and enjoyed just as much as I did all those years ago. Like many others, I enjoyed most of the Enid Blyton books, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web and devoured the Trixie Belden mystery series. I vividly remember spending a lot of time with a notebook in my hand, spying on my family members and neighbours like my 10-year-old literary heroine Harriet the Spy. I was also a big non-fiction fan as a child and regularly dived into The World of Knowledge Encyclopedia (which my parents have very recently given to me from their bookshelf clear-out!). Having just raised a bookworm daughter from infancy to university, I’ve enjoyed reading over her shoulder the many and varied modern middle grade novels – so many more than when I was a kid, and too many to mention here.

As a reader and writer of middle grade fiction I have much admiration for author Michael Morpurgo – for his wonderful storytelling ability and sheer volume of work. And of course, the exquisite voice of Kate DiCamillo regularly reduces me to tears – I could read her books over and over again. Established Australian creators of children’s fiction that I admire are Jackie French, Jen Storer, Jane Godwin, Jacqueline Harvey, Alison Lester, Emily Rodda, Karen Foxlee and Jude Rossell.

But just like my children, don’t ask me to name a favourite Australian Children’s book or author, because I can’t.

Q:  Do you use social media?

I love to connect with people on Instagram . It’s my favourite social media platform where I share the many things which interest and inspire me, and invariably end up in my writing and bag-making. I really like discovering amazing projects in all corners of the globe – be they environmentally focussed, fashion, art or architecture (especially sustainable living). My wanderlust for looking beyond my home base of Melbourne is probably due to the fact that since six weeks of age I’ve lived in a gazillion different places in Australia and Asia, as well as spending eleven wonderful years working in London – a true nomad!