The Official Bit – My Biography

Emma is an internationally published author of commercial fiction (Bloomsbury, UK) and non-fiction for adults; experienced classroom presenter; passionate advocate for children’s literacy in disadvantaged communities; and founder of the planet-friendly DEED bags. She has been featured widely in local, national and international print press; and was a guest author on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour.

As a new voice in Australian children’s literature, Emma is excited to announce that her debut children’s picture book, ‘Wonderful Shoes’ will be published by the award-winning Windy Hollow Books in 2021 (illustrated by acclaimed Australian kidlit creator Tania McCartney). Emma loves to write stories for children with humour, candour and positive themes which appeal to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike, in both picture books and middle grade fiction.

Emma has several picture book and middle grade texts in various stages of development, and has been shortlisted in the ‘Scribbles Creative Writing Awards’ sponsored by HarperCollins Australia in both of these categories in 2018 and in the middle grade category in 2019. She is happiest when surrounded by a huddle of children in the classroom, sitting at her desk writing her next adventure or handcrafting her latest DEED bag.

Emma Bowd - 2019 Author Headshot - Piccoli Photography
Author and DEED bags Founder, Emma Bowd (Photo by Piccoli Photography, 2018)

After graduating from the University of Queensland with a double degree in Science (chemistry, biochemistry, psychology) and Occupational Therapy (first class honours), Emma worked 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 other passions include fashion, family, travel, sewing, design, home renovation, Australian history, nature and the environment (especially reducing plastic waste). 

Emma is a long-term supporter, ‘Literacy Ambassador’ and ‘Writer in Residence’ for the leading children’s education charity, Ardoch; and an active member of the children’s book community in Australia (SCBWI; CBCA). She was recently invited to be an official blogger for the annual children’s literature conference, ‘KidLitVic Meet the Publishers’ in Melbourne (2019).

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 (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 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 topics. It was always grammatically sound and well structured, but never creative. Ever.

In my career as an Occupational Therapist, I very quickly specialised 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 writer materialised 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 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 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.

Q:  Why do you want to write for children? 

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 felt great and tears fell from my eyes (2)

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. My current works-in-progress include several picture book texts and middle-grade fiction novels – all of which are at various stages of development.

I’m very passionate about giving children in disadvantaged communities access to literacy programs, and I particularly love being an Ambassador for the education support 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 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.

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

Emma Bowd - Writer in Residence - Ardoch
Emma Bowd – Writer in Residence for Ardoch

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) and Mrs Balil’s Brilliant Boots (2019). The latter four 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? 

Feel-good rhyming adventures with a quiet wisdom (20)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 feel-good rhyming adventures with the energy of Julia Donaldson and the heart of Bob Graham. And I’m delighted to be publishing my first picture book with Windy Hollow Books in 2021. I simply cannot wait – as it will also be brought to life by the uber-talented Australian illustrator Tania McCartney! Stay tuned for more snippets on this lovely book as we get closer to the date.

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 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 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 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, 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.

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 Beldon 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, 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.