The Official Bit – My Author Biography
A First Class Honours graduate from the University of Queensland, Emma is a new voice in children’s literature, having successfully published an adult commercial fiction novel (Bloomsbury, UK) and two non-fiction fashion titles (Ryland Peters and Small, UK/US). She is a ‘Literacy Ambassador’ and ‘Writer in Residence’ for the leading education charity Ardoch. Emma is an active member of the children’s book community in Australia (via SCBWI and CBCA); and a Moderator for the Facebook Group ‘The Duckpond’, which is run by highly acclaimed Australian children’s author, Jen Storer, as a vibrant community for authors, illustrators and publishers of children’s literature.
An experienced speaker, classroom presenter and former Occupational Therapist, Emma has a strong interest in writing stories for children with positive themes, which will especially appeal to reluctant readers. She has several picture book and middle grade texts in various stages of development, and was recently shortlisted in a national creative writing competition (‘Scribbles Creative Writing Awards 2018’) in both of these categories.
Emma lived in London for many years and now resides in Melbourne with her family, where she works in small business start-ups and passionately supports literacy projects in disadvantaged communities, as well as her writing. Her socially conscious small business, DEED bags, raises awareness and funds for Ardoch. Her other passions include fashion, family, travel, sewing, design, home renovation, nature and the environment (especially reducing plastic waste).
And for something a bit more personal…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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 writer?
I’ve always loved writing. But I had not aspired to be a published writer 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 maths and science – gaining a double degree from the University of Queensland in Science (psychology, biochemistry, chemistry and maths) 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 various topics. It was always grammatically sound and well structured, but never creative. Ever.
In my career as an Occupational Therapist, I very quickly specialized 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 many years on a decent wage. And to travel, and see and do amazing things on my days off…including indulging in my love of fine footwear and fashion (mainly during the Harrods Sales!).
My perfect recipe for becoming a published writer 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 newbie mum at my West London Queen’s Park mothers’ group. Annabel became my best-new-mum-friend and was also an 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 on 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 company, and I stayed at home writing 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: 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 four unfinished novels, a couple of biographies and numerous magazines 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 fact that she did not use a single conversation marker in the entire 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 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. A fairly recent wonderful read that I cannot recommend more highly is ‘The Miniaturist’ (Jessie Burton) – this time I’ve branched out to Amsterdam….in the 1600s 🙂
I very much enjoy non-fiction 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, called ‘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 1600s or Melbourne during the Gold Rush!
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 and devoured the Trixie Beldon mystery series. 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! A favourite author of mine is undoubtedly Michael Morpurgo – for his wonderful storytelling ability and sheer volume of works in many creative fields.
But just like my children, don’t ask me to name a favourite book, because I can’t.
Q: How long did it take to get your first novel 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 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 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.
Q: Why do you want to write for children?
I loved reading books as a child; 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 also very passionate about giving children in disadvantaged communities access to literacy programs, and I particularly love my volunteer work as an Ambassador for the education support charity Ardoch – where I helped to develop their Writer in Residence program, 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’ve been writing and independently publishing illustrated middle grade stories with primary school children in Melbourne, via classroom workshops, since 2006 – most recently as Ardoch’s Writer In Residence, with fun titles like ‘Have You Ever Seen a Blue Banana?’, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘The Parrot and the Scarecrow’, ‘Pencil Pandemonium’ , ‘Freddie The Famous Ferret’ and ‘Super Astro Chicken and the Giant Red Tomato’. I genuinely adore the company of primary school-aged children and find them to be some of the most authentic, engaging and interesting humans on the planet. So I’ve decided to channel this passion and dedicate my writing energy to children’s literature – both picture books and middle grade fiction.
I will write a picture book if I feel that I have a new story to tell and an original character to share. The two most important things when it comes to taking on a new writing project, in my opinion.