It seems a little odd writing about ‘me’ so I thought I’d do it in Q&A format, based upon what people have asked me at various events since I became a fully-fledged author – be it over drinks 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 stories about ‘Dr Quack Quack’!
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 (biochemistry and psychology) 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.
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 Geographic.
I have to be honest here, and say that, if given the choice, I would much rather write a book than read 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. I found Australian author Richard Flanagan’s ‘Wanting’ to be completely haunting and have gifted it to many friends.
I also find myself drawn to books set in London 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. My most 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. And am stringing out a really enjoyable read by 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!
But just like my children, don’t ask me to name a favourite, 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? And why did you choose your first children’s book to be a picture book?
I loved reading picture books as a child; and I equally loved reading them to my own two children. I passionately believe that picture books play a vitally important role in children’s social, emotional and intellectual development. And it’s my great privilege to have recently been made the Ambassador for Ardoch Youth Foundation’s Annual School Readiness Book Drive – where each year, thousands of picture books are collected and donated to preschool children in areas of need throughout Victoria.
I’ve been writing and independently publishing illustrated storybooks 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 Scarecrow’ and ‘Pencil Pandemonium’. 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 upper-middle grade fiction.
I’ve been brewing the concept for my picture book ‘Daisy Dubois’ for many years – stemming from my great affection for Paris and its people. And I finally got the time to start forming the characters, plot and themes back in 2012. It’s been a lovely project that I’ve dipped in and out of since then – culminating (after several drafts and re-drafts) with ‘Daisy Dubois’.
I felt that I had 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: Why did you choose to write your picture book 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 us 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 book in rhyme. It’s also no coincidence that I enjoyed reading Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd’s books to my own children.
I did try writing ‘Daisy Dubois’ in prose, but always found 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.
Q: Why is your children’s picture book set in Paris?
My enchantment with Paris and its people stems back to my childhood when I used to play with a magical box of Parisian fashion magazines and mementos – which dad had sent home to mum earlier in their marriage, from his postings to Paris. [He was at the time a lowly ranked RAAF officer and not allowed to take his wife with him] I was besotted by Paris – its buildings, language, fashion, food, people and traditions – and was determined to travel there one day myself.
Oh, how I loved taking my mini-Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe brass statues to show-and-tell. Such a concept seems quite twee now, in the well-travelled internet-connected world we live in. But for a young girl in small town Australia in 1974 it was quite exotic.
I’m embarrassed to say that when I was a university student, I decorated my room with cut-outs of original Chanel advertisements from Vogue Paris in the 1960s. I could weep now, when I think of how I butchered those beautiful magazines. Mum recently gave me the few that I didn’t cut up, and they are a real treasure trove for any fashionista.
I did indeed visit Paris many times during my 11 years of living in London. My husband even proposed to me on the Eiffel Tower!
I also wanted to showcase the beautiful illustrations of Melbourne artist Nicole Haeberle, who specialises in children’s artworks based in Paris, with an emphasis on architecture, fashion and art.